How to Study the Bible
This post is an overview of what is really an extensive process of studying the Word of God. My intention is to give you enough information to get started and ask questions. Hopefully, your study skills will evolve as you continue to study and seek guidance from people who themselves know how to study the Bible. This is NOT the only way, but is one way to study the Bible effectively.
Studying the bible is a very different concept from merely reading the Bible. Reading is a short-term memory function because the mind is focused on the content being read at the time. In other words, it is very unlikely that you will retain the content of what you simply “read”. Reading, exposes you to the surface content of the material, and provides you no real way of understanding or comprehending what you have just read for long term retention.
Studying the Bible consists of more than simply reading it. To study the Word of God is to mentally and spiritually ingest the scriptures to gain instruction, inspiration, and insight. When we study we immerse ourselves in the text and avail ourselves to the express revelation of what God wants us to glean from the didactic moment.
The outcome of your study should be something tangible you can reuse and share with others. This means you will be taking notes and writing things down, like important thoughts and potentially an outline of the passage you are studying.
Essential Bible Study Tools
3 Simple Steps to Effective Bible Study
These three steps will help you establish a pattern for studying the bible that can be used with any passage.
Observe the passage by asking the question: What do I see?"
Interpret the passage by asking the question: "What does it mean?"
Apply the passage by asking the question: "How do I make it real for me?"
Let’s Get Ready to Study!
Select a passage of scripture that interests you. Which scripture? Well, pray and ask God to lead you to what He wants for you at that time. God will give you an answer - guaranteed! Think about why you want to study this passage. Why does it interest you? What do you hope to learn from the study of it? Once you answer these questions, it's time to walk through the process of bible study.
OBSERVE THE PASSAGE BY ASKING QUESTIONS.
All observations are valuable. Write them down. Use the following list of questions as a guide.
Who is writing or speaking and to whom?
What is the passage about?
What are the commands?
What are the promises or cause/effect relationships?
What are the repeated words and ideas?
What problems were the recipients facing?
Where does this take place?
When does this take place?
What do I learn about God?
What do I learn about Jesus?
What do I learn about the Holy Spirit?
What do I learn about me (or mankind)?
Write out any additional observations or insights from the passage. This may include contrasts, lists, comparisons, etc.
INTERPRET THE PASSAGE
WHAT IS THE "BIG IDEA" OF THE PASSAGE – YOUR THEME?
This can most readily be identified by the commands, repeated words, and major ideas in the passage.
In one phrase sum up the main thought of the passage. Make sure your theme is large enough in scope to include all the author is saying in the passage. It’s often the biggest point that is being made. It often requires you to step back and look at the passage as a whole.
ANSWER THE QUESTIONS YOU RAISED IN THE OBSERVATION STEP
Put your answers in the form of an outline. Take your main theme and break down the passage into sub points under the theme. These sub points form principles which can be applied.
To develop each principle (each point in your outline) you will want to EXPLAIN IT (interpretation), ILLUSTRATE IT (from the Bible or personal examples of how this principle worked out both positively and negatively) and APPLY IT (not every point will have specific application). You may want to do this on a separate sheet of paper.
For example, you may be studying Luke 10:38-42, the passage shows us Jesus visiting the home of Martha and Mary. The passage could be about choosing what is best for your spiritual life. The author seems to be communicating that sitting at the feet of Jesus is a very good thing, versus being overly busy with all kinds of things.
Now, how does each verse fit into the theme? This is where interpretation comes in. Martha is distracted by being busy doing stuff. This physical distraction has the potential to hinder her spiritual life.
Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus listening to Him. Sitting and listening to Jesus is always a priority in our spiritual lives. Jesus says make time to sit and listen.
STEPS TO INTERPRETING THE PASSAGE
To help you interpret the passage, answer questions like the ones listed below. Use as many or as few as you need to.
What are the meanings of the key words which stand out for you?
What does the immediate context of the passage suggest? (Preceding and succeeding verses)
What does the broader context suggest? (Chapter and book)
What do other cross references suggest?
What is the cultural meaning? (What did it mean to those to whom it was originally addressed?)
What do your commentaries suggest or offer in terms of interpreting the text and the story?
APPLY IT TO YOUR LIFE
This is where you purpose to do what God has taught you through the Bible study. (James1:21-25, Mt. 7:24-27) It is through applying the Word that God changes our lives.
Application does not happen by osmosis, but by intent. God enlightens us from the Word, we enact the application with our will and our mind, and the Holy Spirit empowers us to live the lesson we have learned. It is usually best to concentrate on applying one principle at a time. The goal of all application is to glorify God by becoming more like Jesus.
Keep the following from 2 Timothy 3:16 in mind as you study the Word of God, and seek the Kingdom of God through the study of the Bible...
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for:
TEACHING: What did I learn?
REPROOF: Where do I fall short? Why do I fall short?
CORRECTION: What will I do about it?
TRAINING IN RIGHTEOUSNESS: How can I make this principle a consistent part of my life?
Be sure to top off your Bible study with clear determination to apply what you have learned. When you become the recipient of what God is saying to you, you then become empowered to share, teach, preach, and witness the lesson to others, which is actually the entire point of studying the Bible.
Online Bible Study References
These are some helpful websites that provide FREE Bible versions, study tools, and resource material. Everything you need to do effective Bible study is offered at these sites, and I emphasize - it's FREE!
You Version Bible - https://www.youversion.com/
Bible Gateway – Full Bible Study Helps: http://www.biblegateway.com/
Blue Letter Bible – Full Bible Study Helps: http://www.blueletterbible.org/