Have you ever read a 5-minute devotional or an email and thought, “That was great, but I want more!” or “That was a nice story, but it doesn’t really apply to my life right now.” Have you ever heard a sermon or read a Scripture passage and wondered, “What does that really mean?” Have you ever thought, "I would like to study the Bible more, but where do I start?"
If you have ever wanted to dig deeper into God’s Word, this is the method that I use. I have had a couple people ask for my method, because I am a studier. I love to study. I started out old-school with paper books for every step, but you can easily tweak it to fit you. I will give examples using both a Word Study book and also a website called Bible Hub.
(As a disclaimer, how long this process will take you is completely up to you, depending on how deep you want to get. I recommend you plan on 2-3 months for a small book of the Bible. In parentheses, I have added my recommendation of when to do each step. If you get bogged down in the middle, I suggest taking a break from Steps 6-10 and re-reading it entirely again, as in Steps 2-4. Then you should have regained the big picture perspective to give you momentum and purpose to continue dissecting each verse. Switch back and forth between big picture and verse-by-verse dissecting as often as you need to.)
STEP 1: Pick a passage.
(Day 1) I recommend starting with a small epistle that only has 3 or 4 chapters, like James or Philippians. You can study the book as a whole, but it’s not so big that it’s overwhelming. I am in the middle of Romans, and I don’t recommend starting there—it’s long and deep, and I am often overwhelmed!
STEP 2: Read it entirely and pray.
(Day 1) The author wrote the entire book as one document. He didn’t write just one verse at a time or even one chapter at a time. They all work together to accomplish the main theme, the main purpose of writing the book. We should start with the context as one unit. On the first day, just read the entire book in one sitting. Then pray, asking the Holy Spirit to reveal to you what He wants to teach you form that book. That’s it.
STEP 3: Read it entirely aloud and pray.
(Day 2) On the second day, just read the entire book again, but this time, read it out loud to yourself. If you have an audio version, you could listen to that, but I recommend reading it at the same time you listen or else read it aloud yourself. Our brains learn better the more senses are engaged. Reading is visual. Listening is audial. If you can do both at the same time, it greatly enhances your ability to digest the material. Then pray again.
STEP 4: Read it entirely in several versions.
(Day 3) You can do this in one of two ways. You can read one chapter in several different versions one day, then the next chapter in several versions the next day, etc., until you finish every chapter. Or you can read the entire book in one version one day, read the entire book in another version the next day, etc. until you’ve read the book in as many different versions as you want. It’s up to you. But it really gives you a feel for the big picture of the entire book when you see how different versions emphasize the same themes or different themes. I recommend taking at least 3 days to do this step.
STEP 5: Choose a tool.
(Day 6) Here’s where the method can get technical. I’m not going to go into all the different tools you can use. Here I am just going to share what I do.
1. Word Study. Like I said, I started old-school with Zodhiates' Complete Word Study New Testament (AMG International, Inc., [Chattanooga, TN] 1991). You can also now use many online sites, a free one that I use is BibleHub.com. No matter which one you choose, the steps are basically the same. (I’ll give a more technical how-to use Bible Hub, if you comment that you would like me to. 😊 )
2. Commentary. I also recommend that in addition to a word study book or site, you might want to also start from a commentary on the book of the Bible that you chose. For James, I used Curtis Vaughan’s James: A Study Guide (1969 by Zondervan Publishing House), and I found it very easy to understand and follow. For Romans and Philippians, I used R.C.H. Lenski’s The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (1936) and The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Galatians, Ephesians and Philippians (1937). Lenski has interpreted every book of the New Testament in his series, I believe, but they are much more scholarly. He uses not only Greek words throughout, but also German and Latin, not always translating. I recommend that unless you’re already very familiar with Greek, start with something easier. But it’s up to you.
STEP 6: Take one verse per day, working verse by verse through the Word Study.
