Let me just go ahead and say it. Effective Bible study is not easy. In fact, it can be frustrating, overwhelming, confusing, and not to mention time consuming. There is a reason there are whole degree programs that teach men and women in ministry how to dissect the Word properly in preparation for feeding the flock well on weekends. But there is no need to wait for that to get a solid spiritual meal. You can apply effective Bible study techniques and dive into studying the Bible for yourself.
The importance of studying the bible
I was a young Christian when I started college. In fact, I was young. Period. All of 16 going on 17.
My first semester was rough! The transition straight from high school into college was giving me a good thrashing. The threat of failure loomed, ready to move in for the kill. And then, through Bible study, I discovered Hebrews 11:6.
This discovery changed my life.
You see, for the first time I realized exactly what I needed to do to experience success in my life.
Trust God completely.
The timing to learn this was perfect. Since then, my approach to everything in my life has been based on Hebrews 11:6. Bible study did that. Hence the name of this here blog.
Bible study is that powerful. The Bible is unique. No other book reveals God to the human race like it does. It is through the Bible that you learn about Jesus, his sacrifice for our sin, and His desire for our lives.
It is through the Bible that we learn the stories of real people with real struggles and how they either overcame or failed. It is through the Bible that we learn principles to govern every area of our lives: relationships, finances, healthy living, spiritual growth etc. It is through this book that we learn, not only about the past, but also about the future of our world.
The Bible is packed with timeless truths that can apply to any situation in any season of life at any time in history. The Bible was good for solving ancient problems and it is good for solving modern ones too. It is the one book that, with the help of the Holy Spirit, can change anyone’s heart, if they are willing. From this book you get encouragement, inspiration, motivation, and healing.
Although the Bible is such a wonderful book and there are so many benefits to studying it, there are many dangers to be aware of. Misinterpretation of this book has caused damage to faithful believers.
Not everyone approaches the Bible with the right spirit or the right motivation. Studying for yourself will help you to distinguish truth from error. Nowadays, it is a good idea to examine ideas presented to us, even from the pulpit. Sometimes error can be subtle and that’s why deep Bible study is necessary.
Here is the thing about deep Bible study: you will discover things that you would not have possibly learned from just reading the Bible. With such encounters, changing is no longer an option.
The more you study and learn, the more excited you will be to jump in. When you study the Bible for yourself your heart and ears become more attuned to the voice of God. The natural result is that your intimacy with God becomes deeper.
You begin to get a clearer understanding of who God is on an intensely more personal level. You begin to see people, situations, and the world differently. Because, then, everything is filtered through God’s eyes. His character becomes so clear to you that you cannot help but see him everywhere and filter everything through your personal knowledge of God. Jen Wilkins puts it this way:
We must make a study of our God: what he loves, what he hates, how he speaks and acts. We cannot imitate a God whose features and habits we have never learned. We must make a study of him if we want to become like him. We must seek his face.” Jen Wilkin
Studying the Bible is powerful!
What does the Bible say about Bible Study
God wants you to be able to read, interpret, understand, and apply His Word.
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15
It is not God’s desire for you to be confused when you are truly seeking truth. He wants you to understand the Word.
Then he [Jesus] opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. Luke 24:45
Through studying the Bible we learn the skills needed for excellence in the work God has for us to do in this life.
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16 – 17)
Feeling a little lost in decision making? Bible study can help you to make good decisions. It will give you some light so you can see the way.
Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. (Psalm 119:105)
Struggling with spiritual growth? Studying the Word is sure to help you grow in the Lord.
Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:2-3)
Not so sure about something you heard in the sermon this weekend? Bible study is the way to get rid of that confusion and clarify the truth of God.
Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. (Acts 17:11)
Has your peace escaped you? Bible study can help to bring it back.
The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. (Psalm 19:7)
Feeling hopeless and discouraged? You are not alone. The Bible has tons of stories about faithful people who walked with God before us. Those accounts were recorded for you and me.
For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope. (Romans 15:4)
Have you been resisting God? Need a strong and powerful conviction to get you moving in the right direction? The Bible is just the book to give you that firm push.
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)
HOW DO YOU STUDY THE BIBLE EFFECTIVELY?
