Four Easy Steps for Studying a Biblical Passage

Every Christian would acknowledge that reading the Bible is important. One way to approach the Bible is to read it devotionally, that is, for inspiration or experientially in relation to specific life situations. There is a place for devotional reading and I often read the Bible this way myself.

Another way to approach the Bible is to do what is generally called “Bible Study” which seeks a deeper understanding of a biblical passage. One of the marks of a maturing Christian is that he or she becomes a “self-feeder,” one who is able to study a passage with understanding, draw out principles and make personal application.

There are many methods for doing this kind of personal Bible study, though sometimes these methods can be complicated or confusing. I am going to present a simple method which will still enable you to effectively study a biblical passage. It is based on the word “BALD” (something which is becoming a greater and greater reality in my own life). The method focuses on four steps. You should always write down your answers because this helps you clarify your thinking and enables you to go back to your ideas. You should also begin with prayer for the Holy Spirit to teach you.

Step 1: Identify the BIG idea.

When you are studying a passage, the first thing you want to find is the main point or subject—what is this passage about? In seventh grade English this was called a theme. It is the central concept the author is trying to communicate (write it down). If you are having trouble identifying the big idea, try reading the passage in other translations.

Step 2: ASK the natural question of the big idea and ANSWER it from the passage.

Every passage of Scripture has a flow, a reasonable presentation of the big idea. This flow may be logical, chronological, historical, etc. You are seeking to find this flow and it usually can be found by asking one of these questions: Who, What, When, Where, Why, or How. So ask these questions of the big idea and see which question fits what the passage says (sometimes it will be more than one). Then answer the question from the passage.

Step 3: What LESSONS for my life are seen here?

The answers to the question(s) in step 2 will be lessons or principles that you are to practice or avoid; or perhaps they present a perspective that you are to have. Spend some time thinking about these principles and what the implications for you might be.

Step 4: What am I going to DO about this?

Bible study without application is only information. It is the application of biblical principles which leads to transformation. How can you apply the above principles? Your goals must be specific, measurable and realistic so you know if you are making progress.

Here is an illustration of the process using Psalm 1 (you might want to read Psalm 1 before proceeding).

Step 1: Big Idea    The profit of being in the Word

Step 2: Ask             How does being in the Word profit me?

Answers    It keeps me close to the source of life (vs. 3)

I will be fruitful and prosperous (vs. 3)

Step 3: Lessons    If I don’t spend time in the Word my spiritual life will wither and I

will not prosper

If I’m not having a consistent time in the Word my spiritual life

will become dull and listless

Step 4: Do              Using this Bible study method I will study one paragraph a day from

the gospel of John

[You could also study Psalm 1 with the big idea being “Contrasting Lifestyles”]

The great temptation in studying the Bible is to go directly to commentaries. I would encourage you not to do that because you rob yourself of the joy of discovering biblical truth on your own (with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, of course). Once you complete your study, then commentaries become useful to see if you were on track and what else you can learn that you may have missed.

The people of Berea were commended because they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily . . . . May we show the same diligence!


About Dr. John H. Harbison

Son of God, Husband, Father, Author of "Keeping Christ in Ministry,"Vice-President for Academic Affairs, College Pastor, Runner, Writer
This entry was posted in Successful Christian Living and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Four Easy Steps for Studying a Biblical Passage

  1. Larry says:

    Hmm. This all seems a bit subjective. What about cross referencing with possible historical evidence to ascertain whether the idea of it being literal can be entertained?

    • John H. Harbison says:

      Hi Larry,

      Thanks for your comment. You are right, of course, as there is much more that could be added to the four simple steps I outlined. My goal was to encourage people who were not doing Bible study to have a way to get started that would not be overwhelming. They certainly do not represent all that could be done.

  2. Thanks for the information. I was looking for an easy way to teach how to preach but this article opened my eyes; first the preacher has to teach himself and this is the way to do. Greetings from Guatemala, Central America.

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