How to Study the Bible
Updated: Sep 7, 2021
Pastor Dan Jongsma
The story is told of a man walking through the woods when suddenly he heard a voice say to him, "Pick up some pebbles.” He looked around, but no one was there. Then he heard the voice again, “Pick up some pebbles and put them in your pocket. Tomorrow you will be
both glad and sad you did." The man thought to himself, “What could it hurt?” So he bent over and put a few pebbles in his pants pocket. The next morning, he reached into his pocket and found that they had turned into diamonds. He was both glad and sad. Glad that he had taken some, sad that he hadn't taken more.
That’s how it is with God's word. When we spend time studying it, storing away its treasures, we are not always sure about the benefit -- at least in the short term. But over time those nuggets of truth become precious, blessing our lives in countless ways.
The Bible is the divine, inspired Word of God. As such, it has limitless wisdom, power and potential stored within it. You can keep digging and never reach the bottom. You can come back to a familiar passage, and always find something new for your life within it. Now, there are many ways to study the Bible. We can listen to a Bible teacher, read a devotional, or study with a small group of friends. But what if you wanted to pick up this weighty book and study it on your own? How do you do that? Let me briefly offer a four-step process you can use.
The First Step Is Observation
The key observation question is: What does this passage say? You simply look at a text and make some observations about it. Who’s the subject? What are they saying or doing? And to whom is this being done? A good Bible study often involves a pen and paper. You begin by writing down some observations. What does this verse or passage say? This is the simplest, most basic level of understanding God’s Word.
The Second Step Is Interpretation
The key interpretation question is: What does it mean? Every form of communication carries with it meaning, purpose, or intent. So ask yourself: What is the actual intent of the author? What are they driving at? What seems to be the purpose of this passage? Interpretation gets us behind the actual words on the page to the deeper meaning of the text. One way to help us in our interpretation is to look at the immediate context of the passage. The surrounding verses often give us a clue as to its meaning and intent.
The Third Step Is Correlation
The correlation question is: What other passages help explain this passage? Here we move from the immediate context to the broader context -- using Scripture to interpret Scripture. It’s been said that the best commentary on the Bible is the Bible itself. So we use the Bible to explain the Bible. Interpreting unclear passages in the light of clearer ones. One example of this can be seen in the story of God’s gift of manna to His people in the desert and how that connects with Jesus’ miracle of the feeding of the five thousand, as well as His statement, “I am the bread of life come down from heaven.” By linking these stories and statements together, we find a richness and depth of meaning we can’t get from a single passage.
The Final step Is Application
The application question is: How does this passage apply to my life today? Application is the “So what?” question. So what difference does this make? What is God specifically saying to me through His Word at this time? And what am I going to do about it?
God has communicated His Truth to us, not just to inform us, but to transform us. I hope the study of His Word is transforming you more and more into what God intended you to be.