How to Study the Bible
Bible Study

How to Study the Bible

The Bible is our only source to know who God is, who we are, our need for a Savior, God’s redemptive plan, and how to live a holy life. While nature testifies to the existence of God, it is only through His inspired Word that we find the Gospel. The Bible is God’s perfect Word and His how He has chosen to speak to us today. It is our responsibility to handle it properly (2 Timothy 2:15). The only way to do this is by reading and studying it. Reading the Bible is a necessity but we must also be diligent students of the Word to properly interpret and apply it and to protect ourselves from false teaching.

The method of Bible study I recommend and will be describing is called the The Inductive Bible Study Method. This type of study employs exegesis to draw out what a passage is truly saying.

Exegesis means to read out of a passage what the passage is really saying. It is to take what is being said as the original author meant it. This method is directly opposed to a method called eisegesis which means to read into a passage what you want it to say. This is the number one method of false teachers.

“We must be those who build on the rock-solid foundation of mind-engaging process, rather than on the shifting sands of ‘what this verse means to me’ subjectivity.” ~ Jen Wilkin (Women of the Word)

The inductive Bible study method uses three steps to understand a Bible passage. These steps are observation (sometimes also called comprehension), interpretation, and application. However, there is one step that is often skipped and it is a major step in understanding a passage of Scripture. This step is what I call, setting the scene.

Before getting started in studying a passage of Scripture, always begin in prayer. Ask for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Ask that He illuminate the passage before you, give you understanding, give you wisdom, and help you apply what you learn from the passage.

Setting the Scene

Understanding the context of a passage is the number one defense in avoiding false teaching. It is also the first step in truly understanding what is being taught in a passage of the Bible.

There are three steps in understanding the context of a book of the Bible. One easy way to remember these steps are to remember your ABCs.

A = Author
B = Background
C = Context

Author

How to Study the BibleWhen reading a passage, it is important to keep in mind who is writing this passage. Ultimately, God is the Author of all Scripture but God used men to express His message in their own styles and personalities. This can also help you appreciate the words the author uses with greater depth. For example, James, the brother of Jesus, wrote the book of James. Much of the book of James is talking about facing difficulties (including persecution) in life and living the Christian life, not just talking the talk. His words have an even greater impact when we understand the persecution he also endured even unto his own martyrdom.

When you read a passage ask: “Who wrote this passage?”

Background

It is often heard from people who don’t like a command in Scripture to claim, “Well, that was for that culture. Our culture is different, therefore, we don’t have to obey that command.” While there are a few commands that God gave to a specific people/person for a specific time, this claim is often improperly used to excuse a sin in one’s life.

The culture in which a passage was written is vital to understanding what is meant in a passage and to give a greater depth to a story.

When you read a passage ask: “When was this passage written? What culture was this written in? Who is the audience? What is going on in history at this time? What is the political, economical, societal, and cultural climate of this place and time?”

Context

Context is the key ingredient to avoiding misinterpretation and false teaching. Ripping passages out of context is the most common tactic of false teachers everywhere. Taking verses out of the context in which they are written in the first step in eisegesis. It leads to the reader not properly understanding the passage and reading into it what she desires it to mean.

When reading a passage of Scripture, ask, “How does this passage fit in with the rest of the chapter/book/entire Bible? What is going on in the verses/chapter before and after?”

Below are some great online resources that can help in determining some of the background of the author, audience, time, culture, and general information about each book of the Bible.

Observation/Comprehension

After setting the scene of a passage of Scripture, you are ready to read the passage. This step is often referred to as observation but some others, like Jen Wilkin, refer to it as comprehension. While there are subtle differences in observation and comprehension, the rules are pretty much the same.

The first part of observation/comprehension is to read the passage several times. Mark specific words/phrases that seem to repeat or seem of special importance. Read the passage in another translation or two. Look up key words in a dictionary and/or concordance. Even if it is a word that you feel very familiar with, look up the other definitions and make note of the definition that seems to fit in this passage most appropriately. Write down any questions you may have about the passage.

