15 Bible Study Methods for Understanding God’s Story
When my daughter was little, she begged for bedtime stories—not the ones in the storybooks lining her shelves, but the ones that lived in my memories as I recalled (and I confess, embellished) my childhood adventures on the farm. “Tell me about when you were little, Mama,” she’d say as I pulled the blankets up around her chin.
Each night I shared a different tale. There was the time my sisters and I caught one hundred frogs from the swamp and brought them to the farmhouse in a five-gallon pail to show our mom, who promptly told us to return every last one of them to their homes—now! Or the time we tried to sleep out in the old bank barn with the pigeons, but the noises in the night made us scamper for the safety of our beds long before dawn. Or the time I caught a cute little field mouse and trapped him under a Tupperware bowl in my bedroom, only to find the bowl empty the next morning.
Stories have captivated our imaginations since the beginning of time. Tales of mystery and intrigue, romance and heroism, action and adventure have been told by master storytellers and passed down from generation to generation.
But none compare to the greatest story ever told found in the pages of Scripture.
From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible is one seamless narrative of relentless redemption, featuring God’s steadfast love for us. Breathed out by the Spirit of God, as a living and active Word, we are invited into an intimate relationship with the Son of God, who appears on every page. Scripture contains every element of good storytelling, and as we inevitably become captivated by the drama, we discover that God’s story miraculously transforms our stories.
But it can be confusing. Who is this God we worship? How do the pieces of the story fit together? What do we make of all the imagery and symbolism? What do the characters teach us about walking with Jesus? And admittedly most importantly to us—how does it apply to our lives?
Studying Scripture is truly the greatest adventure, but it requires time and trusted tools. Here are 15 creative ways to study Scripture:
1) REPETITIVE READING: READ THE PASSAGE MULTIPLE TIMES
This Bible study method is so simple it’s often overlooked. Reading the chapter several times gives you a familiarity with the text and increases your comprehension, which is always a good first step of effective Bible study. Repetitive reading enables you to notice details you previously missed and allows the Holy Spirit to give us insights into the narrative.
2) AUDIO BIBLE: READ THE PASSAGE OUT LOUD OR LISTEN TO AN AUDIO BIBLE APP
God’s Word was passed down through the Israelite generations orally. At the temple, the priests read the law to the people as they gathered several times a year for the feasts. In homes, parents taught God’s commands to their children by repeating them aloud. We learn by listening too. Reading the passage out loud or listening to a Bible app is another way to familiarize yourself with the text. There are many audio Bible apps to choose from: The Dwell Bible App, Bible.is, Blue Letter Bible, or YouVersion. And the best part is that listening to God’s Word can be done while you are driving or folding laundry or going for a walk. What a great way to redeem the time!
3) MULTIPLE TRANSLATIONS: READ THE PASSAGE IN SEVERAL DIFFERENT TRANSLATIONS
We have access to a wide variety of translations of Scripture. There are word-for-word translations from the original Hebrew and Greek text, and there are thought-for-thought translations. Your choice of translation will depend on whether you are doing a serious study of a passage or merely reading it. I like to study in the ESV but then read a more fluid translation like the NLT or NET or CSB in my daily devotional time. The benefit of reading a passage in a variety of translations is something may jump out at you in a new and fresh way. If you find your mind is wandering while in familiar passages, switching translations is a simple way to re-engage with the text.
4) KEY WORDS: MARK KEY REPEATED WORDS IN THE PASSAGE WITH COLOURS AND SYMBOLS
Another way to engage with Scripture is to annotate it. Print out a double-spaced copy of the passage to annotate or mark the text directly in your Bible. Using a variety of colors and symbols, mark every mention of God, key repeated words, comparisons, contrasts, and time references. Marking key repeated words serves as a visual cue to the main emphasis of the text. You will end up with a “messy” piece of paper, but you will have interacted with the text in a far deeper way.
5) WORD STUDIES: CONDUCT A WORD STUDY ON SIGNIFICANT WORDS IN THE PASSAGE
The Bible was originally written in Hebrew and Greek and a little Aramaic. Over 8,000 Hebrew words were used in the Old Testament and over 5,000 Greek words were used in the New Testament. But when the Bible was translated into English, only 6,000 English words were used. Bible translators squeezed 14,000 original words into 6,000 English words by using the same English word for several original language words, therefore our English translations lack the subtle shades of meaning present in the original text. Researching the word in the original language expands our understanding of the passage by giving us the precise meaning of the word. Word studies may seem daunting, but they are not as difficult as they sound because we have online tools at our fingertips. I recommend Blue Letter Bible. Simply look up the verse the word appears in, click on Tools, then Interlinear, then the word you are researching. This will give you the original language word, the transliteration, and the expanded meaning.
6) KEY LISTS: MAKE A LIST OF WHAT YOU LEARN FROM EVERY OCCURRENCE OF THE KEY WORDS
As we’ve already learned, the key words are often repeated in a passage. After you have marked these key repeated words, make a list of what you learn from each occurrence of the word. This list will expand your understanding of topics and themes in the passage and can serve as topical Bible study.
7) EXHAUSTIVE QUESTIONS: LIST QUESTIONS OF CURIOSITY AND CLARITY
Approaching Scripture with a healthy dose of curiosity is a great way to engage with the text. Scripture is written in thrift, and therefore many details are left out. Become curious about the gaps, both in the text and in your understanding. As questions come to mind, write them down. Listing questions not only sparks your imagination but also leads to increased understanding when you take the time to research the answers.
