How to study the bible
By Joshua P. Steele
How to study the Bible
The Problem: Studying the Bible can Quickly Feel Overwhelming
Right? Even with helpful books out there like How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (that’s an affiliate link, by the way, meaning that I get a small commission at no cost to you if you end up buying the book), there are still so many potential questions to ask of any biblical text when we study it. ( Listen to this podcast as well)
How are we supposed to keep questions of authorship, genre, meaning, application, etc. etc. straight when we study the Bible?
The Solution: Ask These 3 Questions of Any Bible Passage You Read and Study
No, I didn’t come up with these on my own. To give credit where credit is due: I heard them at Beeson Divinity School from Dr. Allen Ross. Also, a quick web search leads to this 2009 interview of Dr. Gerald Bray (also a Beeson professor!)
1. What Does this Passage Teach About God?
WHO IS GOD?
WHAT IS GOD LIKE?
WHAT HAS GOD DONE?
Make a list of your observations. You’ll add to this as we go along.
2. What Does this Passage Teach about Human Nature?
As if the first question wasn’t broad enough, this question can feel overwhelmingly broad and vague. So, to add structure, here are two distinct things to focus on:
WHAT WERE WE MEANT TO BE? HOW WERE WE SUPPOSED TO LIVE?
WHAT HAS GONE WRONG? HOW HAS SIN CORRUPTED THAT ORIGINAL VISION OF WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A HUMAN?
Now, sometimes a passage will emphasize one of these things more than the other, but you should usually be able to extrapolate and answer both questions, regardless of what kind of passage you’re looking at.
For example, if a particular passage is emphasizing the fact that people lie all the time (answering the “What has gone wrong?” question), then you can extrapolate and answer the “What were we meant to be?” question: We were meant to tell the truth!
Again, make a list of your answers to these questions. Add it to your previous list of observations about God.
3. What Does This Passage Teach About How We Are Supposed to Respond to God?
OK, here’s where the rubber meets the road. But, again, this question can feel pretty vague/broad, so here are sub-questions to add structure:
WHAT HAS GOD DONE TO ADDRESS WHAT HAS GONE WRONG?
WHAT DOES GOD EXPECT OF US IN LIGHT OF THIS?
Ideally, you should be able to use your answers to the first two questions to help you answer this third question.
Sometimes, however, you’ll find that the passage itself doesn’t explicitly say much about this third question. In that case, it is legitimate to extrapolate based on the rest of the Bible.
That is, say your passage doesn’t mention Jesus, but Jesus is in fact how God has addressed the human problem in your passage (protip: this is VERY OFTEN the case!) It’s legitimate to think and take some notes about how God’s entire mission of redemption and salvation addressed the particular sin problem that your passage focuses on.
Take care when doing so, however! This is why it’s so important to know the entirety of the Good Story of God as found in Scripture. The more familiar we become with the entire narrative, the easier it becomes to make sense of each particular passage!
Here’s an example of how to tie this all together: Bible Study Worksheet
I hope you have found these three questions helpful. If you’re interested, here’s an example of how you might create a simple worksheet for a passage of Scripture.
I just created this worksheet, based on Hosea 11:1-11, for a youth group lesson I’ll be teaching this evening.
As you’ll see, I simply inserted the passage (from BibleGateway.com) in the left-hand column of a two-column table. On the right side, I inserted the Bible study questions from above, giving some bullet points and blank lines for the students to write down their answers.
Here’s a Generic Worksheet You Can Use for Any Passage of Scripture: