How to study the Bible

Now you can find the study of God’s word interesting and life-changing

Many find the Bible difficult to study and understand. There are several reasons. The Bible contains history, law, poetry, songs, wisdom literature, prophecy, personal letters, and symbolic literature. Recognizing these differences in the Bible will help us to avoid misunderstanding the Bible. Then, we are all sinners, and we can make mistakes in our understanding of passages. But with God’s help this can be avoided. The truth is, God’s word is not difficult to understand if we approach it in the proper way with God’s help. He wants us to hear and apply his word every day. The purpose of this little booklet is to give you a few clearly defined steps to study and understand the Bible.

Within this study guide you will find:

  • Ezra’s three steps to understanding scripture
  • Seven keys to open Bible truths
  • How to begin Bible study
  • Question and Answer Method
  • Conclusion


Ezra’s three steps to understanding scripture

Ezra, the author of the book of Ezra, followed three steps when he wanted to study and understand God’s teachings. Let us learn from Ezra.

“For Ezra had prepared his heart to study the Lord’s teachings, and to do it (live by them), and to teach its commandments in Israel.” (Ezra 7:10).

Here are the steps that we need to follow.  

Step 1: Prepare your hearts

Step 2: Prepare to do God’s word

Step 3: Prepare to teach and share with others

Let’s dig a little deeper into these three steps:

Step 1: Prepare your hearts

“For Ezra had prepared his heart to study the Lord’s teachings, and to do it (live by them), and to teach its commandments in Israel.” (Ezra 7:10).

So what is the first step to study the Bible? Before we even open the Bible, before we start studying the Bible, we need to prepare our hearts.  How do we prepare our hearts? We prepare our hearts by setting our minds to really know what God is going to teach us. We do that by praying (Job 11:13). Who should we pray for? The Holy Spirit. Do you know why we need to ask for the Holy Spirit’s guidance? Because He is the one who wrote the Bible, so only He can tell us what the Bible is saying.

Step 2: Prepare to do God’s word

Not only do we need to prepare our hearts to study God’s word, but we must also be willing to do and live by God’s word. Many people know the Bible, but they don’t live by it or obey its direction; so they never benefit from God’s instruction. Therefore, we really have to pray that we will be humble to obey and do what God instructs us to do.

Step 3: Prepare to teach and share with others

The third step is to be willing to teach and share God’s teaching with others. Why don’t we hear life changing messages from our churches around the world? The simple reason is people do not experience the power of God’s word in their lives. How can we preach with power when we don’t overcome things like jealousies, hatred, selfishness, and pride through God’s help.

Key point: We must study the Bible with an attitude of faith, humility, and willingness to obey and share its teachings.

Seven Keys to open Bible truths

1) Understand the Bible from the Bible

We need to know from the Bible itself what we believe and why we believe it. Other sources like commentaries, at times, can be very helpful. But, in the end, we need to learn how to study the Bible the “hard” way—learning the Bible only from the Bible itself.  (“But the word of the LORD was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, [and] there a little;”  Isa. 28:13)

2) Mark the Bible in your head and heart by saying it and owning it

Some like to mark their Bible with colors. That is good, but we must mark important passages in our hearts, and memories. One way to mark is to share what you learn with someone. When you share, give the chapter, and the verse. If one tries this method three times, you will not forget it. If there is no one to listen, just grab someone, and give that person ten rupees; tell them, “Here’s ten rupees, now just listen to me.” Also learn to use different Bible versions. Do not use KJV only--try also using NKJV or NIV. Their English could be easier to understand. If we can’t express what we learn, it is not ours. Say it, and own it.

3) Be prepared to learn something new every day

“If we would study the Bible diligently and prayerfully every day, we should every day seek some beautiful truth in a new, clear, and forceful light.” White, E. G., Child Guidance (Nashville, TN: Southern Publishing Association, 1954), 511.

4) Studying the Bible helps you with your school and education

 “If medical students will study the word of God diligently, they will be far better prepared to understand their other studies.” (CT 483). If we’re struggling with the topics and subjects in a class, this counsel indicates that diligent Bible study will help us to understand other materials. Moreover, “If you had made God’s word your study [if you had made it your study, not just reading material, not just like Reader’s Digest or TIME magazine—your study] with a desire to reach the Bible standard and attain to Christian perfection [Christian perfection—we’re talking about character, not perfectionism, we’re talking about a perfect character like Jesus] you would not have needed the Testimonies.” White, E. G., Testimonies to the Church, Vol. 5 (Oakland, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1901), 664.

5) Know the difference between interpretation and application

Interpretation is what something means; application is how we implement it—we should not get the two confused. We need to know what the Bible says for us to be able to understand its meaning and make it real in our lives. For instance, suppose someone interprets the death of Jesus for us on the cross like this: “Jesus died for me on the cross; therefore, I am free from the law. This means, then, that I do not have to keep the Ten Commandments.” This is a wrong interpretation about Jesus’s death on the cross.

6) No Fast-Food Please

When we study the Bible, when we prepare a sermon, it’s like cooking. It’s like creating a good meal. Good food requires great preparation. We are not talking about McDonald’s, KFC, or any fast-food stuff. Proper Bible study takes time just like creating a good meal.

7) Observing the Bible

“How do we observe the Bible?” Good observation requires quality time—no fast learning here. In order to observe the Bible, we need to understand a few things: history, author, and context.


Let’s start with history, for example. In order to understand the book of Daniel, we need to understand history during Jeremiah’s time, and history during Isaiah’s time. We might ask, “What led up to Daniel and his experience? What occurred before his time? What took place after his time? What were the events, historical, spiritual, military, that led to the situation in which the characters appear? What was the background in which the author wrote?


Then there’s the question of the author. Who wrote the book? Just as an example, we’ll use Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. We have four different authors of the gospels, but they wrote about one theme—the life of Christ. But they all had different angles, different emphases. How do I know? In one instance each of those gospel writers wrote a slightly different scenario about the inscription that hung above the head of Jesus when He died on the cross.

Matthew 27:37 reads, “And set up over His head this accusation written, THIS IS JESUS, KING OF THE JEWS.”

Notice Mark 15:26, “And the superscription of the accusation was written over, THE KING OF THE JEWS.”

See the difference? Why do they write it like that? That really depends on the author.

Luke 23:38 says, “And a superscription also was written over Him in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew, THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.”

Luke provides additional information. Why did Matthew forego that information? Why did Mark not say anything about the fact it was written in three languages? Only Luke mentioned that it was written in Greek, Hebrew, and Latin.

John wrote “And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was JESUS OF NAZARETH, KING OF THE JEWS.” (John 19:19).

None are the same because all had different purposes, different emphases, yet none of them contradicted the others. All these statement are correct. So, when we put all four accounts together, we find the full truth. That is how we should study the Bible.


We must also examine the context, or current setting, as we seek to observe the Bible. Let’s look at Daniel again. Judah was captured by Babylon; the prophet Ezekiel was in Babylon prophesying; and although captured, Daniel was taken to Babylon to be trained as a wise man. This is the immediate setting of the author, of the story, of the narrative.

Where do we get this information (history, author, context) from? We pull all that we can from the Bible itself, which must be our primary source, although sometimes outside sources can also be quite useful.

Key point: Know the history, time, and place. Put all the verses on the subject to understand the full truth

How to begin Bible study

1) Start with a Single Book

Select a book of the Bible. Choose a smaller book like Philippians, Colossians, or Ephesians. Choose one book, and read it seven times. Why seven times? It’s just a number, but the point is we need to read the book again and again to start understanding its message. When we read over and over again, we develop observational skills. We will observe different things in the passages.

2) Look for the bigger theme.

What is the common word, topic that keeps repeating? Look at the context. For example, the common word or theme appearing in John 15:1-11 is the word, ‘Abide’.

3) When to study the Bible?

Best time is when you wake up. But the quality of your morning depends on what you did the last night. Remember, a day does not begin in the morning in the Bible; a day starts in the evening, and ends the following evening.

Question and Answer Method

This is, I believe, the most powerful way to read the Bible because it will force students to know what they read. Reflect on Ephesians 1:1. Imagine that the answers are in the verse; all that must be done is to create the right questions. So how is that done? What is the right question? - a question that allows the Bible text to answer itself naturally. That’s almost too simple, but yet it is profound.

Ephesians 1:1 “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are in Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus.”

That’s the first verse. Now ask questions that this Bible text answers.  

“Who is Paul?” And the answer should be, “An apostle of Jesus Christ.”

Okay, what are other questions? “To whom is he writing?” Now before we go there, let’s digest and analyze this verse with one more question. “How did he, Paul, become an apostle?” And the answer is: “By the will of God.”

Next question: “To whom was he addressing it?” The answer is: “To the saints which are at Ephesus and to the faithful in Christ Jesus.” So basically that’s just about anybody and everybody, right?

Because we asked the right questions, now we understand verse one. We know what’s in it, and what’s not. Did Paul give his address? No. Did he give his mother’s name? No. Did he talk about his conversion? No. So we know exactly what is in there, and what is not in there. We must stay with what the Bible says.

Let’s study Ephesians 1:2—“Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ.”

What are some questions based on verse 2? “Who gives grace and peace?” It’s very simple. The answer is: “God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Let’s go to Ephesians 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.”

First of all, let us just understand this phrase, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” What does that mean? “Praise him”, that’s what it means. So verse three says, in a sense, “Let us praise God our Father.” Why? We praise God because He has blessed us.

Next question: From where do the blessings come? The answer should be from “heavenly places” or heaven itself, and to be more detailed, “in heavenly places in Christ”.

“What kind of blessings are they?” The answer is there in verse 3; it is Spiritual blessings.

