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Four Ways to Study the Bible

Try one of these Bible study methods to enrich your study of God’s Word!

By Staci Schefka

The apostle Paul wrote two letters to a young minister named Timothy. Timothy had been raised by a godly mother and grandmother. Reminding him of that training, Paul writes, “And that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” 2 Tim. 3:15.

But Paul also encouraged him in diligent personal study of God’s Word: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” 2 Tim. 2:15, KJV.

Like Timothy, we too need to study the Bible for ourselves. God wants to speak personally to our hearts from our own time spent in His Word. For many this is a daunting task. How do we find something useful in our Bible reading? Is there a way to study the Bible that is both enlightening and deeply meaningful?

Here are four Bible study methods that have helped make the Bible come alive for me. I hope you will try them and experience the power of God’s Word for yourself.

1. Inductive Bible Study: Letting the Bible Speak for Itself

There are two approaches to Bible study. The first is to begin with your own assumptions and see how the Bible fits into those. The second is to begin with the Bible only and draw conclusions based on the evidence brought to light by diligent study. The first approach is called deduction; the second is induction. Inductive Bible study is the safest approach because it allows the Bible to speak for itself rather than imposing on it our preconceived notions of what we want the text to say. Inductive Bible study contains three primary steps: observation, interpretation, and application.

Observation: What does the passage say?

Have you ever read a book, chapter, or verse of the Bible and five minutes later can’t remember anything you just read? It is easy to read the Bible with our eyes and not our minds. We often do this because we don’t know what to look for in the text. Developing observation skills requires time and practice but is worth the effort because of the wealth of spiritual riches you will discover. Here are some suggested tips for making observations.

  • Notice the Details. As you read, jot down the facts. These can be the setting, characters, time sequence, etc.
  • Find Key Words. Are there often-repeated words? Which words or phrases seem the most significant?
  • Ask Questions. Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?
  • Observe Literary Features. These can be repetitions, comparisons and contrasts, lists, illustrations, figures of speech or symbols, cause and effect, reasons, or literary climax.
  • Compare Translations. Read the passage in several different Bible translations.
  • Write down your observations.

Interpretation: What does the passage mean?

Interpretation is the process of discovering what the passage means. Careful observation is critical for making accurate interpretations. If you haphazardly rush into an interpretation, your presuppositions—what you think, feel, or what other people have said—will color your understanding rather than what God’s Word is actually saying.

  • Ask for the Holy Spirit to help you correctly interpret the meaning of a passage. He guided the Bible writers (see 2 Pet. 1:21) and He can help you understand what they wrote. See John 16:13.
  • Consider the Immediate Context. Carefully read the verses or chapters before and after the passage you are studying. Often this will clarify the meaning.
  • Word Studies. Look up key words using a concordance or a Hebrew or Greek lexicon to discover the meaning of the words. Use your Bible app or one of these websites: or
  • Let Scripture Interpret Scripture. Most Bibles have a concordance where you can look up other verses that use the same word. A center column or in-line reference will connect you with similar Bible passages. An even better option is The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, a fantastic resource of over 500,000 Bible cross references—for every verse of the Bible. You can find it in many Bible apps or at
  • Consult Other Resources. A Bible commentary or dictionary can supplement your understanding of the historical or cultural setting of the text. However, remember these are not inspired, so always compare them with what Scripture says.
  • Start with the Obvious. Remember to look for the plainest interpretation first. Believe the text means what it says. Sometimes there will be figurative language and confusing imagery, but don’t start by looking for the hidden meaning.

Application: How does this passage apply to me?

Proper application begins with heart preparation and a willingness to obey God. Ultimately, the goal of personal Bible study is a transformed life and a deep and abiding relationship with Jesus Christ. Application takes place as you are confronted with truth and decide to respond in obedience to that truth.

