4 Methods to Help You Study the Bible
You want to study the Bible…but how do you start?
This ancient, holy text is a beautiful, powerful, and important book. But it is also long. The language is confusing. People have been arguing about what it means for centuries. And the thought of opening up to a random page and hoping to figure it out can be daunting.
Fortunately, there are methods to help give you direction and confidence as you learn to study the Bible and encounter God through his Word.
In this article, I share four different approaches to studying the bible. For each, I’ve included an overview of what the method entails. Strengths and weaknesses of the method. And some tips for how to get started if you decide that this bible study method is the one for you.
Maybe a couple on this list will look intriguing. Maybe you have a tried-and-true method, but you’re looking for a change. Maybe you’re coming to this post because you already have decision fatigue and want me to tell you what to do.
Regardless of your starting point, my advice is the same: change it up! Because each method has limitations, incorporating all four over time (not all at once) lets you experience God’s Word more richly.
So pick one and know you aren’t locked in forever. Or shake up your norm by trying something new. Either way, your goal is to grow your knowledge and love of God by spending time in his Word. That means the best method is the one that gets you reading.
Here are four methods for you to try out in 2024 as you study the Bible.
1. Inductive Bible Study
This method can vary in how in-depth you get, but Inductive Bible Study comes down to three steps: observe, interpret, and apply.
First, you read a passage and make observations about what’s written. Ask “who”, “what,” “when,” “where,” “why,” and “how” questions. Note repeated words, lists, contextual clues about the history, culture, or literary genre, transitional words that show time, location, or causation, and significant images and metaphors. The goal is not to figure things out but to notice and document what’s there. Once you have the facts of the passage down, you move on to the interpretation of the passage. This is where you ask, “What does the passage mean?” The goal is to let the text (which you’ve been sitting with for a while) shape your understanding of its meaning. Finally, apply the passage. Given the facts, context, and meaning, how does this speak to your life?
Strength: This method gets you in God’s Word yourself, allowing you to exercise your mind and really learn what the bible says. It also guards against the temptation to read a verse and immediately ask, “What does this mean for me?”—a hot-take approach that almost always confuses what the Bible is really saying. (How will you know what it’s saying to you if you don’t take the time to understand what it’s saying in general?)
Weakness: This focused approach can make it hard to see patterns, movements, and themes in the bigger bible story. It also assumes a prior knowledge of some kind—whether of Christianity in general (which impacts confidence in your interpretation) or of how to study in general (some of us might be a little rusty!). This assumption makes it an intimidating place to start if you’ve never studied the Bible before.
And, to state the obvious, when you study the Bible on your own, without any outside support or instruction, you may come to incorrect conclusions. Being wrong sometimes shouldn’t scare you. It’s part of the learning process. But it could cause trouble if you don’t hold your conclusions with humility.
Where to Start: Want to try the Inductive Bible Study method for the first time? Start by preparing for your upcoming local church service. Find out what passage your pastor is preaching on this Sunday, and then spend time studying it beforehand—observing, interpreting, and applying. Bring your notes with you to Sunday’s sermon and use that teaching to round out what you came up with on your own.
2. Guided Bible Study
The Guided Bible Study method is precisely that: guided. Typically, this looks like ordering a bible study workbook on a particular topic or book of the bible and then completing assigned Bible readings and answering questions. These usually include written or recorded explanations of the text from the author of the guided bible study. Often, there’s an overlap between this method and the Inductive Bible Study method because an author guides you through the inductive process. Many people choose to work through Guided Bible Studies as small group curriculum, where members of the group complete homework on their own and then gather to discuss what they learned. But this method works for individuals, too!
Strength: This method helps you notice things and learn about the bible in ways you wouldn’t without a guide. You don’t need theological training or decades of experience to feel confident about opening your Bible or tackling trickier texts because a bible teacher is helping you find your way. And for many people, the structure of this kind of study provides accountability to stay in God’s Word regularly. There’s nothing like a deadline to motivate you to get something done!
Weakness: In general, the weakness of this method lies in the potential weaknesses of the guided studies themselves. You’re being shaped by the teacher who’s guiding you. So be discerning about who you’re trusting to influence your views of God and his Word. Also, this approach may never equip you to study the bible without a guide. So, if this is your go-to method, it may be worth trying a different approach this year.
How to Start: Ask for recommendations! With the boundless internet at our fingertips, it may be tempting to Google “bible study about ___”. But you never know what you’ll get into. Instead, ask a pastor or leader at your local church for their input—which authors or series do they trust? What lines up with your church’s theology? What resources have they been blessed by? Then, invite a few friends to work through the study with you.
The Crossing has produced several Guided Bible Studies check out a list of them here.
3. Lectio Divina
Lectio Divina is Latin for “divine reading.” It’s a process of reading the bible that occurs in four parts: reading slowly, reflecting on what you read, responding to God in prayer, and resting in silence with God. Typically, the passage you study consists of just a few verses and the emphasis is on combining bible study with prayer. Lectio Divina is very different than the first two bible study methods on this list because it’s less focused on learning about God and more focused on experiencing him through his Word.
Strength: Lectio Divina helps you experience the bible in a new way—not just as a book of information but as God’s living, breathing Word. You could study the same passage every day for a week and discover something new each time. It also offers the opportunity to practice the spiritual disciplines of slowing, silence, contemplation, and prayer (all are countercultural and often overlooked parts of the modern Christian’s life).
Weakness: This method is difficult and uncomfortable if you’ve never tried it before! It can feel awkward and boring to move so slowly through your bible reading and to spend such focused time with God in prayer. Also, because of its focus on prayerful connection with God, if you practice this method exclusively, you may miss out on the bigger storylines, themes, and significance that you notice when you use one of the other bible study methods.
How to Start: Check out this blogpost I wrote with a step-by-step guide to practicing Lectio Divina – Lectio Divina? How Slowing Down Speeds Up Your Journey to Experiencing God.
4. Bible Reading Plan
Bible Reading Plans provide a framework for reading through the bible. This can be basic (like starting in Matthew and reading a chapter a day until you’ve completed the New Testament) or more elaborate. Typically, a Bible Reading Plan involves someone compiling a list of bible passages for you to work through in a specific timeframe. That way, you don’t have to worry about what to read—you have a plan!—so you can focus on doing it.
Strength: I love the flexibility of this method. You can incorporate elements of the other three methods if you choose to, but the main goal is engaging with God’s Word regularly. Bible Reading Plans help you see how larger sections of the bible work together. Because you’re often moving through passages more quickly, you get a feel for the bigger storyline.
Weakness: The flip side is that, because you’re covering more ground with this method, you may miss things. It’s easy to read past significant moments, images, application points, and more that you might have noticed if you’d slowed down and studied more deeply using one of the other methods.
You could also get discouraged by the plan if you get off schedule. However… you can start a “bible in a year” reading plan in March! You can read three days on a Monday if the weekend got away from you! Did you miss a couple weeks? Months? Just jump back in, and don’t worry about what you missed! Remember – the goal is to read the Bible. The plan is there to help you, not shame you.
How to Start: Find a plan and start tomorrow!
Check out the Bible Reading Plan from Ten Minute Bible Talks. Monday through Friday, you’ll read a passage from a group of Old Testament books called the Writings. Then you can listen to the TMBT devotional podcast episode that corresponds with your reading.