How do you study the Bible beyond just reading it?
- Ask questions about it.
What good is reading if you do not understand it? When you encounter a difficult or confusing passage, ask about the meaning. You can do this in one of two ways: Ask God in prayer for comprehension, or ask another person (such as a pastor) to help you understand the meaning of the text.
Mathis writes, “Don’t be afraid to pause and pose questions — the simplest kind and the very hardest — and then expect to find answers. And be ready to do what it takes to pursue them. We call this Bible study. And it can be time-consuming, and greatly rewarding. Perhaps the main obstacle that keeps us from doing it well today isn’t that we’re not smart enough, but that we’re too lazy to put in the energy to ask the hard questions, and the time it takes to really pursue the answers.”
- Meditate on it.
The Bible is not for speed-reading. Instead, slow down and ponder what you’re reading. When you come across a verse that you find meaningful to your life, meditate on it. Read the passage multiple times, and allow it to speak into your situation.
We know that “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). But we cannot fully grasp the Bible’s valuable teaching when we blast through Scripture like an out of control tornado. Slow down and think.
Mathis says, “Meditation funnels our Bible intake to the heart. It takes the mental work of reading (and study) and presses it down into our emotions to better feel the weight of the meaning. Meditation also pairs well with Bible memory, and the most fruitful memorization, I’ve found, is a rigorous form of meditation.”
- Use it to pray.
Do you just get the Bible off the shelf and read? Or do you pray over your time in Bible study, asking the Lord to point you to the passages he wishes you to see? And your prayers should not stop there!
Mathis suggests, “You might want to pray back to God the precise words of the biblical text, quoting back to him exactly what he’s saying to us. But another way to ‘pray the Bible’ is to take in his words, meditate on them, press them to our hearts and make them our own, and then pray back to God, in our own words, in view of what we’ve heard from him in his speaking to us.”
“We haven’t yet learned the fullness of what to do with a Bible if it’s not inspiring and guiding our prayers.”
- Obey what you read.
“He replied, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.’” (Luke 11:28)
If you know that the law says do not steal, and you do it anyway, you should not be surprised when you go to jail. In the same way, it does not make sense to read the Bible, and disobey its teaching.
“When we open the Bible, we come into contact with the King of kings. Through Christ, we approach his throne of grace. Hearing his words, and not obeying them, is a ticking time bomb. He is patient and kind (Romans 2:4). He makes his sun to rise on the righteous and unrighteous (Matthew 5:45). He is patient toward us, not wanting any to perish (2 Peter 3:9). But he will not always suffer our disobedience,” writes Mathis.
- Share it with others.
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
How many times have we heard these verses, and yet, many of us struggle with this part of Bible study. But we are told not to hide our light from from others (Matthew 5:15-16). We have this light because of our faith. We do not glorify God when we keep it to ourselves.
Strange though it may seem at first, Mathis suggests we try the following:
“Invite a neighbor, co-worker, or friend to sit down with you and read a brief passage together, perhaps from the Gospels, and discuss for a few minutes. Taking God’s very words in the Bible as the catalyst for interaction is powerful. One-on-one Bible reading may be the single most effective step you can take to bring a nonbeliever to faith.”
If you are find yourself struggling to read the Bible, ask yourself why. Is it due to time constraints? Boredom? A feeling of separation from God? There may be stretches during your faith walk that reading the Bible may seem like a burden, but friends, it is not.
Crosswalk.com contributing writer Amy Green says, “Whenever the Bible talks about spending time with God through reading the Word, it’s never in the context of a burden. Just take a look at Romans 15:4, ‘For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.’ I don’t know about you, but I could use more hope in my life.”
If you’re struggling to open your Bible, I highly recommend you click over to Amy’s 10 Fresh Ways to Study Your Bible and open yourself up to new ways of study. One of her creative ideas might set you on a path to deeper study, and a stronger relationship with God.
“Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” (Psalm 119:105)
I had no idea what she was telling us to do, but I did understand “flip turn.” I had tried one of those underwater somersaults before and hit my head on the bottom of the pool.
