How to Study the Bible Part 4 – Do a Formal Bible Study

***At the end of today’s post, I’m previewing next week’s article – a collaboration with a writer I’m excited to introduce to you. Don’t miss the “heads up” below.***

It is obvious, based on scripture, that God intended for His children to read His word. We are to learn from it, yield to it, proclaim it and share it. He intended for us to write His word on our hearts so it would be with us for eternity.

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By all means, open the Bible. Read the Bible. Study the Bible. Ask questions about the Bible. Allow it to be alive and active in your life, as the writer of Hebrews said it was. (Hebrews 4:12). Most importantly, allow it to reveal your sin and teach you to ask forgiveness and to turn back to God.

You can most definitely study the Bible on your own as I have described in the Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of this series. But you can also choose a formal Bible study as a vehicle through which to learn about God’s Word. There are a wealth of studies with sound doctrine that were written by credible believers. If you are flying solo, you may need to do research into unfamiliar authors. Search the internet to see if that author has his or her own page so you can read about others things he or she has done to promote the faith. You could ask a trusted Christian friend or visit the website of women’s ministries that list trusted Bible study authors.

Authors and collaborations of authors I personally recommend include Beth Moore, Priscilla Shrier, Jessie Allen, Jessie North, Mindy Kiker and Jenny Kochert (Flourish Gathering), Mary Kassian, Nancy Leigh (DeMoss) Wolgemuth, Asherita Ciuciu, and Sophron Studies. You can also usually trust studies found at DaySpring, Lifeway, etc. (This list is not exhaustive – just authors and publishers I have experience with).

Another option would be to join a group Bible study for added accountability, guidance, fellowship, and discipleship. The studies you do in these settings are typically curated in some way (people with past experience with the author or the study have recommended them). Group Bible studies are usually led by someone with experience in studying the Bible, in leading group studies, and in choosing studies with sound doctrine, and these people can answer your questions, lead you to other resources, help disciple you, etc.

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The benefit of having others to talk through material with is immeasurable. I have personally learned and grown so much from studies I’ve done over the past 16 years. These studies have helped deepen my faith. They’ve helped me develop my own Bible study methods that I use when I’m not doing a formal study. They’ve helped me learn to hear from God and to talk with God. They’ve led to life changes where God has broken through and put me on a different path. They’ve given me the confidence to go to the Bible on my own and read it for myself. They’ve helped me learn to follow God in general and have given me direction specifically as a women, as a mother, and as a wife.

Not sure how to join a small group Bible study?

Ask a friend where she goes and join her.

Check the women’s ministry pages of local churches to see when their next study starts up. (Here’s our women’s ministry page at Calvary. Our next formal group studies start in the fall, but you’re welcome to join one of our small groups as we continue to do informal studies during summer break. You do not have to be local to participate as some of these groups use Zoom or meet/talk virtually in other ways). The small group I’m in does plans through the YouVersion app, purchases bible studies to work through, or reads the Bible itself, focusing on a book, a person, or a concept to study.

Feeling a little intimidated? Reach out to me, and I can walk through a plan or study with you.

Whatever way you choose to study the Bible, start with prayer and continue to pray, pray, pray. Always be in conversation with God, asking for guidance so you can learn from His Word remain in His will.

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***Next week’s post, Interrupt Your Suffering by Serving Others, was co-authored with Lauri Hogle, fellow Christian blogger and music therapist who writes about “singing Christ’s hope into your suffering.” I first read Lauri’s posts as part of Flourish Writers, and I was instantly drawn to her use of music to interrupt our suffering with worship and focus instead on praising God. Each week, along with her devotional blog posts, she offers prayerfully selected playlists to lead us in worshiping God even in our suffering.

The idea that God calls us to focus on others resonates strongly with me, so I’ve explored it recently in my writing as well. As I became more familiar with Lauri’s writing through her weekly posts and playlists, I felt a nudge from God to reach out to her and ask her to co-author an article specifically about serving others as a way to interrupt our suffering. She graciously agreed to work with me on the article, but most importantly, to create a playlist to you through the article. I encourage you to visit Lauri’s site and check out her work, then join me again next week for our post and her playlist.

How to Study the Bible Part 3 – Write a Letter to God

Roughly half of my bible study time is spent writing or keeping a journal. I have my pen and paper – usually a regular spiral bound notebook like you’d buy your kid for school – by my side as I pray, read, and study, and I simply write down my thoughts.

