Text: 2 Timothy 3:16-17 | Listen to Message
Here is a simple, 5-step process of Bible study that anyone can use. While this is a very effective process, it’s by no means the only process or “the right process” that everyone must use. That said, we hope it helps many people in our generation, as they seek to know and understand God through His Word.
Before I share this process, I want to note that God gave us His Word because He desires to be known. While I never want to diminish the role of the Holy Spirit in supernaturally throwing light on the meaning of His Word (which I’ve benefitted from countless times!), the fact is that much of the Bible can be readily understood by anyone who follows this process as they read it. Whether you consider yourself a Christian or not, I encourage you to read the Word of God humbly and tenaciously, asking God to show you what it means – and what it means for you. In doing so, I believe you’ll discover not only true propositions, but also a true Person, Jesus Christ.
This is “the flyover” of a text – the 36,000-foot view, where you’re just noticing the basic layout rather than the details. This step is like looking at the puzzle box so you have an idea of where your piece fits into the big picture. It’s like skimming through your navigation app before going on a trip, so you have a quick overview of where you’re going.
How to do survey:
Read through a text a few times and then ask:
- What words, phrases, or concepts stood out?
- What questions/impressions do I have?
- What are the main divisions of plot or thought?
- What seems to be the central idea?
- What do I know about the background (author, audience, occasion, etc.)?
This is the “scientific method” of Bible study, where you’re gathering as much data (evidence) as possible. By researching the language and context of your text (i.e. doing the grammatical-historical method) you can discover the original meaning of the text, which is a prerequisite to accurately doing the next three steps.]
How to do observation:
Ask questions like who, what, when, where, and for what purpose, and note:
- Key/repeated words or phrases (nouns, verbs, adjectives, conjunctions).
- Transitions, cause-effect, question-answer, contrasts, parallels.
- Figures of speech, illustrations, explanations.
- Commands, prohibitions, promises.
- Plot (protagonist/antagonist, conflict, climax, resolution).
Now that you understand all the various bits and pieces of the text, you put them together to form a cohesive whole. This is the “private investigator” stage where you draw reasonable conclusions from all the data you’ve collected. This is also the stage where you test your conclusions to make sure they are consistent with, and faithful to, other Scriptures.
How to do interpretation:
Use inductive reasoning (lots of specifics à general conclusions) to answer:
- How would the original audience have understood these words?
- How would I restate the central idea I wrote down in Step 1?
- What does this text teach about key biblical themes?
- How does this text point to the person and work of Christ?
This is where you take the true meaning of the text and allow God to make it personal. Application is like looking in the mirror and letting it show you who you are, what you’re like, and what needs to change.
How to do application:
Think about how the meaning of the text challenges you right now:
- What do I need to believe or trust?
- What do I need to confess or repent of?
- What do I need to stop or start (in thought, word, or deed)?
- How do I need to change or grow in light of this text?
- How am I going to change in a Gospel-driven, rather than moralistic, way?
God doesn’t teach you His Word just to fill your head with bottled-up knowledge. You are not meant to be a stagnant pond of spiritual insights; you are meant to be a channel, a conduit, an ambassador of truth and grace. So, in a sense, Bible study isn’t really complete until you’ve shared with others what you’ve learned.
How to do ministry:
Use the true meaning of the text to love and serve others:
- What could I teach someone from this text?
- What in this text do I need to rehearse or remind someone of?
- How could I use this text to comfort, encourage, or motivate?
- How could I use this text to exhort, warn, or counsel?
- How could I use this text to pray for others?