Effective is the key word here. When you walk away from a Bible study session, you should have learned something new, be spiritually empowered, get some encouragement, and be challenged to change. Basically, you should benefit from it in multiple ways. But in order for this to happen, there are few things to consider about this book.
The Bible was written by over 40 different personalities who did not speak English and who lived very different lives across 1500 years. Talk about worlds apart! The books of the Bible were written by paupers and the wealthy, the well-educated and the unschooled, kings and commoners. And that’s why when we approach the Bible it is not business as usual.
Reading and studying the Bible are two different things. Reading the Bible is just that; reading it. Studying the Bible requires more involvement. And, to be as involved as you will need to be, you need to apply a few principles. Here they are.
Effective Bible Study Requires Prayer
Always pray before starting a Bible study session. Present to God yourself and what you are about to delve into. Ask for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Jesus did say that He not only comforts but that he would also “guide you into all truth”. I have a somewhat standardized Bible study prayer. It goes something like this:
Lord, I ask now for your blessing on this spiritual meal. Bless it, break it and feed it to me. May it bring health to my spiritual body and bones. Show me how to take these words off the printed page and make them relevant to the day and age in which I live. Help me to see what you want me to see, beyond what is on the surface. Allow the Holy Spirit to convert my heart through these words. Show me how to hide these words in my heart so that I will not sin against you. And as you work on converting my heart, grant me the opportunity to contribute to the conversion of someone else. Amen.
And then I jump in. I will tweak this prayer depending on what I’m studying or what’s going on in my life at the time.
Let go of preconceived ideas
If you have been in church for any period of time, short or long, you have some thoughts about scripture. Whether from a cursory read or a sermon, you will approach scripture with some kind of expectation on what you will find. While this is an extremely difficult thing to do, because it’s human nature, I encourage you to temporarily forget all of what you have learned.
Go to your Bible study passage as though you have never encountered it before. This is so important because what you already know might hinder the new things God wants to show you.
Especially if your study was prompted by confusion about a topic or by a controversial and possibly erroneous presentation of the Word, you will most definitely want to wipe away all that from your mind as you seek to verify truth like the Bereans did. What God will reveal to you is sure to excite and surprise you greatly.
Pay attention to Bible genres
Suppose you went to a restaurant to eat. The fine dining type. It’s time for the appetizer. The waiter brings you a cream-of-something soup. Then she gives you a fork to eat with. How do you feel? Next she serves the main course and its steak. The problem is that she has given you a butter knife and spoon to eat with. Don’t eat steak? Ok. Let’s skip to dessert then. You get a lovely slice of whatever your favorite cake is and she presents a straw for you to eat with.
What is the likely outcome of that situation. You’re probably going to leave that restaurant either very hungry or very angry, maybe even vowing never to return. You might even want to ensure that people know about the absolutely terrible experience you had at this restaurant.
Ignoring the biblical genres when studying the Bible is a lot like this scenario. The Bible is a work of literature. Within the field of literature, the works of authors are classified into genres. The books of the Bible are generally classified into: Laws, History/Narratives, Wisdom/Poetry, Prophecy, Apocalyptic books, and Epistles. While there is some disagreement about how to classify some of the books of the Bible, there is agreement over the fact that each genre requires a different study strategy.
The Psalms are poetry and the Gospels are narrative. What are some of the differences between these two genres? Let’s consider the physical structure. Poems have stanzas. Stories have paragraphs. This fact alone is just for starters. How about literary devices? Poems are largely made of more imagery, similes, metaphors etc than short stories.
If you don’t know what genre you are studying how can you use the right tools? You run the risk of leaving your Bible study session either spiritually hungry or frustrated or woefully misled. Spend some time learning the genres and how they worked in ancient times. Get into your time machine, travel to the east, journey through time 2000 years, walk around in that world. Sounds like such an adventure!
And to go on this adventure, you are going to need some help. Enter, Bible study resources.
Context is everything
I distinctly remember my high school English Literature teacher’s approach to starting a new book or poem. Our opening assignment almost always included research on the author. This was before the internet became so popular. (Yup, those were the days).
