Saturday, March 13, 2021

How to Study the Bible

How to Study the Bible

There are a lot of methods for studying the Bible. I’m going to share with you the steps that seem to me to be the most useful. I’ll use Romans 3:21-31 as an example since that’s what my church is studying this week.

1. Choose a short section of Scripture (roughly 5-20 verses). Read the section once to get a general understanding of it. And read the footnotes.

Romans 3:21-31 (NIV)

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in[h] Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement,[i] through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30 since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. 31 Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.

h  Romans 3:22 Or through the faithfulness of

i  Romans 3:25 The Greek for sacrifice of atonement refers to the atonement cover on the ark of the covenant (see Lev. 16:15,16).


2. Check what comes before and after that section to make sure you’re getting the entire context.

This passage starts with the word “But,” so I know it’s a continuation of the discussion above. Reading the first part of Romans 3, I gain the understanding that Paul is telling the Roman church no one can obey the Law fully, neither Jews nor Gentiles, so our righteousness can’t come from our own obedience.

Looking ahead to chapter 4, I see that Paul is going to use Abraham as an example, so I can wait to consider the next section. It will help me understand the current passage better but doesn’t need to be part of today’s study. Paul ends his thought completely enough at the end of this chapter.


3. Read it again, but this time, focus on any people in the section (the writer, people in the story, people the book was written for if it’s a letter). Put yourself in each one of their shoes. What is each person thinking and feeling in the section? Why are they doing and saying what they are?

Paul is the writer. He is writing to the Roman church, which consists of both Jewish and Gentile believers. He is speaking about God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. He references the Law (written by Moses) and the collection of the Prophets.

Paul – wants his readers to understand the difference between attaining righteousness by following the Law and believing in the sacrifice in Jesus; shows that faith in Jesus is a fulfillment of the old covenant vs. a replacement

Jewish believers – may be difficult to accept the downgraded status of the Law in Christianity

Gentile believers – may be confused by the fact that God made a sacrifice to bring them back into a relationship with Himself vs. they having to make a sacrifice to gain God’s favor

God the Father – provides a way for all persons to be saved; does not have favorite people groups despite His choosing of the Israelites for a specific purpose; shows justice in punishing sin through the death of Jesus but grace in not punishing each sinner

Jesus – was the sacrifice presented by God; is elevated by God as the one people are to place their faith in

Law (Moses) and Prophets – testify about God’s plan of salvation; in sync with the New Testament rather than being opposed to it


4. Read it again, noting any questions you have about the section.

Some questions that come to mind for me are:

  • What are the passages where the Law and Prophets testify about Jesus or salvation by faith?
  • How do you know you really have faith in Jesus?
  • Does God still punish us for our sins in any way, or did Jesus take all of our punishment?
  • What is the difference between God punishing us and God disciplining us?
  • We can’t be justified by the Law, but to what degree should Christians still follow the Law?

I would then take these questions as the basis for further study. I might look up the passage in different translations, consult a couple of Bible commentaries, look up other verses that address the topic, see what other Christian writers have said about it, etc.


5. Read it one more time and then outline it. Think about the structure of the passage and how you would tell the story to someone who didn’t know it.

  1. Law and the Prophets testify
  2. Righteousness comes through faith in Jesus
  3. Jews and Gentiles both need salvation because they’ve both sinned
  4. Salvation comes from God through Jesus
  5. The sacrifice of Jesus shows God’s justice and grace
  6. We can’t boast because our obedience doesn’t justify us
  7. This is all in accordance with the Law

I now have a nice summary of the passage and can see that it starts and ends with the fact that it agrees with the Old Testament, which instills confidence in both Jewish and Gentile believers.


6. How would you summarize the point of the section in one sentence?

Salvation is from God alone and doesn’t depend on our obedience.


7. Pray through the passage in your own words.

Father, thank You for sending Your people to tell us what would happen ahead of time. It gives me so much faith to know You had a plan all along. Thank You for sending Jesus to take the punishment for my sins. You are just and merciful at the same time. Would You help me place my trust in Christ more and more?

Don’t let me become prideful in my own obedience. I know I can’t earn my salvation and that I’m no better than anyone else. Help me to remember that I’m a part of Christ’s Body, His universal Church, which includes Jews and every type of Gentile believer. Help me not to place too little importance on the old covenant now that we’re in the new covenant. The Old Testament is still Your word to me and still reveals Your ways and Your character.


I learned this method from my friend Lindsey. You can learn more about praying through the Bible on her page.


8. What is the Spirit communicating to you or leading you to do through this passage?

Be grateful to God for sending Jesus to die for me. Don’t put my trust in my own obedience but in God’s sacrifice of Jesus.


9. Don’t rush

This process may take you more than one day, depending on how much time you spend in Bible study each time. That’s okay. Don’t rush through a passage. Rather, take your time to go as deep as you can. Dwell on the Scripture. There’s a lot of benefit to spending multiple days in the same passage.




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