8) CROSS REFERENCES: LOOK UP CROSS REFERENCES FOR IMPORTANT VERSES
Scripture interprets Scripture. Comparing one passage with another helps us better understand the Bible. As you are reading, if another passage comes to mind, look it up. Most Bibles have cross-references listed in the margins, which become a springboard for expanding your understanding of a concept. Bible Hub and Blue Letter Bible are great online resources for cross references. As you look up cross references, make notes about what you find.
9) OUTLINE TEXT: OUTLINE THE PASSAGE BY GIVING EACH PARAGRAPH A TITLE
Outlining a chapter of Scripture forces you to think about the main points of the text. Simply give the overall chapter a title, then give each paragraph a title, and then list the subpoints beneath each title. This helps to organize your thoughts around a section of Scripture. Writing this outline in the margins of your Bible can also help when you come back to the text in the future.
10) HANDWRITE TEXT: COPY THE PASSAGE WORD FOR WORD IN YOUR OWN HANDWRITING
Our world is moving so fast, but we don’t want to have this hurried approach as we read the Bible, or we will miss what God has for us. One way to slow down and savour Scripture is to write it out. The ancient Israelite kings were required to write a copy of the law on a scroll, so it would be imprinted on their hearts, and they would learn to fear the Lord all the days of their lives (Deut. 17:18-19). Handwriting scripture is an ancient practice with continued benefits for today. And it’s so simple! Grab an ordinary notebook and a pen and simply write out the text. What if, over the course of a lifetime, you wrote out the entire Word of God?
11) PARAPHRASE PASSAGE: RE-WRITE THE PASSAGE IN YOUR OWN WORDS
Paraphrasing Scripture is another way of slowing down and really meditating on a passage. Since putting things in our own words requires a high-level understanding of the original text, paraphrasing increases comprehension. Rewriting the passage in your own words is a step beyond a chapter summary method. As with any skill, paraphrasing the Bible takes practice to hone, but the more you do it, the better you will become at it.
12) JOURNAL PRAYERS: TURN THE PASSAGE INTO PRAYERS
Praying God’s words back to Him is a powerful way to engage with Scripture and re-energize our prayer lives at the same time. When we do this, we are “reminding” God of what He has said and claiming His promises for ourselves. Consider journaling your prayers as you work your way through the passage.
13) KNOW GOD: LIST WHAT YOU LEARN ABOUT GOD’S CHARACTER AND WAYS
The Bible begins and ends with God, therefore, our highest goal in reading Scripture is to know God better. But far too often we open the Bible under the false assumption that it is a book about us. We want a word for the day or an answer to our question or a warm fuzzy feeling – and make no mistake—the Bible can give us all of these and more. But it is not primarily a book about us. One of the best ways to enrich your Bible study time is to look for what you learn about the character and ways of God and keep a running list.
14) ACTION STEPS: APPLY THE TRUTH OF GOD’S WORD BY COMMITTING TO AN ACTION STEP
Our goal is to be doers of the Word (James 1:22). We want to be people who not only know God’s Word but also live the truth of God’s Word. For this to be true, we need to consistently apply Scripture to our lives, as the Holy Spirit directs. While there is only one interpretation of Scripture because the author had a specific intent when writing, there are many applications. When you are reading the Bible, ask the Holy Spirit how He wants you to apply truth to situations in your life. And remember, applications should be specific and measurable. Applying Scripture is what leads to spiritual growth.
15) MEMORIZE VERSE: CHOOSE YOUR FAVOURITE VERSE AND COMMIT IT TO MEMORY
God instructs us to hide His Word in our hearts, and the best way to do that is to memorize it. When we commit God’s Word to memory, the Holy Spirit can bring Bible verses to mind and apply it to a specific situation, giving us wisdom and insight. Where do you have margin in your day to memorize Scripture? Perhaps it’s while you are getting ready in the morning—tape verses to your bathroom mirror. Maybe it’s when you are driving in your car—repeat Scripture with an audio Bible app. Perhaps it’s while you are waiting for an appointment—use a Bible app for Scripture memory (e.g. Verses, The Bible Memory App). Regardless of the method you use to memorize, there are no shortcuts; memorizing Scripture takes time and effort. But the rewards far outweigh the cost. In my experience, the Holy Spirit has used the practice of memorizing scripture more than any spiritual discipline to bring a far deeper revelation of God’s truth.
GOD’S STORY TRANSFORMS YOUR STORY
My little girl has become a teen, and her wide-eyed wonder for stories has only grown. She devours books and weaves tales with her own words. But the greatest joy in this mama’s heart is that she is becoming captivated by the greatest story ever told—the Bible.
As we approach God’s Word using these creative methods, we begin to see how our seemingly ordinary stories fit into the grand narrative of Scripture. The Master Storyteller is carefully weaving our stories of adventure, disappointment, celebration, grief, waiting, and breakthrough into His story of the world for His glory. Our stories matter. We are part of the redemptive narrative as our lives shine the beauty of Christ in a broken world.
Living our stories in light of the story of Scripture is an adventure that makes our lives full, our hearts alert and our souls focused. May God take every minute you invest in studying His Word and return it to you with a greater revelation of His truth and a deeper love for Jesus.
Download the Study with S.T.O.R.Y. journaling pages here.