How To Study The Bible

In October, I will be teaching a 4-week class at church on “How To Study The Bible” – but I thought it would be helpful to give some tips and ideas for folks who want a little more direction.

Our church believes strongly in the fact that every Believer has direct access to God and the Bible is God’s word, so every Christian should spend time in the word every day listening to His voice.

But how? Where do you start? How do you understand what you’re reading?

In the first case this is a great Bible reading plan

But what does it all mean?

There are (basically) two kinds of Bible Studies – Inductive & Deductive.

Deductive Bible Study – this is moving from the “big picture” to the details. This would be when you know you believe something, or some concept, and then you look for scripture passages to back-up what you believe.

This is (in my opinion) a bad way to go about things. Believe what you believe because it comes out of YOUR study of the Bible, not because someone else tells you it’s right. I have found, deductive Bible study tends to “skip” the verses that don’t fit with existing beliefs.

Inductive Bible Study – this is basically the opposite of deductive Bible study. It moves from the particulars to the general. This collects what is there and builds a “big picture” from the individual pieces.

This is the kind of study that I think is best.

So here are some tips to find the little “bits” in every Bible passage so you can build a “big picture” from the individual parts.

Inductive Bible Study helps you find the central truth and builds that truth into your life. To get the most from this study you need:

  • The Bible: use a Bible version you like (see my post on Bible versions), but one that is formatted with paragraphs is best (this is almost all Bibles).
  • A notebook for writing your findings

When you open God’s word, expect that you will hear His truth through the power of the Holy Spirit; ask Him to give you understanding and to help change your life accordingly. Move at your own pace, just always keep moving.

  1. Overview: Read it, the whole book if it’s brief. If it’s long, skim it. If it’s a narrative, jot down a fact about one or two of the main characters; list a few major events. If it’s a letter, note a few facts about the writer and those being addressed. If it’s another kind of literature, list some facts that impress you. Write down a few of your major impressions of the book. What helps do you think you’ll get for your life from this book? Write down one or two and ask the Lord to move in your life in these ways.
  2. Outline: As you look through the book, try to find which chapters can be most naturally grouped together, either by main characters, events, themes, or by geography. On a simple chart, write the 2 or 3 or 4 major divisions of the book, the natural groups of chapters. Give each division a short title. What seems to be the main theme of the book? Write it in a short sentence over your outline. How does that theme apply to you personally? In what part of your life do you need to act on that truth? Write down a specific way you can begin to do that and ask the Lord to strengthen you in it.
  3. Divide and conquer: mark off  the text into pericopes. These are short passages made up of a sets of verses that form a coherent unit of thought. If your version of the Bible has many short paragraphs, you can group them into thought-units and treat each unit as you would a paragraph. Make a list of facts that you observe in each pericope. Note who, when, what, where, and how. Note also any interesting things about people, places, situations, atmosphere. Include things that are emphasized, like words that are repeated or contrasted. To cover a passage, make just one or two observations on each pericope. Write down your major impressions of the passage. What “hits” you from this passage? What does this passage teach about the Lord? What difference does it make to you that He is like this? Take sometime to praise Him.
  4. Name it: Choose a short title for each pericope. What connections can you find between sections? Look for a few, such as repeated words, similarities, contrasts, cause and effect. What significance or meaning do you find in each of these connections? Jot down the meanings. Then, look at the meanings, connections and facts and ask yourself: What is the main thing going on this passage? In other words, what is the central truth this passage is teaching? Write that truth in a sentence. What is the main thing the Lord is saying to me through this passage? Here are some possibilities. Select just one. Something to obey or an example to follow or avoid? What is it exactly? How can I soon practice it? A truth about the Lord I can rejoice in? In what part of my life is this truth especially encouraging? A promise I can take for a situation I’m in? Are there conditions in the promise which I need to fulfill? What are they? What does the Lord say He’ll do? (Memorizing the promise will help in the days ahead.)
  5. Keep going: Look at the passage as a whole, and as you continue on (and start again each day) always be trying to relate the main parts to each other. When you finish studying the pericopes, notice how their main truths connect with each other. As you connect these main truths, you are beginning to put together the teaching of the Bible. See if from these you can write the theme of the book in a sentence. How does it fit with the theme you saw at first? Share these with a friends or a group studying the same book. See how your theme compares.

NOTE: you can always go look things up in a commentary, but do this after you’ve gone through this process. Think about what you are reading, think about why the specific words that were written were chosen. Could it have been written differently? Spend time in the Bible thinking about what it is saying, never look at it as just something to check off your daily “to-do” list. You’ve got the rest of your life to read the Bible, proceed accordingly 😉

About John Harris

I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.
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