There are a lot of good Bible study resources out there, including a number of “how to study the Bible”-type books. Many of them are pretty good. Learn to Study the Bible, though, by Andy Deane, is the single best Bible study guide I know of for beginners. If you’re trying to learn to study the Bible, or if you’re looking to teach a newer believer to study the Bible, this is the book you want.
Section One: A Guide to the Foundations of Bible Study
The first section of the book is foundations. There’s a little bit of introduction here, but mostly this section describes observation, interpretation, and application, the three key stages of what we call “inductive” Bible study. Each stage is given its own chapter, and is packed full of specifics about what kinds of questions to ask at each stage to get the most out of it, what extra information you might need to know (like how to be sure you’re reading it correctly based on what genre the passage is), and, of course, what each stage is.
Section Two: A Guide to Basic Bible Study Methods
The remaining sections in the book, beginning with this second section, are the actual Bible study methods. The forty methods promised on the book’s cover may seem like overkill, but when they’re broken down the way they are, most of them are pretty useful.
Many of the methods in this section are not so much different methods of study, but different methods of organizing your thoughts as you approach a given passage. They’re the type of method you would use as a consistent approach to “everyday” deep reading of Scripture — where you want to do more than just read it, but you might not be wanting to totally plumb the depths, either.
You probably won’t want to adopt all of the methods in this section. Rather, you’ll probably want to choose the one you like best and use it as your default pattern when doing simple Bible study. (Although you may want to try several of them — or even all of them — first to get a feel for them before you settle into one.)
For instance, the “Five P’s” method has you look for a Principle of Conduct, Put Another Way, Personal Struggle, Profit or Loss Anticipated, and Plan of Action for the passage at hand. Of course the book spells this out in greater detail, but this is simply a group of reminders to write out a key verse that tells you how to conduct yourself, rewrite the verse in your own words, make note of how it applies to your life, consider the potential effects of obedience or disobedience, and choose how you’re going to put the principle into action.
A few of the methods in this section differ a little more from the others, and can help you see the passage from a new perspective, without too much extra work.
Section Three: A Guide to Major Methods of Bible Study
The third section of the book covers what the author calls “major methods” of Bible study. These, too, are “basic” in their own way. The section addresses studying verse by verse, studying a chapter, a book, a character, a topic or theme, and doing a word study.
These are all important fundamental methods of studying the Bible as a whole, and the book does an excellent job of walking the reader through each one step by step, including specific tips, recommended questions to ask, etc. These methods also provide excellent opportunities to practice using various Bible study tools, such as a Bible dictionary, concordance, topical Bible, or parallel Bible.
Section Four: A Guide to Creative Bible Study Methods
This fourth section of the book contains six methods, and they’re a mixed bag. A couple are designed to bring a fresh perspective and “shake things up” if your study is getting a little stale. I wasn’t impressed by these, personally. A few are additional approaches that can be used in tandem with some of the more basic methods to provide a bit more depth or round things out.
Section Five: A Guide to Studying Specific Passages of the Bible
The fifth section of the book offers instruction for studying specific portions of the Bible, giving consideration to the elements that make each part of the Bible unique. (For instance, a book of poetry has different considerations than a book of history.) There are sections specifically about studying: the kings, Proverbs, Jesus’ actions & commands, biblical “types,” prayers, miracles, parables, and Psalms.
Section Six: A Guide to Study Methods for Younger Students
I was least impressed with this section. Supposedly, these are more accessible methods intended for teens. I think most teens should be able to handle most of the other methods in the book, and most of the methods in this section are a little strange. A few, with adjustments, would be good for introducing elementary school students to Bible study, but with older kids I’d just stick with the basics introduced by previous sections of the book.
Overall Strengths and Weaknesses
I was impressed by the fact that this book is remarkably thorough while still being remarkably accessible. There is a lot of information packed in, and yet there’s absolutely no fluff.
Each Bible study method is a simple, step-by-step walk-through, with whatever additional hints, tips, or information you need to carry out the steps as instructed. These instructions are followed by an example of what the result looks like written out on paper.
Apart from a (very) few of the 40 methods that I found a bit unhelpful, the only caveat I have is that Deane doesn’t draw as strong a distinction as I would like between reading the Scripture and studying the Scripture.
Overall, though, this is an excellent introduction to Bible study and a highly recommended resource for new and/or growing believers.