Sometimes I write a basic summary of the scripture I studied. This helps me remember what I read, but it also helps when I need to hash out the lesson or the story because I still don’t fully understand it. I write/talk myself through what I read, what I think it’s saying, what I don’t understand, and any insights God gives me as I’m writing/talking.

Sometimes I write my thoughts and feelings about what I read – an evaluation, if you will: questions I’m still pondering after researching bible commentary, how it challenged or convicted me, how it made me feel, how I could apply it to my life, or what I think God is saying to me about my life. (The hyperlink takes you to Part 1 of this series).

Sometimes I research and record the original Greek or Hebrew meaning of words in a verse or verses that stand out to me. This is called word study, and it is useful for researching and internalizing scripture. (The hyperlink takes you to Part 2 of this series).

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Sometimes I write my prayers to God word for word as if I am talking to Him out loud or praying inside my head. (I stay focused better this way during the actual prayer time). I typically use the P.R.A.Y acronym to format my prayers, but sometimes they’re free-form – I simply write what I’m saying to Him.

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Sometimes I ask Him a question – for clarification, for insight into how the scripture is relevant to me, for guidance on what I should do with the conviction I feel, etc. – and sit with my paper and pen and wait until I hear from Him and record what He says.

Often, I record prayer requests – my requests and those of others. This is helpful because I go back later and look over the requests and see how God has answered.

I even sprinkle in comments about my day – what I did yesterday, what I plan to do today, things I’m worried about, situations at work or with family – just like you’d find in a regular diary or daily journal.

I also write in the margins of my bible. I’ll write notes from other sources of commentary. I’ll underline or box-in verses that catch my attention. I’ll write quotes from speakers I hear and include the speaker’s name and date. I make connections with other verses.

There are multiple ways to use writing or journaling as a bible study technique. Just pick up your paper and pen (or turn on your laptop or use a notetaking feature on your smartphone), and write. It’s that simple. (I don’t do the creative bible journaling technique of drawing in my bible…because I stink at drawing…but some of the links below address this method as well).

I’m naturally a writer; I have always been one to write down my thoughts, so I just go with the flow, writing whatever I feel I need to write at the time. It is something simple and easy you could incorporate into your quiet bible study time as well. Just start writing. Don’t worry about whether or not you’re doing it the “right way” – just write.

Keeping a daily study journal/prayer journal/bible journal – whatever you want to call it and whatever form it takes for you – is a great way to learn to talk to God and to deepen your relationship with Him. I strongly encourage it.

How do you use writing or journaling in your bible study time? Share your tips and tricks.

Other Bible Journaling Resources

Five Reasons to Journal Daily from – This article discusses the benefits of keeping a daily journal from a Christian standpoint.

How to Bible Journal from – This article focuses more on artistic journaling (drawing artwork based on what you study, but it touches on some other, basic journaling tips as well.

Bible Journal Guide: Tips, Prompts, Ideas, and Examples – The title of the article tells is all ๐Ÿ™‚

How to Study the Bible Part 2 – Dig Into the Words

Lost in Translation

“Je ne sais quoi”

(click here to hear this phrase pronounced – then click the blue “volume” icon to the left of the phrase in large, bold font near the top of the page).

Je ne sais quoi is a French phrase that doesn’t easily or directly translate into English. There’s something “lost in translation,” if you will. It translates directly as “I don’t know what,” but that doesn’t do the phrase justice. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, it means “a pleasing quality that cannot be exactly named or described.”

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And even that doesnโ€™t fully explain the meaning. Many times, this phrase is used to describe someone that is physically attractive, but maybe not for conventional reasons. Maybe you wouldn’t look at this woman and think her beautiful in the typical sense, but there’s just something about her…something you can’t quite put your finger on. The “something” you can’t quite put your finger on… that is je ne sais quoi.

If you simply translate the phrase directly, you’ve done your job, but you miss the complete essence of what it means. You miss just a little more understanding that gives you the “a-ha” moment. The hidden understanding you can only get if you look deeper into the meaning.

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After I’d been studying the Bible a few years with the help of the commentaries, cross references, and concordances I had at my disposal, I felt a pull for more. I didn’t quite know what that “more” was, but I knew I wanted something else. Then, I started noticing places in sermons where pastors would explain what a word in a Bible verse meant in the original language. The pastor usually pointed out the original usage of the word when it was different from the way the word would be defined in our culture, when knowing the original usage would give us a deeper understanding of what the verse meant. I came to understand that, at times, when translating Greek or Hebrew to English, something vital was lost in translation. And I don’t want to miss anything.