When the older girls quickly started diving into the water, I was ready to run away from practice. But before I could escape, they herded us newcomers down to lane 6, where the assistant coach started teaching us the basics.
I survived the 2-hour practice, dragging my aching body back the next day. And I slowly learned to swim competitively.
Swimming wasn’t just slapping my arms around in the water and splashing with my feet. Each stroke was specifically tailored for speed. I learned to breathe by just turning my head to the side, and I finally figured out the flip turn.
But first I had to overcome my initial feelings of confusion and inadequacy.
Those feelings surfaced again when I first thought about studying the Bible. I was intimidated by the huge book, and I wasn’t even sure where to start.
But just like swimming, I was willing to try. And I discovered that studying the Bible was actually a lot like swim practice, only much more enjoyable. (And I didn’t smell like chlorine afterward.)
Joy Found Through Studying God’s Word
“Study produces joy,” Richard J. Foster writes in his book Celebration of Discipline. “Like any novice, we will find it hard work in the beginning. But the greater our proficiency, the greater our joy. Study [of the Bible] is well worth our most serious effort.”
Just like I became a stronger swimmer through the discipline of twice-daily practices, I also strengthened my faith through the study of God’s Word. I came to love the feel of the water and the art of swimming, just as my love for the Lord grew as I learned about Him and His great plan in the pages of Scripture.
“The Word of God is the only real authority we have,” writes Billy Graham in the foreward to Bruce & Stan’s Guide to the Bible. “His Word sheds light on human nature, world problems and human suffering. But beyond that, it clearly reveals the way to God.”
There are many different methods and techniques for studying the Bible; here are just a few to consider.
- Understand the Big Picture
Whatever methods you choose, always ask God to reveal Himself and speak to you through His Word. What does the passage you read teach you about God, and how can you apply it to your life?
Although the Bible was written by more than 40 authors and contains 66 books including poetry, history, letters and prophecy – it all ultimately tells us God’s story. So one way to study the Bible is to approach it with the intention of understanding the big picture.
In his book Quiet Talks on Prayer, S.D. Gordon explains that we should “begin at the first of Genesis, and read rapidly through by the page. Do not try to understand it all. You will not. Never mind that now. Just push on. Do not stop at the close of Genesis. Push on into Exodus. And so on into Leviticus. Now do not try to understand Leviticus the first time. You will not the 100th time perhaps. Get the drift of the book. And in it all be getting the picture of God.”
One Bible paraphrase called The Message, developed by Eugene Peterson, is specifically designed to be read rather than studied. Put in common English, some editions of The Message leave out verse distinctions entirely.
When we read the Bible as a whole, we can see the bigger picture of God’s redeeming plan.
- Book Study
We can discover many truths from in-depth study of a specific book within the Bible.
For example, spend some time studying Philippians (it’s nice and short). Then try tackling a book like Romans or Isaiah. Consider these suggestions as you read:
Study the background: Who wrote the book? To whom was it written and why? For example, the first verse of Philippians tells us it is a letter written by Paul and Timothy to the Christians living in Philippi.
List the names of the principal characters; identify them and their significance. In some books of the Bible, like Philippians, there aren’t many characters. But for books like Genesis, drawing out a family tree can be very helpful.
Make an outline of the book: What are the main points?
Mark passages that God uses to teach you something. Underline verses that touch your heart.
3. Chapter and Verse
When you study individual chapters and verses, look closely at the text. Sometimes it helps to compare different translations, or look up words in a Bible dictionary. Ask yourself:
What is the principal subject of the chapter?
What is a key verse? Consider memorizing it.
Who are the principal characters?
Is there any example to follow or to avoid?
One of the first verses I memorized was Philippians 4:6,7. It remains one of my favorite verses to this day:
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (New American Standard Bible).
As I worked to memorize the words, dwelling on them, I also began to give over my anxious thoughts, confirming firsthand that the peace of God really does surpass understanding.
