There are many different ways to study a passage of Scripture, none being more “correct” than another. However, I recommend the Summary, Meaning, Application method.

My mother taught me this model many years ago. I am sure she got it from one of her many Bible Study groups she participated in and led over the years.

It is pretty simple to understand, but lengthy to explain in written form. Check out this podcast (3:15-4:40) where I explain it for our high school students in my youth ministry.

Once you have chosen the passage of Scripture you want to study, here is what you do:

sUMMARIZE THE PASSAGE

Put it in your own words. This helps you get a feel for what it is saying. Sometimes the Bible uses terms and phrases that are complicated to understand. And sometimes you can condense a verse into shorter, simpler words.

For example: Jonah 1:3 says,

“But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.”

Your summary might sound like:

“Jonah fled from the Lord’s call and booked passage on a boat heading for Tarshish.”

Three sentences down to one! Your summary may sound different. It might include different words or focus on different parts of the verse, but the idea is to put the passage in words you understand.

dISCOVER THE PASSAGE’S MEANING

Now that you have summarized the passage, so what? No really, ask that question – SO WHAT? What difference does it make?

It is great to know what it says, but God wants us to understand it and live it out. Therefore, we must determine the passage’s meaning. Its meaning then. Try not to read anything from our context into the passage.

Think of it as “looking for the passage’s original intent”.

NOTE: This might be a good time to look up words or phrases you don’t know or understand (e.g. Do you know where Tarshish is?) or to catch small phrases that might add some significance (e.g. did you catch that Jonah paid to get on the boat?).

So, looking back at our example of Jonah 1:3:

“But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.”

Your “meaning” statement might look like this:

“Jonah went to great lengths to run away from God.” Or,

“Jonah refused to do what God asked him to do and high-tailed it out of town.” Or,

“Why did Jonah run? Why did he flee from the Lord? Why was he so set on running that he literally bought a ticket to get out of town?”

Now, the first and second statements look similar to a summary statement and that is okay. The final statement is a list of questions you can ask of the passage to help discern meaning. Regardless of your preferred style, we are now beginning to move away from simply re-stating facts and seeking the motivation behind those facts.

So here is another way it might look:

“God’s commands are not always pleasant to implement/execute. People often look for ways to dodge God and/or His commands. People will go to great lengths to NOT do what God has called them to do.”

NOTE: You can go back to the original passage to discern meaning, or you can look back at your summary and ask yourself “So what?”

LOOK FOR PERSONAL APPLICATION

Now that you have discovered/identified some kind of meaning from the passage, it is time to ask “So what?” again.

Except this time, you are asking “So what? What does this mean for me?” You want to take it personally.

Going back to Jonah 1:3:

“But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.”

Your personal application section could be a list of questions or statements. Let your style/personality come forward here.

I typically compile a list of questions:

  • Why has God called me to do something that seems painful or uncomfortable?
  • What has God called me to do?
  • How am I dodging God?
  • What lengths am I willing to go to in order to escape God’s call on my life?
  • How am I running from God right now?
  • What am I willing to do to go against God’s plan?
  • How far am I willing to go to escape God?
  • Do I run toward or away from God?
  • Am I running away from God right now?

These are just some examples, and I recommend asking open-ended questions. These will help you get a much better feel for where you currently are with God and where you might need to go. God wants us to be doers of the word, so once you discern a passage’s application for you, do it!

Now that you have seen the process for one verse, you can repeat it for any passage you are studying.

final thoughts/tIPS

Example from a Bible Study I led
  • Be careful not to misconstrue a passage to make it fit an idea you already believe/want to believe in. Let the passage speak for itself. Even if it is hard or uncomfortable.
  • This process can be time intensive for large passages, but it all depends on your style and how deep you really want to go.
  • Consider using different colors to make your notes stand out (e.g. black ink for the summary, blue ink for the meaning, and red ink for the application).
  • Keep your notes in a journal or notebook or a Word document. Just keep them together.
  • Some passages are “easier” than others to discern meaning and application. Stay strong and don’t give up. There really isn’t a right or wrong answer unless you straight up go against the passage.
  • Pray. Ask for God’s guidance. Ask Him to show you the truth, meaning, and power of His Word – after all it is His, not ours.
  • Finally, there is a 4th prong to this approach if you care to add it. Look for attributes of God and/or theological concepts.
    • Ask yourself, what do you learn about God, His character, and His ways in a particular passage.
    • Examples of this 4th prong in Jonah 1:3 could be: What does it mean that Jonah/we can flee God’s commands? Why would God allow Jonah to flee? Is God really all-powerful? God allows humans free will.

This is a great model to use, and your notes can be really interesting to look back on over time. If you have any questions or concerns about implementing this method listen to this podcast or send me a message.

Anyway, I was just thinking…

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