I wanted to know how to look up scripture in its original language, but I wasn’t going to take a course in Greek or Hebrew any time soon, so I asked our life group teacher if there was access to such information for the laity – us “common folk” who aren’t pastors or theologians but who want to look deeper into what the Bible is saying. He pointed me to several online resources and smartphone apps. Two of those have become constant study tools for me. I want to share them with you because they have added richness to my time in God’s Word.

Blue Letter Bible

Blue Letter Bible was the first site my friend recommended. (I use the smartphone app nearly every day when I study the Bible, so I’ll walk you through using the app; I rarely go on the website itself, so I’m not as familiar with it).

Note: I don’t read the Bible as a whole from this app, (although you could if you wanted). I read it from my print Bible. I use this app when I want to study the scriptures deeper – such as looking up the meanings of words in their original language or looking at one verse in a variety of translations. (I’ll explain both exercises here).

Basics of Blue Letter Bible app

Once you’ve downloaded the app from the App Store and opened it on your phone, you’ll choose the translation you want to use (you can add a translation if you don’t see the one you want). I added the ESV because that’s the print version I have, and I am used to reading that translation.

You can switch between translations by clicking on the word “Bibles” in the top, right corner (see below). Do this anytime you use the app. You can also go back and add more translations later.

Once you’re ready to study verses using the app, toggle back and forth between Old Testament (OT) and New Testament (NT) by clicking the button circled on the image below.

For the purposes of this blog, I’m going to the New Testament and choosing Matthew. You can see that the books are listed in order as they appear in the Bible. Click on a book to open it.

Next select the chapter you want. I’m going to select Chapter 4 to use as an example for our purposes here.

Scroll down and click on the verse you want to study. I’m using verse 17.

After you click on the verse, you get the menu below. I’ll come back and talk about some other features in this app, but for now, we’re going to focus on studying the words of scripture in their original language, so click on “Interlinear/Concordance.”

Below, you’re looking at Matthew 4:17 in ESV. The Greek text is at the top followed by the ESV translation. I click the “Reverse Interlinear” button to put the English words on the left side of the screen. Just makes better sense to my eyes and brain.

In this verse, let’s say we’re interested in the word “repent.” This is what Jesus preached once his ministry started. He began telling people to repent. So, I want to see what he really meant by that. To me, “repent” means being sorry for what you did. But I want to see if there is something deeper here. It seems like an important thing if it was the message Jesus began his ministry with. So, scroll down and click on the word “repent” (somewhere near the English word itself. If you click on the oval in the middle of the screen, it’ll take you somewhere else).

On this screen, you see what the Greek word looks like and can click on the blue speaker icon to hear it pronounced. (I LOVE to do that). You can see the part of speech and any root words. (The blue words are hyperlinks you can click on to go to the entry for the root word).

But, what I’m mostly interested in here is the “Outline of Biblical Usage” section just over half way down the screen. You can see that the definition of repent, as it is used in this verse, goes far beyond simply being sorry for what you did. And THAT is exactly why I encourage you to learn to use BLB app or some other tool to study the words in their original language. Having this understanding of how the word “repent” was used gives me richer insight into what Jesus meant in his message when he began to tell people to repent. In the highlighted section, you’ll note that repentance is when a person turns “from sin to God” {emphasis mine}. Jesus commanded that people turn away from their past sins and turn toward God. Literally, look at God rather than the sinful world. Man! That’s so rich!

Once you have a better understanding of the general definition of the word, you can go another step deeper: scroll down, and look at the Thayer’s Greek Lexicon – circled below. This portion of the Interlinear/Concordance shows you exactly how the word was used in that specific verse – rather than a simple, dictionary-type definition. So, click on the link that says “Tap to view the entire entry” to open the full lexicon for the word.

Then, scroll slowly and carefully, looking for the specific verse you’re studying. In the New Testament, the verses are easier to see because they are blue hyperlinks. The Old Testament lexicon looks like a PDF copy of an original writing, so nothing is a hyperlink and nothing stands out. It’s harder to find your specific verse. (I’ve also noticed that the lexicon isn’t exhaustive – it doesn’t list all the verses in the entire Bible that use the word in this specific way). I generally have better luck finding the verse I’m looking for in the New Testament lexicon although there have been times I couldn’t find it there either. Maybe I just missed it. Either way, you have the basic definition(s) to go off of to get a good enough idea of what’s being said.

