Most believers want to study the Bible. They know they need to and are sure God wants them to. Furthermore, they want to search the scriptures themselves rather than depend solely on second-hand interpretation by others. But they encounter a common problem—they do not know how. To solve this problem, this article provides a brief but comprehensive overview of how to study the Bible personally, effectively, and confidently.
The purpose of this article is not to describe in detail the different methods of searching the scriptures. Such an extensive elaboration is neither feasible for a brief online article nor desirable. Rather than a lengthy treatise on approaches to God’s Book, this article surveys how to study the Bible in five easy steps with links to relevant in-depth articles wherever appropriate. Every believer, from the absolute beginner to those already in Christian ministry, will find this guide not only helpful but potentially life-changing.
Five Steps to Study the Bible Effectively
Effective Bible study begins with a general approach that is orderly, effective, and efficient. Many (possibly almost all believers) start their Bible study journey on the wrong footing: haphazard, unsystematic, and ineffective. Starting wrong inevitably implies a tumultuous journey ahead and an unproductive finish. Sadly, many continue believers in this personal Bible study tragedy with little or no help from their community.
Practical Bible study necessitates a comprehensive, methodical, simple, and efficient plan. We have drafted a simple 5-step strategy, yet we urge you not to be distracted by its simplicity. These steps are:
- Prepare your heart and mind.
- Learn the known methods to study the Bible.
- Develop a personal Bible study plan.
- Begin from the simplest and progress to more complex methods.
- Grow in the Spirit and skill of Bible study.
Please note the verbs and the nouns in each step—know the action we encourage you to take and what you should act on. We will briefly discuss each step and provide suggestions on how to proceed.
Step 1: Prepare your heart and mind
The first step to effectively studying the Bible is to prepare your heart and mind. this preparation includes, amongst others, an understanding of the what, the why, and the how. Needless to repeat here, if we do not know what we are doing and why we are doing it, we undermine the long-term benefits of our efforts.
In simple terms, Bible study is acquiring the knowledge of the Bible, understanding what it means, and ascertaining how it applies to us. Studying is nothing new to us; we do so in our careers, hobbies, or personal development. Therefore, it is not studying that is the issue with Bible study—it is the book we study, the Bible.
Unlike the what, the why of Bible study is somewhat more complex. Studying the Bible is unlike reading your favorite blog post or book from your favorite author. The Bible is both like any other ancient text and unlike any other ancient text.
- Firstly, as an ancient text, the Bible should be read and interpreted as any other ancient literature. Furthermore, as with most ancient text, it was first written to an ancient audience, at a different time in history, in a different culture, and written by multiple authors over an extended period. Old books like the Bible are read and interpreted differently, posing a problem for the modern reader.
- Secondly, appreciating the Bible as ancient literature is only the beginning of the problem. The next, perhaps the most problematic, is that it is God’s words printed in a Book—sacred, holy, authoritative, life-transforming, earth-shaking words from God Himself.
There are two parts of the how of Bible study: how the Spirit works with skill, and how to use the methods. We need both the Holy Spirit and sound interpretation skills to search the scriptures effectively(at Deshen School, we refer to this combination as the two “S” of Bible Study). We must prepare our hearts by adopting the right attitude towards the Spirit— yielding, attentive, hungry, obedient, open, and believing. Consequently, methods come second to Spirit and attitude.
Hence the Bible, like any other ancient book, needs to be studied with special interpretation skills; and unlike any other Book, it should be approached as the very words of God printed in a Book. This should naturally lead us to desire to learn practical and efficient Bible study methods.
Step 2: Learn the known Bible study methods
Since the Bible is both like and unlike any ancient Book, we should understand how best to study it. The word how implies a method, and a method presupposes an orderly, systematic step-by-step approach most suitable for achieving God’s purpose for giving us His book, as noted above. Thankfully, God’s people in past generations have already developed sound, effective and efficient methods of studying the Bible. We only need to learn, adapt and grow in them.
There are two profound truths about these methods that will be of tremendous help to you:
- There is nothing as a single Bible Study method
Just as the Bible is not a book but a collection of books, and our needs are as different as our faces, there is not a single method to study the Bible but a collection of methods tailored to meet specific needs.
- The various methods can roughly be grouped into two categories depending on their primary function. For simplicity, I use the terms approach and methods to label these categories, though these words are synonymous.