(Starting on Day 6, or Day 7 if you need extra time for Step 5, and every day after for however long it takes you to get through the book—usually will be months.) You don’t have to look up every single Greek word, just the most important. Unless you just want to take the extra time. For example, if you have chosen the book of James, you would open the Word Study to page 750 (or to James 1:1, then click “Interlinear Chapters” under the Language tab at the top right). You would see:
"James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting."
Above each English word will be a number with some abbreviations. In Bible Hub, it will also have the Greek word transliterated into English letters. Again, time does not permit to go into every detail of what is in a Word Study. All you need to know to begin is that if a number above a word is bolded, then there is an extended definition in the back of the Word Study. You wouldn’t need to look up the very first word in James 1:1, the word for James, because it’s just going to tell you that it’s the name James. However, if you wanted to look up “servant” in James 1:1, you would see that 1401 is bolded, so you would turn to page 907 and find this entry:
1401. Doulos; slave, one who is in a permanent relation of servitude to another, his will altogether consumed in the will of the other…
In Bible Hub, you can hover your mouse above any Greek word, and it will give you a very quick, simple definition. If you want to get a deeper idea of what the word means, you must click on the Greek word. It won’t take you to a definition, but it will take you to the Englishmen’s Concordance and show you all the verses in the NT when that same Greek Word is used, in each of its tenses. You can click each one and get a sense of how it was used in different ways, if you want to take a lot more time.
STEP 7: Take notes and/or write out the commentary’s suggested version.
(same as Step 6—do Steps 6 & 7 together) How you want to take notes depends on you and the commentary you selected. You could write out an outline, or simply take notes on each word, or you can do what I do, which is write out the commentary’s suggested version.
Lenski’s commentaries all have his own “version” bolded that he then breaks down verse-by-verse. I believe that no one version is better for every single word than another. Therefore, Lenski takes a word from this version and a word from that version and combines them into what he believes is the best English translation of each Greek word. That’s why I like to start with his. He then almost always gives a detailed argument of why he believes this one is correct and not that one. Then I look up each important word for myself and cross-check how several different versions translated that word. Then I make my decision about what I think is the best translation.
Step 8: Write out your own version in your words.
(You can do this each day after completing Steps 6-7, or you can take an extra day to combine your notes into your own version). After I have studied several different versions, with help from notes on the word studies and from the commentary, I then write out “Lila’s version,” a collection of what I have learned about that verse. This can take several days to get from Step 6 to Step 8, if it is a long verse or if you want to consult many sources.
Step 9: After finishing the entire chapter, read the chapter again in your own version, preferably aloud.
Now you have read, heard, and written the entire chapter several times. It’s amazing what your brain can retain. The Holy Spirit will use these Words that you have hidden in your heart (Psalm 119:11) and will remind you of them often. It’s a lovely, intimate part of our relationship with the Lord.
Step 10: Repeat steps 6-9 for each chapter until you have finished the entire book.
Click here to download a FREE checklist of action items.It also includes pictures of my noes from James and a few different ways you can take notes.
Step 11: Read the entire book again in one sitting in whichever version you like.
When you read a book of the Bible in its entirety several times and then get detailed into every important word, the Bible will make so much sense to you! You will not only have a better understanding of the story of God’s Word as a big picture, but you will also have a closer, intimate, deeper walk with the Lord.
But beware of pride! It’s very easy to say, “Well, I am a studier of God’s Word. I’m a better Christian than those who don’t.” Not! Everyone is still learning. No one will learn everything. People learn differently. And learning intellectual knowledge won’t change hearts anyway. It’s only a means to an end. Biblical knowledge is a means to knowing Christ better. Don’t get so hung up on the Bible that you fail to come to the Author of it.
Now that you have the basic steps, take the first baby step! Choose a book of the Bible to dig deeper into, and comment below which one you have chosen. Also, feel free to ask any questions or clarify anything that I may have left out. I’m so excited to hear which book you’re going to study