But Shouldn’t It Be Easy to Read My Bible?

No one ever taught me how to study the Bible. (Or if they did, it didn’t stick.) I’d just open the Good Book up and do my best to discern a message from God.

If I read “the crooked shall become straight,” I rejoiced that God was going to heal my bowleggedness! (You can read that crazy story here if you’re interested.)

I didn’t like it when I heard people say:

There are right ways and there are wrong ways we handle the Word.

But it’s true. And as an author, I should know better. I don’t want others reading my book and taking away whatever meaning they want; I wrote Confessions of a Boy-Crazy Girl with a very specific intent in mind.

As Jen Wilkin said in one of her Revive ’15 messages:

The Bible is not magical or mystical; it is a book. We should treat it with at least the respect we would give to a common textbook. You would not flip to an Algebra book page and say, “How does this apply to my life today?” and expect to pass Algebra. Am I reading historical narrative? Poetry? Prophecy? Wisdom literature?

Before we can talk about what the text means to us, we have to ask what the text means. There is an objective meaning that has been placed in the text. Meaning is determined by the author, and it is discovered by the reader—not assigned by the reader. Your job is to ask, “What did the author want me to know from what he wrote here?”

Disciplined Disciples

In His kindness, God has given me a husband and brought me to a local church who are both serious about seeking out and understanding the original author’s meaning in the text.

And slowly, I am learning that Bible study methods are not rules meant to stifle my creativity and squelch my fun; they are tools to help me get to know the living God as He really is.

Bible study methods are not rules meant to stifle my creativity and squelch my fun; they are tools to help me get to know the living God as He really is.

So this new year I’m ditching the lie that reading the Bible should be as easy as skimming a novel. As Jen Wilkin says, “Disciples are called to be disciplined,” and “Everyone works diligently about what they care about.”

Here are the tools I’m currently using to study God’s Word. I got these from one of my local church elders. There are several other tools you could use to slow down and dig into the meaning of a passage, but I’m currently finding these super helpful.

The Five Bible Study Tools I Use

First, I write the date and the passage of Scripture I’m reading at the top of my journal:

January 10, 2016
Philippians 4:1–9

(I try not to bite off a longer section than I can handle.) Then I write five headings in my journal:

  • Tone
  • Repeated Words/Phrases
  • Relationships between words and phrases
  • One-word subject
  • One-sentence summary

Now it’s time to get to work.

1. Tone

You rely on tone every day in order to understand meaning. Take, for instance, this sentence:

I don’t like Barry.

Now, let’s add in a little tone:

I don’t like Barry.
I don’t like Barry.
I don’t like Barry.
I don’t like Barry.

Here’s what that might mean:

I don’t like Barry.
Meaning: Someone else does like Barry.

I don’t like Barry.
Meaning: I strongly dislike Barry.

I don’t like Barry.
Meaning: I love Barry.

I don’t like Barry.
Meaning: I like someone else.

Tone is just as important in written communication as it is in verbal communication. Is the tone of this passage encouraging? Sarcastic? Urgent? Harsh? Uplifting? Sober? Does it include a promise or a call to repent?

After I’ve identified the tone of a passage, I move on to repeated words and phrases.

2. Repeated Words/Phrases

If you call your friend and she mentions “Stephen” fifteen times in five minutes, it’s pretty obvious what’s on her mind. If your younger brother yells multiple times, “Stop it!” you know you’d better back off. Write down the repeated words and phrases you find and why they’re there.

3. Relationships Between Words and Phrases

Think of yourself as a detective, and watch for small clues like F.A.N.B.O.Y.S. (“for,” “and,” “nor,” “but,” “or,” “yet,” “so”). These words clue you in to connections between words and phrases that you won’t want to miss! What do these words teach you?

4. One-Word Subject

Throwback to English class, anyone? What is the main subject of this section of Scripture?

5. One-Sentence Summary

Don’t try to get creative—just stick to the words used in the passage. Be specific. What is the author communicating? (Don’t worry if this is hard at first—practice makes perfect!)

