Going deep in a single book of the Bible takes a lot of time and mental energy. However, your effort is more than worth it in the end. Reading through the Bible in a year is great, and we should all make a habit of consistent Bible reading. But be sure to also make a habit of deep Bible study. The deeper you go into a book, the more you will be rewarded with insights which the Lord will use to conform you further to the image of Christ.
The New Year is often a time when Christians choose to read through the Bible in a year. There are dozens of reading plans out there, each with a different path through the whole of Scripture. My wife and I are following this one together this year. However, as I have been going through this Bible-in-a-year plan, I am struck by just how fast you go. Certainly there are many benefits to reading through the whole Bible in a year. But going deep in a single book of the Bible is also an essential part of Christian study.
In this post, I want to lay out the benefits of focusing on a single book of the Bible and give an easy step-by-step method you can use to spend a month or two camped out in one book. As I have argued in another post, you and I need a balanced Bible diet consisting of both high level reading and also deep study. However, it is generally easier to simply read a large chunk of Scripture. Going deep in a single book of the Bible takes a lot more effort and analytical know-how. That said, there is nothing better than feeling like you know and understand deeply a part of God’s word. So, here are my thoughts on how you should study a single book of the Bible this year.
Benefits of staying in a single book of the Bible
There are a number of benefits you get simply from staying put in a book of the Bible for an extended length of time. By “extended” I mean at least a month. If a book is much longer, it will take you several months to dig deep into it’s theology. The idea is to not merely to read through the book. You want to understand the book and the points the author is trying to make. More than that, you want to stay in that book so long that you feel your life being confronted and corrected by it’s theology.
Here is a summary of some major benefits of staying in a single book of the Bible:
- You understand the author’s intent
- You will have parts, if not all, of the book memorized
- You will be able to discuss the book in detail with other people
- You can see how the book describes reality and applies to your life
- You can give a summary of the book’s theology
Step 1: Read through the book multiple times
If you want to go deep in a single book of the Bible, the first step is easy: spend your first week or two of study simply reading through the book multiple times. If it is a short book like an Epistle or minor prophet, you might be able to read through it up to 10 times in a week or two. A longer book will take you longer, so 2 or 3 times might be the most you can do in a week.
This step is vital because you want to be familiar with the book. A vague sense of “I read that book before” is not going to cut it when it comes time to deeply study. By reading a book multiple times, you force your brain to start remembering what you read and noticing the overall structure of the book and maybe some of the finer details. You might even have some sections committed to memory by the time this step is over. Once you have a handle on the big picture of the book, it is time to move to step two. But again, don’t move on until you have read a shorter book through 10 times and 2-5 times for a longer book.
Step 2: Note any repeated words or phrases
After reading through a book of the Bible multiple times, you should start noticing patterns. Oftentimes, similar language is used throughout a book of the Bible in order to draw attention to the main themes. For example, if you were going through the Gospel of John, you might notice the repeated use of the words “believe” and “sign”. In this step, you simply go through the book you are reading again but this time, you circle, underline, or notate in some way a repeated word or phrase.
I personally always do this step twice because I might miss a word or phrase the first pass through. I recommend you get a few different colored pens, maybe one color per theme. That way, each time you see a certain color you know what repeated phrase you are tracing. The goal of this step is to start answering the question “what are the main points the Biblical author is trying to make?”
Step 3: Outline the whole book if it is short or identify and outline key passages for longer books
This is where studying a single book of the Bible gets “difficult.” The first two steps were mainly focused on reading through the book and noticing patterns that stood out to you. Now, you need to actually work through the book as a whole. Outlining is simply the process of breaking a section of Scripture down into pieces that you then notate in a meaningful way.