A Bible Study Plan That Works: Down to the Details


Sean McDowell shares how his students came to understand the details of the book of Ephesians.

In my last blog post I shared the process I took my students through to come up with a theme statement for the book of Ephesians. It took us an entire week of class, but it was well worth it!

For the second week, I had them work in groups to break down the book into chapters, sub-chapters, and to come up with a heading for each of them. Rather than simply accepting the existing divisions of Ephesians, they came up with their own analysis of the structure of the book. Below is a sample of their work. Once they broke down the book into their own divisions, they used the existing chapters and verses to communicate how they believed it should be organized. As you can tell, their outline is very similar to the existing outline in the Bible!

Chapter I: Salvation Through Christ (1:1-23)

1: 1-2 Greeting

1: 3-14 Blessings

1: 15-23 God's Greatness and Power

Chapter II: Grace Alone (2:1-22)

2: 1-10 Saved By Grace

2: 11-22 Unity

Chapter III: Salvation for Gentiles (3:1-21)

3: 1-13 Mystery of Christ

3: 14-21 God's Power

Chapter IV: Christ-Like Living (4:1-5:5)

4: 1-16 One Body In Christ

4: 17-Ch. 5:5 Be Imitators of God

Chapter V: Wise Living(5:6-33)

5: 6- 21Be Wise

5: 22- 33 Husbands and Wives

Chapter VI: Stand Firm (6:1-24)

6: 1- 24

6: 1- 9 Children and Slaved

6: 10- 20 Armor of God

6: 21- 24 Closing Statements

For the last step we took three verses, Ephesians 2:8-10, and analyzed them in depth. I had them work in groups and come up with at least 25 observations of those two verses. Yes, 25 observations! We wrote many of their observations on the board and talked about them. The next day I put them in groups again and made them come up with 10 more! Here are some of the observations they came up with:

  • “Good works are the result of salvation, not the cause”
  • “Part of the reason we were created is to do good works”
  • “Salvation is a gift from God, not from our efforts.”

These observations are simple, but profound. In fact, many cults such as Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses miss the relationship between works and salvation these verses so clearly lay out. We talked about this so they would see how critical the details are.

This also helped them see how much depth can be found in a single verse. And yet they also realized that individual verses only made sense with an understanding of the whole book. This experience highlights a few key truths about youth and Bible study:

  1. Many students want to study the Bible if we can give them a simple, understandable, practical plan.
  2. Dictionaries, commentaries, Bible atlases are all critical, but much understanding of the Bible can be attained simply by reading it with a purposeful plan.
  3. Repetition is one of the most important Bible study principles. This is true in two ways. First, reading the same passages continually brings out certain truths we often miss on initial reading. Second, important truths in the Bible are often repeated for emphasis (For example, the word “Jordan” is repeated 28 times in Joshua 3-4, because the crossing of the Jordan was a monumental period in the life of Joshua and the Israelites).
  4. The best Bible study plan is to start from the big picture and then work down to the details. As I said earlier, the particulars only make sense in light of the whole. The chapters and verses in our Bible are helpful, but the predispose us to read the Bible in a way not intentioned by the original authors. Sometimes it’s best to take them out.

The Bible is an understandable book. We don’t have to speak Greek or have a Ph.D. in theology to study the Bible effectively (as helpful as these may be). We just have to be willing to put in a little thought and effort. Are you willing?


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