How to Study a Book of the Bible: 5 Step Guide With Examples

A person studying the Bible with a pen in hand

Studying a book of the Bible, rather than a topic, is a great way to go deeper in studying the Scriptures. The default way for most people is to read random parts of the Bible or to study only certain popular topics. But if you’re ready to go much deeper in God’s Word, I’m so excited to introduce my favorite way of studying the Bible: one book at a time.

Many people find it a bit intimidating at first because it takes a bit of a commitment, but the rewards are very much worth it! Here are the 5 steps to studying a book of the Bible with tips and examples so you can have a fruitful time in going deeper in God’s Word.

How to Study a Book of the Bible

  1. Make an outline of the book (Don’t skip this step – it’s simple but really helpful)
  2. Look for keywords or phrases
  3. Identify the main themes, ideas, and key verses
  4. Look for the main applications
  5. Study the background of the book

1. Make an Outline of the Book

The first step to study the Bible book by book is to read the book several times. Each time you read it, you’ll find yourself focusing on different aspects of the book. Some of the best insights might come to you after re-reading the book over many weeks.

As you read the book several times, a general outline might begin to take shape in your mind. Sometimes the outline might be obvious. At other times, the structure will be less clear.

The advantage of studying a book of the Bible vs. a single topic from anywhere in the Bible is that you get a sense of the immediate context. We’re not picking out verses that talk about a single topic, for example, joy, but reading an entire book of the Bible, for example, the entire book of Philippians that talks about what true joy really means.

One way to take advantage of studying the Bible in context is by jotting down an outline of the book. Rather than taking a microscope and trying to understand a single verse, look at the big-picture panorama of the book. That way, we can understand individual verses in the book better.

5 Helpful Questions as You Outline a Book of the Bible:

  • Are there any keywords or ideas that are repeated?
  • Are there any changes in the flow of thought in the book?
  • Are there any literary markers, for example, words like “therefore?”
  • Are there any shifts in the setting like geographic location or time?
  • Are there any shifts in the main characters?

For the book of Ephesians, there’s a big shift starting in Eph. 4:1 with the word “therefore.” This is very common in Paul’s letters. He’ll start out with the truth of what God has done, then he’ll transition to the second section of the application and how to live in light of the truth.

The keyword also changes from seated to walk. Eph 6:10 starts with the word “finally,” signaling another transition. Here’s an example of a simple outline of the book of Ephesians.

Book of Ephesians

You can find an example of how I studied the book of Ephesians in this article: Summary of Ephesians: Meaning, Outline & Application (article opens in a new window). In it, I share the outline above and what I learned in that book study.

Example: Outline of the Book of Ephesians
1. Eph. 1-3 Seated: Our Position in Christ – We’ve been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ.
2. Eph. 4-6:9 Walk. How we live out our Christian lives in light of who we are in Christ
3. Eph. 6:10-24 Stand. How we press on through spiritual warfare

For the book of Genesis, there are shifts in time, themes, and main characters.

Example: Outline of Genesis

Example: Outline of Genesis
I. Genesis 1-11 Creation, Fall, Flood, and Babel
A. Creation of Heaven and Earth. Everything is described as good (Chapters 1-2)
B. Origin and results of sin as man drifts spiritually and physically away from Eden (Chapters 3-11)
II. Genesis 12-36 The Origins of Israel: The Three Patriarchs and Joseph
A. Abram (Abraham) and God’s Covenant (Chapters 12-23) contrasted with Lot
B. Isaac (Chapters 24-26) contrasted with Ishmael
C. Jacob (Chapters 27-36) contrasted with Esau
D. Joseph (Chapters 37-50)

Here are a few things to keep in mind while making an outline of the book:

  • There’s more than one way to outline the structure of a book and sometimes the structure is not obvious. Just choose the one that seems the most natural or interesting to you for now.
  • It’s okay to change your outline as you study the book. Don’t feel pressured to “get it right” the first time. I find that my outlines develop or change the more I study the book. 
  • The outline can be as basic or as detailed as you want, but try not to get so detailed that you lose focus on the main flow of the book.

TIP: Read or listen to the book of the Bible through from beginning to end as often as you can.

Read the entire book through from beginning to end regularly – whether that’s weekly or some other time-frame depending on how long the book is.

I like listening to audio recordings of the book. Audio Bibles gives me a new perspective on the flow of a book and I’ll notice different things than when I’m reading.

  1. Many Bible apps offer audio along with the text. I use because it lets me download the audio onto my phone.
  2. You can also read and listen to the Bible on many websites like

2. Look for Keywords or Phrases

  • What words or phrases are repeated the most often?

Many books will have words or that are repeated often. These keywords or phrases can help identify the major themes or ideas in the book. At the least, these are ideas that are being emphasized in the book.

For example, the book of Philippians uses the word joy or rejoice 16 times. Combined with the fact that Paul, the author of that book, is writing from prison (Phil. 1:13-14), the keyword draws attention to one of the main ideas in that book.

