Bible Study can be one of the most rewarding experiences of the Christian life. The Bible is the God’s revelation of himself to us, so when we read the Bible with hearts open to receive from God, we encounter God in its pages. The point is not to rush through the whole Bible, but to meticulously examine a passage for what the Spirit says to you. These steps may take a while to work through, especially for longer books. Don’t be rushed. If a book takes a while to get through, that’s fine. Just try to come back to it regularly to keep it’s themes and ideas in your mind.
The following is a method for doing inductive bible study. While you can certainly work from a bible, the space can be a little cramped for what we need. I would recommend copying and pasting the text from the book from biblegateway into a Word Processor Document. Before copying the text, be sure to turn off all the footnotes, verse numbers, cross references, section titles, etc (from the page options menu you get by clicking on the gear icon at the top of the content window). That way, you’ll see the text as it was meant to be written. Verse numbers and headings can be very helpful, but for this sort of study, they can start to define the meaning of the text for us, so, for the time being turn them off.
Step 1- Basic Required Information
Look at external resources to determine: Literary Genre, Intended Audience, Context, Key Themes. Less important, but still often helpful: date and location of authorship, author.
In order to do this, check out the introductory page(s) to the book in a study bible, a commentary, book introduction summaries on a website like biblestudytools.com.
Step 2 – Read the whole document
Except for the Psalms, scripture wasn’t written in chapters and verses. Those are there so that you can find things in the books, since telling someone to look on page 732 of their Bible isn’t going to yield consistent results. This means the documents were meant to be read not in small tidbits, but a document at a time. For some books (like I Kings & II Kings which is really just one book that had to be divided because it was too long to fit on one scroll) this can mean a substantial investment in time. For others, books like Philemon, this should just take a few minutes. Better than reading the text, it can be good to have the text read to you (since in the steps that follow you’ll be reading the text very closely). The alternate way of receiving the content may help you to get more out of it, as long as you pay attention when it’s being read.
To have a book read to you, look up the books first chapter on Bible Gateway. Select the translation you’d like to read, then click on the speaker icon. Make sure when the player icon comes up that you’ve got the autoplay feature checked.
Step 3 – A close reading of the document
Read the document and colour code it. This may seem like tedious work, but it forces you to stop and look at each individual word and to look at how those words relate to one another. It’s in this process that you’ll start to see the details of the text. I liken this to looking at a painting. I can look at it for a few seconds and get the overall gist of it. But if I want to become an expert on that painting, I need to look at the details. The artist’s brush strokes, the little things that the artist decided to put in the frame. Learning more will help me come to a deeper appreciation of the artists’ skill and imagination.
Go through your passage and colour code all of the people, either names (Paul, Onesimus, etc) and personal pronouns (I, you, he, it) including possessive pronouns (my, your, his, her). If you prefer to work on paper, print a copy of the text and use pencil crayons to underline all these words in one colour. I arbitrarily chose red.
Go through the passage a second time and colour code all the verbs (the things people are doing – this also includes inactive seeming words like “be” “become” and “want”). I underlined these in blue.
Go through the passage looking for comparisons. Perhaps it’s Jesus comparing children of dark or light, or Paul talking about flesh and spirit. If you’re working from paper, I generally circle these (because they might already be underlined) and then I draw a line between the two (or more) circles involved in that comparison.
3d) Repeated Words
3d) look for repeated words or themes. Some words simply repeat because everywhere (like the, and, or) other words repeat because of the nature of the text (said, saying show up a lot in narratives). Look for meaningful words that occur over and over. A great way to do this is look up the passage on biblewebapp.com. From the menu, choose statistics and you’ll get a word cloud with the most common words larger. This is a great way to identify words at a glance.
Step 4 – Check any words that are bothering you.
If there are words that are bothering you, that you don’t understand their meaning, sometimes looking at what they mean in the original language is helpful. Go to blueletterbible.com and search for the verse in question. (yes, you’ll have to go back to selecting a version of the text with the chapters and verses) When the verse comes up, click on the “tools” section. If you need to look up a word’s meaning, click on the words Strong’s Number (eg G5484) to see it’s meaning. If your concern has to do with whether the word is singular or plural, or what verb tense it is, choose “interlinear” (rather than “reverse interlinear”) and then click on the parse button beside the word. That will let you know the gender, singular/plural and grammatical case of a noun (don’t worry if you don’t know what case is). If it’s a verb, it will tell you the information (tense, voice, mood, person, number).
Step 5 – Follow the Argument
This is an important step if the book you’re reading is a letter (basically anything after Acts in the New Testament). The arguments usually follow a progression: (if this is true then this is also true; that being the case, then this is how one ought to behave). Sometimes it’s not immediately obvious, but if you stop and consider how the different sections relate to one another, then you can often get a handle on why the author puts the argument in the order he does.
If you still can’t figure out how one part of the argument relates to another, try reading a commentary. You can go to biblegateway.com, look up the passage, and then select commentaries from the study this menu at the right side of the content window. (if there are no study tool options visible, click on the blue study this button at the top of the content window. Click on commentaries and select one. You can try Matthew Henry’s commentary. It’s several hundred years old, so the language is a little funny, but it can be helpful.
Step 6 – Reflection
After reading the book, or passage, think of some questions it raises. Why is the person saying what they’re saying? What is the proper response? Why is this important? How might this relate to my life?