How to Study the Bible: Choose One of These Methods
Are you ready to start studying the Bible for yourself? Or are you looking for different methods to study the Bible and enrich your reading of Scripture? Here are 11 different ways to effectively study God’s Word.
You can choose the one that fits your season of spiritual growth, the passage of the Bible you’re interested in, and the time that you have available. Explore different methods and let them spark ideas you can pursue in your study of the Bible.
The different types of Bible Study methods are given a rating of 1 to 3 Clipboard icons depending on the level of difficulty. The amount of time that’s required for each is also given a rating of 1 to 3 Clock icons.
Level (of difficulty):
Time (Needed to complete):
11 Bible Study Methods (With Examples & Tips)
1. THE SWORD METHOD OF BIBLE STUDY
The Sword Method of Bible Study is a simple, but powerful way to study the Bible. You simply ask 3 questions that cover the 3 most important points. It can be applied to a single verse or multiple verses (for example, the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10).
The blade of the sword points upward toward heaven, so you ask “what do I learn about God in this passage?” Next, the handle of the sword points down toward man, so ask “what do I learn about people in this passage?” The 3rd question asks how we apply what we learned: “What does God want me to do?”
There are many variations of this type of devotional or observation Bible study. You might have seen different graphics or charts for Bible Study methods that emphasize different aspects of learning and applying the Bible.
The important thing is to not get distracted by the tools. Highlighters, charts, acronyms are helpful if they help you engage with the Bible and apply it to your life. Usually, it’s best to go with a simple, reproducible method like the Sword Method.
It’s simple and reproducible, so it can be used and taught by adults and children. It can be used to lead a small group Bible Study or discussion.
Here are a few related questions you can branch off into. You can get an idea of how useful the 3 main questions are.
- What does this passage teach me about God, Jesus or the Holy Spirit?
- What do I learn about mankind in general – How and why do people act, think, and feel the way they do? What do I learn about myself personally and why I act, think, and feel the way I do? Do I identify with anyone in the story and why?
- Is there anything that God wants me to do according to this passage? Is there a Sin to avoid? Is there a Promise to claim? Is there an Example to follow? Is there a Command to obey? (You can use the acronym: S.P.E.C. to remember the 4 questions related to what God wants you to do).
If you want to try out this method, you can find more details and a few examples in this article: The Easiest Way to Study the Bible. In it, I share a simple infographic that explains how to use the method.
2. CHARACTER STUDY
In a Character Study or Biographical Study, you look at one character in the Bible and draw out lessons from their life.
There are many to choose from – major characters like Abraham, Joseph, Deborah, Moses, Ruth, David, Solomon, Esther, Paul, and Peter. There are hundreds of other characters in the Bible that you can learn from.
In a character study, you are looking at how God relates to people and how people respond to God. You can observe and learn from the dealings of God in a person’s life.
You can learn from both the positive and negative experiences in a person’s life. Are there any interesting life lessons? Were there any challenges that the person faced? What were his or her biggest faults? Did they overcome them? How?
For example, the life of King David, the second King of Israel, is a fascinating study. He starts out as a shepherd boy who is faithful in the mundane things of this life, like taking care of a few sheep. God sees him as a man after His heart and chooses him to be king over all of Israel. Yet, it takes many decades before the full promise is fulfilled. Along the way, David has many triumphs and some really big stumblings.
Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.1 Cor. 10:11 (ESV)
The Bible is a combination of biographies, poems, songs, visions and dreams, letters, and history. The Bible is not written like a theological textbook. It’s about how God relates to people in everyday life.
When you do a character study, you can delve into the life of one person in the Bible and learn valuable lessons to apply to your own life. You can find yourself in the story.
How to do a Character or Biographical Bible Study
1. Pick a character in the Bible.
2. Find out all the passages of the Bible where the person is mentioned.
Be careful of different people with the same name. A quick internet search or a Bible dictionary will be helpful. Study Bibles may have a concordance or index that can be helpful.
