I am an academic at heart. I like words; I like to study. This love of course extends to the Bible. I have a variety of Bibles at home, including my favorite study Bible, a chronological Bible, a moms' devotional Bible, and a journaling Bible, and a few of them are on my Kindle.
Studying the Bible is a whole different proposition because it is not something that has come naturally to me. I wasn't raised by parents who studied or read the Bible ever, and when I became a Christian, I didn't really know what to do.
I devoured books on Bible study including Jen Hatmaker's The Modern Girl's Guide to Bible Study (love that one) and Jen Wilkin's Women of the Word. I went through Beth Moore's Believing God online video study and workbook. I read and read and read in my study Bible.
I have learned a few things about Bible study by reading about it, sure, but I have also learned about Bible study through prayer and attending church and talking to other Christians and reading blogs. It's been a work in progress for a long time, and I expect that it will continue to be so for a long time in the future (maybe forever?).
So in case you, like me, are just getting started in Bible study, here are a few additional resources that I have on my shelf and use from time to time. The MacArthur Bible Handbook is my favorite, but I do like them all.
- MacArthur Bible Handbook
- The MAP: Making the Bible Meaningful, Accessible, and Practical
- Then & Now Bible Map Insert
- Women's Devotional Guide to the Bible
- Essential Bible Companion
- New Strong's Expanded Exhaustive Concordance
But what are you supposed to do with all these resources once you have them? How exactly DO you study the Bible?
Let's get to that:
13 Creative & Unique Ways to Study the Bible
First the creative and artistic methods.
- Bible journaling. I love Bible journaling, and I have been doing it for a couple of years. You can read my best tips for getting started Bible journaling here.
However you decide to do your Bible journaling, you will need a Bible with margins wide enough to draw and color and stamp. I personally have the HCSB Notetaking Bible and, while I do love the formatting, I do not love the HCSB translation. When I was looking for a journaling Bible, there were not many available and none at all in the NIV or NLT. So I went with HCSB on a friend's recommendation. There is now a nice NIV Journaling Bible and even better, an NLT Journaling Bible (NLT is my favorite translation). If I was getting started now, I'd get one of those.
- Color scripture. Another option, if you're intimidated by journaling on blank pages, is to get a coloring Bible like the Beautiful Word Coloring Bible which I have seen and can verify is lovely. That one is an entire Bible with coloring sections and panes. There are literally hundreds of Bible coloring books for adults available on Amazon, so that's an option too if you want to start smaller.
- Write scripture. While I was doing Katie Orr's Everyday Peace Bible study, I started writing Philippians 4 in my journal. I found it interesting and rewarding and it helped me to pray the scripture as I wrote it out. I will definitely be doing this again. There are whole journals you can get devoted to writing out scripture, including Lara Casey's Write the Word journals, but I don't have anything fancy. I just choose the passage and write it in a journal I already have.
- Draw or doodle scripture. I recently discovered Kari Denker's Journal and Doodle Bible studies, and I am totally in love with them. She has published in traditional book form a study for Philippians (which is my favorite book of the Bible), but she has ebook versions of several others available on her website. If you subscribe to her newsletter, you can even get her Ephesians study for free. I totally did that, and I can't wait to dig into it. It looks fun and interesting.
- Sticker your Bible. I love the Illustrated Faith line of stickers and tapes and tools from Dayspring because they are beautiful and interesting. Illustrated Faith has its own website where there are files you can print on sticker paper to add additional thrifty stickers to your journaling. Alternately, you could get any kind of planner stickers or scrapbook stickers and use those to highlight verses in your Bible or journal.
Now for more in-depth and academic methods.
- Start with a Bible study for beginners. A Grateful Heart, the study that I wrote earlier this year, is intended to guide you through the process and help you to study in a focused, topical way. It uses the SOAP method (see #8 below) and helps you to read, write, and understand the selected verses and passages.
- Listen to scripture. There are lots of audio Bibles available on Amazon, but really, I don't know why you would pay for one when you can get the full text of most major translations (NIV, NLT, ESV, and others) in the YouVersion Bible app on iOS. My favorite reader is the NLT (of course), but the NIV is pretty good, too.
Listening to the Word gives you a whole new perspective on it. It's great if you're able to listen and follow along in your Bible at the same time, but listening in the car or on walk is great, too.
- Try the SOAP method. The SOAP method is very easy - scripture (read it and write out any key verses), observation (what do you notice), application (how does it apply to you), prayer (ask God to reveal His message). Choose a passage and write out the parts in your journal. The only hard part is deciding where to start!
- Try the APPLE method. In this method, you write out 5 things about the passage - Attributes of God, Promises of God, Principles for life, Lesson learned or sin to avoid, and Example to follow. This method was created by a blogger named Arabah Joy.
- Do a word study. Word study is a great way to get in-depth with a passage and to fully digest God's meaning in it. Essentially, you look at a word from a Bible verse, find out what it meant in the original Hebrew or Greek, locate it throughout the Bible, summarize your findings, and then apply that word to your life.
- Do a topical study. Along the same lines as a word study, you could select a topic and find all the Bible passages related to that topic. This is especially useful if you need guidance on a specific area or have a specific problem that you want God's guidance about. (Don't forget prayer in your strategy!) This is different from the word study method above because you don't actually look up the word in the original language; you just focus on the English translations. But you should look at the verses in several different translations. (I think that is always a good idea no matter which method you choose.)
- Try the verse mapping method. In this method, you select a verse or passage, look it up in several different resources, break the passage down in the concordance or in a Bible dictionary, and study the meanings of the different words and how they fit together. You end up with a personal application to tie it all together.
- Try the chapter study method. This is most often done as part of a larger study of an entire book, but it can be done as a stand-alone study as well. To do this, you would read the chapter several times (at least five) and identify a series of elements from the text, including a descriptive title, the main points, a key verse, the key words, questions/problems/challenges you notice, some of the cross references from the chapter, central lesson, and application. This method comes from Rick Warren.
- Try the Lectio Divina method. This method is very old, dating back centuries. The latin means "divine reading" or "holy reading." There are four main parts to this method of study - reading (reading carefully and choosing a word or phrase that really strikes you), meditation (thinking about that word or phrase and why the Holy Spirit chose it for you), prayer, and contemplation (sitting in quiet reflection on the message that God has for you; waiting for God to respond).
No matter how you choose to study the Bible, the important thing is that you do it. Our Heavenly Father wants to be in a relationship with you, He wants to speak into your life, and He wants to give you His wise counsel. The main way He does this is through His written Word.
I think all these Bible study methods are useful and interesting in their own way. Honestly, I haven't tried them all, but I have tried most. The neat thing about having so many options is that you will discover different things about a passage depending on which method you use, so it is helpful to use multiple methods on a single section of the text.
What's your favorite way to study the Bible?