Methods of Bible Study

A word study is a fundamental of bible study that will help provide a better understanding of the scripture. It also is a tool that helps with the other methods as well. A word study method is where you take a word and define it using different methods. This would include the context, definition, historical and cultural information and usage (noun, verb, ect.}. Once you unlock the meaning of the word it becomes clear why God chose that word. It will allow a better understanding of a passage, often unlocking the core explanation; plunging you into experiencing the scripture.


One of the main arguments that many modern text advocates utilize is that the King James Bible is too hard to read or that it uses archaic words. While this particular study will not go into the defense of these arguments, I will take this writing to render my opinion of this matter.

Proverbs 26:16  The sluggard is wiser in his own conceit than seven men that can render a reason.

Over the last 125 years in this country our system of education has worked diligently to decrease the level of education given to students. This has created a society that is producing high school graduates where reading comprehension is half of what their level should be at their age. Critical thinking skills have been dulled, replacing learning exercises with test preparation. It is this “dumbing down of society” that has led to the outcry of the masses to have an bible version that is easier to read.

Hebrews 11:6  But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

The Easier Path

Perhaps in the day that we live it we need to stop seeking the easier path and learn our bible. This desire to gain knowledge is rewarded to those who would diligently seek God:

2 Peter 1:2 Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord,

3 According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue:

I will conclude this point by making an observation that those who desire to learn automotives, aviation, science, law, medicine or areas of higher learning; we seem to have no problem recognizing that these noble paths require methods of study. That there might be reading that needs done, words that need to be defined, understanding that comes with knowledge to achieve a goal. But when it comes to the goal of pleasing God and eternal life… It’s not worth the effort?

The Process of Defining a Word

To understand a word in the bible we need to gain the definition of the word. This definition is gained by a few different ways: Context, dictionary and rule of first mention.


The context of the word you are studying will, in most cases, identify the definition of the word. Within a sentence that uses the different elements of sentence structure; often the adjective or verb will bring understanding to the noun. Other times when a verb is in question the understanding will be defined within the next couple of verses. If the meaning of the word is not expressed in 3-5 verses before, and after; then move to the dictionary.

Note: A good Bible student will write down a word and verse that they do not understand and continue reading. During a time of study, you can revisit the verse for clarity. If you are constantly running to the dictionary for the meaning of the word, rather that its use in context; you will loose the fullness of the passage that contextual reading will bring.


Using a dictionary to get a better understanding is perhaps the easiest way, but one to be used with much caution. Every year new revisions of dictionaries, concordances and lexicons change the meaning of words based on cultural use; rather that the original established meaning of the word. That makes a dictionary, while easy, an unreliable source of better understanding. This author recommends to get the oldest print of Noah Webster’s 1828 Dictionary.

The Rule of First Mention

The Rule of first mention is simply this: The use and meaning of a word the first time it is found in the scriptures; will hold that meaning throughout the rest of the scriptures the majority of the time. The very few examples that have a different meaning; is largely due to a difference in the translation between that words use in Hebrew (old testament) verses its use in Greek (new testament).


The Character method of Bible study is simply: putting yourself in their shoes. By taking a look at the different people in the Bible, their reactions, successes and failures; you can truly get into the heart of the passage. There is 2 main ways to use the character study:

  • The Personage – looking at the character specifically by name, their history, position, responsibility, ect.
  • The Nature – looking at the nature, attitude, personality, character attributes

Character Study (the Nature)

Character is often defined as how you act when no-one is looking. This examination will look at a few different types of character or nature’s that people have. You might also have heard of people’s character of just “doing what comes naturally”.

Purpose of understanding character in ministry

( A Pastoral Note)

Understanding the character or nature of people is an important skill for areas of ministry. Many people develop different character traits or a nature that defines their personality… to the point of predictability. By understanding these different characters or nature’s will assist in areas of service, counseling and direction to include where that person might be best suited to minister.

Example: It takes a particular character strength to stand on a street corner and preach or give out gospel tracks. Placing someone in that position who’s character is to quietly share the gospel; could impair the impact of the Gospel.

By understanding each nature you can determine strengths in areas of ministry. Some have a character of fellowship, some a character of listening, some a character of compassion. By determining these character strengths you can discern what is best to accomplish the will of God for their lives.

The Nature

We have all heard of different nature’s that people have:

  • A kind nature
  • A funny nature
  • A serious nature
  • A compassionate nature
  • A leadership nature
  • A servants nature

These nature’s or character’s are developed by 2 main means: natural disposition and external environmental influences.

Example: You can have someone who’s natural disposition is happiness be suppressed by an external environment. I have met many who’s natural disposition to love was suppressed by bitterness through peer pressure, stress, drugs and the like. By recognizing positive natural traits early they can be developed to their fullest potential with the external influences.

It is this nature or character that God used in the scriptures to get His will accomplished. He needed the character of a family man to set a people unto himself, so He chose Abraham. He needed a man of compassion to speak to the heart of Israel, so He chose Jeramiah. He needed an educated man to reveal the mysteries of the church, so He chose Paul.

