Editor's note: Howard Hendricks passed away this past February 2013. This article is a reprint from the April 2010 edition of Bible Study Magazine, used with permission.

When people are taught how to study the Bible, they “get the excitement of actually discovering stuff,” says Dr. Howard Hendricks. “That is what is lacking today. We give people all the answers. If you don’t have the basics, you are not going to get that much out of Bible study. Once people are taught how to do something, they can see the value of it.”

Hendricks has trained thousands of Bible students at Dallas Theological Seminary, including Chuck Swindoll and David Jeremiah. For a period, he was even the chaplain for the Dallas Cowboys. For much of his life he’s been a traveling evangelist for Bible study—ministering in over 80 countries. Now 85, Hendricks serves as Distinguished Professor and Chair of the seminary’s Center for Christian Leadership.

Author of over 15 books—including Living by the Book, a handbook on how to study the Bible effectively—Hendricks is finally scaling back for health reasons. He now teaches two courses: “Bible Study” and “Advanced Bible Study.” “All of my courses are built on the basic pattern of observation, interpretation, application and correlation (or communication),” says Hendricks. “I have been teaching that for 60 years. I love it. It opens up the Bible for me.”

Hendricks says he begins teaching people about how to study the Bible by showing the power of the Bible. However, he has observed an unfortunate trend: “Christians are less and less knowledgeable about Scripture and decreasingly motivated to be so. Understanding the Word’s power is no longer a given. Only after someone believes the value of the Bible can they really start to study.”

People who grasp the meaning behind what they study, says Hendricks, are the ones clamoring to talk about it with professors, other students and everyone they meet. “The Bible is changing their life and changing the way they interact with the people around them. People want to spend time with people like that.” Hendricks’ Bible study method will hopefully create more people who clamor to talk about the Bible.

1 Observation

“So many people are trying to interpret the Bible, but they don’t study it,” says Hendricks. “They don’t answer the question of ‘What do you see going on in the text?’ All of this wasted time is spent trying to find out what the Bible means without a basic understanding of what it says. If you can’t understand the text, then ultimately you can’t communicate it.”

According to Hendricks, our ability to observe the biblical text can be enhanced without a Bible in hand. “What were your co-workers wearing today? What was the title of the sermon on Sunday? Set up tests for yourself to encourage your mind to start observing everyday life.” Natural observation will spill into Bible study.

Ask questions of the biblical text while reading it, suggests Hendricks. “Who are the people? What are their relationships? What do those terms mean? What is the importance of the place they are in? Read the passage as for the first time. Look for things that are emphasized, repeated, related, alike, unlike and true to life.” Hendricks recommends observing the text in 10 different ways:

»     Thoughtfully. Be a detective.

»     Repeatedly. Read entire books at a time.

»     Patiently. Spend quality time in each book you study.

»     Selectively. Decipher the who, what, where, when and how in the text.