During the pandemic, one of the things I did was put together a 3D puzzle I’d purchased a few years ago. It was really a set of plastic building blocks with instructions for creating a baseball cap to display. The box included 1,194 pieces. To complete the project, I needed to secure bowls so the pieces could be sorted, ask some questions along the way about how different steps related to the next, get some help from family, and find ways of charting where I was in the process. I had to start over three times before getting the base of the cap correct, once after finishing half of the cap. The four actions used in building the cap can also serve as a framework for ways we can build our Bible study skills.
Way 1: Securing study helps. The puzzle did not come with bowls for sorting the blocks but were required as a first step. The bowls were important tools in getting the puzzle build started. Trying to find the right piece in the unsorted bag would have been a nightmare.
Before we start building study skills, we must get the tools needed. A study Bible with cross-references, a Bible dictionary, a Bible concordance, a basic commentary, and a Bible atlas are basic resources we will need. We can find some of these items online, but we will want to make sure what we find is trustworthy. A little investment into these basic tools will help us as we grow and advance in our Bible study skills.
Way 2: Ask questions. Asking questions is what led to me starting over with the assembly of the cap. In the second attempt, I had overlooked two pieces that seemed insignificant at the time but became important later in the build (those two pieces connected the bill of the cap to the crown of the cap).
When it comes to Bible study skills, asking questions makes all the difference. Our English teachers may have taught us to ask who, what, when, where, and why, and these are the same questions that drive us to develop our Bible study skills.
Let’s look at an example from the Old Testament. In Esther, we are told about Haman and his disdain for Mordecai that led to a decree calling for the execution of all Jewish people. Haman is introduced in chapter 3, and we are told that he is an Agagite. At this point, we need to start asking our questions: Who are the Agagites, and why is that piece of information important? We look in our study Bible for cross references and review an article in our Bible dictionary. We discover 1 Samuel 15 and the history between King Saul and King Agag. Then, we begin to wonder how that history impacted Haman’s desire to have Mordecai and the rest of the Jews extinguished. We consult some commentaries and realize that family heritage may have played a role in this story.
Asking questions is critical if we are going to build our Bible study skills.
Way 3: Study with others. Studying with others helps us with the questions. The group spurs each other on in their questions. Typically, asking one question causes another person to ask a related question that moves the examination to a deeper level.
Studying in a group also helps safeguard us from going in the wrong direction. Back to Haman, one could make the story all about Haman being driven to get even with the Jews for what they did to his distant relatives. Pride and arrogance more likely played a larger role than did family history. We are told that Haman’s rage was fueled by Mordecai’s failure to show public respect to him (see Esther 3:5). Mordecai’s failure to bow to Haman sparked the investigation to begin with, and we cannot discount Mordecai’s role in this story either. We are told in Esther 2:5–7 that Mordecai was a descendant of Kish and Shimei. Kish was the father of King Saul, and Shimei was named as being a part of Saul’s clan. A Jewish reader of Esther would immediately recognize the significance of this information and why Saul’s name was not included in this description. Remember, Saul’s disobedience cost him and his descendants the throne.
Way 4: Use a study chart. When putting together the cap, I charted my progress, checking off the actions in the instructions. This kept me from losing my way when I stepped away and then resumed working on the puzzle.
Charting our Bible study time can help us keep on track as well. Here is what I mean by a Bible study chart. Across the top of a sheet of paper (or a computer spreadsheet if you like), create columns with these titles: people, places, and things; my discoveries; actions taken; and my actions. As you read the Bible passage, list people, places, and things in the first column. You might even list key words or phrases found in the passage. After completing the first column, move to the second column. This is where Bible study skills come into play. Refer to a Bible concordance to find other occurrences of the words or phrases you listed, review articles in a Bible dictionary for the places and people listed, scan cross-references from a study Bible to gain more insight, compare related passages discovered, consult a Bible atlas to discover more about the places, etc. List what you discover under the “my discoveries” column the information you found for each item listed in the first column.
Under the third column, list the actions taken or directives given in the passage. Don’t forget to include the actions God took in the passage. In the fourth column, craft questions related to the actions taken or directed. Include open-ended and closed-ended questions. The last step is to look for connections in all four columns.
You can add to each column as you dig deeper into the passage. This gives you a tool to track the kinds of Bible skills and what you might need to work on in the future to gain a better understanding of a Bible passage (to see an example of this process, review pages 43 and following of the book Saddle Up, available free here).
Building our Bible study skills opens the door for us to grow in our understanding of Scripture and the God who inspired it. Our goal is not about becoming proficient in study skills for the sake of knowledge alone, but rather to dig deeper into God’s Word so that we can more clearly understand and demonstrate Christ in this world.