TGC’s Women’s Training Network events are an excellent way to equip the women in your church to engage the Bible as they study and serve. In the coming months, we have events in Detroit, Memphis, and Iowa City. Register now!
Not long ago, I tossed a Bible-study book to the ground after spending half an hour attempting to answer its questions. There was no one around to see my theatrical gesture of frustration, but it still seemed necessary. The questions in the study had left me feeling disoriented and discouraged about studying the Scriptures. With the offending book exiled several feet from me, I pulled my Bible into my lap and re-read the passage, thinking through some better questions to ask of it.
Bible-study questions must lead us somewhere. Just as the sidewalk outside my house leads to either the park or the dead end, a study takes us somewhere. When we choose a Bible study, then, we need to determine: where will the material lead me?
The study I was working on that day left me confused as to what the author was asking and how it was supposed to help me interpret the text. I needed a study that had a clear destination.
Bible studies should lead us to something beyond an emphasis on ourselves or the author of the study. They must lead us through confusion to what God has said in the passage and how it affects us today.
If you’re deciding on a Bible study for yourself or for a group, consider where its questions take you. They should be leading you to something beyond an emphasis on yourself or the author of the study. They should lead you through confusion to what God has said in the passage and how it affects his people today.
Here are six questions to help you assess Bible studies and their destination.
1. Does It Prompt You to Focus on the Bible?
Since our goal is to pay attention to what God has said, we want a study that leads us to a better understanding of the Scriptures. One good way to do this is through inductive Bible study. This process steers us through the context of a specific passage, considering its author and audience, its genre, and even its place in redemptive history. Inductive questions call us to observe the passage, gleaning from the repetition, imagery, and structure.
At other times, it may be appropriate to use a topical study that allows students to explore what the whole breadth of Scripture can teach us about a particular concept. These studies may direct us to consider a variety of passages across the genres of Scripture in order to deepen our understanding of a single subject.
But whatever its method, good study material focuses on what God is saying, not what we want the passage to say.
2. Does It Push You to Find the Main Point of the Passage?
This question builds on the last one. As we open our Bibles, we need to keep each passage’s message in the center of our study. Whether or not it uses the term “main point,” the study should help us to clarify how the details in the text serve the author’s central idea. We should observe the words of the passage and see each verse individually; we also need to consider what the author, inspired by the Holy Spirit, fundamentally wanted people to understand and apply. This repeated emphasis on the main point will keep us on track rather than wandering off on tangents.
3. Does It Lead Us to How the Passage Relates to God’s Redemptive Work?
The entire Bible is leading us to the redemptive work of God accomplished through Jesus Christ. While not every text explains the gospel, we read each in light of the gospel, asking where it fits in God’s redemptive plan.
Good study material focuses on what God is saying, not what we want the passage to say.
Does the study ask us what God provides for his people in the passage, or does it only ask what we need to do? Does its emphasis turn to what God is doing and who he is, or is it teaching us mostly about us? Ultimately, does the study direct us to Christ? This protects us from going off a cliff into moralism, without hope of God’s saving and transforming grace.
4. Does It Guide Us in Rightly Applying the Text?
We don’t merely study the Bible as academics. We study as Christians, eager to be transformed by the Word of God. We need to ask whether a study guides us in applying the text to ourselves—in our redemptive context after the coming of Christ. Also, does it charge us to apply the text personally and intentionally, while relying on the Spirit and the grace of the gospel?
Our motivation and empowerment for obedience come from what God has already done for us in Christ. These guardrails keep us on the path of obedience, protecting from the twin pitfalls of pride or utter despondency.
5. Does It Encourage Us to Read and Understand the Bible Ourselves?
Sometimes a study can discourage us if assumptions are made about what we already know. Does your heart sink as you wonder if you’re getting any of the answers to the questions? Does the author use terms you wish she would define? Or does he include so much commentary that you feel you couldn’t study the Bible if you didn’t have his insights on the original language or a historical nuance? While I love a good Hebrew word study or New Testament historical commentaries, if the study makes the Bible feel inaccessible, it has hindered rather than helped.
We don’t merely study the Bible as academics. We study as Christians, eager to be transformed by the Word of God.
We wisely learn from others who have additional expertise on books of the Bible. At the same time, the Bible is a book for everyone. We don’t want someone to end a study feeling like they can’t read the Bible themselves.
6. Does It Help Us to Love God More?
Does the study lead us to know, worship, and obey our God with stirred hearts?
This question is tied to the previous ones, of course. If the study is pointing us to the redemptive work of God, then worship should ensue. If the application is empowered by who God is and what he has done, we will be more thankful and hopeful in our obedience.
As you flip through Bible studies, look for one that leads you on a good path. A worthwhile study will help you maneuver skillfully through interpreting a Bible passage, arriving at a joyous destination of worship, understanding, and application. And that’s just the place we want to end.