  • Ask Questions. Because the Bible was written in a time and culture different from our own, it might seem hard to know how to apply it to our lives today. Here are some questions you can ask.
    • What might have been the author’s intent?
    • How is this passage important or relevant to me today?
    • What is the underlying principle of the text?
    • What is God asking me to do to apply this principle to my life?
    • What have I learned about God from studying this verse?
    • What have I learned about myself?
  • Pray and talk to God about what you have studied, and ask Him to show you how you can practically apply it to your life.

2. Color Coding

This method of Bible study can appeal to your artistic side. You will need a set of high-quality art coloring pencils so you can lightly color through key words or phrases. As you read your Bible, use a color code and list of questions to help you decide what is the main focus of each Bible verse. Then use your coloring pencil to color through key words or phrases corresponding to that color.

Question: Is there a principle to guide my life in this verse?

Examples: “Your Word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path.” Ps. 119:105. “Whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” Gal. 6:7.

Question: Is God appealing to my heart or warning me through this verse?

Examples: “Come unto Me…and I will give you rest.” Matt. 11:28. “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.” Heb. 4:7.

Question: What choice am I being asked to make?

Examples: “If we confess our sins….” 1 John 1:9. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him.” Prov. 3:5, 6.

Question: What will be the positive result if I obey?

Examples: “And He shall direct your paths.” Prov. 3:6. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Phil. 4:7.

Question: Is this verse describing a sinful behavior I might have done and need to confess?

Examples: [Jesus said] “But you are not willing to come to Me, that you may have life.” John 5:40. “The carnal mind is enmity against God.” Rom. 8:7.

Question: Does this verse describe what God has done (or will do) for me?

Examples: “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities…, And by His stripes we are healed.” Isa. 53:5. “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9.

Question: Is God giving a command or law I am to obey?

Examples: “But I say to you, love your enemies.” Matt. 5:43. “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” Exod. 20:8.

Question: What does this verse teach me about faith?

Examples: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Heb. 11:1. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Rom. 10:17.

3. Biographies

This Bible study method is great for studying the life of a Bible character such as Moses, Ruth, or Peter and to learn from their strengths and weaknesses. Write what you learn in a notebook.

READ every passage that mentions your Bible character.

ASK QUESTIONS about the background of your character.

  • Where did they live? What effect did this have on them?    
  • Was there a crisis in this person’s life? If so, what? How did he or she meet it?
  • What influence did this person have upon others?
  • What character traits did this person display throughout their life?
  • What was the person’s relationship with God?

APPLY what you have learned to your own life.

  • What character qualities do I admire in this person?
  • What faults do I see in this person?
  • How is this person like me?
  • What has this person taught me about following God?
  • How can I avoid repeating the same mistakes this person made?
  • What is the one great lesson in this person’s life for me?

4. Prayers

This Bible study method focuses on the many prayers recorded in the Bible. Choose one of these prayers to study and then use it as the foundation for your own prayer time with God.

The Bible records the prayers of many individuals, for example:

  • David’s prayer to be protected from his enemies: Psalm 25.
  • Daniel’s intercessory prayer for the restoration of his people: Daniel 9.
  • The Lord’s Prayer: Matthew 6:9–13.
  • Peter’s prayer after being ordered to stop preaching in Jesus’ name: Acts 4.

CHOOSE a prayer of a Bible character to study.

ASK QUESTIONS about the prayer.

  • Who is the one praying?
  • What circumstances led to this prayer?
  • What are the physical aspects of the prayer? (Time, place, public or private, position of the body)
  • What is the subject matter of the prayer?
  • What needs are mentioned?
  • What requests are being made?
  • What is the result of the prayer? (For the one praying or for others)

APPLY what you have learned to your own life.

  • Have I been in circumstances similar to those that led to this prayer?
  • Can I identify with the needs or requests expressed?
  • How has this prayer helped me to understand God and His will for me?
  • What part of this prayer means the most to me?

Unless otherwise marked, all Scriptures are taken from the New King James Version of the Bible.

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About the author

Staci Schefka has spent over twenty years as a Bible teacher showing others how to study the Bible. She is a contributing editor of Last Generation