During this stage, you are asking, “What does this passage say?”

Pretend you are an investigative reporter asking the who, what, when, where, why, and how questions. Forget all you have ever been taught regarding this passage and pretend you are reading/witnessing this for the first time.

One helpful tip for this stage in the inductive process is to print out a double-spaced copy of the chapter/book you are studying. This will give you the freedom to mark up the page without feeling guilty or the need to be a perfectionist when writing in your own Bible. This will allow you to highlight, mark up, or write questions/comments in the extra space.

“Proper comprehension is what enables proper interpretation and application to occur.” ~ Jen Wilkin (Women of the Word)

Interpretation

The next step in the inductive method of study is interpretation. In this step you are digging a bit deeper to determine what the message is being conveyed by what was said.

During interpretation, you are asking, “What does this passage mean? What does this passage tell me about God? What doctrine is being taught here?”

The primary rule in interpretation of the Bible is “Scripture interprets Scripture.” To apply this rule, it is important to make use of the cross-reference verses that are often in the margins or footnotes of your Bible. If you do not have a Bible that includes cross-references, there are many online sources you can access.

How to Study the BibleA cross-reference is a verse in another part of the Bible that speaks on the same topic as the verse you are currently reading. This gives you a greater understanding on what God is teaching about this topic.

Once you feel like you may have an understanding of this passage, write a paraphrase of this passage. Take the definitions you looked up in the observation/comprehension step and use them to rewrite this passage in your own words. Doing this is not a violation of adding to/taking away from Scripture but a way that you can better understand all the nuances of the passage.

It is tempting to turn to commentaries and sermons over the passage you are studying to see what others believe the passage means. However, I would encourage you to avoid doing so until you have fully studied a passage. This should be the very last thing you do before moving to the application step of inductive study. Saving the use of commentaries for last will protect you for falling for a false teaching of the passage. When you know what the Word of God teaches for yourself, you can act as a Berean (Acts 17:11) and judge what a teacher says a passage means by what you know the passage means.

“Doing the personal work of comprehension and interpretation helps us to discern which commentaries are reliable, which interpretation best fits with what the text says. It takes time to be able to recognize which authors and teachers you can trust for thoughtful, reliable interpretation.” ~ Jen Wilkin (Women of the Word)

Application

Application is the step that we often jump to immediately while reading a passage of Scripture. This is the step where you put into action what has been taught. Without doing all the work prior to application, you may be applying the Scripture improperly. Applying Scripture wrongly can lead to sin and false teaching so it is vital to know that we are applying God’s word properly.

In this step we ask, “How should this passage change me? What does this passage teach me about God? How does this view of God change my view of self? How does this passage apply to my life? What doctrine is taught in this Scripture passage? How does this doctrine affect me and my actions?”

Look for three specific things in a passage during the application phase:

  1. View of God – What does this passage teach about God?
  2. View of Self – How does viewing God in this way change the way I view myself?
  3. Response – How should I respond to this truth?

“We can and should draw other application points from the text, but we must remember that the God-centered questions should always be our starting point.” ~ Jen Wilkin (Women of the Word)

Finish your Bible study in prayer. Thank God for His Word, for the truths that have been revealed to you, and the honor to study His Word. Confess any mishandling of this passage of  Scripture that you may have committed in the past and any other sin(s) that your study has revealed to you. Ask God to help you properly apply what He has taught you in your study.

How to Study the Bible

Jesus prayed for His disciples and us in His High Priestly Prayer found in John 17. In this prayer He said, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17). We are sanctified by God’s Word when we rightly handled it.

“Does the comprehension-interpretation-application process sound hard? It may be at first, but it becomes more intuitive the more you use it…Build slowly if you must, but by all means, build.” ~ Jen Wilkin (Women of the Word)

There is nothing more important than your spiritual health. Take the time to really study God’s Word and grow in His Truth.