A Study Bible is a great resource for in-depth Bible Study. The ESV Study Bible (link to Amazon opens in a new window) is a solid choice and one that I would recommend.
3. Make a timeline of their life if it’s helpful.
What are the major events in that person’s life? What kind of trials or temptations did they face?
E.g. For King David, it might be nice to map out the different seasons of his life and the different cities where those seasons took place: Bethlehem, Gibeah, Adullam, Hebron, and Jerusalem. These can be found in the books of Samuel and Chronicles.
4. What character traits do you notice?
What strengths or weaknesses of the person are highlighted in the Bible? Do they struggle with the same issue throughout their life? Do you notice any patterns? How did they overcome those trials or temptations?
5. What lessons can you glean from their life?
Can you find yourself in this story? How can you identify with the character? What can you apply to your own life? What does God want you to do? Commit to obey. Ask God to empower your heart to obey.
Before we look at the next Bible study method, I want to share with you what I’ve found to have the most impact in the long-run when studying the Bible. It’s not mainly about tools and techniques but the posture of the heart. I hope you’ll find these helpful: 7 Guidelines: How to Start Studying the Bible for Yourself (Link opens in a new window).
3. WRITE OUT VERSES FROM THE BIBLE
Writing out a verse or several verses makes you slow down and think about the Scripture. It can give you a different perspective on the verse than just reading it alone.
Write it in your own handwriting. It can be on a lined sheet of paper. You can also get creative and write it in a different pattern. You can get colorful if you want to. You can doodle a little bit and draw small pictures if it helps you process the verse.
As you write the verse, ask yourself:
- What words are my eyes drawn to?
- What is the main subject?
- What is the main verb?
Read the passage out loud several times. Try reading it slowly. Try reading it quickly to get a sense of the structure. Read it again as many times as you’d like.
I didn’t include journaling as a separate way to study the Bible because that can apply to any of these different ways to study the Bible. But, a journal would be a great place to keep these.
Take the journal or paper you wrote the Scripture on and look at it throughout the day. You can take a photo with your phone and set a reminder during your lunch break to look at it. Think about the verse and how you can apply it to your life.
To take it a step further, you can paraphrase or summarize the verse or passage in your own words. This makes you process and ask what the verse means even further.
You can also come up with a title for the verse or passage and write it at the top. It can be a phrase that summarizes what the verse is about, what you learned, or how you can apply it to your life.
4. STUDY A BOOK OF THE BIBLE
Have you tried other ways to study the Bible and want to go deeper? Do you like to be challenged? Studying a book of the Bible, or doing a book-by-book study, is a great way to go.
Studying a book of the Bible is one of the more challenging ways to study the Bible because it involves a little bit of every method of Bible Study. It can involve studying themes, topics, characters, individual words, and cross-references.
A book study takes time and commitment, but it can also be the most rewarding! It’s my favorite way to study the Bible because it takes me deeper and helps me wrestle with the text over an extended period of time.
You might see many Bible verses in a whole new light when you read them in their context. You might even find that some of your favorite verses mean something different than what you might have heard in the past.
If you take a verse out of its context, it can seem to mean something different than what the author intended. The advantage of a book study is that it helps you keep Bible verses in their context. You want to know what God is saying and not change its meaning.
What I love about doing a book study of the Bible is that I usually end up where I didn’t expect. I start out with a general idea of what I think the book means. Then I end up in a surprisingly different place at the end. Also, whatever book I studied last becomes my new favorite!
Studying the Bible one book at a time requires some time commitment. It can take anywhere from a few weeks to many months to study one book of the Bible, depending on the length and complexity of the book.
If you want to try this type of study, take a look at this article where I go into more detail and provide several examples: How to Study a Book of the Bible: 5 Step Guide With Examples (link opens in a new window).
Here are the 5 steps from that article:
How to Study Books of the Bible
- Make an outline of the book.
