How To Study The Bible

One of the most important skills you can pass on to a new believer is the ability to study the Word of God.  Study goes beyond devotional reading.  Do all you can to develop 2 Timothy 2:15 in the disciple, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”

1.  Three Components of Any Good Bible Study Method

The primary goal for the study of Scripture is to arrive at the meaning of the passage.  This meaning needs to be discovered in three stages:

  1. Observation

This always occurs first.  One seeks to discover facts and structure of the passage in order to lay a foundation for interpretation.  Observation answers the question, “What does it say?”. A good way to start is by asking the old Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How questions.

  1. Interpretation

Here we intend to answer the question, “What did this passage mean to the first readers?”  What was the purpose of writing for the author?

  1. Application

This is a process where the meaning of the passage to the first readers is then translated into our present day situation.  It answers the question, “What does this passage mean to me?”

Our first aim in biblical interpretation is to determine the meaning which the author intended to communicate to his audience.  Therefore, the meaning of a passage must be something the original readers could have understood.  Stated differently, a biblical test cannot mean today what it could not have meant when it was written.

Only after we have a good idea of what the text meant can we go on to see what the text means for us today.

2. A Bible Study Tool

PROAPT is an acrostic that stands for:

  • Pray
  • Read
  • Observe
  • Apply
  • Pray
  • Tell

You are trying to accomplish two things in using the PROAPT tool.  First, the PROAPT format does give the disciple the necessary steps for study.  It helps to organize his thinking into an orderly pattern.  And second, it gives him a tool that he will always be able to use to teach another in Bible study.  Thus, it is a transgenerational discipleship skill.  You are not only training this disciple, but also the next several generations of disciples.

PROAPT is not intended to be the tool a believer will use for the remainder of the Christian life.  As a believer grows, no doubt his hermeneutical skills will become more refined.  But it is absolutely essential that he have a skill to launch from, and a skill to use to equip another.

It is important for the campus minister to develop in the skills of Bible study.  Here is another place where considerable investment must be made.  However, remember as you become more proficient, keep it simple for the new disciple and let him grow at his own rate.

PRAY

Quiet yourself before the Lord prior to going to his Word. This can be a short time of prayer or lengthy.  Be sure to include this as a part of this prayer time: “Dear Lord, please speak to me from your Word and by your Spirit today.”

READ

Read the passage aloud.  If possible, read the passage in different translations.  Make every effort to involve as many of the senses as possible.  For some creative ideas see Roberta Hestenes’ book, Using the Bible in Groups.

OBSERVE

Now is the time to write down all that you can observe from the text.  In your observation, answer some of the following questions.

  1. Who are the people mentioned, where does this passage happen, when did it occur?
  2. What literary constructions are significant, i.e., repetitions, comparisions and contrasts, verb tenses, cause and effect?
  3. What kind of literature is this, i.e., history, teaching material, poetry, prophecy, parable?
  4. What do the words mean? Look up important words in a dictionary and substitute the definition for the word and reread the passage.
  5. Is there any progression or logical development of significance in this passage?
  6. What is the main point of this passage?
  7. What did the first readers understand in their context?

It may help to outline the passage, or paraphrase the passage, trying to maintain the meaning but using your own words.

APPLY

Here it is time to bridge the gap between the “there and then” and the “here and now”.  Ask these kind of questions here:

  1. What issues does this passage raise which are still issues today?
  2. What does this passage say about my relationship with God and with other people, about sin in my life and about my attitudes?
  3. How can I apply this within the next two days?
  4. What behavior does this passage call for that I am not now doing?

Application is the most difficult part of any Bible study method to master.  We tend to make applications that are generalized wishes or hopes.  We often come away from the biblical text with unmeasureable goals or goals too large to see daily growth.  It takes real effort, but we must chop up the gigantic applications into bitesizse chunks.  In application, above all, be specific!

Take the following example: “Lord I want to be more disciplined in my Bible study.” While admirable there are no objective criteria with which progress can be measured.  Break it down like: “Lord, in an effort to become more disciplined in my personal Bible study, I am committing to spend from 7:30 to 8:00 AM on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays doing my PROAPTs through Phillippians.”

PRAY

Again, at this point, commit to Jesus your application and praise Him for speaking to you.  If you wish, follow the prayer format listed on the PROAPT sheet.

TELL

Find a prayer partner, preferably someone in your small group.  Let them know what Jesus is saying and doing in you.  These can become some of the most quality times of your life.

One final recommendation.  When PROAPTing, build consistency by staying in the same Biblical book or on the same Biblical topic.  A lifetime of consistent study will reap a bounty of fruit.

In teaching this skill, follow this procedure:

  • Demonstrating how to PROAPT in a 1-to-1 session.
  • Assign them to do three PROAPTs per week for the next two weeks.
  • Meet with them and go over their PROAPTs with them.
  • Point out areas needing development.
  • Make a further assignment until they come to some level of mastery of this Bible study tool.

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