Bible Study Methods – Book Study

Book study is the most basic and fundamental Bible study method. It can be helpful to study a little here and a little there, but studying the whole book helps keep everything in its proper context. Studying the Word of God one book at a time helps to get the big picture. It’s like looking at the Scriptures first with a telescope before looking at the Scriptures through a microscope. The telescope gives us the proper foundation to see how all the parts fit together as a whole so that when we look through the microscope we can better understand how the parts relate to each other and how they are to be applied.

Book study is the most difficult and includes many other study methods. It includes inductive study, where you write questions, answers, thoughts, lists, etc. It also includes marking, where you mark the main points, topics, etc. It includes topical study, where you identify topics throughout the book. It can also include a devotional study, where you journal what is speaking to you at this specific time in your life.

There are many ways to do a book study. This is not the only method you should try, but hopefully there will be something here that can help you grow in God’s Word. Always begin with prayer. Ask God to lead you as you dig deeper into His Word.

First, read the whole book. If it’s a small book try reading it in one sitting. If it’s a larger book, try reading as much in one sitting as possible so you can get through the book in just a few days. Don’t worry about the details yet. Just try to grasp the main points.

Next, read the book again. This time, write down the main points that speak to you.

Then, read the book again. This time try to answer who, what, when, why, and how. Write your answers to each question. Ask yourself the questions as many times as you can. Write down who the writer is and who the writer is writing to and why. What are the circumstances that caused the book to be written? What are the key thoughts, passages, and verses? What is the literary style? Does the book have a key verse? Who are the key characters? What are the key events? Were the key points applied? How?

Next, read the book again. This time, divide the book into sections. Take the major points and events in each section to create your own headings for each section.

Next, read the book again. This time, this time, take the headings you’ve written to help you form an outline of the book.

While reading the book, use your outline to help you write a summary of each chapter. Once you’ve written a summary of each chapter, try writing a summary of the whole book.

Read the book again. This time, mark the text. Mark the main points, topics, and events that speak to you.

To grow even deeper, try writing your own commentary of the book. Also try teaching the book to others. Use your notes as your teaching material.

This method is a lot of work, but when you’re done you will master the book. Each time you read it you will see something that you overlooked before. This method is the most difficult, but most complete and thorough method of Bible study. I feel that it gives the greatest results. This method will help you build a foundation to build your own cross references, word studies, topical studies, character studies, etc., and it will give you what you need to teach it to others. You might even remember a verse or two along the way.


  1. At what point would you recommend turning to “real” commentaries (published, or online, perhaps)? Or would those be used for a different purpose?  I get stuck on the who/what/where/when/why questions and I cheat by looking to see what others have written. Although I’m better than I used to be at journalling about the verses that jump out at me, I know I need to do more of the “deeper” work for myself.
    I agree about teaching others – I learned *so* much when I was going through the Bible (homeschooling) with our son. Nothing like having an 8 year old ask a question you can’t answer…

  2. Lynn,

    Great question. It’s really difficult to give a specific answer because each situation is different. For example, some topics have more theological bias than others. It does help to see what others have written. I try to allow Scripture to interpret Scripture, but when I get stuck I read what others have to say. I also try to read from more than one point of view (if possible). Then I analyze what they’ve said by comparing to all the Scriptures I can find on that topic (making sure to keep them in their proper context). Comparing what others say to Scripture is a good study method too. I know what you mean about 8 year-olds. My cousin’s oldest boy can ask some good questions that make my brain hurt :0)


  3. Randy, I just discovered your blog a few days ago and have very much enjoyed browsing around.  Have bookmarked it.  I was searching for info on cross-reference methods of study, and I am wondering if you could answer a question for me.  What is the difference, if any, in chain-reference and cross-reference?  I am interested this year is pursuing Bible study using scripture rather than commentary by others.  Say, for instance, a study on ‘grace.’  Do I want a ‘chain-reference Bible, such as Thompson’s, or a good cross-reference source?
    Hope my question doesn’t sound to dumb.  I am new to serious study of the Bible, having been a ‘reader’ in the past.  I appreciate your blog, and thank you for writing it.
    Annie in Oklahoma

  4. Hi Annie. Thanks for stopping by and thanks for your kind words. That’s a very good question. The primary difference is that a chain reference will give you one verse per topic, whereas a cross reference might give you many verses per topic. Chain references, specifically Thompson, will give you the next verse so you are always moving from front to back, making it much easier to navigate through the Bible. Cross references will give you many verses, but they require you to move backwards and forwards, and many of the verses take you to verses you’ve already been to. Cross references can get confusing, but they also tend to be more complete. Some cross references, such as the Longprimer, will give you the previous verse and the next verse so you can go forwards or backwards. This is more like a chain reference than random cross references. The Thompson will only give you one verse, but it includes multiple topics for each verse. One verse might have five topics, so you get five references for that verse. Thompson tells you the topic, so you can easily choose which chain to follow. I prefer chain references because they are easier to follow. The main problem with something like a Thompson is that the topics are based on the actual words rather than the topic, so if the word doesn’t appear in the verse, the verse is not included in the chain even though the topic is the same. Also, the chains in the Thompson are not always complete. Topical studies is my favorite study method and overall I think the Thompson is a good choice. Treasury of Scripture Knowledge is a good resource for cross references, and you can find it online for free. If I’m using a Bible that has MANY cross references (like 100,000), I will use a different Bible to go to the references to read. This way I don’t have to flip back and forth and forget where I’ve been. I recommend getting the Thompson for the chain references, and then get something like the Treasury of Scripture Knowledge to fill in the gaps when you need it. This way you get the best of both worlds.


  5. Thank you Randy for your answer.  It’s a big help to me.  God bless you and your work here on this blog.

  6. Randy, that’s a beautiful Bible!  Just followed your link, and took a look.  Pretty tempted myself.  And what a price.  Thanks for that link, I may get this one too.
    Have a great week!

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