Now is a great time to improve your Bible study skills. Follow this series to learn how to study the Bible, where to find the tools you need to study and how to use them. You might want to bookmark or pin this page, as I update it frequently.
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If Scripture is profitable for teaching, then we are expected to know and understand Scripture. If Scripture is profitable for reproof and correction, then we have to be able to determine what it means such that we have a objective standard by we can decide if one or both of us is wrong.
How do you evaluate whether a particular interpretation hits the mark of authorial intent?
How do you know if you’ve successfully understood a passage of Scripture? Start by understanding and embracing these basic interpretative convictions.
Why do we have so much interpretative disagreement over the meaning of the Bible? Two explanations: one we can solve and one we can’t.
What do you believe about your English translation of the Bible? Here are 5 ideas you should NOT hold.
If you’re looking for a refresher course on how to study the Bible or want to start learning, Bob Smith’s Basics of Bible Interpretation is still a good choice.
One of the most common mistakes in interpreting the Bible is riffing on a particular word or phrase at the expense of context. No one thinks they fall into this trap and yet, if you listen for it, you’ll hear it everywhere.
The first step in Bible study is observation. The goal is to slow down your reading and generate a list of questions that must be answered to understand the passage. I tend to break observation into the following 4 steps which generally correspond to my first few readings through the passage.
Wondering how to put all the tools and pieces of Bible study together so that you can tackle a specific passage of Scripture? Here’s the overall procedure.
We use figurative language all the time: “I’ll have to face the music.” “I’m bored to tears.” “She has a green thumb.” “Don’t let the cat out of the bag.” “He died of embarrassment.” Biblical writers also used figurative language and vivid imagery. How are we to understand it?
After you’ve done your observation, word studies, outlining and answered the questions you generated, it’s time to start putting it all together. In this step, you want to collect, refine and organize all those details you observed into a coherent meaning.
The Oxford Dictionary defines “post-truth” as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Do we live in a post-Bible study world? Increasingly sermons are heavy with stories and emotional appeals and light on critical explanations of the author’s intent. But good Bible study methods haven’t changed.
Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo, was a theologian and philosopher who lived from 354-430 AD. He is viewed as one of the most important Church Fathers, and his writings influenced the development of Western philosophy. Here are his principles of interpretation.
Exegesis, eisegesis, hermeneutics? Wondering what all those terms mean? Here’s the definitions.
Wayne Grudem’s 10 rules for how to interpret the Bible. The first 3 rules are the most important.
Watch for these things when you’re making an analytical outline.
One of the basic parts of a word study is finding and comparing the uses of the word in the rest of Scripture. Before the internet, we used a physical concordance. Here’s how to locate quickly accomplish this task using my favorite Bible study software: e-sword.
Suppose the internet is down and you want to study your Bible. You want to study the word “blessed” in the beatitudes, but you’ve forgotten how to use your physical concordance. Here’s a refresher.
Strong’s numbers have become the “industry standard” and many other biblical reference works are keyed to Strong’s numbers. Here’s how to find them.
While I recommend you learn how to do your own word studies, here are some shortcuts you can take to save time, to get past “study block” or compare your ideas with someone else’s.
Is your Bible study on break for the holidays? Many studies end before Thanksgiving and don’t resume until January. What can you do over break to stay in the Word? Here are some good ideas.
An analytical outline is a way of displaying a text of Scripture so that the flow of thought and the relationship between the grammatical parts become clear. It is my favorite study tool and one of the first things I do. Learn how to make one.
You may have been taught to create a list of questions, using the “5Ws and H” (who, what, when, where, why, how). If you need some help learning how to use the “5Ws and H”, here are some questions to get you started.
When learning how to study the Bible, you’ve probably heard the expression “context is king”, meaning context is the arbitrator that rules a particular interpretation valid or not. But how do you use context to decide between possible interpretations?
Word studies are one of the basic tools of Bible study. With today’s tools, you don’t have to know Greek and Hebrew to do a good word study. Here’s how.
Once a friend confessed: “I know an essential step of any Bible study is observation. But what am I suppose to observe?” So glad you asked! Sometimes we take this step for granted when teaching on how to study the Bible, but observation is a skill we learn and practice like any other.
Did you make a resolution to improve your Bible study? Here are 30 tips to help you keep that promise.
Since every translation is an interpretation of the original language, you should consult several translations of different types when studying the Bible. Bibles fall on an interpretation scale and it will improve your study if you know the difference and have one of each type.
You’ll be surprised at how the information on a map can open your study. Consider how knowing that the road to Jericho was 17-miles changes the parable of the good Samaritan.
A concordance is an organized list of all the biblical texts which contain a given word. Concordances allow you to broaden your understanding of how a word is used and its range of meanings.
Lexicons & dictionaries can reveal what might be “lost in translation” but they also tempt us to fall into the trap of “I learned a fact about a word and I must use it.”
Multi-volume encyclopedias are good sources for historical and biblical themes. But background information does not impose meaning.
Commentaries can kick-start your thinking when you hit a dead end but should not be a substitute for your own work. Here’s my two rules of thumb.
Online resources to help you study: maps, charts, outlines, key words, etc. On this one page, you’ll find links to websites and Bible study software.
Many of the classic commentaries are free online, but how do you know which one(s) to use? And where do you find them? Here’s a quick list and explanation
After gathering an idea of the word’s meaning from your own study, it’s a good time to check the conclusions of other scholars and reference works. Here are some free online places to look.
