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I have posted several times on the topic of studying the Bible. The SOAP Bible Study method is one of the first posts I did. It is also one of the easiest to learn and use. Because it is so useful, I am updating and reposting it today.
For more information about studying the Bible, you might want to check out posts about the basics of Bible study, free online tools for Bible study, the best tools to buy for studying the Bible, and how to do a basic book study.
The SOAP Bible study method can be found all over the Internet, and I’m not sure who first created it. But I have used it many times over several years for short portions of Scripture. It is easy to follow, easy to trim down to available time, and includes the life-changing piece of applying the Word to your life. Each letter in “SOAP” stands for one step of the process: Scripture, Observation, Application, and Prayer.
Before you can start, you must determine what passage of Scripture you will be studying. I suggest doing a short book and breaking it into paragraphs. Most Bibles have paragraph divisions that you can use. For example, in my Bible the book of Philippians has four chapters, but thirteen paragraphs. It is much easier to focus on shorter passages than longer ones, so I would go with the thirteen paragraphs as my outline.
You might also be attending a church where you know in advance what the passage for the sermon will be. Those passages would be perfect for the SOAP Bible Study method. Or maybe you want to read one psalm a day or focus on your favorite Bible verses.
However you choose your passages, stick to a plan. Don’t skip around reading one chapter of Genesis today, then a chapter of Galatians tomorrow, and the next a chapter in Proverbs. Be intentional in your reading, not haphazard.
Once you’ve chosen your passage, you must read it. In fact, read the passage several times in several different versions. Try to read at least three or four different versions. It isn’t that hard. In fact, biblegateway.com will show you several versions of one verse with just a couple of clicks. For more online tools you can use, check out online Bible resources or ask a tech-savvy, Bible-studying, friend.
After reading the passage several times, choose one to three verses that are particularly meaningful to you and write them out long-hand (no typing!). The act of writing wires directly into your brain, making the verses easier to remember. There is something special about writing verses out by hand, so unless a physical handicap such as severe arthritis or a broken wrist prevents you, write the verse or verses you choose out by hand.
After writing out the chosen verses, write a paraphrase. That is, write out how you would say the verse to someone without changing the meaning but making it more understandable. Rewriting the verse in your own words is an effective way to make sure you really understand what the verse is saying.
Observe closely the verses you wrote by re-reading those verses and their context (verses immediately before and after) a few more times. Record any observation you have about the passage. Questions to ask yourself during this observation time can include the following:
- Who wrote this passage?
- To whom is this passage written?
- What is the message of these verses?
- What words or phrases stand out to me?
- Do these verses remind me of any other verses or passages of Scripture?
- Was this written before or after Jesus lived? Before or after the resurrection?
Write out all your observations, just as you wrote the verses. It may be helpful to also write the questions you are answering. And remember, this list of questions is just a suggestion. Ask and answer any questions that occur to you.
After observing what the passage is saying, now you must answer the question, “What is the Holy Spirit saying to me through this passage?” Think about your words, your behavior, your relationships, your job, your family. Nothing should be off-limits to the Holy Spirit. Ask yourself, “How should my life change because of what I’ve read and learned today?”
Asking specific questions may help you think of possible actions the Lord may want you to take. Ask yourself questions about sin, obedience, attitudes, character traits, and promises of God. Although it may be tempting to come up with several applications, try to focus on just one or two. Just like with the other steps, write down your application.
I assume you started with prayer, but if not let me state clearly here, that prayer should be the bookends of your study.
Begin by asking the Lord for His wisdom, understanding, and a heart to learn. End by turning your application into prayer. Pray the verses you’ve studied back to the Father and thank the Lord for speaking to you through His Word. You may want to also spend time praying through different sections in your Faith Journal.
Using Psalm 19 as our text, I’ll walk you through an example of what you might write as you go through the SOAP Bible Study method.
- Verse 14: Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.
- Verse 14 paraphrase: O LORD, You are my Rock and my Redeemer. Help me to always say and think things that will honor and please you.
- The psalmist, David, wrote this as a hymn of praise to God.
- In verse 14, he is praying to the LORD, asking that he would always make choices with his mind, heart, and tongue that are pleasing to the LORD.
- I know that if I think about the Word and speak about Jesus, my words and thoughts will be acceptable. But I cannot do that all day.
- I will need to be more conscious of what I am thinking, and what I am saying.
- Specifically, when gossiping starts at work, I will walk away or speak up – speaking up is preferable, but not always possible.
- Also, I will post verses in my cubicle so that I have uplifting and God-honoring thoughts to think of while I’m working.
- Lord Jesus, help me to fill my mind with Your Word so that what comes out of my mouth will be God-pleasing words. Give me the courage to speak up for those being spoken against when gossiping starts at work.
The SOAP method is short and sweet, and easy to accomplish in a limited amount of time. But it is not shallow. You spend time thinking about what you are reading and then apply the Word to your life.