The book of 1 John is also another book that focuses on joy. A phrase like “these things we write you” occurs 4 times in the book (1 John 1:4; 2:1; 2:26; 5:13).  Each time John uses that phrase, he touches on different aspects of what brings true joy and happiness into our lives: God as the source of our joy, how we deal with sin in our lives, having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and having the assurance that we have eternal life in Christ.

It’s worthwhile to do a word study on these keywords. (It’s on my list to write a guide on how to do a word study on this website, so stay tuned).

Keywords or phrases that are repeated will be helpful as we go to the next step in our study.

3. Identify the Main Theme, Ideas & Key-Verses

  • What is the main theme of the book? 
  • What are the major ideas?
  • What are the key verses?

In the book of James, a form of the word “works” is repeated 16 times. Knowing this can help us identify the main theme of the book of James, that true faith is always followed by action.

James also uses the word “wisdom” four times. James is full of practical, action-oriented topics. That’s why people have called James the New Testament book of Proverbs because of the similar ideas of practical wisdom.

It’s helpful to pick a key-verse that summarizes the main theme of the book. In the book of James, it could be a verse like James 2:17, So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. Another verse could be James 3:13, Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. This one combines both the themes of wisdom and works.

Here is an example of my studies in the book of James. It looks at the how James echoes the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and how that shapes our understanding and application of the Gospel that Jesus proclaimed.

Sometimes, the author tells you why the book was written. John says in 1 John 5:13, I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. This would make a great key-verse for the book.

4. Look for the Main Applications

  • What was the application to the original hearers or readers?
  • What is my personal application now? What does God want me to do?

Most books have commands, instructions, or corrections that we are to apply to our lives. Paying attention to these will be good because we don’t want to just gain head knowledge without having our lives impacted as we study God’s Word.

Focusing on the application is also helpful because it often helps us to understand the book more clearly. As you begin to apply the truths of the book to your life, the meaning of the book will begin to make more sense.

There might be certain verses or paragraphs that might not make sense yet, but focusing on applying the Bible to your life will help keep the big picture of the book in view.

Try memorizing consecutive verses – It can be challenging but very worthwhile. You can think about the Scripture anytime you want to. It also helps you to slow down and savor the Word of God. Many people find that the greatest insights come at unexpected times by meditating on the Word throughout the day.

How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!

(Psalm 119:103)

5. Study the Background of the Book

  • Who wrote the book? Who is the book written to? Who are the main characters in the book?
  • What is the historical background of the book?
  • When was the book written?
  • Where is the setting of the book?
  • Why was the book written?

There are many Bible study resources and tools that can help answer some of those questions. I recommend staying within the Bible itself at first. After you’ve had a chance to read or listen to it several times, check out other resources to see what other people have learned.

There are many resources out there, but here are a few to get you started:

  • There is a genre of books such as Introduction to the Old Testament or Introduction to the Old Testament. There are several good ones out there, but my personal favorite is a bit easier to use: Unlocking the Bible: Unlocking the Bible: A Unique Overview of the Whole Bible (You can check out the reviews on this link to Amazon). Be sure to check out the book and not the companion volume with charts, diagrams, and images. The covers look very similar.
  • Most Study Bibles will cover all of the basic info and have other study tools like basic commentary. A Study Bible combines the most-used Bible Study resources in one volume. If you don’t have one, a great choice is the ESV Study Bible (link to Amazon) Another one I’ve started to recommend, especially for beginners, is the CSB Tony Evans Study Bible (link to Amazon).
  • Commentaries. Most Commentaries are written by Bible Scholars and go in-depth into every aspect of the book, including the original language. Choose two commentaries and keep a study journal covering every few verses. There will be an endless variety of opinions. If it’s helpful, use it. If it’s not, just move on.

Remember, it’s more important to learn how to study the Bible than to learn how to use resources. Do your own study of the Bible first. I put this step last because there are many good resources out there, but you can still understand and apply the Bible for yourself without these extra tools.

But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.

(1 John 2:27)

Enjoy the Learning Process

So these are the 5 steps to study a book of the Bible. If you follow these steps, I’m sure you’ll find many other things in the book that you’ll want to study more.

It usually takes me a few weeks or months before I get a good handle on what the book is about. Sometimes, I set aside an entire year to just stay in one book. The longer I study a book, the more insights and clearer perspective I get. So, take your time and enjoy the learning process of going deeper into God’s Word. It’ll be worth it!

I’d love to hear in the comments below what book you are thinking of studying. Also, let me know if you have any other comments or questions as well.

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Studying a book of the Bible is just one of the great ways to study God’s Word. I cover 10 other ways in this article (opens in a new window): 11 Ways to Study the Bible: Methods, Techniques & Tips. See which one works best for you.

One resource that I highly recommend is: Unlocking the Bible: A Unique Overview of the Whole Bible (You can check out the reviews on this link to Amazon). It has a chapter on every book of the Bible, is very clear, and has great insights. Be sure to get the book and not the one that has just diagrams, charts, and images. The covers look very similar.

Photo Credit:

Photo by Amy Velazquez on Unsplash

David Kim

I'm David Kim and the Bible has been a passionate pursuit of mine for many years. This is a site where I get to share with you some of the things that I’ve been learning. I’m a husband, a father, pastor of a Parkway Fellowship Church (Dublin, CA), and a life-long student of the Scriptures.

