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Back to the Basics: How to Study the Bible

I'm a Bible nerd.

I had the opportunity to grow up in church and took many Biblical studies courses at Azusa Pacific University and Western Seminary. I don't want to take for granted the many opportunities I was given to learn how to read and study the Bible. If I have learned anything over the years, it is how crucial it is that, when we apply the teachings of the Bible, we must first understand what the passage actually means.

I want to share below a technique that I learned years ago to study the Bible. It's not a complex tool, but it ensures that we understand what the Bible teaches and how to practically and accurately apply it to our lives. Let's dive in!

First: Pray!

We need to ask God to reveal His truth through His Word, give us the mental clarity to understand it, and the desire to apply His truth to our lives.

Second: SOIL method!

  1. Setting (Who, When, Where?)

  2. Observations (What?)

  3. Implications (Why: Then?)

  4. Life Applications (Why: Now?)

A quick study on 1 Cor 13:13--Faith, Hope, Love

1Co 13:13 NIV - And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Setting (Who, When, Where?): 

Take time to do a little research about the writer of the text, who the text was written to, when the text was written, and specific places mentioned in the text. While this may seem tedious, it is crucial to understanding the context of the text--will help us to apply the What to the Why: Then.

  1. Paul is writing to the Corinthian church. Paul used to be known as Saul, notable for persecuting early Christians and approving the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:54-60). He meets Jesus on the road to Damascus, had a profound conversion experience, and begins preaching the same Gospel that he had once condemned (Acts 9; 34AD). He later changes his name to Paul to indicate his changed nature (Acts 13; 48AD).

  2. Corinthian Church--Paul had started a church in Corinth during his second missionary journey (Acts 18 in 51-53AD); this first letter is written while he was in Ephesus on his third missionary journey--54AD. We also have access to 2 Corinthians, but it is suggested that there was another lost letter between them. Paul goes to see them one last time in person before he is arrested in 57AD--his whole discipleship relationship with them lasts about 7 years.

Observations (What?):

Take a look at the Greek first THEN read commentaries!

  1. Blue Letter Bible is a great resource for looking up the Greek words used in each passage, how many times that Greek word is used, and other key verses with that word. While it may seem trivial, knowing this information is really helpful in getting a good understanding of the passage--the English translation sometimes doesn't fully do the original text justice.

  2. Then find a trustworthy Commentary--Matthew Henry free on Blue Letter Bible--and/or Theologian--CH Spurgeon sermon app. There are millions of resources out there from experts who have spent years studying the Bible--utilize their resources, but make sure that they line up with what the text is saying.


  1. pistis used 243x in NT-- belief that Jesus is the Messiah, through whom we obtain eternal salvation

  2. Mark 10:52 NIV - "Go," said Jesus, "your faith has healed you." Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

  3. Luke 8:25 NIV - "Where is your faith?" he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement they asked one another, "Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him."

  4. Faith caused people to believe that Jesus could perform miracles and they then believed in faith that He is the Messiah.

  5. CH Spurgeon in his Sermon 107. Faith-- Faith requires 3 things--to know something, to believe it, and to own that belief-- “Now, true faith, in its very essence rests in this--a leaning upon Christ. It will not save me to know that Christ is a Saviour; but it will save me to trust him to be my Saviour.”


  1. elpis 53x--joyful expectation of eternal salvation

  2. Rom 5:1-5 NIV - Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

  3. Matthew Henry Commentary - “Faith fixes on the divine revelation, and assents to that: hope fastens on future felicity, and waits for that: and in heaven faith will be swallowed up in vision, and hope in fruition. There is no room to believe and hope, when we see and enjoy. But love fastens on the divine perfections themselves, and the divine image on the creatures, and our mutual relation both to God and them. These will all shine forth in the most glorious splendours in another world, and there will love be made perfect; there we shall perfectly love God, because he will appear amiable for ever, and our hearts will kindle at the sight, and glow with perpetual devotion. And there shall we perfectly love one another, when all the saints meet there, when none but saints are there, and saints made perfect.”

    1. Faith and Hope are for the present, and will be fulfilled in eternity; but love is for the present and will be perfected when we are in the presence of God.


  1. agape 116x--benevolent charity; sacrificial love from one Christian to another; as we have been loved by Christ, then we are able to show that same love to mankind.

  2. Jhn 13:34-35 NIV - "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

  3. CH Spurgeon Sermon 1617--Love’s Labour’s “The sources of Love’s energy. The Holy Spirit alone can teach men how to love, and give them power to do so. Love’s art is learned at no other school but at the feet of Jesus, where the Spirit of love doth rest on those who learn of him. Beloved, the Spirit of God puts love into us, and helps us to maintain it, thus first, love wins these victories, for it is her nature. The nature of love is self-sacrifice.” Spurgeon goes on to explain that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is the pinnacle of His example of how to love. “Love can bear, believe, hope, and endure because Christ has borne, believed, and hoped, and endured for her… Love makes us love; love bought us, sought us, and brought us to the Savior’s feet, and it shall henceforth constrain us to deeds which else would be impossible.”

Implications (WHY: Then?)

Now that we know the Who, When, Where, and What, we can look for clues into WHY the author was writing the text. What did the text mean to the original writer and reader?

Why did this verse matter to the Corinthian church?

  1. When Paul is writing this, the Corinthian church is brand new--faith and hope in Jesus were a new concept to them. They needed to know the most important things: a whole chapter is dedicated to teaching them the importance of love for other believers--faith and hope are required to be able to fully love others, even when others are difficult to love or when love is sacrificial--true love is.

  2. Similar to Jesus’ call to His disciples to love as He has loved them, and they will be known as His disciples by their love--Paul is simply passing along the message. Love is central to others putting their hope and faith in Jesus--if Christians in Corinth were known for their love, faith in Jesus would be irresistible to others who had not yet believed.

Life Applications (WHY: Now?):

When we understand what the original reader would have thought when they read the text for the first time, we get better clues as to WHY the text matters to us today. By doing the work to understand the Who, When, Where, What, and Why in the previous steps, now we can accurately and prayerfully apply the passage to our lives in the 21st Century.

Why does this verse matter to us?

  1. The church has often been seen as judgmental and unkind. If we were to love others with the love of Christ, more people would want to place their faith and hope in Him. We need to take this command to love others seriously, and make loving others a part of our daily lives--how can we better love our spouses, kids, extended family, neighbors, community, homeless neighbors. Our love should know no bounds, just as Jesus’ love showed no bounds.

  2. “Pursue the unrealistic goal of perfect love relentlessly.” -Pastor Ed Kemp at Gateway Church of Visalia May 12, 2019 Mothers Day

    1. This call to love like Jesus may seem impossible--but the Holy Spirit will equip us with all we need to love others--it is the first of the fruit of the Spirit. As we pursue God relentlessly we will aspire to live like Him. To know Jesus, experience His love personally, and basque in His love, it leads to a desire to be like Him and love others like Him.

It is beneficial to spend time with God daily in His word, just reading and absorbing the truth within the Bible. But it is important to understand what we are reading before we apply it, and there is something so gratifying and encouraging every time we come to understand His Word a little better.

I hope that the SOIL method is as helpful for you as it has been for me! I'd love to hear some of your favorite Bible verses in the comments below. How does the SOIL method breathe new life into your favorite verse?

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