“…as temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), you and I are called to become participants in the process of creating and maintaining an orderly, beautiful place within our hearts where the Lord may dwell. One of the most important ways we do this is through Bible study.” ~ Jen Wilkin (Women of the Word)

I have made some bookmarks with the steps, tips, and questions of studying the Bible using the inductive study method. If you would like this free download, subscribe to my newsletter and I will send you a link to the download library where you can download this and other downloads I offer for free.


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  • Alisha Dane

    Thank you for taking the time out to write this. Great, but practical tips fpr studying the Word.

    As a fellow blogger, I understand the importance of reading and understanding God’s Word properly. We use it in our writing to tell the world about Him, so we definitely don’t want to misrepresent Him or His Word.

  • I love the inductive Bible study method!

  • Jerri Miller

    Some great tips here! I’m bookmarking this to come back and make some notes. You have great suggestions! ~ Jerralea

  • Really practical- and I have found Grace to You and Jen Wilkin to be valuable resources as well! Are you familiar the Zondervan Handbook to the Bible? It’s illustrated and helps to quickly reference context, cross-references, and more. You might enjoy!

  • Thank you for the thorough explanation of how to study the Bible.

  • Love the ABC’s!

  • Recently Jenn Wilkin published an article with CT that challenges us to think carefully about what we CALL Bible Study, because everything that’s going on under that banner may or may not be a true Bible study.

    These points you’ve made are so important.

    • So true! I love Jen Wilkin. Part of this article came from reading her “Women of the Word” book.

  • I liked your article. I didn’t know all the fancy terminology, but that’s how I like to study.
    Besides my print Bible and Library app, I like the reference Bible – besides cross-references it has an excellent appendix and glossary (some audio available, and more being added) here: https://www.jw.org/en/publications/bible/nwt/books/ and the E-Sword program that contains many Bible translations for comparison and the 1928 Websters Dictionary and Strong’s Concordance for digging deep.

    • Thanks for commenting. I have heard lots of good things about E-Sword. I also believe seeing how other translations translate certain words or passages can be very helpful. I would warn, however, of using the Jehovah’s Witnesses translation. It is not a reliable translation. I do recommend the English Standard Version (ESV), New American Standard Bible (NASB), and the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB). The King James Version (KJV), the New King James Version (NKJV), and the New English Translation (NET) are also good options. I would use the New International Version (NIV) with some caution although it is through reading the NIV that God saved me. 🙂 I would avoid using paraphrases like The Message or The Living Bible.

      • You have been misinformed about the New World Translation; it is one of the most accurate Bible translations. Even more so in the 2013 revision, they found God’s name Jehovah in 6 more places in the manuscripts (Over 7000 total) and it is restored unlike many translations where it is replaced with GOD or LORD. (it is available for free if you would like to investigate for yourself, no strings) I don’t care for the paraphrases either; reminds me of the school teachers that tried to be cool with the kids but really lost respect in the end (JMO). I also like the Bible in Living English and Young’s Literal Translation.
        Digging into God’s Word is always a good thing 🙂 I also like that you encourage others. Take care.

        • Thank you for your gracious response.

          I am My biggest concern with the NWT is the inconsistency in the method of translation used by the translation committee, especially in the handling of the Trinity. This is my same concern with the Bible in Living English. There are some very serious differences between these two and other reliable translations that lead to serious theological differences. Young’s Literal Translation is helpful in understanding the original meaning of a word or phrase and it is a reliable translation, however, it can be very difficult to read.

          Again, thank you for being so kind in this disagreement.

          • I’d love to discuss this with you more w/o feeling like I’m hogging you page 🙂
            You can email or DM me on FB – I’m DavetteBInAK (again no strings or obligation for more info).
            You have been gracious as well. We may never change each other’s minds, but I like that you are able to discuss w/o turning it into an argument. I just wanted you to see firsthand vs. hearing 3rd hand info or gossip. No hard feelings either way <3
            Take care and keep seeking God 🙂

  • Liz Rigby

    I thought this was wonderfully thorough. For my topical studies I love the Thompson Chain study Bibles. I will be pinning this to my pinterest board!