- Look for keywords or phrases.
- Identify the main themes, ideas, and key verses.
- Look for the main applications.
- Study the background of the book.
These steps don’t have to be followed in the exact order. You can go back to any of the steps as your understanding of the book develops. As with any of the methods to study the Bible, enjoy the journey and the learning process.
The lessons you learn in Bible Study, and in life too, often come at unexpected times and in unexpected ways. Stay consistent and stay on track and you’ll discover many jewels in God’s Word along the way.
If it’s your first time doing a book study, my recommendation would be to pick a book from the New Testament that’s not too long, like the book of Philippians.
5. READ THROUGH THE BIBLE
Reading through the Bible is a great way to study it. Every page of the Bible reveals God’s character, emotions, thoughts, and actions.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.2 Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV)
When you read the entire Bible or large portions of it, you can get a big-picture overview of the Bible. Anytime you read the Bible, you’ll know what part of the big picture it is in.
How to Read through the Bible
Option 1: Read through the entire Bible from cover to cover.
Option 2: Read specific books first to get an effective overview of the Bible
Books of the Bible to Read for an Effective Overview
These 15 books of the Bible will help you cover all the major themes and the main storyline of the Bible.
- 1 Samuel
- 2 Samuel
- 1 Kings
- 2 Kings
If you want more details on why these books are suggested and how they fit into the big-picture overview of the Bible, you can find it in this article: What Is the Best Order to Read the Bible for Beginners?
The books of the Bible are arranged by category, not chronologically. That’s one of the reasons that reading the Bible from cover-to-cover is challenging for many people.
For example, there are 4 records of the Gospels, the life of Jesus, in the New Testament. You can read one of the Gospels the first time through and then read the others after you have an overview of the Bible.
If you’re reading through the entire Bible from cover-to-cover, you can use a bookmark that motivates you. I simply use a small sticky note. No reading charts needed! It’s not elegant, but it works. That way, my bookmark never falls out and lose its place.
There are also many different types of Bible reading plans that you can find online. Some Bible apps and programs also have reading plans with reminders. A reading plan with check-marks can be motivating to keep reading. This is especially true when life gets busy and you fall behind schedule.
Another way to cover the Bible is to listen to an audio Bible. Audio Bibles can give you a new perspective on the flow of a book. You can listen when you’re not able to read.
Many Bible apps offer audio along with the text. My favorite Bible app with audio is Bible.is
Because it lets me download the entire audio (or single chapters) of the Bible onto my phone so I can listen anytime.
Some apps, like the Bible.is app, offer a choice of dramatized or non-dramatized versions of the audio. The dramatized ones might include background music, sound effects, and different actors reading different portions of the Bible.
Some Bible websites like ESV.org also let you listen to the Bible online as well.
If you get stuck in your Bible reading plan, feel free to skip any books along the way and come back to them later. Remember, the goal is to encounter God and His heart for you. If you keep the main thing as the main thing, you’ll find great benefit and encouragement from God’s Word.
6. TOPICAL/THEMATIC BIBLE STUDY
As you read the Bible, there might be some topics or themes that you’re interested in going more in-depth into. A Topical or Thematic Bible Study is a type of study that explores a theme or topic through the entire Bible.
How to do a Topical Bible Study
- Choose a topic.
- Look up every instance of that topic in the Bible.
- Categorize and summarize your findings. Explore the differences, nuances, and connections in the verses.
There are many theological or doctrinal themes in the Bible. For example, how is Jesus both fully God and fully man. Theologians would call this the doctrine of the Incarnation. There are also topics like salvation, angels, or the nature of the church.
The topic can also be application-oriented. What are the fruit of the Spirit? How do you develop passion for God? How can I forgive people who have hurt me and let go of the past? What does the Bible say about baptism in water? What is the purpose of prayer and fasting?
There are countless numbers of topics and themes in the Bible that you can pursue. How is the color purple used in the Bible? What does the number “12” often signify?
