Two Methods of Studying the Bible
By Colleen Donahue
I was told growing up that there are 5 things we should do with our Bibles. We should hear it, read it, study it, meditate on it, and memorize it. I would also add a sixth thing- apply it. Bible study without application is only a mind exercise. Most Christians will at best read their Bibles a little each day or each week. However, we are missing out on the vast treasures that God has for us if we aren't also meditating, studying, and memorizing. With just a little instruction and push in the right direction we can begin a life long habit that will change the whole scope of our lives.
In this article I want to share two plans for methodically studying scripture. I wish that I was able to thank and credit whoever developed the first plan. Unfortunately it was something I read years ago, remembered, and used without paying attention to the author. The beauty of this plan for me was that all it took was my Bible, pen, and notebook. I travel for a living and live out of a suitcase most of the time. I don't have space to carry a lot of reference material. But with this method I could use the minimum of tools and really explore God's word on my own. I started years ago to dig for God's truth and when I found the "gold" it was exciting. It also became addicting. The more I studied the more I wanted to study. I know you will find your studies equally fulfilling. Now let's get started.
The First Method - FACTS
I'll give the overall picture of what to do and then I'll work through an example. The basic formula can be summed up in the word FACTS. This is an acronym for:
A=Application to my life
C=Commands to Obey
S=Sin/s To Forsake
Before I share about each part of the study process let me make a few suggestions if you haven't studied the Bible before.
- Start with a short New Testament book. It will give you a sense of accomplishment and encouragement to be able to finish a book within a relatively short period of time. Then you can go on to the longer books.
- Read through the whole book a few times to get the big picture.
- Next, start with chapter 1 and work through the book in order. It is helpful to read from a Bible that breaks the chapter into paragraphs. This makes it easy for you to do your daily study on just one or two of those paragraphs.
- Buy a new notebook and you're ready to begin.
This is the most important part of the whole process. It is the part where we observe the verses. We ask ourselves : who, what, when, where, why and how.
Who is doing the speaking or acting?
Who is the recipient of the speech or action?
Who is causing the problem?
What are the circumstances surrounding this passage?
What is being said?
What is being done?
What is causing the action?
What is the reason for the parable or action?
What time of year is this taking place?
What time of day is it?
What time of life are we looking at?
When is it predicted to happen?
When did this happen?
When can we expect it?
Where does this take place?
Where is he going?
Where are they coming from?
Where do they need to go?
Where can we find it?
Why is this being spoken?
Why did he do this?
Why do they need it?
Why is this story here?
How will this be accomplished?
How will they know the truth?
How can we find it?
How do we go about obeying this?
You get the idea. Ask plenty of questions. Then, as you work through each of the "who, what, when, where, why and how" questions, write down the answers just like they were clues. The fact is , they are clues to what God is wanting to say to you and you need to stand back and observe them. Once you have this part done skip for the moment the "A" for application and go onto......
C=Commands to obey
Go through your verses and write down any commands or directions that are being given.
Now reread the verses and write down anything that you should be thankful for.
S=Sin to Forsake
Once again reread the verses and write down if there is any sin to forsake. Sometimes this will be very straightforward but other times you'll need to see something a little deeper than the words themselves.
Finally, go back to "A" and write out what the application is to your life. This is the point of Bible study - to know God and what He wants to say to us. The Holy Spirit is alive within you to interpret and highlight scriptures.
In working through this process the dictionary is very useful. Often the key to really observing is looking a word up in the dictionary to see all the shades of meaning. Because I am always traveling I carry a small electronic dictionary, but if you are at home you can pull your large dictionary off the shelf.
Now let's work through an example of this using the verses from Matthew 19:13-15.
The Second Method - TOPICAL STUDY
I use this method when I am confronted with a problem or dilemma and desire to know what God has to say about it. Or, situations happen with family and friends and I want to be able to share God's truth with them rather than just my opinion. Time and again I have used this form of study to get my own answers to topics, problems, and issues. There are so many issues in life that aren't black and white. God doesn't lay down a rule for everything we face. But He does give us principles to live by which can guide us at a particular crossroad. This takes a little time and thoroughness but it is a treasure in the end. We sit at God's feet and learn from Him.
For this method of study you'll need a few more tools:
- A study Bible
2. An exhaustive concordance
3. A topical Bible
4. A notebook
My favorite study Bible for traveling has been the Thompson Chain Reference Bible. It contains a complete system of Biblical studies in eight sections. It has:
- An index of chain topics
2. Bible Readings
3. Outline studies of the Bible
4. Character studies
5. Bible Harmonies and illustrated stories
6. Archaeological supplement
8. Bible Maps
(At the end of this article I'll list reference materials for when you are ready to invest in your own library.)