The highlighted portion below shows you exactly how the word “repent” was used in Matthew 4:17.

If you find that you love studying the Bible this way, I encourage you to try rewording the verses based on the original meanings you uncover. To do this, go through the verse, using BLB app and look up each word in the scripture or each key word or each word that was important to you. Once you had a solid understanding of the deeper meaning of the word, reword the verse using the information you found in your study. This has been a favorite activity of mine for Bible study. I do it almost every time I read something whether I am studying a particular verse or focusing on a certain chapter in a book. When a verse catches my attention, I almost always study the original language (Hebrew for the OT and Greek for the NT) and then reword the verse to help me understand it more fully.

*However, be sure you aren’t changing the meaning of the verse when you reword it. To be sure this doesn’t happen, pray through the word study with God, carefully look up each word, read the verse in a variety of translations, read surrounding verses to get context, and read commentary on the verse. Really dig deep into the verse before attempting to reword it. When you feel confident you understand it enough to work with it, then reword it.

*A fun hint I’ve picked up along the way is personalizing scripture. You can add your name into the scripture where a personal address might fit. Here’s an example using Matthew 4:17 – From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, โ€œRepent, Heather, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Add your name in the place of mine. You can do this with many, many verses, and it helps drive home the idea that God is speaking directly to you through His words in the Bible, and that His Word is still relevant today.

I’ve mentioned reading different versions of the Bible several times in this post, and BLB app makes it simple to do that. Without leaving the app, you can read most of the major translations of the Bible. When you’re inside the verse you’re studying, click “Bible Comparison” to switch between different translations.

When you click “Bible Comparisons,” you start with the version you’re reading, but you can scroll down and read the verse in different translations. This has been such a helpful tool for me; I use it regularly to help me get a better understanding of the verse.

While you’re inside a specific verse, you can also click “Text Commentaries” (see highlighted below) and read commentaries on that specific verse, chapter, book, or the concept being discussed in that verse. A wealth of commentaries are loaded into the app.

I have come to enjoy David Guzik’s commentaries and will usually seek them out when I use this feature of BLB app.

Vine’s Expository Dictionary

Another app I use for studying original meanings of words in scripture is Vine’s Expository Dictionary app. It’s a more straight-forward and simpler to use than BLB. I use it when I already know the word I want to look up – I have a word in mind separate from a specific verse. (BLB is for studying specific verses then drilling down to individual words. Vine’s is for looking up the original language for a word you already know you want to study – not necessarily connected to a specific verse).

Below, the icon is circled, so you can find it in the App Store.

When you open the app, you have two choices for searching for the word – either type it in the search window at the top or click on the box with the corresponding letter of the alphabet and go from there.

I searched “righteous,” a word I often have to look up when I’m studying because I can’t get the meaning to stay in my brain ๐Ÿ™‚ Once you find the word you want, click on it in the list.

Then, you can scroll through and read about all the varied meanings of the words in scripture. If you know a specific scripture, you can search the blue hyperlinks.

What helpful bible study hints have you picked up along the way? What tools help you most during your study time? Please share them here.

How to Study the Bible Part 1 – Just Pick it Up and Read It :-)

Do you shy away from reading the Bible because you don’t think you’ll understand what you read?

Are you worried because there are lots of weird names and hard-to-pronounce words?

Maybe you haven’t read the Bible because you don’t own one?

Maybe you don’t think you’re supposed read it because you’re not a “born-again Christian.”

Let me tell you – all you have to do to get started is pick it up and read it – or download a version to read on your phone. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Image Credit: Verse of the Day

It is difficult to understand what’s going on in some places. There are lots of hard-to-pronounce names of people and places. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. It’s imperative that you read it for yourself – especially if you’re telling people you’re a Christian. You can’t rely on what other people tell you about the Bible. Even the most trusted pastor would advise you to read and study the Bible on your own, in addition to listening to sermons and messages from those trained to teach from it.

Aside from simply gaining knowledge about biblical things, reading your Bible is a way to grow closer in your relationship with God. He can and will speak to you when you spend time in the Bible.

Even if you wouldn’t classify yourself as a believer, you can read the Bible. Even if you’ve never accepted His offer of salvation, you can read the Bible. The Bible was written for you, too.

