Seven 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. He 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, it is best to start with one of the Gospels. These are eyewitness descriptions of Jesus of Nazareth and are the climax of the Bible.

What follows is a way for you to delve deeply into the Bible, discover the core message of a passage, and learn to hear from and experience Jesus in his Word. This method is suited to both individuals and small group Bible studies. We suggest you work your way through one book of the Bible, just a chapter or half-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 the core message of a passage, and learn to hear from and experience Jesus in his Word. 

1. Get Honest with God

Take time to think through what the last few days have been like for you. Share honestly with God what and how 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. Ask him to open your heart and mind to understand his Word. Then be ready to listen to him!

2. Research the Background

Find out who the author is, who the audience is, and the date the book was written. Introductory material at the beginning of each book in this Bible or a reliable Bible dictionary will tell you what you need to know. Learning this background information will help you to think about how the passage would have impacted the original readers.

3. Enter the Text

  • Read the passage carefully, and write down or circle specifics that you see, such as who is there, what is happening, when it is, where it is, and how it is happening.
  • Circle or write down words, phrases, or ideas that connect by repeating, contrasting, being similar, going from the general to the particular, or stating a cause that leads to an effect.
  • Put yourself into the passage. What do you see, smell, taste, and feel? Choose one of the characters and imagine yourself in their shoes. If it is a letter or law section, imagine what it might have felt like to receive the letter or hear the law. If it 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 these questions down.

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 the passage would sound to the original audience. Look hard for insights into your questions. Also look at the context of the passage. What comes before it and after it? If you are studying a Gospel or another passage from the New Testament, is there any passage from the Old Testament that might relate to your passage and shed light on your questions?

One of the best ways to move toward answering your questions is to look for connections among the paragraphs. Is there a word, phrase, or idea that is repeated? Is there a contrast? Is there a cause in one paragraph and the effect in another, or a string 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? What light do they shed on possible answers to 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 core message of this passage? Why is this passage or story here? Try to write this in one sentence.

7. Hear from God and Act Boldly

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

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Comments

I actually came across your name by reading your comments on David T. Lamb's book. My first question is why it it is always the "Old" Testament where God Behaves Badly? I am Jewish and when I read the "New" Testament, it makes me sick to my stomach. It so hateful towards Jews and Judaism. Most Christians are not aware of the centuries of Jewish literature that was created after the "Old" Testament was completed that explains and interprets the "Old Testament. For example, the "Old" Testament says "a life for a life". If you read the Talmud, the rabbis put so many limitation on this passage that it became nearly impossible to ever execute anyone.

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