Depending on the topic, it might be a study that takes an hour, or if it’s a major theme like the End Times, it could take months.
The idea of a Topical or Thematic Study is to study what the Bible says about a topic or theme throughout the entire Bible and not just from one verse.
To do this, you can use tools like a Bible Concordance. Many Bibles, especially Study Bibles have at least a short index in the back.
How do you look up every instance of a topic or word? A concordance is a great tool for this. A Concordance is like an index at the back of a book. For example, you can look up all the verses where the word “heaven” occurs in the Bible. Some Bibles have a concordance in the back, but they’re usually very limited.
TIP: Navigate using the alphabet at the bottom, not with the search bar at the top. If you wanted to study the topic of “heaven,” click on the letter “H” then scroll down and choose the word “heaven.”
It should take you to a screen that shows you the verses for the topic and subtopics: Torrey’s Topical Textbook Entry on “Heaven.”
You can look up each verse to study and compare (cross-reference) with other verses.
If the topical concordance doesn’t have many results, or you want to study the verses on your own before you look it up in a topical concordance, you can use a standard concordance that looks up words, not topics.
The most widely used concordance is some variation of Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, but most Bible apps or websites can do this easily using the search feature. Here’s an example at esv.org (you might have to create a free account to use the tool). ESV.org Search on Heaven.
7. PRACTICAL STUDY
A Practical Study is like a topical study of the Bible, but with a broader focus on applying it to your life. These are topics that entire books can be written on. For example, practical studies can dive into topics like prayer, discipleship, raising children, relationships, how to live out your faith in the workplace, and how to share your faith with others.
All the tips and tools like concordance resources that we looked at in Topical Studies would also be useful for a devotional/practical study.
The uniqueness of a practical study is the application of the truth from the Bible to our modern life. It’s mind-boggling to see how much of the Bible written about 2000+ years ago could apply to our modern-day life. Countless numbers of people have received God’s wisdom and applied the truths of the Bible to their lives.
8. MEMORIZE SCRIPTURE
I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.Psalm 119:11 (ESV)
Memorizing scripture is a great way to hide God’s Word in your heart. Memorizing portions of the bible lets you think about the Bible verse any time of the day or night. You can start out with verses that are especially meaningful to you.
You can combine Scripture memorization with many of the different Bible Study Methods like writing out verses in your own writing and meditating on the Word. These methods flow together well.
You can also memorize several verses or even chapters of the bible. This would be a more challenging goal, but also very rewarding.
There’s great value in having the Bible always on your mind and ready to think about for yourself or to share with others (John 14:26).
9. STUDY SCRIPTURE CROSS-REFERENCES
Studying cross-references is looking up other places in the Bible that mention the same or similar ideas. This doesn’t require as much time commitment as some of the methods we’ve looked at so far, but you can apply it to any verse or passage of Scripture you’re interested in.
For example, there are four accounts of the Gospel, or Good News of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The writers of the Gospels cover a lot of the same events. Each reference might reveal a different detail or says it in a slightly different way that helps you understand the passage you’re studying.
These cross-references will point you to the word, phrase, or idea in different parts of the Bible. You’ll find that the Bible often interprets itself. For example, if you’re reading a verse in Ephesians, you will find a lot of parallel passages in the book of Colossians. If you’re in the book of Revelation, you’ll find a lot of references to the book of Genesis.
These cross-references are often in the center column. Some Bibles have titles for sections added in and could list parallel passages. Reference Bibles, some reading Bibles and almost all Study Bibles will have cross-references next to the text of the Scripture.
If you’d like to see some examples, I explain how to look up cross-references using a Study Bible in this article: How to Use a Study Bible: A Helpful Illustrated Guide. (Link opens in a new window).
