If you have never read Howard Hendricks’ Living By the Book, do yourself a favor and buy a copy. I studied his advice on how to study the Bible and came up with this month-long plan that is perfect for Books of the Bible that are 3-5 chapters long.
Here is a list of Bible Books that you can study in-depth with my 28-day plan:
Ruth (4 chapters); Lamentations (5 chapters); Joel (3 chapters); Jonah (4 chapters); Nahum (3 chapters); Habakkuk (3 chapters); Zephaniah (3 chapters); Malachi (4 chapters); Philippians (4 chapters); Colossians (4 chapters); 1 Thessalonians (5 chapters); 2 Thessalonians (3 chapters); 2 Timothy (4 chapters); Titus (3 chapters); James (5 chapters); 1 Peter (5 chapters); 2 Peter (3 chapters); and 1 John (5 chapters)
Choose a Bible book to begin studying.
If you follow my plan, you can read through these 18 books about 7 times each in less than a year and a half!
As you will quickly notice, each day is broken down into three parts. (O) represent “Observation”, (I) represents “Interpretation”, and (A) represents “Application.” These are the three keys to good Bible study. See my post on reading your Bible daily or get a copy of Hendricks’ book for greater explanation.
(O) Read through the whole book in one sitting. Plan ahead and set aside time to read through the book you have chosen (this is why you should start with a shorter book of the Bible). This will give you anoverview of what the book is all about. Many people fail to take this crucial step and as a result, they don’t know the overarching theme of the book, even after extensive study of each chapter.
(I) Write down a one or two sentence summary of the main point(s) of the book. Answer the following questions: What genre was this book written in (see below)? Why did the author write this?
(A) How does this book address the culture and/or circumstances in your own life? Write down your answers to these questions in your notebook and end with a time of prayer.
A genre is a literary style that characterizes a group of compositions.
Apocalyptic- Highly symbolic work that often shows a cosmic struggle between good & evil
Biography- An in-depth view of one individual’s life
Exposition- A carefully reasoned argument/explanation
Narrative- A work in which a story is prominent; includes historical accounts
Parable- An oral story that illustrates a moral
Poetry- A work that is intended to be spoken or sung rather than read
Prophecy- An authoritative presentation of the foretelling of God’s plans
Proverb- A brief statement of moral truth
Wisdom Literature- A work in which an older individual passes on wisdom to those younger
(O) Reread the first chapter slowly, and pause when you come across a word or phrase that sticks out to you. Write down anything that leapt off the page at you and why.
(I) Use a concordance and/or Bible dictionary to look up these words. This will give you the original Hebrew or Greek word and a more in-depth English definition. It will also show you all the passages of Scripture that use this same Hebrew or Greek word and will thus broaden your understanding of what the author intended to say when he used it in your passage. As you look up your terms in various places in Scripture, see if anything sheds light on your passage and the way the term is used there. Write down everything you learn about these terms.
(A) Think about these phrases and examine yourself in light of them. How is God speaking to you? What do you need to tell Him? Then, spend time praying about what you have examined. Take one phrase with you throughout the day to remind yourself of what God has shown you, thinking about it often. If there is a particularly meaningful verse that stood out to you, write it on an index card and memorize it throughout the week, repeating it often.
(O) Research the historical and cultural context of the book you are studying. Use a commentary, Bible handbook, and/or an atlas to understand when and where this book was written. You can find free commentaries online. Determine when this passage of Scripture took place. Find out what was happening in the history of the world at the time the author penned this book. Try to find out what some of the social, political, and technological influences on the author and his original audience were. Read up on the background of the people group(s) mentioned in this particular passage. Re-create the culture in your mind by finding out what was happening during that original time period and culture. What did they eat, wear, use for currency, etc. What practices or customs were common?
(I) Answer the following: In what ways did the culture or time period influence the written text? What were the factors that led to the writing of this particular passage? Write all of your findings down in your notebook and then reread your passage of Scripture in light of what you have just learned. Put yourself in his/her shoes. Imagine what they must have felt or thought in the midst of their circumstances. Do you think they were afraid, excited, or sad? What did they see around them? What smells might they have experienced?