So we should thank God for spiritual blessings given to us by Christ in heaven. See what I’ve done? I’ve rearranged the concept so I can understand it. If we have this understanding, what can we expect in the next verse? Remember Bible texts are linked. We can expect more descriptions of spiritual blessings in connection with why we should praise God.

Verse four begins with the word “according”.

Let’s continue with Ephesians 1:4: According as He hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.”

Do you ever start your sentence like that, just out of nowhere? No, there must be some kind of connection between what came before and what follows, and that must be based on a previous topical word or phrase. What is that topic? In this case, the topic is “spiritual blessing” (verse 3).

Ask some questions based upon verse 4. “Who hath chosen us?” He, the Father, has chosen us.

But the next question gets interesting. When did He choose us?” He chose us before the foundation of the world.

Why did He choose us? For what purpose?” He chose us so “that we might be holy and blameless before Him in love.”

So, based upon verse four, “what does it mean to be chosen?” In the context here, it means “to be holy and without blame.” Here we have a development of truth.

Let’s summarize verses 1-4: First of all, we should praise God, because God has given us spiritual blessings. “Through whom?” Through Jesus. “Where?” In heavenly places. Take careful notice, verse three didn’t tell us exactly what those spiritual blessings are; it only told us where they are and in whom to find them. Thus, we should expect more explanation on the spiritual blessings in the following text.

And it says in verse four, “According as He has chosen us.” Therefore, part of what it means to receive spiritual blessings is that we are chosen. What does this mean, being “chosen”? God has chosen us to be holy and blameless. Is there another meaning to be chosen? Let’s read the next verse. Verse five begins with the word “having” in KJV meaning it continues from verse four.

Ephesians 1:4: ‘According as He hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love,

Ephesians 1:5: having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will,

So what does it mean to be chosen? It also means to be adopted as sons. When someone adopts a child, is the child chosen? Yes, of course, yes.

So, let’s summarize the truth found in verses 1-5. “We should praise God for what reason?” God has given us spiritual blessings through [our union with] Jesus Christ who is in heaven or heavenly places. “What are the spiritual blessings?” Spiritual blessings stem from the fact that we are being chosen. “For what reason?” We are to be holy and without blame. “What does that mean?” We are being adopted as God’s sons or children.

Is that clear? All that came from just asking the right questions.

Now, I’m going to jump forward to make a point. We’ve already seen, in Ephesians 1:4 that we are chosen to be holy and blameless in Him. So take a look at Ephesians 5:27, “That he might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.

If we ask a question based on Ephesians 5:27, the answer is already given in Ephesians 1:4. Or, let’s put

it this way—according to Ephesians 5:27, God wants His church to be holy and without blemish. This is the purpose of God, and it also means “to be chosen in Him” and ‘adopted as His Children’. That’s what we learned in chapter one.

See how the Bible teaches us? See how the Bible interprets itself? See how the Bible is connected?  When we learn to see these connections, learn how to study the Bible, to observe the Bible, to interpret the Bible, we learn how to apply it to our own lives. After all, that’s what it’s all about anyway, isn’t it -   applying it to our lives?

Let’s study Hebrews 12:1:

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.”

“Why should we lay aside every weight and sin?” Sin snares us. Is that what it says? I don’t think so. It says, instead, “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses.” In other words, because we are surrounded with these clouds of witnesses, let us lay aside every sin.

“How should we run?” With patience. “Because we are surrounded with these witnesses, we should do what?” Lay aside every weight of sin and run. “Who are these witnesses?” It doesn’t tell you, right?

But notice the first word in verse one. It begins with “Wherefore”. That means that it is based upon the previous chapter. Chapter 11 talks about the hallmarks of faith, starting with Abel. And it goes down the list: Abraham, Noah, Enoch, Jacob, and so forth. We have these clouds of witnesses, and they all lived by faith. Therefore, because these people lived by faith, we should too.

But the life of faith should be laying aside every sin and run with patience. Look at verse two, “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.”

Thus, in order for us to run with patience, to live a life of faith, we need to look to Jesus. “Why do we need to look to Jesus?” He’s “the author and finisher” of our faith. “In what way is He the author and finisher of our faith?” Because “…for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2).



To repeat, prepare your hearts before you seek God’s word; start with a book, any book, and read it again and again, and acquire the big picture of each book. Then focus the big picture of each chapter, and finally discover the true meaning of each verse, verse by verse, all in context. Let the Bible explain itself; let it interpret itself for you. This process takes time; it takes prayer; it takes a willingness to not just learn doctrine (however, that is all important), but to let the Bible change you, which is the application that we indicated earlier. We need to go to the Bible with a profound desire to apply its teaching. If we do this, the Word of God will burn in our souls, it will change our lives, and it will give us a power - a power that only comes from God, a power to teach others what we, ourselves, have received. What’s more Christian than that, considering we have been raised to spread the gospel through three angels’ messages around the world?


(Adapted from Peter Gregory’s How to Study the Bible)