There are tools within most Bibles to help you when you’re ready to dig in and study what it has to say.

But first, here are pointers to keep in mind:

  • PRAY. Talk to God before you start to read the Bible – every time you start to read. Thank Him for giving you His written word so you can learn about who He is. Thank Him for giving you His written word so you can learn how He wants you to live. Ask Him to forgive you of your sins so you won’t be separated from Him, so that you can hear Him when He talks to you about what you’re reading and so you can understand things about God’s kingdom. Ask Him to open your eyes and soften your heart. Then, tell Him you will submit to His will. Ask Him to open your mind and your heart to read and understand what the Bible says. Ask Him to show you where to go and who to talk to when you need help. Ask Him to help you yield to Him when He shows you things in your life that you need to turn away from. {Hint – you aren’t going to like or agree with everything He tells you to turn from, so praying for His help to yield to His commands is important}.
  • Read and reread. It’s ok if you don’t understand what you read the first or even the fifth time. Read it again and again. Reread it even if you did understand it. Meditate on what you read – think about what it said over and over in your head. You can even use apps that will read the verses to you so you can listen to scripture.
  • Read the same thing in different translations. This is particularly easy if you have access to a smartphone or the internet. Many versions of the Bible are accessible through their own websites and there are also apps that offer different versions within the same app – you can switch back and forth by clicking on the version you want to read.
  • Ask a trusted Christian friend when you need help. Don’t have any Christians in your circle that you could go to with questions? I’m available to talk with you. Contact me through my blog, and I’ll do all I can to help.

Now, let’s look at some of the research tools available in many versions of the Bible:

  • Once you’ve prayed and God has pointed you toward the particular book to study, read the introduction to that book (if your version of the Bible offers that). I do this in my print Bibles. I have an English Standard Version (ESV) Personal Size Study Bible and a New American Standard MacArthur Study Bible (MSB). Both offer introductions at the start of each book that include information such as the author and date of the book, background and setting, key themes of the book, an outline, etc. Reading the introduction first gives you context and helps you place the information you’re about to read in the overall timeline of biblical (and sometimes broader historical) events. I do this every time I read a book for the first time.
  • Many Bible translations also offer commentary. This is extra information and insight from theologians and biblical scholars about specific verses and passages. It is important to make the distinction, however, between the scripture itself and the commentary. Scripture is the Word of God; it came from God. Commentary comes from man. It is meant to give us extra insight and help us get a better understanding of what we read, but it isn’t meant to be taken as 100% accurate like we would scripture. We must always go back to prayer and scripture for our final understanding.
The commentary in my ESV is at the bottom of each page below the scripture. Scripture font is larger than commentary font and a line separates the two in order to signify the distinction between scripture and commentary.
  • The concordance is another helpful tool found in many versions of the Bible. It’s located at the back of the Bible and is similar to an index and a glossary in reference books. Let’s say you want to study fasting. Turn to your Bible’s concordance, find the “f’s”, and find “fast” or “fasting.” (Words are listed in alphabetical order). Now you have a list of other verses in the Bible that include the word “fast” or “fasting.” You can go to those verses and read more about biblical fasting (and the accompanying commentary for those verses). I do this when I want to focus my study on a word or concept and learn more about it from a biblical standpoint.
MSB Concordance
  • Cross-references are similar to the concordance and help us locate more scripture about a particular word or concept. Note the picture below. The arrow in the middle of the page points to a tiny “t” superscript in front of the name Apollos in Acts 19:1. In the left margin, another arrow points to the corresponding “t” meaning the name Apollos is mentioned again in Acts 18:24. If I want more information about Apollos, I can use this cross reference to read the scripture and any corresponding commentary about him.
Cross references are signified in the verses with superscripts (tiny letters above and to the left of the word or idea). The corresponding cross references verses are found in the inside-facing margin of each page.

Next week in “How to Study the Bible Part 2,” we’ll discuss studying words from the Bible in their original languages – Greek and Hebrew. You don’t have to have a seminary degree to be able to do this ๐Ÿ™‚ Come back next week, and I’ll show you.

(***I’m going to do something I’ve never done – read the introduction to the Bible. I imagine that will give me even more resources the bibles offer for study that I didn’t even know where there ๐Ÿ™‚ I hope you’ll read the introduction to your Bible as well. I’ll tell you what I learned).