If a Bible verse doesn’t make sense, looking at the immediate context around the verse or looking up cross-references can often bring a lot of clarity. If you don’t understand the verse right away, put it “on the shelf” and use one of the other ways to study the Bible. Memorize the Scripture so you can think about it. You can try meditating on God’s Word and let the insight arise slowly.
Write your questions in a journal, not just the insights and applications. Ask God to open His Word to you. You’ll find that many of these questions get answered eventually.
10. MEDITATE ON THE WORD
To Meditate on God’s Word is to ponder and dwell on the Scripture. It’s a way to have the Word of God “dwell in you richly” (Col. 3:16).
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.Colossians 3:16 (ESV)
The Bible speaks more about meditating on the Word than studying it (Gen. 24:63; Josh. 1:8; Psalm 1:2; 119:23, 97). To study is to observe and gather facts, analyze them, and come to conclusions.
To meditate is to purposely stay narrowly focused on a short phrase or verse and ponder it deeply. Meditating on the Word is more like cooking a stew for many hours than a quick saute in a pan.
Meditating on the Word is not to get more information from the Bible, but to let even one word or phrase from the bible take hold of your heart and mind.
There are many ways to meditate on the Word. We’ve looked at several of these earlier as these different ways overlap and are related to each other.
Ways to Meditate on the Word of God
1. Read the Word
Slowly read the Bible verse several times. Discover key phrases or words.
2. Write the Word
Write the entire verse at least once.
3. Memorize the Word
Having the verse in your mind and heart frees you up to not have to look for your place on the page.
4. Speak the Word
Gently speak it out loud several times. It can help you focus and process the verse.
5. Sing the Word
Sing the Bible? Yes! (Col. 3:16) Singing can unlock the heart and emotions. This has been an important part of many traditions in monasteries throughout history. It adds another dimension to meditating on God’s Word.
6. Pray the Bible
Turn the Bible into a dialogue with God. Thank God for the truth that the verse is pointing to. Commit to obey and ask God to empower your heart to follow-through.
7. Picture the Bible
For example, when Jesus says that the Kingdom of God is like a Sower going out to the field to sow seed, picture the scene in your mind. What is God thinking, feeling, and saying?
All of these are ways to meditate on God’s Word and be still in God’s presence. Be sure to write down any insights and thoughts you had and ask God to give you more.
11. WORD STUDY
A Word Study looks at the individual words and translations of the Bible text.
For example, there are several different words in the original languages of the Bible that are usually just translated into one word, love, in the English translations. Another example is that there are more than 7 different Hebrew words for praise in the Old Testament. There are lots of opportunities for fruitful study if you know where to look.
To learn to do a Word Study properly takes a lot of time in learning at least the basics of the original languages that the Bible was written in. Fortunately, many translations of the Bible and Word Study tools are available, so you can gain many of the insights of Word Studies from these resources. Unless you’re doing original research in theology or Biblical studies, these resources will serve you well.
3 Ways That You Can Benefit From Word Studies
- Compare 2 or 3 different translations of the Bible. E.g. ESV, NKJV, and NLT
- Use a Word Study resource like Vine’s Concise Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words to look up particular words. Some of this info is available on the websites like the ones the video below mentions.
- Learn to use Bible software or online tools. Here’s a video introduction to 3 helpful websites that you can use to do Word Studies.
Take the Next Steps
Has something in this article sparked your interest and given you any ideas to pursue? Take the first step today to engage with God and His Word. Don’t let the many options here overwhelm you. Just pick one and be a doer of the Word today.
What’s important is that you engage your heart to meet Jesus, the Word, through the eternal written Word of God (John 1:1-3). God delights to reveal Himself through His Word. Come with a teachable heart and enjoy the journey!
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After studying and teaching the Bible for many years, I’ve found what really matters in the long-run is not tools and techniques but the posture of the heart. I hope you’ll find these helpful: 7 Guidelines: How to Start Studying the Bible for Yourself
If you need an additional boost of motivation and encouragement to study the Bible, here are 21 Valuable Benefits of Studying God’s Word.