My first memory of Bible study came in the form of a 5×7 booklet. Our Daily Bread was–and still is–a free daily devotional, and each month my parents would pick up the newest edition, bring it home, and stick it in the magazine rack. Somewhere around late elementary school, I began to read the entries almost every day. Each day included a title, a single Bible verse, and a few paragraphs of the author’s reflection on the topic. As a 10-year-old, I thought I had found the perfect way to study the Bible!
And do you know, I carried that method of Bible study with me well into adulthood? Don’t get me wrong, friends, I have nothing against devotionals. In fact, I’ve written a few myself! But we need to put them into their proper place. If we truly want to know God and study His Word, we must do more than look at a single verse surrounded by paragraphs of someone else’s words. We need to learn how to dig in to Scripture itself. The Bible is full of riches, and if we never go deeper than the surface, we are the ones who lose out on the treasure God has given us!
Over the last decade or so, I have learned much about how to study the Bible. I’ve studied under some great teachers, and I’ve figured some things out by trial and error. Sometimes I approach God’s Word with great excitement, and at others out of a sense of duty. And sometimes, if I’m being honest, I put it off altogether. But every time I pick it up, I am reminded that God doesn’t ask us to read the Bible for his benefit–we aren’t doing him any favors by reading Leviticus! Instead, he invites us into this book he has given us so that we can know him better and partner with him in his great story. In the words of Paul, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
With that in mind, I would love to share with you a few of my favorite tips and techniques I’ve developed along the way. I hope these will help you as you seek to know God through His Word. So grab your Bible, a journal, and your favorite pen, and let’s get to work!
Begin by inviting the Holy Spirit to open the truth of God’s Word to you. Focus your mind on the Lord and let go of distractions. Praise and worship God. Confess any sin that might be creating a barrier. Ask him to open your eyes to what he wants you to learn as you study.
Read and re-read the passage. Take a look at it in a few different translations. Pick one or two verses and write them out. You can copy them exactly or paraphrase them in your own words.
Write down observations about the passage. Answer the basic questions:
- Who wrote this?
- To whom was it written?
- When was it written?
- What does it say? (Write a few sentences to summarize the main idea.)
- Why was it written? (What was happening in the world and/or with the audience?)
- How does this passage fit into the whole of the book? How does it fit into God’s big story of creation -> fall -> redemption -> renewal?
Also, look for repeated words or words that jump out at you. Consider making a list or chart of what you learn in the text.
Spend some time here! This is the part we want to run past, but it sets the stage for everything else! Make sure you really dig into what God’s Word says before you start trying to pull out meaning and application.
At this stage, you can begin to look beyond the few verses you are studying. You may want to glance over the whole chapter or think about the theme of the book to get a feel for the context (if you didn’t already in the observation stage). Look up any cross-references that go along with the passage. Study the key/repeated words you noted in your observations. Consult a commentary. (Blue Letter Bible is a great resource for this step!) Try to answer these questions:
- What does this passage teach me about God (his character, his deeds, his plan for the world)?
- What would this have meant to the original audience?
What did the author intend for the reader to do/believe as a result of this passage? Was there a call to action—or a call to cease something? An instruction for life? What action can you take as a result of what you learned about God and yourself? Make a plan for what you will do, when you will do it, and how you will do it. Be specific.
Yes, again. Pray a portion of the Scripture back to God. Praise him for His Word that is living and active. Ask him for his strength and power to live out what you have learned.
Written by Author of Life on Purpose; Katy Epling