If you search Pinterest for “How to study the Bible”, you’ll find lots of cute suggestions - methods that both beginners and seasoned readers use and love. (By the way, while you are there, check out and follow my Pinterest page.)
Let me tell you about 6 currently-trendy ways to study the Bible. Many come with acronyms that make these quiet time routines easy to remember and feeling fresh and exciting. They all take you a step beyond reading the Bible to what you may consider studying. They require intentionality, focus, and action.
Here we go:
Grow stands for:
Greet: Pray before you read.
Read: Read your verse or passage.
Observe: What stands out to you?
Write: Pick one verse and write it out.
You will rarely find somebody talking about studying the Bible without involving prayer. It’s an equally important part of our quiet time and allows us to connect with our Lord and invite Him into the study process. I love, of course, that we are asked to make observations about the text. I am concerned that without further instructions this may be a little difficult for many believers who have not yet learned how to ask observation questions. Finally, writing out a verse helps us to internalize it better, which hopefully leads to a changed heart and life. This is a good next step.
Soap stands for:
Scripture: Write out the verse(s) you’d like to study further.
Observation: Upon further inspection, do you notice anything you’ve previously missed?
Application: How can you apply this verse to your life?
Prayer: Ask God to help you implement what you’ve just learned.
Several Bible study organizations currently use this study method. It’s similar to the previous one, but I prefer this order. After having written out the verse, you are more likely to have inspected it enough to make a few good observations. The inclusion of an application phase is absolutely essential. From here, you pray as a response to Scripture, which is great because the Holy Spirit is our helper in applying God’s Word.
Power stands for:
Prayer: Begin with prayer.
Observe: What does this verse show you about God and/or about you?
Write: Again, write out a verse that stands out to you.
Envision: How do you see this verse applied in your life?
Response: Respond to God.
This is a very similar approach. After having envisioned a life application, you put in to practice in response to God - presumably through prayer and action. Thus, this method includes prayer both in the beginning and the end of your time in God's Word. I like that.
Focus stands for:
Foundation: Read the passage you are studying.
Observation: Pick out some details.
Clarification: Learn about the original meaning of the text.
Utilization: Find cross-references.
Summation: Respond to what you have learned.
I like that we are expanding the study phase beyond making observations. However, I assume that many of you are saying, “Sounds good. How do I learn about the original meaning? How do I find cross-references?” or even “What are they, and why do I need them?”
My Thoughts on the Acronym Bible-Study Methods
There is obviously nothing wrong with a cute acronym. All of the steps mentioned above are good and helpful ways to study the Bible. Certainly include prayer. Make observations. Apply the verse. The acronym, while not making the method itself superior, can certainly help you remember what’s next and to not leave out an important step.
Here is the big “but” you’ve probably heard coming. I think these “study methods” are a next step up from only reading the Bible, but they don’t completely teach you how to fully understand God’s Word and handle it with the utmost care. I have not seen anyone who encourages one of these acronyms regularly teach their students more about each of these steps.
For example, the observation step is very broad and often just asks, “What stands out to you?” It takes some training and practice to make good observations which will in turn help you interpret the text more accurately - a step that was completely left out of most of these acronyms. When we don’t take proper care to make good observations - that should include reading the context, asking good questions, and noting conjunctions and cross-references - we are bound to end up with poor application at least half of the time.
What do I mean by poor application? It’s when you claim that you can do “anything through Christ” including becoming thin, rich, and famous rather than content, godly, and mission minded (Philippians 4:13). It means you could be reading the Bible, claiming verses, and talking about your faith while actually worshipping a god that, in a sense, is not the God of the Bible. I don’t think any of us intend to do that.
Please, don’t mishear me. These acronym Bible studies are not of the devil. They are a good place to start. I myself have led a women’s Bible study with a curriculum that used the SOAP method. It was a good study and challenged many of the ladies in my group to go beyond just reading the Bible. It was a great place to start. We enjoyed it.
My encouragement is simply to learn even deeper ways of studying the Bible. Don’t be intimidated. You can do it, step by step!
5. Bible Journaling
There is currently a trend to pick a phrase on each page of Scripture and write it in your wide-margin Bible in fancy lettering surrounded by illustrations or embellishments. I think this practice is wonderful for creative people and allows you to really dwell on that phrase you chose to commemorate beautifully in the margin of your Bible.
My encouragement is the same as above: Don’t let it end there. Learn how to study the Bible.
6. Color Coding
Color coding the Bible was probably more trendy a couple of decades ago, but many believers still do it today. Color coding is usually just a portion of somebody’s Bible study time. Kay Arthur Bible studies use color coding extensively but also teach additional Bible study methods.
What am I talking about? When you come across a description of God’s character, for example, you’d either highlight it in a certain color or mark it with a symbol. (Obviously, when you mark keywords with a symbol you’ll be able to track more of them than if you use highlighters, simply because you’ll likely only find highlighters in a dozen different colors.)
Marking keywords with a color or symbol forces you to read each verse very carefully. It allows you to track themes through the Bible such as everything the Bible says about salvation, money, or the Holy Spirit.
I used this method when I was in College. I used the “notes” section in the back of my Bible as a “symbol index”, and my Bible was all marked up with lots of color. If you’d like to learn how to color/symbol code, I highly recommend a Kay Arthur or similar Bible study to help you get started. These studies will teach you how to detect keywords and what to do with them. Most of them will guide you through further Bible study methods as well so that color coding is not the only thing you do.
Why a 7th Method is Even Better
I encourage you to truly learn how to study the Bible step by step, not focusing on a cute Bible-study name or desiring color in your Bible over true understanding in your heart. By all means, try out some of the methods mentioned above. Then get ready for the next step.
Is that you? Are you ready to study the Bible more intently? Are you eager to learn how scholars approach Scripture - at least to the best of your ability?
You may say, “No way, Ellen. I can’t study the Bible like a scholar.” Let me challenge you with this: If you’d set out to build a bookshelf, wouldn’t it be smart to learn from a carpenter? Sure, your end product won’t look as beautiful as theirs, but it’s much more likely to be solid and sturdy than if you hadn’t consulted their expert advice.
Scholars - and many believers who have learned from them - use essentially a three-step approach to studying the Bible: Observation, interpretation, and application. Observation should include a context check, asking basic textual questions like the 5 Ws & 1 H, andcross-references which can be found in a concordance or with many online Bible search engines like biblegateway.com and biblestudytools.com.
Your interpretation is then based on your observation phase and - especially because you are not a scholar - improved by the use of outside sources like commentaries. Your application will follow accordingly.
You can do this! I can help you learn each of these steps. Remember also, the Holy Spirit is always by your side, eager to help you understand and apply Scripture to live a life that honors Him. You are not alone in this… in any way!
I’d like to send you a FREE ebook, “10 Steps to Approaching the Bible with Confidence.” It explains each study phase in bite-sized portions. Take your time learning each step and move on to the next when you’re ready. Just let me know where to send it…
Do you already have the book and are ready for more? Check out the store for the “Scripture Confident through the Old Testament” Bible study, which will teach you all of these study methods in more detail while allowing you to practice each step as you discover the Old Testament storyline. This portion of the Bible is not as intimidating as you think! You’ll master those narrative passages in no time!
Let me know below which of the study methods you have tried and what you enjoyed about them. Did your favorite not make this list? How do you challenge yourself to study the Word of God in depth? I’d love to hear about it.