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How to Study the Bible

How do we study the Bible?

Studying the Bible for yourself can seem like a daunting task. It is a very important part of being a follower of Jesus Christ. We are encouraged to learn and understand what the Bible means: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” ‭‭(II Timothy‬ ‭2:15‬ ‭NKJV‬‬). This can feel like a daunting task because the Bible is so large and has 66 different books.  But we must remember that God always provides help for us. “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come” (‭‭John‬ ‭16:13‬ ‭NKJV‬‬). Before reading any section of the Bible, we should pray and ask the Holy Spirit to help us understand it, and to use the words and ideas in Scripture to change the way we think and act.

There are 3 steps to Bible study:

1. Observation

  • What was said?
  • How was it said?
  • Who were the words spoken to?
  • Is there emphasis on certain words?
  • Repetition of words stresses their importance.
  • Look for relationships between ideas
    • Cause-and-effect: “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things” (Matthew 25:21, NIV).
    • If-then: “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14, NIV).
  • Questions and answers: “Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle” (Psalms 24:8, NIV).
  • Comparisons and contrasts. For example, “You have heard that it was said…But I tell you…” (Matthew 5:21-22, NIV).
  • Literary form. The Bible is literature, and the three main types of literature in the Bible are discourse (the epistles), prose (Old Testament history), and poetry (the Psalms). Considering the type of literature makes a big difference when you read and interpret the Scriptures.

After you have considered these things, you then are ready to ask the Who? What? Where? When? questions.

Who are the people in this passage? What is happening in this passage? Where is this story taking place? When in time (of day, of the year, in history) is it?

Asking these four questions can help you notice terms and identify atmosphere. The answers will also enable you to use your imagination to recreate the scene you’re reading about.

As you answer the questions and imagine the event, you may come up with some questions of your own. Asking those additional questions in order to gain understanding will help to build a bridge between observation (the first step) and interpretation (the second step) of the Bible study process.

2. Interpretation

Interpretation is discovering the meaning of a passage, the author’s main thought or idea. Answering the questions that arise during observation will help you in the process of interpretation. Here are some things that can help you determine the author’s main point(s):

● Context. Reading the surrounding verses, and even the chapter before and after the section you are studying, can give context to what you are reading.

● Cross-references. We should always let Scripture interpret Scripture, let other passages in the Bible shed light on the passage you are looking at. However, be careful not to assume that the same word or phrase in two different passages means the same thing.

● Culture. The Bible was written many years ago, so when we interpret it, we need to understand it from the writers’ cultural context.

● Conclusion. After answering all of your questions about a passage, you can make a preliminary statement of the passage’s meaning. Remember that the author may be presenting more than one thought or ideas in a particular section of Scripture.

● Consultation. Reading a good commentary written by a Bible scholar can help you interpret Scripture.

3. Application

Application is the main purpose for studying the Bible. We want our lives to change. We want to be obedient to God and to grow to become more like Jesus Christ. After we have observed a passage and interpreted or understood it to the best of our ability, we must then apply its truth to our own life.

You’ll want to ask the following questions of every passage of Scripture you study:

● How does the truth revealed affect my relationship with God?

● How does this truth affect my relationship with others?

● How does this truth affect me?

● How does this truth affect my response to the enemy, Satan?

The application step is completed by putting into practice what God has taught you in your study. “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (‭‭James‬ ‭1:22‬ ‭NIV).‬‬ We grow into becoming more like Jesus one step at a time. Take what you are learning and allow it to change you!