Reading Scripture is part of many believers’ daily routines. But unless you've gone to Bible college or had a Sunday school class where learning various Bible study methods was taught, then digging into Scripture can feel frustrating.
What's the difference between a concordance and an interlinear Bible with transliterations?
Why are people circling words and underlining others with lots of different colors and arrows?
And how do they know what words to look up and where do you look up those words to find out what the meaning was in the original language? Who is teaching accurate and effective Bible study methods and how do we find out how to use them?
It’s time to explore some effective Bible study methods so that we are confident getting into God’s Word every day.
What Are Bible Study Methods—Meaning & Importance
Studying the Bible can feel daunting when we’ve not had formal training, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. At the core, we study Scripture so we can learn the meaning behind the text and how we can apply our own behavior to what the Bible teaches (not take Scripture and make it work for what we think it should say).
Bible study methods are simply “how-to” guides to make digging into Scripture feel less overwhelming while simultaneously helping you learn and understand it better.
You may choose a Bible study method based on themes in the Bible. For example, if you’re struggling with contentment, you may search for passages and stories that teach on this topic.
Conversely, you may choose to do a topical study, which is similar to studying a theme but differs in that a topical study is more in-depth because it branches out from the topic into subtopics.
Or you may decide on a Bible study method based on a character that you admire.
While these three examples are not exhaustive, they are indicative of how many options we have to study Scripture. In fact, one could do start with a thematic study, then move to a character study, and then based on all the knowledge acquired, dig into a topical study next.
The importance, however, is not to focus so much on the type of study but the fact that every time we read the Bible, we’re filling our hearts and minds with things that Paul calls true, noble, pure, lovely, and admirable (see Philippians 4:8).
Is There One Right Way to Do Bible Study?
Despite what some may say, there is no one right way to study the Bible, although there are best practices for doing so. The one exception to that rule could be that when studying Scripture, we don’t look for the meanings we want it to have. We must learn what the text actually says and what it meant to those it was written for.
That is, in a nutshell, an exegesis (EX-ih-gee-zis), or in other words, a “legitimate interpretation which ‘reads out of’ the text what the original authors meant to convey.”
An eisegesis (ICE-ih-gee-zis) is when the person reads into the text what they wish it said or meant. We see this often when Scripture is twisted to justify actions or manipulate. A situation like this happened recently—a person used the Scripture about being “unequally yoked” to try to guilt my company into doing work for free. As in, “We’re unequally yoked in God’s will if you don’t perform this business service pro bono.” Ummmm….that’s a big fat no on that request, but thanks.
We don’t want to perform an eisegesis of Scripture.
So, in that sense, there is a “wrong” way to study Scripture (looking for the meanings we want). But if we’re intent on learning what the Scriptures said, then no, there is no one right way to study Scripture.
What Does the Bible Say about Studying God's Word?
Scripture has a lot to say about studying the Word of God.
Joshua 1:8 says that the Law shall not depart from our mouths and that we are to meditate on it day and night.
Psalm 119:11 says to store up God’s Word in our hearts so that we might not sin against Him.
Proverbs 3:1-2 says to not forget God’s teachings.
And a big one: Deuteronomy 11:18 says to lay up these words in our hearts and our souls. It continues with one of my favorite passages of Scripture in verse 19: “You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”
If we don’t know the Scriptures…if we don’t study the Bible, then how are we to understand what God has for us within its pages? Hebrews 4:12 says that the Word of God is living and active…judging the thoughts and intentions of the hearts. We must read and learn and ask God to make our hearts hungry for His knowledge because it one way that our Heavenly Father communicates with us.
5 Effective Bible Study Methods to Get You Started
So how do we get started?
An easy way to dip your toes into the Bible study waters is to download the free Bible app: YouVersion. There are countless reading plans, as well as studies of various lengths of time on a multitude of topics. You can do them alone or with a friend or group.
An app that is extremely helpful is the Blue Letter Bible app. It allows you to click on a word and see the original language, what the word means, where else it is used in Scripture, and amongst a plethora of other resources, it also lets you read commentaries on the passage. I’m pretty new to that app myself but it is very powerful and is a great addition to your Bible study tools library.
As far as steps for studying the Bible, Jim George says, “Observation is the first and most important step in how to study the Bible. As you read the Bible text, you need to look carefully at what is said, and how it is said.”
Here are five methods to help you get started:
The Inductive Bible Study Method is broken down into three parts: Observation, Interpretation, and Application. In each part, you ask deep questions about the passage or verse that you’re studying:
What was happening during this period?
Who were the original readers?
Who was the writer?
What does it mean?
What was being communicated?
How can I change or adapt my behavior based on what I learned?
What is God telling me through this passage?
The Sword Bible Study Method is where you read a passage or verse and then ask yourself three questions: What do you learn about God? What do you learn about people? And what do God want you to do? It is called the Sword method based on a sword being pointed to the heavens (towards God as we learn about Him) and the hilt pointing downwards (towards Earth as we learn about people).
The SOAP Bible Study Method is an acronym for:
This method is similar to the Inductive Bible study method mentioned above but includes a specific time for prayer. The SOAK method is almost identical except the “K” is for Kneeling in Prayer.
The Thematic Bible Study Method, as mentioned earlier, is where you study the Bible based on a certain theme. To get started, grab a concordance (or check out the one in the Blue Letter Bible app) and find all the verses that are related to the theme. There may also be an index in your Bible that has verses, as well as free concordance sites online.
The Books of the Bible Study Method is to study Scripture by book. You can apply the prior methods to your reading through of your chosen book, or you can utilize any number of excellent studies to use as a resource as you study on your own. When studying the books of the Bible, you’ll want to pay close attention to the history surrounding the book, the background of the author, as well as the original audience. Do this and the Bible will come to life before your very eyes.
Some tools you might want to have handy:
- Journal or notebook
- Acid-free, fade-proof pens
- Highlighters (colored pencils also do well for underlining)
The Bible Journaling community is huge. Search on Pinterest or Instagram and you’ll find tons of new friends who love to study their Bibles and ideas on how to add creativity to your study time.
And it must be said. While this article is sharing a few different methods, there are so many more out there. In fact, this article highlights 12 Effective Bible Study Methods, including a few mentioned here. And here are 5 easy steps to study the Bible from John MacArthur.
My prayer is that this post encourages you to find a method that is right for you.
Photo credit: ©Unsplash/Ben White
Bethany Jett is a multi-award-winner for her books and marketing campaigns and is a sought-after speaker for women and teens. An entrepreneur at heart, Bethany co-owns two companies within the publishing industry.
She is a military wife to her college sweetheart and a work-from-home momma-of-boys who loves planners, suspense novels, and all things girly.
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