Studying The Word
As a pastor, and as someone who overall just enjoys Scripture and theology, I find myself in many fascinating conversations. One interesting question is when people ask how to study a book of the Bible or when they begin to inquire as to my personal study routine. Therefore, I thought I would write this article as a resource to give insight into these subjects. Let me lay down a couple of ground rules. First of all, I spend time in Scripture and prayer in the morning followed by the reading of a theological book or a biography of a faithful Christian. This time allows me to be grounded in the Word, spend time in prayer, and learn about theology and also Christians who lived well. It is a great way to start the day and having some sort of consistent daily regiment like this is a must for growing in the Word. I must say I am deeply indebted to a few individuals in my study methods. First, of course, would be my parents who encouraged me to study from a young age. Second, would be men such as Paul Washer, Voddie Baucham, Tom Buck, Steve Lawson, and others whose thoughts on this subject regarding either preaching or personal devotions, have been immensely beneficial. I am not writing this post as an expert on the subject, rather as a man who has been influenced by many experts on the subject!
Now, I typically study the same way I preach, I go straight through a book of the Bible. If you are a new Christian start in one of the Gospels. If you have been a follower of Christ for a while, but want to grow deeper in theology, then head over and master Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians. Studying these books will give you a robust understanding of most biblical doctrines. If you have been a Christian for years and studied immensely, then please let me know your study tips in the comments. Whatever the case, once you get to the book of your choice, read through it slowly and truly cherish it. Take time to nourish your soul and make some observations, but read through it at minimum once or twice in a gingerly way just savoring the Scripture.
Learning To Love Outlines
After I finish that step, I then often find it helpful to begin writing an outline of the book. Break down the book into major categories. As an illustration, here are the major points of my outline for the book of Colossians:
- Greeting in Christ (1:1-2)
- The Colossian Church in Christ (1:3-13)
- The Greatness of Christ (1:15-23)
- Ministry in Christ (1:24-2:5)
- Living in Christ (2:6-23)
- Seeking The Things of Christ and Not This World (3:1-4:6)
- Faithful Servants of Christ (4:7-14)
- Farewell in The Grace of Christ (4:15-18)
Under that outline, I will then make even more outline points in each section and then further break it down as much as possible, until I have probably 40 or more points depending on the size of the book. This allows me to be able to see overall elements in the book and understand how everything fits together. Do you notice a dominant theme in the outline of Colossians? Every single outline point has Christ in it because He is the dominant theme in that epistle. Also, notice how the outline discusses the church in Christ, and the greatness of Christ then moves on to living in Christ. That connection is a theme in Colossians the truth of Christ leads us to live for His glory. For example, Colossians 2:6 says, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him” you receive Christ which means you walk in a way which honors Him. The truth of Christ leads to the reality of active obedience in your life. Another focal point is being captive to Him as opposed to falling prey to all kinds of false views. You can discover these elements of Scripture through outlining books of the Bible. Just make sure you read through the book a few times first, or else you won’t be familiar enough with it to have a productive outline (speaking from experience here).
The Intricate Details
So, if you are following along at this point, you will notice that at this moment in the process you should have a pretty good comprehension of what I would call the generalities of a book. In other words, you know how each chapter fits together and what all is covered, these are general themes but not the specific nitty-gritty details. Now, it is time to progress and focus on these smaller details. After the outline is finished I will copy and paste small sections of the book into a Word document and comment on them. I usually have something like 10 verses per page with comments on every verse. For those of you who prefer paper and pencil instead of a computer, that will most certainly work, and I envy what I am sure are excellent handwriting abilities which you must possess!
At this point, I am asking questions like, What does the verse mean in the context of the passage? How does it relate to the overall theme of the book? What cross-references from Scripture can be helpful in understanding the verse? Are there any historical elements I need to understand in this verse? (i.e. geographical locations, historical figures, etc.). You will need to ask questions about all of these facets at this time. The amount of questions you can ask is frankly endless. The more you ask the more detail you will find out and the deeper your knowledge of the book will become. However, asking more questions dictates longer study. So, the depth of your knowledge will be determined by how far you want to go with this process.
A Note of Caution
The Scripture is incredibly intellectual in a certain sense. You could study it all day for the rest of your life and not even scratch the surface of the depths of its knowledge. However, reading the Bible is not meant to be merely intellectual. The Word of God is meant to draw you closer to Him and teach you how to live honoring Him. It tells us how to be redeemed and how to glorify the God who has saved us. Therefore, when going through the entire process of my studies, I have found it immensely important to constantly think about my devotion to Christ and how I can better serve Him. I try to pray through the text so it will be cemented in my mind and soul. Praying through passages helps you to remember them and increases your retention (in my experience). So, don’t think this study is just some sort of dry intellectual exercise. It is intellectual, but more than that it is spiritual and the Bible really transforms your life through the power of Christ.
For the sake of wanting to make sure I do attempt to apply what I read, I will take a main point from the verses I covered in the morning and write about it for the last 3-4 minutes of my study. This allows me to chew on it in greater detail and also cement the lessons from Scripture in my brain. That act of writing the devotional take home from the passage has come to be one of the most clarifying activities for me when it comes to studying Scripture. I believe this is simply because I am summarizing in a succinct way what the text has said. I hope this has been helpful for some out there who also enjoy studying the Word of God. Like I said, I am no expert so let me know in the comments if you have any suggestions on this topic!