- Try a Topic
We can also study the Bible by focusing on what it says about specific topics. What is God’s take on anxiety, prayer, sexual purity or trust?
Using a topical Bible or a concordance, look up all the references to a specific topic. Ask yourself these questions:
What is a working definition of the topic?
How do all the verses relate together?
What have you learned about the topic and what does it tell you about God?
Which of these verses would be good to memorize?
5. Pick a Person
There are 2,930 people mentioned in the Bible, and we can learn valuable lessons from studying their lives. Pick someone you would like to study, and using a concordance, a topical Bible or a proper-name index found in the back of some Bibles, look up every mention of that person.
Here are some questions to ask:
What were his or her outstanding character traits?
Was there a great crisis in his life? If so, how did he face it?
What was her experience with God?
Were any particular faults evident in his life?
Notice her prayer life, faith, service to God, knowledge of God’s Word, courage in witnessing, and attitude toward the worship of God. What motivated these traits?
One of my favorite people of the Bible is Lydia. She caught my attention in Acts 16 because she sold purple cloth (purple is my favorite color).
But as I looked deeper, I was inspired by her faith and hospitality.
Finding Hope in the Living Truth
Whenever we study the Bible, it’s not just to gain knowledge, but to learn more about God and to apply His truths to our lives.
“The Bible attests to itself as being a living book,” writes John Loftness in his book Disciplined for Life. “Consequently, we don’t merely stuff our minds with the facts and principles of Scripture. That would be lifeless. Instead, we listen to what God is saying as to how to apply His Word.”
Even though swimming was difficult, especially at the beginning, I stayed with it and even qualified for the district meet my junior and senior year. I also became a lifeguard, which gave me summer jobs for many years. It all started with the willingness to show up for practice.
With Bible study, if we show up, dive in and return expectantly, God will meet us in His Word.
James 1:22Open in Logos Bible Software (if available) says “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” Simply reading the Bible is not enough. We need to be able to understand it in correct context and live out what it teaches.
How do we go beyond simply reading to understanding and application? Pastor Randy White joins us to discuss how we can study the Bible and allow its wisdom to lead us to understand and live out its truth on a daily basis. He suggested this foundational verse to help study Scripture and build on its truth:
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)
We discuss the importance of reading and studying Scripture in context. For example, we love to claim the promises of God and not accept His warnings or judgments. We also love to take certain verses out of context (‘Judge ye not!’), or apply specific verses to us or to America, etc. One example is Jeremiah 29:11Open in Logos Bible Software (if available). Many people do not understand the context on certain Old Testament passages even though the principle of a bright future – salvation – applies to all believers.
“For thus says the Lord, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.’ Jeremiah 29:10-14Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)
Let me tell you about 6 currently-trendy ways to study the Bible. Many come with acronyms that make these quiet time routines easy to remember and feeling fresh and exciting. They all take you a step beyond reading the Bible to what you may consider studying. They require intentionality, focus, and action.
Here we go:
Grow stands for:
Greet: Pray before you read.
Read: Read your verse or passage.
Observe: What stands out to you?
Write: Pick one verse and write it out.
You will rarely find somebody talking about studying the Bible without involving prayer. It’s an equally important part of our quiet time and allows us to connect with our Lord and invite Him into the study process. I love, of course, that we are asked to make observations about the text. I am concerned that without further instructions this may be a little difficult for many believers who have not yet learned how to ask observation questions. Finally, writing out a verse helps us to internalize it better, which hopefully leads to a changed heart and life. This is a good next step.
Soap stands for:
Scripture: Write out the verse(s) you’d like to study further.
Observation: Upon further inspection, do you notice anything you’ve previously missed?
Application: How can you apply this verse to your life?
Prayer: Ask God to help you implement what you’ve just learned.
Several Bible study organizations currently use this study method. It’s similar to the previous one, but I prefer this order. After having written out the verse, you are more likely to have inspected it enough to make a few good observations. The inclusion of an application phase is absolutely essential. From here, you pray as a response to Scripture, which is great because the Holy Spirit is our helper in applying God’s Word.
