Studying a book of the Bible, rather than a topic, is a great way to go deeper into studying the Scriptures. You can study topics for years and not get a depth of understanding of the Bible. Studying the Bible book by book might seem intimidating at first, so I’d like to share what I’ve found to be the most helpful.
So, 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
- Make an outline of the book (Don’t skip this step – it’s simple but really helpful)
- Look for keywords or phrases
- Identify the main themes, ideas, and key verses
- Look for the main applications
- 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.
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.
- Many Bible apps offer audio along with the text. I use Bible.is because it lets me download the audio onto my phone.
- You can also read and listen to the Bible on many websites like esv.org
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.