Here are my favorite maps related to the New Testament and where to find them.
Here are my favorite maps related to the Old Testament and where to find them.
You’re probably aware that many classic commentaries are free online, but did you know many modern commentaries (written after 1970) are also online?
The New Testament is our divinely inspired commentary on the Old Testament. When studying a passage, it’s often helpful to see how other biblical authors understood it.
Have you tried cooking without measuring devices? You may bake an edible cake, but it won’t be your best. Having the right tools makes the job better. On this one page, you’ll find links to the resources for sorted by book of the Bible.
After a few years of Bible study, students often begin asking, “Should I learn biblical Greek and Hebrew?” While the tools for English readers continue to improve and less people are learning the original languages, knowing the original languages can be helpful. You can learn enough to widen the tools available to you and/or learn to read Scripture in the original language.
Genre & Special Issues
Every genre found in the Bible presents unique challenges for understanding. Here are guidelines for studying epistles.
Studying biblical prophecy is an often overwhelming task. Much of it is written in Hebrew poetry. The names and places are foreign, and the metaphors don’t always resonate with our modern ears. Yet we can usually understand the main point. If studying an Old Testament prophet overwhelms you, here are some tips to get you started.
Narratives are true stories. Over 40% of the Old Testament Scriptures are narratives. Generally, the purpose of a biblical narrative is to show the Lord at work in His creation. Every genre found in the Bible presents unique challenges for understanding. Narratives are no exception. With narratives we think in scenes, plot and character, rather than paragraphs and outlines.
The key to understanding Hebrew poetry and Wisdom Literature is knowing that the “rhyme” of ideas is more important than the sounds. This “rhyming” of ideas is called parallelism.
Apocalyptic literature is a sub-category of prophecy. The name comes from the Greek word apocalypsis which means uncovering or unveiling.
The gospels are unique in content, although they are similar in form to ancient biographies.
75% of Psalms are 1 of three main types: lament, thanksgiving or praise. Here is the general form for Thanksgiving psalms.
75% of Psalms are 1 of three main types: lament, thanksgiving or praise. Here is the general form for lament psalms.
75% of Psalms are 1 of three main types: lament, thanksgiving or praise. Here is the general form for praise psalms.
Basics of Bible Interpretation, by Bob Smith a classic! great for the beginner. Now available FREE online, though I believe you can still buy a paper copy.
Knowing Scripture, by RC Sproul is designed to help people master the basic rules of biblical interpretation.
How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth, by Gordon Fee & Douglas Stuart – this is a must have resource; no Bible student should be without and it now comes as an e-book. Re-read the chapter for your particular type of passage when you start a new study.
How to Get the Most from God’s Word by John MacArthur; free on archive.org
Living by the Book (Book and Workbook) by Howard G Hendricks & William Hendricks – also available as an ebook and a video series. Don’t be intimidated by the size of the book. The writing is clear and engaging and you will learn a lot.
Living by the Book by Howard G. Hendricks. Available free on archive.org.
The Joy of Discovery in Bible Study by Oletta Ward – a classic resource for small groups to work through together; teachers guide is also available.
The Joy of Discovery in Bible Study by Oletta Ward. Available free on archive.org.
The Language of God: A Commonsense Approach to Understanding and Applying the Bible by Ron Julian, J.A. Crabtree and David Crabtree — (out of print; but still can be found). This is a GREAT book for understanding the principles, methodology and philosophy of Bible study. The authors apply what they teach to a very difficult passage (James 5). The book is worth it just to understand James 5.
Exegetical Fallacies by D.A. Carson — this will challenge you to move your study skills to the next level.
The Thinking Toolbox: 35 lessons that will build your reasoning skills by Nathaniel Bluedorn and Hans Bluedorn and/or The Fallacy Detective: 35 lessons on how to recognize bad reasoning by Nathaniel Bluedorn and Hans Bluedorn. (While not specifically about Bible study, these books — written by homeschooled brothers for homeschoolers — are really useful for improving your critical thinking skills.)
Discover the Bible for Yourself by Arthur, Kay; free on archive.org
These 3 have been recommended to me, but I have not read them.
- Rick Warren’s Bible Study Methods by Rick Warren
- How to Study Your Bible by Kay Arthur
- Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin
New Testament Development of Old Testament Themes (1968) by FF Bruce.
Back towards the Future: Hints for Interpreting Biblical Prophecy (1989) by Walter Kaiser
He Gave us Stories: The Bible Student’s Guide to Interpreting Old Testament Narratives by Richard L Pratt Jr. This is the best book I’ve found on understanding the Old Testament
The Art of Biblical Narrative, by Robert Alter (also a great book on understanding the OT)
A Complete Literary Guide to the Bible by Leland Ryken and Tremper Longman III
Literary Approaches to Biblical Interpretation by Tremper Longman III (out of print, but still can be found)
How to Read the Psalms by Tremper Longman III
How to Read Proverbs by Tremper Longman III
Overviews & Theology
What is Reformed Theology? Understanding the Basics by R.C. Sproul — this book will help you begin to put all the pieces together
The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul — a must-read book, especially for new believers
Foundations: An Overview of Systematic Theology (DVD series) by RC Sproul
An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical and Thematic Approach by Bruce Waltke and Charles Yu — this book looks intimidating, but it’s worth it!
Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Audio Lectures)Next
Where to next?
Bible Study 201: Learn to teach the Bible
Resources for Ministry Leaders
Top photo used here under Flickr Creative Commons.