Power stands for:
Prayer: Begin with prayer.
Observe: What does this verse show you about God and/or about you?
Write: Again, write out a verse that stands out to you.
Envision: How do you see this verse applied in your life?
Response: Respond to God.
This is a very similar approach. After having envisioned a life application, you put in to practice in response to God - presumably through prayer and action. Thus, this method includes prayer both in the beginning and the end of your time in God’s Word. I like that.
Focus stands for:
Foundation: Read the passage you are studying.
Observation: Pick out some details.
Clarification: Learn about the original meaning of the text.
Utilization: Find cross-references.
Summation: Respond to what you have learned.
I like that we are expanding the study phase beyond making observations. However, I assume that many of you are saying, “Sounds good. How do I learn about the original meaning? How do I find cross-references?” or even “What are they, and why do I need them?”
My Thoughts on the Acronym Bible-Study Methods
There is obviously nothing wrong with a cute acronym. All of the steps mentioned above are good and helpful ways to study the Bible. Certainly include prayer. Make observations. Apply the verse. The acronym, while not making the method itself superior, can certainly help you remember what’s next and to not leave out an important step.
Here is the big “but” you’ve probably heard coming. I think these “study methods” are a next step up from only reading the Bible, but they don’t completely teach you how to fully understand God’s Word and handle it with the utmost care. I have not seen anyone who encourages one of these acronyms regularly teach their students more about each of these steps.
For example, the observation step is very broad and often just asks, “What stands out to you?” It takes some training and practice to make good observations which will in turn help you interpret the text more accurately - a step that was completely left out of most of these acronyms. When we don’t take proper care to make good observations - that should include reading the context, asking good questions, and noting conjunctions and cross-references - we are bound to end up with poor application at least half of the time.
What do I mean by poor application? It’s when you claim that you can do “anything through Christ” including becoming thin, rich, and famous rather than content, godly, and mission minded (Philippians 4:13). It means you could be reading the Bible, claiming verses, and talking about your faith while actually worshipping a god that, in a sense, is not the God of the Bible. I don’t think any of us intend to do that.
Please, don’t mishear me. These acronym Bible studies are not of the devil. They are a good place to start. I myself have led a women’s Bible study with a curriculum that used the SOAP method. It was a good study and challenged many of the ladies in my group to go beyond just reading the Bible. It was a great place to start. We enjoyed it.
My encouragement is simply to learn even deeper ways of studying the Bible. Don’t be intimidated. You can do it, step by step!
- Bible Journaling
There is currently a trend to pick a phrase on each page of Scripture and write it in your wide-margin Bible in fancy lettering surrounded by illustrations or embellishments. I think this practice is wonderful for creative people and allows you to really dwell on that phrase you chose to commemorate beautifully in the margin of your Bible.
“Americans revere the Bible – but, by and large, they don’t read it. And because they don’t read it, they have become a nation of biblical illiterates.” – Researcher George Gallup
Until about five years ago, I was one of those Americans who revered the Bible but didn’t read it much. Of course I knew it was important, that it was God’s Word, and (fill in the blank with every other thing I was supposed to know after many years of being a Christian). But to actually want to read the Bible regularly? I thought that was a desire only a pastor could possibly have.
Frankly, I thought the Bible was about as interesting as watching paint dry. Seeing as how studies regularly show most Christians are biblically illiterate, I’m probably not the only one who has struggled with this.
Fast forward to this weekend. On Saturday night I was about to turn off the light for bed when I realized I hadn’t read the Bible yet that day. I let out a pleasantly surprised, “oh!” and reached for my Bible with genuine anticipation for the reading minutes ahead.
I love reading the Bible today. I would never have imagined myself saying that just a few years ago. If you struggle to actually like reading the Bible, here are six tips to help you out.
- Change your underlying beliefs about the importance of reading the Bible.
