How to Study the Bible for Yourself

No one taught me how to study the Bible for years. (Or if they did, it didn’t stick.) I’d just open the Good Book up and try to discern a message from God.

If I read the crooked shall become straight,” I rejoiced that God was going to heal my bow leggedness. (You can read that crazy story here.)

Disciplined Disciples

I didn’t like it when people said “There are right and wrong ways we handle the Word.” But it’s true. And as an author, I should know better. I don’t want others reading Confessions of a Boy-Crazy Girl and taking away whatever meaning they want; I wrote it with a specific intent in mind.

As Jen Wilkin said in one of her Revive ’15 messages:

“The Bible is not magical or mystical; it is a book. We should treat it with at least the respect we would give to a common textbook. You would not flip to an Algebra book page and say, ‘How does this apply to my life today?’ and expect to pass Algebra. Am I reading historical narrative? Poetry? Prophecy? Wisdom literature?

“Before we can talk about what the text means to us, we have to ask what the text means. There is an objective meaning that has been placed in the text. Meaning is determined by the author, and it is discovered by the reader—not assigned by the reader. Your job is to ask, ‘What did the author want me to know from what he wrote here?’”

In His kindness, God has given me a husband and brought me to a local church who are both serious about seeking out and understanding the original author’s meaning in the text. And slowly I am learning that Bible study methods are not rules meant to stifle my creativity and squelch my fun; they are tools to help me get to know the living God as He really is.  

So I’m ditching the lie that reading the Bible should be as easy as skimming a novel. As Jen Wilkin says, “Disciples are called to be disciplined,” and “Everyone works diligently about what they care about.”  

Here are five of the tools I use to study God’s Word. (I learned these from one of my church elders.) There are other tools you could use to slow down and dig into the meaning of a passage, but I find these super helpful.

How to Study the Bible Yourself

First, I write the date and passage of Scripture at the top of my journal:

January 1, 2021
Philippians 4:1–9

(I try not to bite off a longer section than I can handle.) Then I write the following five headings in my journal. Now it’s time to get to work.

  1. Tone. You rely on tone every day in order to understand someone’s meaning. Tone is just as important when studying the Bible. Is the tone of this passage encouraging? Sarcastic? Urgent? Harsh? Uplifting? Sober? Does it include a promise or a call to repent?
  1. Repeated Words/Phrases. If you call your friend and she mentions “Stephen” fifteen times in five minutes, it’s obvious what’s on her mind. If your younger brother yells multiple times, “Stop it!” you know you’d better back off. Write down the repeated words and phrases you find.
  1. Relationships Between Words and Phrases. Think of yourself as a detective, and watch for small clues like F.A.N.B.O.Y.S. (“for,” “and,” “nor,” “but,” “or,” “yet,” and “so”). These words will help you understand crucial connections in the text.
  1. One-Word Subject. This can be tough, but give it a stab. What seems to be the main subject of this section of Scripture?
  1. One-Sentence Summary. Don’t try to get creative; stick to the words used in the passage. Be specific. What is the author communicating? (Don’t worry if this is hard at first—practice makes perfect.)

I’m trying to discipline myself to do this detective work before I jump to how this passage applies to me today. Because it’s not going to mean something for me that it doesn’t mean for all believers. So now that I’m done with the fact-checking, I can apply it to my life. Is there a promise I need to believe? A command I need to obey? An aspect of God’s character to prompt worship?

Your Turn

Now that I’ve shared one way to study the Bible with you, will you dive in with me? Seeking God might not be easy, but it’s absolutely worth it. 

Oh, and if you’d like to hear about other Bible study tools, watch Jen’s message Practical Tools for Studying and Teaching the Word and/or order her excellent book, Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds.

But Shouldn’t It Be Easy to Read My Bible? was originally posted on
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Paula (Hendricks) Marsteller is a compassionate, bold Christian communicator offering you gospel hope, thought-provoking questions, and practical help along the way.

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