The Best Method for Bible Study
by Alex Crain
“Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.” -Acts 8:30
Sometimes, Christians complain that following an orderly Bible study method seems to squeeze out the Holy Spirit. At least it feels that way to them. But if we want to know what God is saying in His Word, our feelings must give way to disciplined and principled study. Otherwise, we'll only be hearing our own thoughts and ascribing them to God.
If you want to read the Bible to know God and know what His Word says, here are some basic steps to Bible study:
1. After praying for God’s help, survey the entire book you're studying.
After asking God to give you understanding into His Word, open a bible dictionary or a good study Bible and find out some basic background information about the book. Who is the human author? When did he write this book?
What was his situation? Is it a historical book? A letter? Poetry? Prophecy? Next, skim read the book for what each chapter's main point is. Jot down a title for each chapter. Many Bibles today already have titles added by the publisher. You might follow along with those as you skim read the book, or write your own chapter headings. When you're done surveying the book, try to summarize the book's major themes and main message in your own words.
Now you're ready to dive in to a specific passage and make careful observations about it. Examine the text carefully to see what it says. Underline the verbs. Note any key words that stand out. Take enough time to observe facts that are stated, words or phrases that are repeated, contrasts or comparisons that are made in the text. Note any questions about the text that come to mind.
Define those key words and concepts that you found in the observation step. When you interpret, remember three essential rules: (1) context (2) context (3) context. As one clever writer put it: "never read a bible verse." (Meaning, always read a verse in its larger context.) Seek explanations for any words or phrases that were hard to understand. Write a summary on what the passage means.
4. Apply the passage in the power of the Holy Spirit.
The key question to ask here is: "Now that I know what God's Word says in this text, what am I to do about it?" We also might ask: "What does this text have to say about my relationships? Is there a command to obey? A promise to believe? A sin to confess or avoid? A character quality to pursue? An example to follow? These are the kinds of questions to ask as you seek God's help in applying Scripture.
Remember that a sensible method of Bible study doesn't diminish the importance of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is our powerful Guide, who helps us as we read, observe, interpret, and apply His Word to our lives. Let's pray now for strength and disciplined consistency to spend well-ordered time in the presence of God as we seek to know Him through His Word.
Editor's note: This content was taken from the article "Use a Coherent Method of Bible Study" by Alex Crain.