So off I would go to the Library to find out about the author. Who was he or she? When were they born? What was happening in their life and their world when they were growing up? Did they have any major life events? How did these things influence the production of their literary works? Without a doubt, this research formed a very solid foundation to help us understand and interpret whatever we were studying.
The Bible is a work of literature and this principle is relevant to Bible study. Interpreting scripture without reference to the original context is dangerous! Remember that the Bible was not written to an English speaking audience living in the 21st century.
Effective Bible study requires time travel. You have to go back in time and experience life the way Bible writers did. You can do this by reading about the author before your study, asking lots of questions about every detail of your study portion, and seeking answers from within the Bible and other resources. Using the original context to determine the primary meaning is the basis of the exegetical approach to Bible study, which is arguably the best way to dissect the Word. This takes me to my next point.
Understand that the Bible is one book
Yes the Bible may be imperfect as some contend but of this I am sure: it is perfect in the truth it reveals. Scripture does not contradict itself. It is one book telling one single story, and that is the story of Jesus and the gospel. The Bible interprets itself. That’s why cross referencing is a powerful bible study strategy.
Because the Bible is whole and complete, no verse should ever be studied in isolation. In addition, we must be careful of what I like to call “verse snatching”. That is snatching one verse from here and one verse from there to prove a point without paying attention to the primary context of each verse to ensure that they are dealing with subjects that are the same, similar, or related.
At times in our best efforts to understand scripture, we still meet roadblocks like apparent contradictions that cause confusion. When this happens, pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance in choosing and using Biblical tools to shed light on the subject and reveal the unity in Scripture. This takes me to my next point.
Gather good Bible study tools
Trying to study the Bible without tools is like trying to prepare a meal but all you have is the food. No pots and pans. No knives or forks. No stove. Nothing. This will not result in effective Bible study. To get a good grasp of the context and the background, you need some good tools. Here is a list to consider:
One volume Bible commentary
Bible charts and maps
Bible Study Notebook
With these tools, you can go on that exciting time travel I have been talking about.
use A systematic approach
Each Bible study technique presented here is different. As a result each should be approached differently. A step that may be necessary for one may not be necessary or even appropriate for another.
Having a system, a plan, a series of steps can vastly improve your chances of properly mining the portion of scripture under examination. Additionally, a plan will cut down on confusion and waste of time when you go to study the Word. We will talk some more about this in a bit.
Application makes the bible come alive
Next to prayer and studying the bible in context, this is the most important thing. Some people study the bible just to increase head knowledge. They just want to know what it says so they can have debates. To me, that’s like having useless spiritual food fights.
The bible is most powerful when it increases heart knowledge. Information has no use unless it is applied. Bible study has little value if it does not challenge us to change on a daily basis. As you study, ask yourself and God about the implications of what you are learning. Pray for wisdom to know how these truths should be applied to all aspects of your life. This is where there is strong evidence for authentic spiritual growth.
EFFECTIVE BIBLE STUDY TECHNIQUES
Only about 8% of American adults read the Bible everyday. And that’s just reading. I imagine that if such a tiny number read the Bible, an even small number actually studies the Bible.
Listen, deep Bible study is not reserved for some people. It’s for everyone.
The reality is that some, even those who read it, just don’t know how to study it. So here we are. Let’s just jump into so effective Bible study techniques you can use to mine the Word of God for yourself.
EFFECTIVE BIBLE STUDY TECHNIQUe #1 – book study
So you may have read through entire books of the Bible or even the entire Bible. But what about a detailed study of a single book of the Bible? There are 66 books in the Bible.
The purpose of this study is not to focus on individual words or verses. You are more concerned with the big picture. You want to know a few things:
What genre is the book?
Who wrote the book and when?
Was it written to an audience? If so, who is that audience?
What is the purpose of the book? What would it have meant to its original audience?
What are the major themes in the book?
To accomplish this you will need to read through the entire book several times. This is the only way to get a deeper understanding of the text. You can read it from different versions of the Bible too. I really enjoy listening to dramatized audio versions of the Bible, especially for those with dialogue. It comes alive! So this is another option
As you read along, ask questions and answer them. When you think you have gotten the full picture, write a summary of all you have learned. It is recommended that before studying any single chapter or verse of the Bible, a book study should be done.
