Eight Steps for Studying the Bible

The Bible is the most powerful book ever published. In its pages you can meet the living God whose words brought the cosmos into being. He is eager to reveal himself and has inspired the writing of this book by different authors in a variety of cultural settings. Parts of it are very old stories and may seem strange to you. Yet, as you read the stories of God interacting with individuals and groups, listen for him speaking to you and your community.

The Bible is really a library or collection of books, rather than one book with many chapters. If you are new to the Bible, consider starting with one of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). These are eyewitness descriptions of Jesus of Nazareth and are the climax of the Scripture. Locate them using the table of contents.

What follows is a way for individuals and small groups to delve deeply into the Bible, discover a passage’s core message, and learn to hear from and experience Jesus in his Word. Focus on just one chapter or half a chapter at a time. You may want to linger in a passage, taking a few days to study it deeply.

What follows is a way for you to delve deeply into the Bible, discover a passage’s core message, and learn to hear from and experience Jesus in his Word. 

1. Be Honest with God

Think through the last few days. Honestly tell God what you are feeling as you approach your time with him. Share your struggles and joys. Ask him to speak to issues in your life from the passage you are about to study. Pray that he would open your heart and mind to understand his Word. Then be ready to listen to him!

2. Research the Background

Find out who wrote the particular book you are studying, when it was written, and to whom it was written. Some Bibles will include introductory material at the beginning of each book to help you answer these questions, or a reliable Bible dictionary will tell you what you need to know. Learning this background information will help you understand how the passage would have impacted the original readers.

3. Enter the Text

  • Read the passage carefully and write down or circle specifics (whowhat, when, where, and how).
  • Circle or write down words, phrases, or ideas that connect by repeating, contrasting, being similar, going from general to particular, or stating a cause that leads to an effect.
  • Put yourself into the passage. What do you see, hear, smell, taste, and feel? Imagine that you’re one of the characters. If you’re reading a letter or law section, imagine what it might have felt like to receive this message. If the passage is poetry, let the power of the poem and its images sweep over you.
  • What questions does the passage raise in your mind? What words, phrases, or concepts don’t you understand? Does the passage turn in any unexpected ways? What intrigues you? Write down these questions.

4. Develop Paragraphs

Try to divide the passage into thought units or paragraphs. Look for changes in character, time, location, or theme. Write a brief title for each paragraph. Step back and look at the titles. Does any pattern emerge?

5. Find Answers for Your Questions

Most questions can be answered by looking closely at the text itself and thinking about how it would sound to the original audience. Also, consider the passage’s context. What comes before and after it? If you are studying a Gospel or another portion of the New Testament, is there any passage from the Old Testament that might relate?

One of the best ways to answer your questions is to look for connections among the paragraphs. Does the passage repeat a word, phrase, or idea? Do you see any contrast? Is there a cause in one paragraph and the effect in another? Do you notice any strings of similar words, phrases, or ideas that runs through a few paragraphs? Draw lines between the connected words or phrases to mark them. What is significant about these connections? Do they shed any light on your questions?

6. Summarize

Look at the connections, paragraph titles, questions, and answers you have discovered. Step back and ask yourself, "What is the author trying to say? What is the passage’s core message? Why is this passage or story here?" Try to write this in a sentence.

7. Hear from God and Act Boldly

How is God speaking to you? Is there a promise to trust, a command to obey, or an example to follow or avoid? Do you have a deeper insight into God or your experience with him? What specific action are you going to take in response to what God is saying to you?

8. Find More Online

To go deeper in Scripture on your own or to learn how to lead a group Bible study, InterVarsity has resources and videos at howto.bible.

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