The Divine Nature

In previous articles/sermons I have identified that there is a physical transformation that takes place when one gets saved; part of that change is a divine nature:

2 Peter 1:4  Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

Prior to salvation we did those things that just “came naturally” our nature again defined by our disposition and environment.

Romans 2:14  For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves:

This Divine Nature takes some time for a person to reveal and understand. The more you remove their natural or external influences, the more the divine nature can be seen. This divine nature can also be called the Fruits of the Spirit:

Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,

23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

Character Study – Understanding the nature

For many bible characters (people) it is difficult to nail down their character (nature) because we have more historical references than perhaps intimate knowledge of their thoughts. There are many who, however, have enough information to discern their character. Peter is a great example. Peter throughout the scriptures had a singular wit. He liked to speak his mind and was a tough, rugged man.

Matthew 16:22  Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.

Matthew 26:33  Peter answered and said unto him, Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended.

John 18:10 Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus.

11 Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?

Despite Peter’s sharp character, God needed his rugged character to build a new testament church. (see the Pastoral Note) This is a great example of God using the natural traits or nature of someone to accomplish His will.

Matthew 16:15 He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?

16 And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.

17 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.

18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

19 And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

This examination of Peter’s character or nature help us understand how God can use different types characters to fulfill His purpose. God needed someone tough enough to be beaten and jailed for the sake of Christ and still keep going.


The character method of Bible study is perhaps one that brings you closer to experiencing the scriptures that any other. God, in his wisdom, has allowed different people to share their experience and their experiences with others with us through the scriptures.

By studying each character you can “place yourselves in their shoes” to get a better understanding. Now while this is not a study of bible characters it is more of understanding the method of examination.

Who is the character

When getting stated with character studies you need to first understand who the character is. Get to know the character like you would a friend, an enemy, an employer, an employee, a spouse, etc.. In other words… give them a little interview.

  • Where is the character from?

  • How old is the character?

  • Does the character have a family?

  • What did the character do for a living?

  • Is the character a follower of God?

  • How many time is the character referenced?

  • Is the character identified in both the old and new testaments? (important, note below)

You see the more you know about the character the easier it is to empathize or understand what the character did and why. A study should look at the character’s interaction with God, people, situations and how others interact with them.

Character study is more than just learning the facts, it is a way to experience the scriptures through their eyes.

New testament reference to an old testament character

A good start to character study is to note those characters that were referenced in the new testament. These are: (not a complete list. Nor in order)

  • Adam
  • Moses
  • Abraham
  • Abel
  • Cain
  • Enoch
  • Noah
  • David
  • Isaac
  • Jacob
  • Joseph
  • Jonah

These are those whose interactions and life meant something enough to be mentioned or referenced by writers of the new testament, even by Jesus Christ himself.

Not always a positive character

It is important to note that when doing character studies you should not just look into those who have had a positive influence. We often tell our kids that we learn most from our mistakes, which is perhaps why God left the testimony of the mistakes people made in the scriptures.

Note: Never be so bold as to read an account of a mistake and say “I’ll never do that!” Remember that even Peter denied Christ. This was after he walked with, ate with, ministered with and witnessed the mighty works of Christ first hand.  

A Certain Man

One of my favorite parts of character studies is to look at the examples given, especially by Jesus, about a certain man or place. Basically it is this: when you see “certain” you can “insert your name here”. Oft times we can reflect the examples of a certain man, a certain lawyer, a certain Samaritan, a certain Levite, etc. and place ourselves in their position to get a better understanding of their situation. This is an essential part of experiencing the scriptures and for character study; the empowerment of placing yourself in the pages of the bible to have a better understanding.

The 1st person characterization

Having a proper study is to look at things from a different point of view. We have looked at the advantages of walking in others shoes but this characterization goes even more personal and direct. My emphasizing 1st person attributes you can really experience the scriptures either be swapping “he” with “me” or “you” with “I”. Look at this example below on emphasizing the 1st person:

Psalms 23:1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.


The Expository method of bible study is where you choose a passage and disassemble it to find a greater understanding. You will need all the other methods to get the most out of the passage with this method. The beauty of this method is that this detailed study will bring to light the passage, as written, to bring a deeper meaning to the whole passage.

Natural divisions

The Bible is not one long run on sentence. It has divisions; within these divisions is the focus that gives the expository method its power. By finding these divisions, even divisions of thought within the same chapter, you can make a detailed examination of the passage to get the full meaning.


1 Thessalonians 5 starts off with Paul identifying and training that there are times and seasons, as part of this speaking of the times of Jesus’ eminent return. However in the middle of this chapter a list if formed, as if Paul had a thought to express on how to have a victorious Christian life. Using the expository method we can see the entire though expressed without going anywhere else. It has a clear start and end with a conclusion. The other methods are useful if needing to define words or look at the people within a passage.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-23

16 Rejoice evermore.

17 Pray without ceasing.

18 In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

19 Quench not the Spirit.

20 Despise not prophesyings.

21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.

