How to Study the Bible 101

Too much Bible study begins and ends in the wrong place: It begins with Interpretation, and it also ends there. But we’ve learned that you don’t start with the question, What does this mean? but rather, What does this say? Furthermore, you don’t end the process by asking, What does this mean? by rather, How does this work?

Howard Hendricks, Living by the Book


Howard Hendricks wrote Living By the Book to make Bible reading a less mysterious process and show us how people can go through the process of reading the Bible well and being changed by it. This little series is largely based on his book. Over the next few weeks we’ll occasionally have a “How to Study the Bible 101” post to outline a few of the basics.

If it’s something you want learn more about, reading Living By the Book would be a great starting point. He has really helpful charts and illustrations and gives some exercises to practice what you’re learning.

1. Observation: What do I see?

The more you observe the more accurate your interpretation will be and the more clearly you will see how to apply the text to your life.

How much can you see in one verse? Well, Hendricks had his first year seminary students look at Acts 1:8 and make observations on just that one verse. Over the years he compiled a master list of all the unique observations people made and his list included over 600 unique observations! Even if it’s a familiar verse, look again for something new that you never noticed about it before.

Spend time just observing the text. Ask questions: Who is talking? What kind of literature is this (a story? a letter? history? poetry?) What did he say? What do “these things” refer to? Who is he writing to? If it’s a group, what kind of diversity is in the group? Perhaps in a letter to a church, some may be mature believers but not everyone who attends is convinced that Jesus is worth following. Are different sections of the letter aimed at addressing different segments of the group?

2. Interpretation: What does it mean?

God gave us his word to communicate with us. It has meaning. And it matters what it means, because it matters what God wants to communicate to us. So we use everything we noticed in the observation stage to try and answer as accurately as possible, What did the authors mean when they wrote it? And we need to ask that question before we can ask, What does this mean to us today?

3. Application: How does this work?

Hendricks said, “The Bible was not written to satisfy your curiosity; it was written to transform your life.”


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3 Responses to Do you know the 3 steps of Bible study? {How to Study the Bible 101}

  1. Hi! I came across your blog and think you’re addressing some really great topics here. On the topic of Bible study, I just wanted to let you know about a blog a good friend of mine has started within the last year: Knowable Word. The goal is to help ordinary people learn to study the Bible. They go through the OIA method really carefully, and I think it might be a help to you and your readers. Cheers!

  2. […] Melissa McDonald, who blogs at The Cross and the Kitchen Sink, just began a short series on how to study the Bible. It might look terribly familiar to what you’ve seen at Knowable Word, but we assure you we’ve never even met. We’ve said from day one that we’re not the only ones doing OIA. Here’s more proof, if you needed it. […]

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