Personal Bible study is often a pain point for many believers: they want to study the Bible for themselves but lack the knowledge or skills to do so effectively. Therefore many struggle, become discouraged, or quit altogether, while others settle for exclusive second-hand interpretation by others. However, these believers are often unaware that there are simple yet effective Bible study methods that everyone can use, from the beginner to the scholar.
In this article, we define Bible study methods, discuss thirteen established methods, classify them into two categories and explain how they relate to each other. More importantly, we provide guidance on how you can begin applying these methods. Our purpose is not to describe all of these methods in detail but to present an overview of what they are and how they fit into your Bible study plan.
What are Bible Study Methods?
The English word method is a transliteration of the Greek methodos, which means a “way of transit.” Although there are many ways of doing something, not every path will produce the desired results or lead us to the desired destination. So we are not merely interested in methods, but methods that have expected results or get the job done. Our methods should be suitable for the task at hand.
So Bible Study Methods are the orderly steps to interpret the Bible and apply its truths correctly. Note the three key features:
Methods are steps, and steps are the actions we take and the things we do.
These steps are carefully chosen and arranged in a way that leads to the desired result. They are systematic.
The steps and the order are the best way to achieve the desired outcome.
Methods, not a Method
Just like the Bible, which is not merely a book but a collection of books, there is no single bible study method but methods. Similarly, since our needs are not only many but vary in time, there are methods tailored to each need and goal.
Over centuries, God’s people developed the now well-known Bible study methods with specific steps carefully arranged to achieve particular goals.
Two Categories of Methods
For practical purposes, these methods—orderly steps and specific procedures— can be grouped into two categories depending on their primary function. The first category includes methods concerned with the proper principles for interpreting and applying the Bible; we have labeled this hermeneutical approach. We recommend the well-known Inductive Bible Study as the hermeneutical approach.
The second category, which we have termed goal-oriented methods, is primarily concerned with meeting a specific need or achieving a particular objective, such as devotional or topical Bible study.
The words approach and methods are synonymous, so each category could be called approaches or methods. Therefore we urge you not to focus on the semantics but on principle underlying this classification.
To avoid further confusion, we have used the adjectivals hermeneutical and goal-oriented, which are more helpful in capturing our intention.
Relationship between the two categories
The relationship between these categories is more important than the terms used to designate them. The hermeneutical approach, the Inductive Bible Study, provides the universal principles to correctly interpret and apply any Bible passage using any goal-oriented Bible method.
An illustration will help clarify this point. Suppose you are troubled by the confusion about speaking in tongues and want to find out for yourself what the Bible says. In this case, you will do a topical study on speaking in tongues. A topical study, a goal-oriented method has specific steps designed to meet that goal—learn all the Bible has to say about a topic.
However, the Inductive Bible Study principles will guide how you interpret and apply the Bible passages. Therefore the hermeneutic approach, the Inductive Bible Study, is the invisible foundation upon which you build any specific goal-oriented method.
The Hermeneutical Approach
The Inductive Bible Study is not the only hermeneutical approach to studying the Bible. In a general sense, hermeneutics is the art and science of Bible interpretation. It provides the principles that govern the actual act of Bible interpretation—exegesis. As expected, scholars have developed dozens of hermeneutical and exegetical approaches to studying the Bible.
For instance, In Biblical Exegesis: a Beginner’s Handbook, Hayes and Holladay described nine forms of exegesis( critical approaches; not criticizing but systematically analyzing): textual, historical, grammatical, literary, form, tradition, redaction, structuralist, canonical.
Similarly, in the Logos Bible Study Factbook by Faithlife, LLC, the process of exegesis is presented in 12 steps: text, translation, historical context, literary context, form, structure, grammar, lexical analysis, biblical context, theology, secondary literary, and application.
The examples of hermeneutical approaches above immediately reveal a problem: Such Bible study approaches are wholly restricted to Bible scholars and far from the reach of the layperson. But God gave the scriptures to be read, studied, and understood by any believer.
The Glory of the Inductive Bible Study
The Inductive Bible study approach stands apart from these other hermeneutical approaches. Although this approach has several peculiarities, we will enlist just two. First, it is comprehensive. It includes every vital step included in all other approaches. Second, it is both simple and sophisticated. It can be used by the believer who runs a car repair shop or the one completing a master in divinity at a top seminary.
The Steps of the Inductive Bible Study
The inductive Bible study consists of five steps:
1. Observation: gather the facts.
2. Interpretation: determine the meaning of the facts.
3. Evaluation: assess which of the truths apply to us.
4. Application: appropriate those truths.
5. Correlation: put the truths together from other passages.
In practice, these five steps are often abridged into three: observation, interpretation, and application. These three steps are the heart of Bible study, and beginners are often encouraged to begin with them. To learn more, click here: What is Inductive Bible Study?
In contrast to the Inductive Bible Study, whose principles are universal and applicable in any method that seeks to interpret and apply the Bible, the goal-oriented techniques are more specific: their steps are purposefully designed to answer precise questions. We only use these methods when we need them to answer a particular question or meet the moment’s need.
There are several Bible study methods depending on your objective and need. Some of these include(mainly from Rick Warren’s Bible Study Methods):
1. Bible Reading( surprised? See below)
2. Devotional Study
3. Verse-by-verse analysis
4. Word Study
5. Thematic Study
6. Topical Study
7. Chapter Analysis
8. Chapter Summary
9. Book Survey
10. Book Background
11. Book synthesis
12. Biographical study
Core and Circumstantial
At Deshen School(our Bible school), we further subdivide these methods into core and circumstantial categories. The purpose of this classification is practical, to aid how we think and use these methods. The core methods constitute our daily bread, including Bible reading and devotional study.
The rest of the methods constitute the circumstantial methods; these, like special foods we need depending on the moment, are methods employed depending on our needs. For instance, you should prioritize a topical study on divine healing if you are sick.
Bible Reading as Bible Study
The surprise element in the list above is Bible reading. Bible reading is and is not Bible study. It is not Bible study because we don’t do what we typically associate with studying—going in-depth, long hours, consulting many reference books, etc.
Yet reading the Bible is the beginning of Bible study(think about this). It is the simplest form of Bible study and includes basic interpretation(exegesis), which is sufficient for some passages. It has a goal and suggested orderly steps as any other method above. This goal is to survey and be aware of everything God has revealed in the Bible from a bird’s eye view, and one of its chief rules is to avoid distractions through an in-depth study of the verses or words.
Therefore we recommend reading through the Bible regularly as a core approach to any Bible study plan.
We have briefly surveyed the methods God’s people have invented and developed for correctly reading, interpreting, and applying God’s Word. We defined a method as orderly steps and classified the available methods into hermeneutical and goal-oriented methods. We recommended the Inductive Study as the hermeneutical approach, listed twelve goal-oriented methods, and subdivided them into core and circumstantial. Last but not least, we explained the particular case of Bible reading.
What should you do next? Learn the methods, or grow in your skills. We suggest you learn the Inductive Bible Study and the core approaches mentioned above, which you will use almost daily. Once familiar with these, proceed to understand the other methods, prioritizing those you need the most. As always, leave a comment or contact us if you need help or guidance.
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