Why? It will build the context that is needed for interpreting smaller portions of the bible. We run the risk of misinterpretation without that background. There is just so much to miss when the big picture is not understood.
EFFECTIVE BIBLE STUDY TECHNIQUE #2 – Chapter Analysis
There are over 1,189 chapters in the Bible, 929 chapters in the Old Testament and 260 chapters in the New Testament. No shortage of things to study here. To dive into a chapter the first step would be to gather a quick background of the entire book. There are a few ways to do this:
Read the entire book. This is the best way. But what if you just want to jump in? Here are some other ideas.
If you are using a good study Bible, there is usually an introduction that talks about the authorship of the book, describes significant events of the time, and summarizes the book by chapters . It is a good idea to read that and pay close attention to the description of the chapter you will be reading.
Don’t have one of those study Bibles? Use technology. The Bible Project is a good resource. Their summary videos provide lovely overviews of the books of the Bible including descriptions of the chapters.
Another option is to read an overview from a bible study guide book that summarizes all 66 books of the Bible.
Once you have gotten that background you are ready to dig in. Read the chapter multiple times. You can read it from different versions of the Bible. Since the aim is not to focus on specific words and verses, different versions help to increase understanding of the entire chapter quite quickly. As you engage with the chapter look for the main theme and supporting ideas. Think about how the chapter fits into the overall message or context of the book. Summarize the chapter. And remember to highlight take-away lessons you want to use in your life.
EFFECTIVE BIBLE STUDY TECHNIQUE #3 – Verse Study
There are over 31,102 verses in the Bible, 23,145 verses in the Old Testament and 7,957 verses in the New Testament. We could spend our entire lifetime study the Bible and nothing else and we would still not mine all the powerful truths buried in it.
Even in those verses of genealogies, there are still some awesome things to discover. Like, what is Rahad (a prostitute) doing in Jesus’ genealogy?! Because grace is always greater than our sins. Hallelujah!
A verse-by-verse study is probably my favorite way to study the Bible. I particularly enjoy studying the Psalms like this.
A verse study is one in which you take a single verse in the Bible and pick it apart. It is commonly referred to as verse mapping. Now as I’ve said before, in Bible study, context is king. So before you start studying a single verse, get some background about the book if you are unfamiliar with it. You can do this using any of the options listed above. Then, read the entire chapter in which this verse is snuggled.
The next step is to zero on the verse. It is a good idea to write out the verse on paper leaving space between each line and around it. You will need to scribble all over it as you study.
Read the verse multiple times, from multiple versions. Note any images or ideas that are generated in your mind as you read. Decide which version you are going to use in your study. Use a Bible dictionary or Bible study app to look up the original meaning of all the words in the verse to help shed light on the meaning of the text.
Be careful to look at the various definitions and synonyms. The different meanings of words may not fit the context of the overall meaning of that verse and its primary message. Think of how the meanings of these words might be similar or different to the way they are currently being used.
Consider the parts of speech of the words used. Look at the verbs and their tenses, adjectives, conjunctions etc. How do they interact with each other? What do they communicate?
Using a cross-reference, look up other verses which convey the same meaning and read them. Summarize or paraphrase the verse you are studying. For application purposes, write a sentence about something you will work on in your life as a result of what you learned from the verse.
EFFECTIVE BIBLE STUDY TECHNIQUE #4 – Word Study
Now, this is the kind of study that will bring surprises upon surprises. The Bible was not originally written in English. In fact, it was written in three different languages Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Since the Old Testament follows the story of the Israelites who spoke Hebrew, it is written most in that language. Very few parts of the Old Testament were written in Aramaic. The New Testament was in written Greek.
Now, although Hebrew and Greek exist today, these languages have evolved over time just like English has. Speakers of these languages today might not even readily recognize what Bible writers wrote. It is important to remember this as you put the words of scripture under a microscope.
The first step in studying words is to locate where they are in scripture. Choose a word that you may be curious about from reading a Bible verse. Next, get to the root of the matter. Literally. Take nothing for granted. Forget about all that you think you might know about this word for a little while.