I’m trying to discipline myself to get into the habit of doing this detective work before I jump to what this passage means for me today. Because it’s not going to mean something for me that it doesn’t mean for all believers. So now that I’m done with the fact-checking, I can apply it to my life.

Is there a promise I need to believe? A command I need to obey? An aspect of God’s character to prompt worship?

Your Turn

Now that I’ve shared one way to study the Bible with you, what’s holding you back? Do you think that seeking God should come easily? What makes you think that?

Oh, and if you’d like to learn about other Bible study tools, check out Jen’s message “Practical Tools for Studying and Teaching the Word.”

About Author

Paula Marsteller

Paula no longer tries to catch guys' attention by swallowing live goldfish, arm wrestling, and jumping down flights of stairs. (She's married to a wonderful man now!) She spends her days caring for her son, Iren, and writing for Revive Our Hearts. She's the author of Confessions of a Boy-Crazy Girl: On Her Journey from Neediness to Freedom, and she and her family live in New York. You can catch all her writing on PaulaWrites.com.

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  • Ashli

    Thank you for posting this! I’ve been really wanting to dig deeper into God’s Word both this year and for the rest of my life. I’ve decided to dedicate this whole year to strengthening and making my relationship with Jesus much deeper and this blog post has helped me reach that goal more than you could ever know. I love the blog! Thank you for all you do! God Bless!

    • phendricks

      Dear Ashli,

      What an awesome focus for your year!

      Praying along those lines for you now,


      • Ashli Gramenz

        Thank you!

  • Amber Terry

    This is super helpful! I’ve been doing the summarize and application method, but will give this a try tonight. Thanks for sharing!!

    • phendricks

      Let me know how it goes, Amber!

  • omayra

    Love it! !!

  • electricmoon123

    Love it! I just know this will help me greatly!

  • Almondtree

    Thank you for your article. To comment on your statement, “It is a book. We should treat it with at least the respect we would give to a common textbook.”
    I’m one of your older readers. Me and my 14-year old daughter signed up together to receive your blogs (since we’re going through LYWB). One thing I feel it’s absolutely vital for me to teach her (by God’s grace) is to help her understand that the Bible is NOT just a book that we should treat as common (that would be a sin). It deserves far more respect than any text book. I hope your readers know this… The Bible is THE book of ALL books, and it’s called “the Holy Bible” for good reason, because God is holy and good (while we are not). The best word for “holy” is sacred, or “set apart.” This book is definitely set apart from all other books because it’s the only book written by God Himself, and the only book that has the power to set men free! It’s our “daily bread” that sustains these sinful souls, and transforms us from the inside to conform us into the image of our beloved Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for those who repent and believe. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. Also, we must not forget Hebrews 4:12, which says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intention s of the heart.” The Bible is the only book that gives life, as well as hope. It also says in Matthew 5 that it will endure till the end of time! Our conduct of the Gospel (list taken from John MacArthur’s Study Bible) should be to: love it, defend it, share it, proclaim it, be not ashamed of it, don’t hinder it, guard it, demonstrate it, suffer for it, and preach it. I pray God gives us all understanding and a supernatural desire to truly and sincerely hunger and thirst for His word daily that we may know him better!

    • phendricks

      Dear Almondtree,

      I totally agree with you that God’s Word is inspired and no common book. Jen Wilkin’s quote isn’t saying that God’s Word is common, but that we should treat it with *at least* the respect we would treat a common book.

      Hope that helps clear things up. Thanks for discipling your daughter!


  • Becca<3

    Thank you for this post:) I used this method today for my Quiet Time:) I think that studying the Word should be difficult because we are meant to study and learn from it for our entire lives. Yesterday I started a women’s bible study with my mom at our church, and there are ladies ages 17 (me, the youngest) to 90’s and everywhere in between who are still pondering the Word of God. If it were easy, then we would learn it quickly and get bored with it. That’s the beauty in Scripture! There is always something new to learn from it, and it never gets old!

    • phendricks

      I love hearing your perspective, Becca. Hope the Bible study goes well!