In the original King James Version of the Bible, 2 Timothy 2:15 declares, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
However, people who want to study the Bible may not be sure how they should do so. The subsequent discussion of four basic methods of studying the Bible may be helpful in making such a decision. These methods are as follows:
- Focusing on a specific verse or sentence
- Focusing on a specific chapter
- Focusing on a specific person
- Focusing on a specific doctrine
We will now briefly consider basic aspects of each of these methods of Bible study.
Focusing on a Specific Verse or Sentence
The number of verses on which this method of Bible study focuses is determined by whether a person wants to study (a) just one verse, regardless of whether or not it comprises a complete sentence, or (b) one complete sentence, which may be comprised of more than one verse. This method may attempt to analyze every word that is regarded as a key word in the focal verse(s) of scripture, and then make an overall assessment of the meaning of the verse(s). The primary disadvantage of this method is its narrow focus. Therefore, it is generally worthwhile to immediately study other verses or sentences in the same chapter in order to be able to satisfactorily comprehend what the entire relevant passage teaches.
In any case, a single verse of scripture or sentence should rarely, if ever, be relied on to make an important decision or to determine a biblical doctrine. The risk of relying on just one verse of scripture or a single sentence is illustrated by the following tale about a man who wanted guidance regarding how to deal with a difficult decision that he needed to make. After some thought, the man decided to consult a verse of scripture in his Bible in the hope that it would instruct him about what he should do. His thinking was that whatever the verse said would instruct him as to what he should do. So, he closed his eyes, opened his Bible, and put his index finger on a verse of scripture. But, when he opened his eyes and read the verse to which his finger was pointing, it said, “Then, he . . . went and hanged himself.” Understandably, the man did not think that this verse of scripture was appropriate, so he again closed his eyes, opened his Bible, and put his index finger on a verse of scripture. This time the verse to which his finger was pointing stated, “Go, and do likewise.” What the man did subsequently is unknown.
Focusing on a Specific Chapter
Although this method of Bible study should provide a broader understanding than focusing on just one verse or one sentence, it is unlikely to provide the same breadth and/or depth of understanding as can be provided by also studying several additional scriptures pertaining to the same topic. In other words, studying even an entire chapter may not be sufficient for a person to adequately understand the full significance of a particular biblical teaching.
For example, studying an Old Testament chapter that pertains primarily to making regular animal sacrifices for sins that people commit is not apt to be beneficial. The Old Testament teachings regarding animal sacrifices are no longer applicable to people who have trusted in Jesus Christ as their Savior, because the New Testament teaches that the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on a cross was the ultimate sacrifice necessary to atone for the sins of people who trust in Him for forgiveness and eternal salvation (see Ephesians 5:2 and Hebrews 10:10-12). [Note: For a discussion of how to be assured of eternal salvation, click on the title of our article “What Must a Person Do to Be Assured of Eternal Salvation?”]
Focusing on a Specific Person
As would be expected, an in-depth study of multiple scriptures that pertain primarily to the life of a specific person should facilitate a better understanding of the character of that person. Furthermore, the people who utilize this type of study are likely to learn what caused the successes and/or the failures of the person whom they are studying. Therefore, this method of Bible study has the potential to provide a good understanding of a person, but it may not provide ample understanding of relevant biblical doctrines.
Consider, for example, a study of the life of King Solomon. Such a study can provide knowledge about how Solomon’s life changed for the worse due to his failure to continue to live in accordance with his knowledge of the will of God. Thus, someone who engages in a biblical study of a particular person is likely to gain a better understanding of the importance of being faithful to God, but the study will not necessarily provide much insight regarding pertinent biblical doctrines.
Focusing on a Specific Doctrine
A Bible study that adequately focuses on a specific doctrine generally necessitates studying a number of scriptures that are relevant to that particular doctrine. To satisfactorily complete this type of study, it usually will be necessary to study multiple scriptures. This method can generally be more beneficial than the other three methods, because it can help people to gain a broader understanding of important biblical doctrines.
Certainly, we can learn a lot about how we should conduct ourselves just from knowing how Jesus Christ conducted His life. However, by studying not only the character of Jesus, but also His teachings and the teachings of other men who contributed writings that are in the Bible, we can generally attain even greater understanding about what God wants us to do – or not do.
Many people who study the Bible may have a preference for a particular method of Bible study. However, it may be worthwhile for everyone who studies the Bible to consider either changing their method of Bible study or using more than one of the methods that we have previously mentioned. Deciding which method(s) of Bible study to use will usually depend on the nature of the scripture(s) to be studied. For example, a complex scripture passage may be better understood by first studying the meaning or significance of key words or phrases in that passage, then studying key words or phrases in other relevant biblical passages, and finally determining what all of these passages combined teach about a specific topic.