Before moving from the Detroit are of Michigan to the Harrisburg area of Pennsylvania, I met with my accountability and study partner weekly for breakfast. Part of this time was dedicated to studying the Bible. We’d study throughout the week on our own and then get together and discuss the passage that we studied. On this page I’d like to share with you how I studied the passage between meetings and how I still study on my own. I use an 8-step plan that has gone through several revisions over the years. Currently it looks something like what’s outlined here.
In this plan, I usually complete 1 or more steps per day, though a couple of the steps will almost always take longer than 1 morning (as a morning person, my mind is most focused in the mornings, so that’s when I do my study). I start each day’s study by praying for clarity and focus. I also make sure I read the passage with its context at least daily.
By the way, this outline makes reference to the inductive study method, but it doesn’t go into a lot of detail on the ins and outs of the inductive study method. If you’re not familiar with that method, I highly recommend Debi Martin’s overview on it.
Step 1 – Read the passage several times, with context, in your favorite translation (mine is the ESV) and then in other translations as well.
Step 2 – Write down initial observations, any questions that come to mind, and a summary of the passage as a whole. Write out the typical inductive observations, things like questions, lists from the passage, cause and effect statements, etc. Do not bring in any outside sources yet; just observe the text.
Try to spend a lot of time on step 2. This step should span a couple of mornings. Only move past this step after you feel you’ve thoroughly explored the text, observed the text, asked questions of the text, and summarized the text.
Step 3 – Look up notes from your favorite study Bibles and commentaries. I like the NET Bible (excellent for translators’ notes), other study Bibles, and the Expositor’s Bible Commentary set. (Whatever sources you choose, don’t limit yourself to just 1 source.) These notes will often lead to other sources like Bible dictionaries, Josephus’ writings, and the writings of the early church fathers. This step will most likely span more than one morning.
Step 4 – Look up any parallel passages and make notes on how the parallel passages effect your understanding of the primary passage. Just remember that different authors wrote with different goals in mind.
Step 5 – From the insight gained from the steps 3 and 4, adjust your observations, answer your questions as much as possible, and make adjustments to your summary of the passage.
Step 6 – Prepare your notes for meeting with your accountability partner, including LFL (Lessons for Life) and other personal applications. Also prepare any maps or charts that might apply to the passage; these will be very helpful in your meeting.
Step 7 – Meet with your accountability partner to discuss the passage. During this meeting make notes of your partner’s observations and conclusions, and other things that come to your minds while you’re discussing the passage.
Step 8 – After the meeting, add the notes from that meeting to your notes, making any edits or adjustments to your notes from step 6.
Then start all over again with the next passage as you work your way through a book of the Bible at a time.
Here are a few final notes…
Limit the passage size to no longer than 15 verses when possible.
Try to limit the passage to 10-15 verses whenever possible. If it gets much longer than that, it’s harder to get through those steps in a week and it tends to be too much of a chunk to effectively study and discuss. Sometimes the passage has to be longer because there’s no clean place to break it up. Acts 13:13-41 is an example of that. It’s 29 verses altogether, but it’s all one piece with no place to break it up cleanly. So, we tackle it as a whole.
Context! You Must Remember the Context!
It’s also important to remember the textual context of the passage. Sometimes, when I have a block of time, I’ll sit down and read through the entire book or the major section of the book that contains the passage I’m studying, including at least several chapters. This keeps the greater context in mind when studying those 10- to 15-verse sections. With the exception of Psalms and Proverbs, the Bible book you’re studying is a single, coherent unit. Read it that way.
Let the text speak for itself.
Don’t try to force a viewpoint or meaning into the text. Let the text say what it says, and no more. A good rule of thumb I like to remember is: It can never mean what it never meant. Identify what the original author meant when writing to the original audience. What the author meant when he wrote it is what the passage means. Don’t embellish it or spiritualize it.
Accountability is the key to consistency!
I have found this method to be very helpful to me, but I think the most helpful part of the whole process is the accountability and fellowship of my friend. He’s going to be ready each week. I use that to motivate me to be as prepared as I can be, and that keeps me in the Word and in prayer every morning.
It’s my hope that this is helpful to you as you seek to more fully understand the Bible.