(A) Finally, How was this time period and/or culture the same or different from your own? Is there an example presented in this passage for you to follow or perhaps a sin for you to avoid? Write it down and then spend time praying that God would help you to either follow this example or avoid the sin.
(O) Reread the first chapter out loud. Reading out loud gives us a little bit different perspective and feel for the passage.
(I) After this exercise, jot down the answers to the following questions in your notebook: Who are the individuals in the passage and what is said about them? What is happening in the passage and what is the author communicating? Where is the narrative taking place and where is the author or the original readers? When did the events of this passage take place and when was the author writing? Why is this included or placed here and why does this person say that?
(A) Wherefore? This question addresses what difference the passage would make if I applied this truth to my life or in other words, so what? End with a time of prayer about the truth you’ve uncovered.
(O) Reread the first chapter in a different version of the Bible with the goal of pinpointing the most important verse of the chapter. If you have chosen to mainly use the ESV version, read the passage from the NKJ, The Message paraphrase, NIV, or Amplified Bible this time. Biblegateway.com is a great place to find different versions of the Bible for free online. Is there one sentence that stands out above the rest or seems to be emphasized? Is there a verse that all the other verses in the passage tend to support? Use this to come up with your own “heading” or “title” to the paragraph or chapter you have been reading.
(I) Then, compare the two versions and note their differences. Look for things in the passage that are either alike or unlike each other (within the same version, too). Write these in your notebook.
(A) Also jot down things from the passage that really resonate with your own experiences and that help you see the text realistically. End with prayer.
(O) Research the geographic context of this passage of Scripture. If you have a study Bible that contains maps, locate where the author was writing from and where his original audience lived. What modern-day country occupies this area, today? Do a little digging to find out what the terrain was like, what kind of weather they experienced, and what topographic features made this particular region unique. Write down the size of the city, how far it was from other cities mentioned in the text, and what the town’s layout was like. Research what the town was known for and what routes the people used for transportation.
(I) Reread the first chapter in a different setting. It is good to have a set time and place for reading your Bible, but varying up the environment in which you read God’s Word will help you to see it in a new light. Are you reading Philippians? If so, take your Bible to the basement and read, imagining yourself in the prison cell that Paul wrote from. Are you reading about the birth of Jesus? Find a farm and as youread the account, imagine yourself there where the manger scene unfolded. Are you reading about Jesus’ parables? If so, take your Bible to a lake and imagine yourself sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to His very words as He told stories by the Sea of Galilee.
(A) Get creative and imaginative and write down your thoughts and feelings afterward. Note if there is a challenge to face in the passage and spend time asking God to help you face it.
(O) Reread the first chapter and afterward, write your own unique paraphrase of the passage. How would you put this passage into your own words? Describe what you have been reading this past week in a way that makes the most sense to you.
(I) For example, how would you describe the events or teaching from this passage to a friend? Or, if you possess creativity, write a poem, song, news article, play script, or puppet show from the passage you have been studying. The more engaged you are in the process, the more fun and memorable it will be.
(A) End with a time of prayer, thanking God for the passage and all you’ve learned so far. Then, share your creative paraphrase with somebody.
(O) As you reread the first chapter, try to imagine and understand the author’s view of God. Write down anything the author says about God or his own faith. Note anything God says in the passage and the people’s responses to His Words.
(I) Research the theological context of this passage of Scripture. Find out what the author knew about God by using secondary resources. Try to understand what kind of relationship his audience had to God and how they worshipped Him. What other religions or worldviews were influencing people at this time and in this region? If you have access to a chronological Bible, find out where this passage fits in the larger scheme of the Bible. How much of the Bible did this author and his readers have access to at that time? A commentary will also be helpful as you research the theological context of the passage.
(A) As you reread the passage, turn it into a prayer. Praying Scripture is powerful. Is there a failure in the passage? Ask God to help you avoid the same pitfall. Is there an exhortation? Ask God to help you you to live a life that pleases Him.
Stay tuned for next weeks’ study on chapter 2.