20 thoughts on “How to Study a Book of the Bible: 5 Step Guide With Examples

  1. I have found the information very useful and helpful. I am a beginner therefore this is valuable information to me. Thank you very much

    1. I’m so glad to hear it was helpful. God bless you as you go on this beautiful journey into the heart of mind of God through His Word.

  2. This is very useful article. I am planning to study the book of Daniel. At least I now know where and how to start. Thank you very much and may our good Lord bless you richly!

    1. Thank you and the Lord bless you richly as well! I’m excited for you as you begin your journey into the book of Daniel. Some people think of it as a challenging book, so it might take more time than some books. I know the rewards are great if you hang in there!

  3. Hello Pastor Kim
    Thank you for this article. It is very helpful. Please I am abeginner, which book do you think is best to start. I want study book by book
    Thank you
    God bless you abundantly

    1. My recommendation would be to choose 3 books that you’re most interested in. Those 3 can be books that include your favorite verses or passage that you come back to over and over again. Also, see which one is the shortest as book studies can take a long and you want to choose one that’s not too long when you start so that you don’t get discouraged. Then from those 3, just choose one to start. Perhaps you can pray and consider these suggestions: Philippians, Mark, or 1 John? God bless you as you press into encounter Him through His eternal Word. Please feel free to let me know if you have any questions along the way.

  4. Thank you Pastor for your examples and method of outlining books to give me understanding I can attain in studying the Bible. I am so excited to go deeper in God’s word and to grasp the riches of the context of His word and to apply it to my life. God bless you.

    1. I’m so grateful to hear the article was helpful. I am very excited for you as you go deeper in God’s Word. I know that God will give you many precious jewels of wisdom and insight in the knowledge of Him.

    1. Thank you. I’m so grateful to be able to share them. God bless you as you pursue His heart for you through His Word.

  5. Thank you for the guidance you’ve provided in the article.

    While reading your other article “Summary of Ephesians”, I realized that there was a striking insights that seems to mirror Psalm 1:1 ( Blessed is the man who **does not walk** not in the counsel of the ungodly, **nor stand** in the way of sinners, nor **sit** in the seat of the scornful.

    Whereas Ephesians 1 – 3 highlights that “we have been seated with Christ”, the last part of Psalm 1:1 says the man who is blessed “does not sit in the seat of the scornful”;
    Whereas Ephesians 4 – 6:14 mentions that we are to “walk worthy of our calling”, the first part of Psalm 1:1 says the man who is blessed “does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly” and;
    Whereas Ephesians 6 admonishes us to “stand firm…”, the middle part of Psalm 1:1 teaches that the man who is blessed “does not stand (as in ‘hanging around’) in the way of sinners”.

    Many thanks for your work and may God prosper the works of your hands.

    Oh, I am studying Leviticus!

    1. Thank you for sharing the insight on Psalm 1 and Ephesians. What a beautiful connection! God bless you in your study into Leviticus! I pray that God will make it fruitful and draw you into His wisdom and heart!

  6. Hi Thank you so much for these helpful tips. I am diving into the book of Galatians to grow from legalism.

    1. Hi. I pray that God will use your time in the book of Galatians to propel you beyond legalism into the very center of His heart and His love for you in Jesus Christ. I hope the time will be fruitful and life-giving.

  7. Thank you for this article, Pastor Kim. Like you I am a life-long learner of the Scriptures. It has been a while since I have delved into them, and lately h I have had a strong desire to dive back in. This article is a wonderful guide and starting place for me. I think I’m going to start with the book of Acts. Any other tips you can offer will be much appreciated.
    Thank you
    God bless.

  8. I’m aggravated.
    My family and I were forced to leave a church that we had been going to for quite some time because of a lack of biblical truth being spread from the pulpit and classrooms.
    As well as many other things I won’t get into here.
    We found a good Bible believing and preaching church not too far from where we live, and have been attending and joined recently.
    Unfortunately, our pastor who is young, has changed our Sunday school to studying books ABOUT the Bible instead of studying the Bible directly.
    I don’t like it and it doesn’t set well with me to set the Bible aside to teach a book about the Bible.
    I personally have used books for Sunday school and they take you through a verse by verse study of scripture.
    When we completely set aside the Bible, and teach from an extra biblical uninspired book, it seems that God’s word is watered down , and deluded.
    What should I do ?

    1. Leave. Or study/read for yourself. To join a study “group” or “class” is “man’s” interpretation of God’s word. God will tell you what He wants you to know.

    2. It’s good that you have a strong desire to see God’s Word taught. It can be frustrating when we see people not honoring God’s Word and not experiencing its truth and power. Without knowing any more details about your particular situation, and if you’re still at the church, I think it’s safe to say continue to pray for the church and for the pastor. Ask God to raise up leaders with a heart after Him. And if you’re able to find a church that fits with your convictions, that’s always an option. I trust that God will lead you as you submit your heart to him in faith and humility.

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