It’s well known in psychology that your underlying belief about something drives your attitude toward it, and that attitude drives behavior. If you merely try to change your Bible reading behavior without changing your attitude toward the Bible, you’re setting yourself up for failure; furthermore, you can’t change your attitude toward the Bible without changing your underlying beliefs about it.
So that begs the question: what exactly do you need to believe in order to have a positive attitude toward the Bible that results in regular reading behavior? I suppose there are a variety of possible answers depending on the individual, but I believe this one is the common thread:
You have to believe that reading the Bible actually matters.
Ask yourself if you whole-heartedly believe that. If not, why not? Do you have unanswered questions about the Bible’s reliability? Get answers. Do you not believe regular Bible reading would actually change your spiritual life? Read this research. Do you have trouble understanding what the Bible is saying when you read it (we all do at times!)? Buy a good study Bible.
If you don’t believe reading the Bible matters, you’ll be very unlikely to suddenly start liking it.
- Make sure you understand the overarching structure and story of the Bible.
I got through high school English without ever reading an entire book. I hated literature and survived on “Cliffs Notes” (book summaries you can buy). This approach to reading carried over into my young adult life. There was no way I was going to actually read a book the size of the Bible, but one day I decided to pick up “The Bible for Dummies.” I hate to say it, but reading “The Bible for Dummies” was a turning point for me. (That’s crazy to think of now – I’ve turned into a voracious reader!)
In 18 years of church, I had never really learned what the overarching story of the Bible was; I had simply picked up bits and pieces with no meaningful understanding of how they fit together. After reading “The Bible for Dummies,” I no longer saw the Bible as one huge, daunting book I had no interest in reading. I finally felt like I had a map and could enjoy visiting the different parts. If you’re fuzzy on what happens between “let there be light” and the resurrection, I highly recommend starting with a summary book. (For $.99, you can get the highly rated ebook “Know Your Bible” to help.)
- Target your interests.
If you’re not yet at the point of enjoying reading the Bible, it may not be the best thing to dive into a reading plan that goes from Genesis to Revelation. Consider what you need spiritually at this time in your life or would like to understand better.
Are you interested in or challenged by questions related to origins? Study Genesis.
Do you wonder “what’s up” with all of those Old Testament laws? Study Leviticus (with a really good study guide…)
Are you interested in the similarities and differences between the gospels? Read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Do you need encouragement for finding joy? Read Philippians.
You get the picture. Don’t force yourself to read the Bible in its entirety when you’re just getting going. Once you learn to enjoy parts, you’ll learn to enjoy the whole.
- Treat every opportunity to read the Bible as a learning adventure.
I truly believe I will learn something new every time I read the Bible. That makes a huge difference in my desire to read each day. Using a good study Bible gives you insights on history, geography, culture, language, and theology that you would never gain on your own.
I use the ESV study Bible (which I read on my iPad, using the OliveTree app). I usually read a full chapter and then go back to read the study notes so my reading flow isn’t interrupted.
- Treat every opportunity to read the Bible as a heart adventure.
True to the statistics I linked to in this blog post, I’ve personally experienced that nothing in my spiritual life has drawn me closer to God than reading the Bible. I think many Christians assume that’s the privileged role of prayer, but reading and studying God’s Word is just as much a “heart thing.” When you start to see it as such, your anticipation for reading the Bible will greatly grow.
- Don’t feel bad if you don’t enjoy reading certain parts.
I just can’t get into the book of Psalms. But that’s OK. It’s absolutely fine (and normal) to enjoy reading some parts of the Bible more than others!
where did you get these long answers ?^^
I think find good teacher is important .
Literally first. But watch for the details. The whole thing is a contract.
I always just get in conversation with the Holy Spirit, God’s word say’s to test the spirit’s to see witch kind it is.Even though you are alone in God’s word remember Satan walks around as a roaring lion seeking whom he can consume.He will deceive us if he can.And go into prayer with God’s spirit before getting into His word, remember Satan knows God’s word he was in heaven with God before he got kicked out.