Bible book studies can feel intimidating, but Chad Harrington breaks down a simple and a more detailed method for conducting them yourself.
Reading the entire Bible can feel like mowing a 100-acre lawn: Once you finish, you’ve got to start all over because it’s time to cut again. In a sense, that’s not a bad thing!
But sometimes we get lost in what can feel like the humdrum of cruising along in our reading, when God intends for us to not only do long passes but also go deeper into his Word.
That’s what a Bible book study helps you do.
The follow is my version of what I’ve learned at Ozark Christian College, at Asbury Theological Seminary, from teaching hermeneutics at Harpeth Christian Church (where I’m an adjunct teaching minister), and from my own study habits.
I outline for you with action steps two types of book studies: a simple version and detailed version. If possible, do your book study in community with at least one other person, and if you have access to a trained Bible teacher, process your findings and conclusions with them.
If you prefer to print this guide off, download the PDF here.
Option 1: Simple Book Study
You can conduct a simple book study in two steps:
1. Read the book once to get the big picture. Write down themes as you read it.
2. Read the book once or twice more to decide the main theme.
If you want the full teaching on this, you can watch the open access and easy-to-use lecture series “How to Read the Bible” by Chad Harrington here.
Option 2: Detailed Book Study
The following five steps outline a detailed way to conduct a book study, which is just one key element to reading Scripture:
1. Prepare for reading.
2. Identify the theme.
3. Make structural divisions.
4. Conduct a word study.
5. Exegete and apply.
Step 1: Prepare for Reading
Your preparation will help you make good use of your time as you proceed.
1. Prayerfully choose a book of the Bible you want to study.
2. Get a copy of the book you can write on. If possible, print out a copy of the book. Consider obtaining a “raw” version of it, with no section titles, chapters, or verses by using biblegateway.com or a comparable source.
3. Select a notebook or a journal where you can keep a running tab of your observations and questions as you do this book study.
Step 2: Identify the Theme
It’s important to identify the primary theme of the book you’re studying because this helps you understand from a high level what’s happening in the details.
1. Read through the entire raw version of your chosen book in one sitting.
- As you read, keep a running tab of your questions and observations.
- List potential book themes as you read. While you are reading, ask yourself and the Holy Spirit, What are some of the main emphases in this piece of literature?
2. You may want to read the book multiple times until you can identify potential themes.
3. Identify what you think is the main theme of the book. You may need to read it again to identify from the themes you listed what the primary theme is — the one that stretches the entire document.
Step 3: Make Structural Divisions
Dividing your book into parts helps you see the flow and progression of the book. Once you make the divisions, focus on just one subsection of your book. You will use this subsection for conducting a word study in Step 4.
Make Section and Subsection Divisions
Section divisions are three to five parts of your book, and subsection divisions are three to five parts of your sections. Results vary from person to person when dividing a certain book into parts, so don’t worry about finding the “one way” to do this. Your divisions serve as a tool to help you better understand the macro-view in its major parts.
1. Read the whole book again, still in raw format, dividing it into three to five major sections. Do this with your printed-out version that has no chapters, verses, or headers, using a pencil to divide the book into sections.
2. Then, scanning the book as a whole, divide each of the three to five major sections you created into three to five subsections.
- Make a chart that shows your sections and subsections (see the example below). While you will mark the divisions on your raw copy, use a Bible with chapters and verses so you can write the exact citations for the sections and subsections of your chart.
- Label each section and subsection with a name you choose that represents those verses by topic.
|Example Structure of Matthew
|P R O L O G U E
|The Reign of God:
Jesus’ Ministry to the Sheep of Israel
|The Reign of God: Jesus’ Ministry in Jerusalem
|C O M M I S S I O N
|His Ministry Begins
|His Fame Spreads: He Preaches, Heals, and Exorcizes
|His People Learn Their King
|The Vineyard of the King
|Victory in the City of the King
Focus on One Subsection
Subsection divisions help you focus on a particular passage of the Bible. You are now ready to understand the parts in light of the whole! The parts then give you more insight into the book as a whole as well.
1. Read slowly through your subsection, writing your questions and observations.
2. Read through the subsection again to identify a few topics that interest you.
3. From this subsection, select one to three verses that are the most interesting, confusing, or convicting to you personally.
4. Write down as many observations and questions about your verse(s) as possible.
5. Make a few conclusions about what you think your passage says about God, people, and obedience based on the immediate context of your subsection and the book as a whole.
Step 4: Conduct a Word Study
A word study helps you understand the meaning of a word in the Bible as used by your author in your particular book. The meaning of words is contextual, so a word study gives you a practical way to understand how that word is used in a particular context by looking at its meaning in various other contexts.
1. Chose a prominent, interesting, or rare word from the one to three verses you focused on from your chosen subsection.
2. Study that word using an online tool like Bible Gateway or Blue Letter Bible. Using one of those online tools, search for all occurrences of your word in the Bible. Once you identify all the verses in the Bible, read them through in one sitting to get the general sense of how the word is used and take notes as you go. The goal here is to form categories of how various biblical writers use this word in context.
3. As you read, take notes on:
a. What you’re observing about that word
b. What categories of meaning exist in the Bible outside your particular book
c. Anything else important to you
4. Summarize your conclusions in one paragraph.
5. Write another paragraph to apply your general conclusions about this word to your particular passage, using the immediate context to discern how it’s being used in that instance.
Step 5: Exegete and Apply
Exegesis means to “draw out” meaning from Scripture. This is deciding what message the author intended the original audience to understand. Exegesis provides meaning; application provides the significance of that meaning for our world today. Step 5 helps you find both the meaning and significance of your passage.
1. Write between 250 and 300 words that include these elements:
“Their Town.” Determine the meaning of your one to three verses, using:
- Your word study
- Your subsection study
- Your understanding of the theme of the book as a whole
Crossing the “Principlizing Bridge.” Answer the question: What is your primary takeaway?
“Own Town.” Apply the meaning to our world today.
Your Life. In one sentence that begins with “I will . . .” answer the question: What is God asking me to do as a result of this study? If God speaks, listen and obey.
2. Process your study with a trusted mentor, teacher, or fellow student of the Word. As you do, ask them what they think as you:
- Explain to them your process.
- Tell them about your observations and questions.
- Show them your structural and subsection divisions chart.
- Tell them about your word study.
- Share with them your exegesis and application.
- Then, ask them these three questions to end:
- Have I missed anything?
- Is my application in line with God’s Word as a whole and with wisdom?
- What else would you add?
The language of “Their Town,” “Principlizing Bridge,” and “Our Town” comes from J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays’s book Grasping God’s Word (page 179).
- For more information on the Inductive Bible Study method, see David R. Bauer, Inductive Bible Study: A Comprehensive Guide to the Practice of Hermeneutics.
- This resource provides insight into the theoretical foundations behind this method in general, along with practical guidance on conducting a book study in particular.
- Another useful tool I recommend is J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays’s book Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible, fourth edition.
- This book provides a solid introduction to hermeneutics, including a thorough explanation on how to read a book of the Bible in context. It’s an excellent resource to help readers understand how to make connections between the ancient cultures of the Bible and our world today.
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