Use a resources like BibleHub or Blue Letter Bible find the original Greek or Hebrew root of the word. Be careful to note whether the word is a combination of root words. It’s kind of like when we learned about prefixes, suffixes, and root words during Language Arts classes in school. So look at the root words too and what they mean.
Then look at the usage of the word in that context. This will require a little knowledge of grammar. The way the word is used will help to determine its function in the sentence. Is it a noun? Verb? What tense of the verb? Conjunction? Adjective?
When you have had a handle on that, use a Greek or Hebrew dictionary to get a quick survey of what else the word could mean in other verses and compare it to the meaning of the verse under your study.
If you want, you can also look up other scripture in which your word, with its same meaning, is found. Reading those examples can help to increase your understanding of its usage.
Now, step back and read the Bible verse you started with. I always recommend writing down what you learn. What does that word mean in the context of the verse you are studying? How does it apply to the message of the Bible verse in which it occurs? What does that mean for you and your personal relationship with God?
EFFECTIVE BIBLE STUDY TECHNIQUE # 5 – Topical & Thematic Bible Study
A topical or thematic study takes more time than one single Bible study session. You have to be prepared to be dedicated to this type of study for a while. This is how multi-week studies are built because you could study one single topic from the Bible for a whole year and still not uncover all there is to know about it.
To start, pick a theme or a topic. Next, determine a boundary for your study. It is important to do this or you can quickly become overwhelmed with such a study. Let’s say you chose the topic of Faith (because I am slightly obsessed with this).
Your boundary could be to look at faith in the Old Testament, faith in the New Testament, faith in the book of Hebrews, faith in the life of Abraham (or another specific Bible character). Decide on a boundary and look up Bible verses and Scripture portions based on this boundary.
Read the verses. Stick around in each verse for a little while to ensure you are understanding the topic based on the context of that verse. You may want to do a quick word study of important words in the text and visit a Bible commentary to read explanations about it as well.
Compare and contrast how the topic or theme is presented in each verse. Note differences and similarities. Don’t forget to apply the context of each verse as you compare them. Think of the audience to whom this topic is being presented in each context and why. Take notes of your observations as you go along.
Summarize what you learned and write down ways that you can apply it to your life in a practical way. Finally, to expand your knowledge of the topic or theme, read books about it. As you read, be sure to go back to your own study notes and critique the author’s ideas about the topic.
EFFECTIVE BIBLE STUDY TECHNIQUE # 6 – Character Study
This type of study is also called a Biographical study. It is estimated that there are over 3000 characters mentioned in the Bible. Ofcourse, some of them are only mentioned but their stories are never told. There are also those whose stories are told but they remain nameless.
Either way, character studies come close home because we get to meet real people with real problems and real victories and very very real failures with long-term consequences.
To begin, select a character you wish to study. Look up all the passages where the character appears. Read the scriptures through. Reading them multiple times will give a biographical sketch of the character’s life.
A neat way of experiencing the character’s life in a better way is to listen to the dramatized version from an audio Bible of your choice. It can certainly help with some time travel.
Begin to ask some questions. What is the conflict in the character’s life? How does he/she deal with it? What are his/her strengths and weaknesses? What are his/her victories and failures? How was their relationship with God and how did that influence their lives? Ask as many questions as you can. Seek answers for them.
Don’t forget to include the context of the character’s life when interpreting the information you glean. Use Bible study tools, such as a commentary for example, to help with this. You may also need to look closer at some words in the story. Pausing to do word studies can provide valuable insights into the character’s experience.
The final step in the process is to summarize what you have learned and decide how you will make it applicable to your life. And if you want to include some Bible study in your entertainment, find a good Bible movie about this character. Watch it and return to the Biblical account as well as your notes to make comparisons.
EFFECTIVE BIBLE STUDY IS YOUR TICKET TO SPIRITUAL FREEDOM
If you have been feeling trapped, afraid, stagnant, frustrated, confused, Bible study might just be that thing you need to break through all that into the light of Jesus. You will not only grow in knowledge but also in grace. Don’t know where to start? I recommend the Psalms or the Gospels.
Start with reading one chapter and then pick apart a single verse from that passage. Your walk with God will only become stronger.
Such a relationship will fulfill Jesus’ words: “… if you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32