The first category of methods is geared primarily towards providing hermeneutical principles and guiding the practice of Bible study. They teach us how to observe, interpret and apply the scriptures. I recommend the Inductive Bible Study: it is scholarly sound yet simple for any believer—including the absolute beginner—to master.
There are several methods to dig into the Word depending on your objective and need. Some of these include( if you are a Bible scholar, this list will probably be at least twice as long).
- Bible Reading( surprised?)
- Devotional Study
- Verse-by-verse analysis
- Word Study
- Thematic Study
- Topical Study
- Chapter Analysis
- Chapter Summary
- Book Survey
- Book Background
- Book synthesis
- Biographical study
The surprise element in the list above is Bible reading. Yes, we traditionally do not think of reading as studying. However, reading is not only the beginning but the simplest form of studying—think about this. Bible reading should be part of any comprehensive Bible study plan.
Step 3: Develop a personal Bible study plan
Armed with an understanding of the process, the purpose, and the methods, your next step is to make these methods yours. You do so by creating a plan that incorporates these sound methods and is customized to your spiritual needs—personal and, for some, ministerial. Please do not jump into any serious Bible study without having a clear plan on how each method described above fits in your plan; otherwise, you risk establishing a haphazard, disorganized, and unproductive approach.
For simplicity, your bible study strategy has three layers:
1. Your plan
This is your game plan, amenable to future revisions as needed. Important facets of this plan include:
- Time: set time, duration, daily, weekly, or even monthly routine
- Place: dedicate the space
- Tools and resources: what you have and what you need.
- Attitude: the right frame of mind, right spirit.
- Strategy: which methods you will use and when.
2. The approach
Your approach is the universal method, applicable every time you study the Bible. This is the Inductive Bible study as described above. The comprehensive strategy will guide you on how to correctly observe, interpret and apply the scriptures in any of the different methods you use.
3. The methods
Know the methods, but more importantly, know when to use them.
For example, at Deshen School, we further divide the Bible study methods mentioned above into two categories: core and circumstantial. The core approaches should be daily(Bible reading and Devotional study), and the circumstantial depends on the need and objective. E.g., do a topical Study on what God says about healing if you are sick.
Once you have a plan described above, there is but one way forward: begin implementing your plan—right away.
Step 4: Begin from the simplest methods and progress to the more complex
This step is purposefully dissociated from Step 3 to emphasize its crucial role. Begin from the most straightforward and progress to the more complicated. This simple rule guarantees effectiveness, efficiency, and longevity.
Effectively studying the Bible is not for the swift who quit after a few weeks or the deep who become overwhelmed and discouraged; instead, Bible study is a life-long life-changing lifestyle. Start humble.
- For an illustration, I urge you not to attempt a Biographical study of the Life of Jesus in His last year of ministry when you cannot survive simply reading through the Gospels or the New Testament.
- Similarly, before embarking on a topical study on the Holy Spirit, which might take about 3-6 months or more, begin with a simple thematic study to answer a question such as what is speaking in tongues? which might be completed in a day or two.
Once you lay the foundation of beginning with the simple, progress to build your Bible study empire as your personal and ministry needs require. Even then, going to more advanced methods is not enough—you should grow in Bible study, the growth that God wants.
Step 5: Grow in the Spirit and skill of Bible study
The last step loops through and perfects Steps 1 through 4: increase in the Spirit and skill. Step 5 involves what I call the positive feedback loop of Bible study: we study the Word, and it changes us and our circumstances, making us study it more to create more changes that tend to inspire even more learning.
You grow in the Spirit as you learn to walk with Him and yield to him as the Spirit of Truth, the Spirit of knowledge, the Spirit of wisdom, and the Spirit of the Word. Hopefully, as you grow this way, you will realize what has always been before our eyes in the scriptures: God’s Word is God, and that Bible study is fellowship with the presence and power of the living God, far from mere intellectual activity.
What to do next
In conclusion, an effective, efficient, and enduring Bible study requires a comprehensive approach summarized in 5 steps: prepare your heart and mind, learn the methods, create a plan, begin with the simple, and grow. We enumerated these steps rather than thoroughly developing them. What is better to do from here than to start from Step 1, which you can do today—even now? And let me know in the comments below what the Lord has shown you in this article and urged you to do from here. If you need further help, do not hesitate to contact me directly.