Archive: How to Study the Bible

reprinted from The New International Version, New Testament
Copyright © 1976 by The Zondervan Corp.

There is no other book in the world quite like the Bible. It is an exceptional piece of literature. You can read it to enjoy the artistic beauty of its poetry, the exciting action of its books of history, and the drama of its prophets. You can look to the Bible for comfort or guidance, inspiration or entertainment.

But the Bible is much more than this. It is also God’s special revelation, teaching us about God and pointing the way to salvation and eternal life through Jesus Christ. As God’s Word, the Bible speaks authoritatively to all our needs and desires and calls on us to listen and obey.

You can read the Bible just as you do other books, skimming off the surface meaning of various passages. But to get into the heart of what God is saying to you, you also have to study the Bible as you would a textbook. This type of Bible study is a vital part of growing to spiritual maturity. It may sound tedious, and it certainly will require diligent effort, but the rewards are well worth the time and energy spent.

As you study the Bible, you will gradually develop a strong Biblical frame of reference that will help you build your life on what God has said.

Because the Bible is God’s revelation of Himself, learning more about the Bible will also lead to a greater knowledge of God. This doesn’t mean just knowing about Godthough certainly that’s important. It means knowing God on a personal level and developing a closer relationship with Him.

Studying the Bible will make you more aware of God’s will for your life. These results eventually will become a cycle: as you come to know God better, you will respond to His claims on you and follow His will for your life. That, in turn, will draw you even closer to God and give you a stronger desire to obey Him. Through both of these, your love for God will grow and your Bible study will become an act of worship.

There are some important guidelines you will need to keep in mind as you get started in Bible study. First of all, you should have a definite plan to follow so you can proceed in an organized manner. Listed below are a number of Bible study methods to use. You’ll probably want to vary your methods in order to avoid a routine approach.

You should be careful to consider the context of a verse or passage before you try to interpret it. This includes the immediate context-that is, the larger passage of which this is a part. Consider the general subject of a passage before you look for a specific application. Knowing the historical and cultural background is also important for understanding the Bible.

And finally, you should be aware of the context of the entire book you are studying. Important questions to keep in mind are: Who wrote the book? Who was it written to? and What is its purpose?

Because you are learning to study the Bible for yourself, you shouldn’t rely too much on commentaries to explain passages to you. Prayerful reliance on the Holy Spirit will greatly increase your understanding. But don’t expect that every idea you come up with is given by the Spirit. Test your ideas against other passages. The Bible is its own best commentary.

No matter which method of Bible study is used, there are three basic steps to follow:

  1. Observation—what is this passage about?
  2. Interpretation—what does it mean?
  3. Application—how can I apply it to my life?

The following methods give you a good choice of ways to proceed. No one method is best. Pick one you feel comfortable with or use various ones.

1. ABC Bible Study

A-Analysis: Give each paragraph a title. Then give a title to the entire passage.

B-Best Verse: Pick a verse that summarizes the theme of the passage and memorize it.

C-Contract: Write out a prayer (a contract with God), mentioning specific ways you want to apply this passage to your life.

This method isn’t good for daily study because you’ll have too many contracts to remember. But it’s a good weekly or biweekly study.

2. Manuscript Study

Type out a passage (without paragraphs or verse numbers) and use the observation, interpretation, application method. Divide the passage into paragraphs or thought units. Underline key ideas. Outline the passage. It will come alive.

3. Book Study

Proceed through a book of the Bible in a systematic way. Learn the background of the book. Find its theme. Analyze each passage until you think you have a good understanding of the entire book. Ask “Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How” types of questions about everything you read. A notebook for jotting down ideas or information is often helpful.

4. Theme Study

Trace a theme or concept throughout the Bible; for example: prayer, forgiveness, sacrifice. A concordance or topical Bible is essential.

5. Character Study

Study the life of one character. Look up all passages referring to that character. It’s a good idea to start with characters such as Barnabas or Priscilla and work up to ones like Peter or Paul.

6. Word Study

Trace a word as it is used throughout the Bible. An interlinear Greek edition of the New Testament is helpful for any in-depth study.

For more detailed information on Bible study, you may want to read a book on the subject. Some good ones are: Getting Into God, by D. Stuart Briscoe (Zondervan); Independent Bible Study, by Irving L. Jensen (Moody); How to Study the Bible, edited by John B. Job (lnterVarsity); Effective Bible Study, by Howard F. Vos (Zondervan); and Search the Scriptures (Navigators). Various reference books are also helpful, such as a Bible dictionary, atlas, handbook, and concordance.


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