22 Abstain from all appearance of evil.

23 And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

As you can see this thought is clearly separated from the other thoughts that Paul was expressing within the chapter. Furthermore this thought is woven with the other thoughts within the chapter and, while separate, is fully within context.

Supporting verses

As the expository method may reveal a topic, but the topic should not define the passage. As mentioned in the topical method of study we should not come to a passage with a predetermined topic. Supporting verses in an expository study are not necessary, as the essence or focus is within the thought or passage.



The meditation method of bible study is where you ponder a word, verse or passage in order to gain a full understanding. As part of this method you’ll want to use elements of the word study method and the character study to help with the practical understanding. Then the meditation method to allow God, through the Holy Spirit, to provide a spiritual understanding.

Meditation – God’s way vs. the world

Worldly Meditation is commonly know throughout the world as a transient state of emptying your mind allowing a spirit or energy to fill it. This practice is widely known and practiced by eastern religions as a way to find peace. However, this peace only lasts while you remain separated from the corruptive influences.

1 John 4:1  Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.

2 Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:

3 And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.

Biblical meditation is not the emptying of your mind. (like eastern religions teach); but rather filling your mind with the thoughts and knowledge of God. Note:

Philippians 4:8  Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

Biblical meditation is when you think on spiritual things, filling your mind with things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely and of a good report.

Note: The meditation method is not, nor will it provide any “additional revelation” of the scriptures. Through reading and pondering on a word, verse or passage it allows God time to show you things that have always been there; but your were just too busy to notice.

Steps of Biblical Meditation

Define any words you don’t understand. (See Word Study)

To have a practical understanding of a passage you need to make sure that there are no stumbling blocks for the understanding, so take the time to identify any words you do not understand. It is also important to note that the bible is deep in Jewish history and tradition. Make sure you discern the scriptures accordingly.

Determine the context and setting.

Every verse or passage has a context and setting. By taking some time to look at who the passage was written by, who it was written to, why it was written and when it was written; may indeed give you the facts, but often not the understanding. To properly experience the scriptures and meditate on the understanding of a verse or passage you must place yourself in their situation to truly get the best understanding.

Pray that God gives you greater understanding

Spiritual discernment is a valid and important element of biblical learning. Praying that God, through the Holy Spirit, give you greater understanding is literally like asking the author Himself to explain what the verse or passage meant. Where spiritual discernment comes into play is the aforementioned contextual path. God reveals things to you as you mature in the scriptures. The context you get through reading provides the foundation needed for God to reveal things to you that you could not see before.

Give God the time

The largest part of the meditation method it that it takes time. Trying to meditate on the scriptures while trying to work or do school or watch TV will not allow for the depth of understanding to be presented that you are desiring.

Hebrews 11:6  But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

Be still and wait for the answer

Setting aside the time to meditate on the scriptures is only the first part. You need to also be patient and quiet to hear that “still small voice” speak to you.

Isaiah 40:31  But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

1 Thessalonians 4:11  And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you;

The topical method of bible study is where you start with a topic, then search our those scriptures that fit with or explain the topic.

The use of the word study and character study methods of Bible Study will be needed to assist with finding verses that would fit the topic.

A topical Bible study is very valuable as when most people go to the scriptures they go with a topic that they want more information on. Salvation, baptism, marriage or raising kids are all great things to look into the scriptures to gain understanding. However, this must come with a pure desire to seek the truth.

Warning: Context

The topical method of Bible study is perhaps the most dangerous of the methods of study. Often times when the topic is predetermined, then verses are sought out that “fit” your topic; you end up pulling verses out of context. This is part of why a pure desire to seek the truth must be preeminent.

Hebrews 4:12  For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

I amazes me when I find those who “search the scriptures daily” are doing so looking for verses to justify their position on a topic. Topics like drinking alcohol (wine), pre-marital relations, not attending church, tithing, speaking in tounges, healing, baptism and salvation are common topics that find people “cherry picking” verses that fit their preposition of a topic. Rather an honest student of the word of God will come to the bible and allow the context of the passages define our understanding of the topic.

Define the topic

Often times we go at the bible with a worldly topic looking to get answers… the problems is that many of the modern topics that we might search for are not defined the same. We therefore must identify biblical topics to study rather than searching in futility.

The greater understanding comes from wisdom. While there may be specific sins or problems that one might seek for verses for or against, oftimes there isn’t one. However, through faithful reading and study, God blesses with wisdom to be able to have clarity of God’s will in certain circumstances.


Tattoos – There are those who would look for verses on this topic to justify their position, the trouble is, there is no word “tattoo” in the scriptures. So as a good bible student one might go to:

Leviticus 19:28  Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD.

While another might go to:

Romans 6:14  For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.

So both have found a verse that justifies their position of the topic. However, Godly wisdom doesn’t seek to justify man’s position but rather God’s. When in doubt take God’s side. With this modern topic there are no clear, defined identification of the topic with the doctrinal series of verses that help to clarify the topic one way or the other. So what do we do? We must take God’s position rather than seeking to justify our own.