Recently I was sent this question via email:
"[We're] looking for a tool that we could use to help study the bible. Something beyond a a guide written specifically for a certain book but rather something we could use to help with any book/chapter/verse. Do you have any suggestions?"
I love this question! I love how these individuals want to read God's Word closely and faithfully. Here's my reply, with a few minor edits:
Sorry it's taken me a few days to respond! I've been petty much out of the pocket for the last week and a half or so, and am just now really diving into my emails. Thanks for your patience!!
I don't have a "silver bullet" for across-the-board Bible study. Here are a few of the better books that deal with "hermeneutics" (that's the fancy word for Bible study) - in no particular order:
I know most people won't read all of these books! Therefore, based on a lot of stuff I've gleaned from these books (and other places), here are a few "basic building blocks of Bible study" that I can recommend to any person who wants to dig into God's Word. Hopefully these will at least be a starting point for you??
FYI - Some of what you read below is overlapping. And I'll deal with these things unevenly - some are fairly straightforward and I'm sure you already know so I'll touch on those quickly, while other things I'll unpack a bit more fully.
1. The basic "pillars" of any good Bible study are OBSERVATION, INTERPRETATION, APPLICATION.
Miss any one of these categories, and you can end up way off course. Here's a little more on each of these:
OBSERVATION is simply noticing what's already there in the verse. (This is the category where I also include questions I have about the passage.) What does the passage say? What is emphasized? Etc. Too often we short-circuit a full reading of God's Word by failing to notice what's present in the passage.
INTERPRETATION is where we move from asking "What does the passage say?" to "What does the passage mean?" Again, we're trying to learn/summarize what the biblical author is trying to communicate in this passage. Be sure to factor a few things into this step of interpretation:
APPLICATION is where we ask this question: Based on what I've learned about the meaning of this passage, what significance does this message/truth have for my life?
2. The R.E.A.P. method of Bible study
I don't know where I first heard about this method, but its straightforward and responsible, and leverages the process outlined above. Here's what each of the letters in "REAP" points to:
3. Ask great questions. And grow in understanding.
Somewhere J.I. Packer has said that we should "bombard the text with questions." Questions should lead to insight and growth. Here's a few questions to include in your toolbox as you read the the Bible:
4. Know where to turn when you've got questions or need help processing truth.
First off, don't shortcut the value of letting passages sit in your mind and heart unresolved for a bit by turning to the answer key too quickly. Nevertheless, there are times when we need help in wrapping our minds and hearts around God's truth as revealed in Scripture. The first things I recommend people purchase is a good study Bible. (There's lots of good ones out there, but I generally "plug" the ESV Study Bible first.)
Additionally, check out some online Bible study tools I've also recommended before by clicking here.
One more thing on this point, don't neglect the value of a community of believers in helping you process things faithfully! As important as personal Bible study is, it should never be isolated from our lives and community. Personal Bible study is good AND group Bible study is good.
5. Don't neglect the mindset by which you approach the Bible.
Always remember to cultivate the right mindset as we approach God's Word! This is not a book to be objectively, indifferently studied. This is a book to by mastered by, because of the One who wrote it and who meets us in the pages of the Bible. A great book on cultivating the right mindset towards God's Word is Kevin DeYoung's Taking God at His Word. (To see a review I wrote on this book, click here.)
I could probably mention more, but I'd better stop there! Hope this helps! Let me know if you've got questions, comments, or if you've run across other helpful ideas I've perhaps overlooked in this email!
Keep reading God's Word closely!
There you have it! What other ideas have you found to be helpful in studying God's Word personally in a way that is faithful and responsible? Post 'em here!
Christian. Husband. Father. Pastor. Learner. Contributor. Reader.