Summary: In this first part, I explain preparing for Bible study and exploring Bible book studies and passage studies along with the resources I use.
In my last post, I discussed how to form your own Bible study method. In this post, I will go into detail about Bible study methods and the resources that go with them for effective Bible study.
I have just scratched the surface of Bible study methods and their resources. I couldn’t cover everything in one post, so I decided to cover Bible study methods in more detail, and provide resources for each type of Bible study.
In some ways, Bible studies and resources are a personal preference. I will share mine in this post. But I will give you resources for each Bible study method. Even though Bible studies are personal preferences, the method you choose has steps that make the most sense and get the best results. Let’s dive in!
Before You Begin Your Study
No matter what Bible study method you choose, you must begin your study with prayer. More than any book or resource, the Holy Spirit is your guide into the Scriptures. He illuminated the text when you read it in your devotions. And now, He will help you understand your subjective study.
After prayer, you want to prepare your tools and resources for your study. If you are using a computer, prepare a document to record your insights and observations. If you have Bible software, prepare layouts, Bible versions, and other resources.
If you are using a pen, highlighters, notebook, and books, lay them out on a desk or table and get ready for your study. How much time should you spend? Most people have a designated amount of time to spend. The more time you use, the more you will cover in each session. Your study will probably last multiple sessions.
Bible Book Study
Conducting a Bible book study helps you understand each book in its historical and canonical context. The historical context is the time in which the Bible was written originally. The canonical context is how the book fits into the rest of the Bible.
You may have several reasons for doing a book study. Perhaps you are curious about a book in the Bible. Many people want to understand Revelation or Isaiah better, and so they do a study on it. Perhaps you don’t know much about a genre of the Bible, like prophecy. Bible book studies are great for gaining knowledge in areas you lack proficiency.
Most of the Bible book studies I do are in preparation to cover each of the book’s passages. Getting a “bird’s eye view” of the book helps me to understand how each passage fits with and its context. This is not required for passage studies, but it helps.
Whatever your reason, Bible book studies illuminate your understanding of the Bible and give you a greater appreciation for it. About 40 writers over 1400 years wrote the Bible. Because they come from different cultures, time periods, use different languages, and cover different material, book studies can be invaluable to understanding histories and times these prophets and apostles wrote.
So how do you study a book of the Bible to gain the most insight? Let me describe the general approach to this Bible method, along with some resources that will be most illuminating. To get the most out of your Bible book study, cover these issues.
You must know the author, date, occasion and purpose, genre, outline, place in history and the Canon, summary, and themes. You will find most of these are connected to one another. For instance, the date will tell you much about the occasion of the letter. Occasion also stands for historical events or other biblical events surrounding the book.
Most introductions to Bible books in your resources go roughly in the order I gave. Read the book in one sitting (I know this is not as easy for larger books) several times. Make your own outline of the book.
Glean whatever other information you can as you read. Does the book express the author, the purpose, or reference other historical events? After you have done your own work, use the resources I describe to check your work and gain further insight into the book.
You can use Bible handbooks and dictionaries to learn about each of the Bible books. A handbook like the Zondervan Handbook to the Bible may describe the book in a couple of pages, or like my recommendation, Halley’s Bible Handbook, they may have extensive information about the history of the Bible, a short synopsis of each book, and a synopsis of each chapter in the book.
Good Bible dictionaries cover the subject of each entry in detail. You may prefer the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, or the Eerdman’s Bible Dictionary. Most people don’t go all out and get the six volume Yale Anchor Bible Dictionary.
Most common are passage studies because they illuminate a select number of verses that may be of interest. Perhaps this is a hard saying or passage of the Bible and you want to understand it better or help someone understand it.
Maybe you are covering a passage as part of the whole book study. Whatever your reason, passage studies can yield rich results and nuggets of wisdom. And there are many resources to aid you in your quest to master passages of the Bible.
Passage studies require a rigorous study method. Because you are only looking at a passage and not the whole book, you need to be familiar with the book your passage comes from. But if you only want to look at the passage itself, you may have to do a word study or two to get the meaning of the passage from the words.
Your passages built from word to sentence to paragraph. You need to know the literary context (the paragraph before and paragraph after), and how your passage fits in the flow of thought. You may have to look at cultural concepts, history, and how the sentences fit together.
Each paragraph has a main idea that fits in the author’s flow of thought. Look for repetition of words and phrases. Note the genre of your passage, or any sub genres. These offer a key to understanding what the writer is saying. Your most helpful friend for passage studies is a commentary.
Commentaries come in all shapes and sizes, from the one volume whole Bible commentary to commentary series and sets to individual volumes covering one or a few Bible books. Some good one volume commentaries include the New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary, Holman Concise Bible Commentary, and the New Bible Commentary. These commentaries provide a shorter exposition of your passage.
In my opinion, it is better to get a volume dedicated to your entire book. Most of these are part of a commentary set. Sets are expensive, but one volume book commentaries offer the biggest bang for your buck. Plus, if you are studying the whole book passage by passage, there’s no greater benefit pricewise.
Commentaries depend on what you are using them to research. Consider that there are commentaries from the devotional and application to the exposition to the language specific commentary. I classify commentaries into three groups.
The first classification is devotional/application commentaries. These are the bookends of my study. I use concise or devotional commentaries at the beginning of my passage study to get a bird’s eye view of my passage. I reference application commentaries at the end of my study.
The next level of commentaries are expositional/expository commentaries. These include language commentaries and verse by verse commentaries. They help me drill down on the text and give thorough expositions to understand the text better.
The final level of commentaries are critical commentaries. Some of these are very scholarly in their approach. I use these commentaries to get a better look at the format and literary parts of my passage. You must be careful with some of these because they are not written by Christians and do not honor the inspiration of Scripture..
But which one should you choose? There are many websites that rate commentaries and offer suggestions for the best commentary on each book of the Bible, like the Best Commentaries website. All you need to do is search for a commentary recommendation for the Bible book you are studying and you will find plenty of options.
For commentary series and sets, if you have the money to spend, I have found most helpful the New International Commentary Series, the Expositor’s Bible Commentary, the Word Biblical Commentary series, Tyndale Old and New Testament Commentaries, the Preacher’s Commentary series, and the NIV Application Commentary series. Individual volumes from these sets are reliable.
There are some outstanding New Testament series like the Pillar New Testament commentaries, they Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, the IVP New Testament commentaries, and the Osborne New Testament commentaries. Good Old Testament commentaries are the Old Testament survey series, JPS series, and the Handbooks on the Old Testament.
Track down the cultural and historical information you need in the IVP Bible Background Old and New Testaments commentaries, and the Zondervan illustrated Bible commentary. Look up how the New Testament references the Old Testament with the Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament.
For language and word studies, the UBS Handbooks series is excellent. For New Testament, the NIGTC series, Classical Commentaries on the Greek Text, Metzger’s commentary for textual criticism, and Black’s commentaries give you a good start. For Old Testament word studies, the Keil and Delitzsch commentary is helpful.
Try a Bible study method. Whatever works for your situation will do just fine. If you have done some of these Bible studies before, choose a Bible study method you have not used before to get yourself used to them when the need to use one arises.
We’re only halfway through perusing the possibilities of Bible study methods. In my next post, I will cover the rest of the most common Bible study methods, their reason, practice, and resources.