There are countless ways to study the Bible. I have outlined two of my favorite ways below, but before we jump into those I wanted to share a few things first.
All the books of the bible tell one big story of God’s mercy and redemption. Sometimes the pieces of the story don’t make sense, but when I continue to read the word the bigger picture comes into view. The story starts in Genesis with the creation of the world and then the fall of man. Immediately after the fall of man, God began working to redeem his people by directing all of history to lead up to the birth, life, death and resurrection of His son, Jesus.
Even though I firmly believe the bible is one big story, I don’t necessarily think you have to read it starting Genesis to Revelation. While I do encourage you to read the entire bible at some point from cover to cover, I think the best books to start with are John, Romans or Psalms. John gives a good description of who Jesus is and what His ministry is about. Although there are other books of the bible that also describe Jesus’s ministry (Matthew, Mark and Luke), the book of John focuses on who Jesus is rather than just what He did. Romans is a great book to help build confidence in your faith. Psalms is full of every emotion you can imagine! If you are feeling it, Psalms addresses it!
I have heard it takes 30 days to build a habit. I know sometimes building a habit of reading the bible can be tough, however we make time for the things that are important to us. If you are struggling to make time to time for your Bible, I encourage you to link your devotional time with something you enjoy. A cup of coffee, your favorite chair and blanket, a delicious treat, a worship playlist, a seat with a view, something that brings you joy. Once you build the habit, you will stop needing that thing that brings you joy to be your reminder! Another thing you could try is to actually schedule time to read your bible, and then set a reminder on your phone. Stick to that appointment for 30 days!
Try not to get discouraged if every day doesn’t bring a major revelation. It’s okay not to “feel” better or different everyday. It’s also okay not to understand everything you read. Keep with it. There are still parts of the bible I don’t understand. There are still parts that are harder for me to read. However, I keep reading because I trust that one day the Father will help me understand those words.
Finally, before jumping into study methods, I want to encourage you to simply read the bible. I know that sounds fairly obvious, however I think sometimes we skip so quickly to study that we forget to just read and soak in the words. Sometimes my greatest revelations come when I am simply reading for basic comprehension. With that said, something amazing happens when we interact with scripture by digging in further. So, here are some of my favorite ways to do just that.
SOAP Method: This is one of my favorite ways to study the bible. It’s simple, easy to remember and it doesn’t take any fancy tools. All you need is your bible, a notebook and the letters SOAP. So what does SOAP mean and how does it work?
First you pick a passage of scripture, and read through it in it’s entirety. I find this method works really well when you focus on one chapter of the bible at a time. Once you pick your chapter, read through it one time. Then begin to work through the letters of SOAP in your journal.
- The S stands for Scripture. In this step you physically write out the scripture. You’ll be amazed that what God will reveal to you just by taking the time to slow down and actually write out what you are reading! There is freedom here, so don’t feel like you have to write the entire chapter every day. Some days you could write just the verses that stick out to you.
- The O stands for observation. Write what you see in the verses that you’re reading? Who is the audience? Is there a repetition of words? What words stand out to you? What questions do you have?
- The A stands for Application. This is when God’s Word becomes personal. Write down what God saying to you today? How can you apply what you just read to your own personal life? What changes do you need to make? Is there an action that you need to take?
- Finally P stands for Prayer. Pray God’s Word back to Him. If He has revealed something to you during this time in His Word, pray about it. Confess if He has revealed some sin that is in your life.
If you do a google search for the SOAP method, you will find several print-outs, to put in your journal or bible to help you remember the steps. I have also just simply written the steps on the inside cover of my journal.
Inductive Bible Study: This form of study used to really overwhelm me. There are several study guides that can help you with this form of study, and I would get overwhelmed by the steps, the need for colored pencils, the direction to mark up my bible with shapes. The type A part of me went crazy! However, this type of study can be done with only a notebook and your bible. The heart of this type of study can be broken down into three steps.
- Observation: What does it say?
- Interpretation: What does it mean?
- Application: How does the meaning apply to me?
So how does an inductive bible study work? Much like the SOAP method, first you pick a passage of scripture, however, before you start to read you will want some context. For example, if you are going to read Romans. Ask yourself who wrote the book? Who were they writing to? What was going on in the world? The answers to these questions can often be found in a good study bible. (THIS is one of my favorites.)
After you have a bit of background of the book you are about to read, then start reading. Again, this method works really well to break down the bible chapter by chapter. Once you are done reading one chapter, then you can start working through the steps related to that chapter.
The first step is observation. In this step, write all your observations about the text down in your journal. I think one easy way to think of this is to answer the 5 w’s.
- Who – Who are the main charters?
- What – What are the main events? What are the main characters like?
- Where – Where did this happen?
- When – When did this happen?
- Why – Why did this happen?
Optional thought – marking key words consistently throughout the text could help you quickly identify common themes. You could use the pen to make little symbols that relate to the key words or you could use a color system. For example, any time you see the word “Jesus,” or a pronoun that relates to Jesus, you mark it with red or draw a cross. Then you could look at those key words to help you answer the question who, what, when, where, or why. Again, this is an optional step, but it can help you dig in and observe a bit more.
After you have you answered the 5 w’s, then you can move on to the second step: interpretation. In this step, you try to discern the intended meaning of the author. Try asking yourself the following questions and write the answers in your journal.
- What was the author trying to say?
- What problem is the author addressing?
- What action does the author want from the readers or listeners?
In this step, it may be helpful to paraphrase the scripture. Write out what the author is saying in your own words.
If something is unclear, pull out other books. Try reading the scripture in another translation. Look up the words in an English dictionary or a thesaurus to help you understand what is being said. You can also look at a commentary to help you understand. Finally, don’t be afraid to ask others for help. Community is important, even when it comes to reading the bible.
Finally, once you have interpreted the scripture, it is time for application. This is the most important step! It’s here when you ask yourself what this scripture says about God? How does this scripture effect your life? Does your life need to change because of what you just read? Take those thoughts to God in prayer.
There are several studies designed to help you learn more about inductive study. If you would like to learn more about this type of study, I would highly encourage you to check out Kay Arthur. She has a great book that you can use for 28 days that will help you build the habit of digging into your bible, and will also help you learn more about how to do inductive bible study on your own. Check out the book HERE.
It’s okay if these study methods don’t work for you. If you try one of these methods and you find yourself dreading it or feeling overwhelmed by it, don’t give up on studying the word. Just try something different. You will find something you love if you keep trying! No matter what method you use, I would encourage you to keep these three things in mind:
- Make time daily. You may not be able to spend the same amount of time in the bible every day, but as you make time daily I believe you will see so much fruit!
- Read the bible in context. It’s so easy to twist a scripture and miss the meaning simply because we aren’t reading the entire story. Try not to jump around. Read a book one at a time so you can get the entire picture.
- Don’t rush it. There is no contest to see how much you can read. Take your time, and ask questions.
No matter what method you choose, the bible promises His words cannot return void. Isaiah 55:10-11 says this:
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
When it rains and snows, we may not see immediate growth, however it’s coming. It’s actually impossible for the rain and snow NOT to cause growth. The Word of God is the same. It always causes growth even when you can’t feel!