Topical Study- Step 1 - Define Your Topic
Write down all related words and phrases you can think of that define the topic of interest. For example, if you want to study healing you might also write down health, disease, sickness, suffering, physical healing, spiritual healing, prevention, and medicine. To help illustrate each step of doing a topical Bible study you can click on the link after each step that will take you to a study I did on “seeking God”.
Example: seeking god topical study_step 1
Topical Study - Step 2 - Collect the Bible References
- This is where you use your topical Bible, and concordance. Write down the topic verse in the first column.
- In a second column write out the verse in phrases so you can see the different thoughts in that verse.
- In a third column list any verses referred by the topic verse. The reference verses will amplify and highlight some aspect of your topic verse. If a reference verse is one that directly applies to your topic then include it under column 1 and write out the verse .
- In the fourth column list the subtopic of every verse or phrase in the verse. Notice in my example below that I often use a question for this. As I look at a verse or phrase of the verse I ask myself what question does it answer? If the verse answers two or three different questions then I list that verse 2 or 3 times.
Your chart will look like this:
|Topic Verse||Verse Written out in phrases||Ref. Verse||Subtopic|
Example: seeking god topical study_step2
If you use a computer, the program "Excel" is very good for setting up a chart format. If you use a notebook ,write on only one side of the paper.
Topical Study - Step 3- Group Ideas Together
As you work through the verses of your topic you'll start to see similarities and verses that complement each other. The third step is to group these together.
[Note: The computer has a definite advantage in that you can sort, cut and paste your document to rearrange the verses quickly. If you don’t have a computer or prefer to write out your study then just write on one side of your page. This allows you to use the “cut and tape” method where you literally cut your pages apart and tape verses together that complement each other. ]
If you have used the program EXCEL you can now sort your document on the subtopic column to put “like things” together. When you have the subtopics together you’re ready to form an outline. Notice in my example below the 4th subtopic column. You’ll see that they are now grouped together.
Example: seeking god topical study_step3
Topical Study - Step 4- Form an Outline
In step four you take your grouped ideas and form an outline of what God's word has to say about this topic. I do my outline in two steps. The first step is
a general outline and looks like this.....
Example: seeking god topical study_step4a
In the final outline I go through each of the verses I have noted down and fill in the outline so that it looks like this....
Example: seeking god topical study step 4b
Topical Study - Step 5- Draw your conclusions
Write out the principles you have gleaned about the topic.
Example: seeking god topical study step 5a
Then write how it relates in your specific situation. If you don't relate it specifically, the Bible will remain a book of generalizations that aren't applied. The Holy Spirit will be your own personal counselor and show you the way through spiritual, family, relationship and business affairs. He wants to do that for each of us.
Example: seeking god topical study step 5b
As you can see, this method of study take time and diligence. But there is nothing like learning at the feet of our Father in Heaven. He wants to teach us and show us things and draw us closer to Himself. You’ll find these studies memorable and exhilarating and you’ll be back to sit at His feet and learn more of Him.
Reference Materials for a Basic Library (Most are digital now as well as printed)
- A study Bible- This will be your most important tool and should have a good system of cross-references. There should be a concordance in the back and Bible maps. Most study Bibles also include a good section of notes which will give you pertinent facts about customs, traditions, archaeology, geography and history.
- An exhaustive concordance- This will give ALL the references where a word may be found. It will exceed the limited concordance found at the back of most Bibles. The two most popular exhaustive concordances are:
a. Strong's Exhaustive Concordance (Zondervan)
b. Young's Analytical Concordance (Eerdmans)
- A Bible dictionary or encyclopedia-This book will explain many words, phrases, customs, traditions, geography, archaeology and history. A Bible encyclopedia will give expanded articles on major topics and deal in greater depth with most subjects.
- A topical Bible-This is similar to a concordance except that it organizes verses according to topic instead of words. Another helpful feature is that the verses are written out for you allowing you to read down the list and get a good picture of the topic. Nave's Topical Bible by Orville J. Nave is one of the most well known.
- A Bible handbook-This is a quick reference book arranged according to the order of books in the Bible. It is a combination of encyclopedia and concordance all in one place and can be used as a quick reference as you are reading through a book. It includes maps, charts and other useful information all in one place. Two very popular handbooks are :
a. Halley's Bible Handbook and
b. Unger's Bible Handbook
- A commentary-This is a scholarly explanation of a section of scripture written to help interpret and explain the meaning. Commentaries range from one volume to multi-volume sets. AFTER you have done your own Bible study, a commentary can help increase your understanding of a passage. It should not be used as a replacement for your own Bible Study but only as a supplement to it.