The Three R's of Bible Study |

MacDonald, William

From: Enjoy Your Bible by William MacDonald and Arthur Farstad

The Three R's

READING: It's surprising how many believers read books about the Bible--and spend too little time in the sacred text itself. By all means, use these and other sound biblical helps--but remember that's all they are--helps. A reading program that covers the entire Word of God is recommended...however long it takes. Some of this reading, of course, should meet your own spiritual needs. Don't always be studying. Even your non-studious reading, however, will eventually pay off in the Bible knowledge-and-understanding field.

WRITING: Always keep a pencil or pen handy when reading the Bible. Dates of reading, underlinings, and thoughts should be jotted down. Some [people] have a Bible study notebook for thoughts, questions, problems, solutions, cross-references, etc. If you don't write down your gems, you will forget most of them. Sharing them with someone else during the day will also help fix the ideas in your mind.

REFLECTING: A third important part of Bible study is reflecting upon what you've read and written down. This is also called meditation. In the original language of the Old Testament, the word meditate is used for mulling over things in the way a cow chews the cud.... Meditat[e] on the Word of God: reading, re-reading, reflecting, and going over the words and ideas as [you] take walks, drive, or sit quietly in [your]house, yard, or in the great out of doors.

More Bible Basics

THE LITERAL METHOD: One of the most important rules in Bible study is, "If you can take a passage literally, do so." In other words, if the first sense makes sense, don't look for any other sense. If the Bible says that Christ will reign on the earth for a thousand years, then He will reign for a thousand years. The literal interpretation of the Bible is preferable. The alternative is to try to spiritualize or allegorize everything. The trouble with the latter is that no one knows whose spiritualization is the right one!

POSITION AND PRACTICE: Distinguish between position and practice, also called standing and state.Position is what we are in Christ. Practice is what we should be in our everyday lives. In Colossians:3:1 we were raised with Christ; that is our position. We should seek those things that are above; that is our practice. Our position is perfect. Our practice never will be until we see the Savior's face, but we should be growing ever more Christlike until that time.

OFFICIAL ROLE AND PERSONAL CHARACTER: Distinguish between official role and personal character. John the Baptist was greater than any of the prophets that had gone before him (Lk 7:28). But this doesn't necessarily mean that he was greater in character....Governmental powers are ordained by God. This means they are God's servants officially, even if they don't know Him personally.

THE TEXT IN CONTEXT: Study a text within its context. For example: From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but wounds and bruises and putrefying sores; they have not been closed or bound up, or soothed with ointment (Is 1:6).Commonly used to describe man's total depravity, it rather tells how God has punished Judah until it is black and blue from head to foot, and yet the nation has not repented....

[Another example]: Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap(Gal:6:7). In the context, Paul is not describing the sins of a sinner but the stinginess of a saint.

BIBLE VOCABULARY: Don't get your theological definitions from a secular dictionary. Use a reputable Bible dictionary. There you will learn that, contrary to secular usage, a mystery is not a "mysterious" or unsolved question but a "truth hitherto unknown and humanly unknowable but now made known by the Lord."

Steps in Bible Study


When we study God's Word...we need to train our minds to see what's there and not put in what we think is there or we've been taught is there. Here are some questions to ask yourself as you observe:

*QUESTION 1: Who?--Read your passage. Who is writing? To whom is it addressed? Who is speaking (if it's a quotation)? Who is acting? Who is being referred to?

*QUESTION 2: What?--What is going on? What type of writing is this? Poetry? Sermon? History? Doctrine? Prophecy? What is the situation? What is the gist of the argument? What is the tone of the writer?, etc.

*QUESTION 3: When?--Where in time (past, present, or future) is this text placed? Is it in the ages before Israel was founded? Is it during this current Christian era? Is it a prediction of the future? Of heaven?

*QUESTION 4: Where?--Does it occur in the desert during the wanderings of Israel? In Jerusalem? In Babylon? In the coming kingdom? Place is very important in any historical event.

*QUESTION 5: How?--How did the situation in the passage come about? For love? Because of a war? Rebellion? Careful planning? Divine intervention?

*QUESTION 6: Why?--When we get to the reason, the interpretive factor is likely to enter in more than it should at the observation stage of Bible study. Sometimes it is quite clear why something happened: It was predicted by God; it was the natural consequence of what went before.


If the first step consisted of observing what the passage says, the second has to do with what it means. Sometimes the text is so clear and simple that you don't have to work on the meaning if you're fair with the text and not out to prove some hobby horse, private emphasis, or even heresy.... Many differences among Christians are not that there is an ambiguous passage that various groups interpret differently. Rather, so often it's a matter of how much church tradition from ages past a denomination clings to.


The last stage, logically, is applying what you've learned. What the passage says is observation. What the passage means is interpretation. What the passage means to me (or others) is application. Some of the commands-such as controlling our tongues-may take years of careful cultivating to obey successfully. But the application of James' command in 3:1-12 has to start somewhere!

On your own, or at the end of a Bible study lecture class, or sermon, a list of possible applications...drawn from various types of people represented can produce a remarkable display of the versatility of God's all-sufficient, infallible, and beautifully constructed Book.