Wednesday, September 9, 2020

OT4 Tips for Studying the Old Testament


The Big Idea: How to study the Old Testament even though it is very different in style from the New Testament. 

The Old Testament is essential to the Bible.  It has a lot of background information on the nature of God and how He interacts with human beings. The period is before Jesus came, but there is something in every book of the Old Testament that points to Jesus' coming to earth to fulfill redemption. We call this Salvation History. In other words, the Old Testament gives us the back story of God's big idea to redeem us and bring us into a right relationship with Him. The preparation for this started long, long ago near the beginning of time and is annotated in the Old Testament.

Here are some tips for an individual Bible study approach to the Old Testament.



  • Start with prayer
  • Read longer passages to get the big picture. Perhaps read the entire book first in one or two sittings.
  • Use a couple of tools, such as a Study Bible, Bible Handbook, and Timeline chart. But always start by reading the Biblical text first.

A great way to study the Bible is the tried and true three pronged method of:

  • Observation
  • Interpretation
  • Application



For tips on studying any passage in the Bible, check out my previous blog on making observations about what's in your Bible passage here.  Here are a few key reminders and specific tips for the Old Testament.

  • Start with observations. Who What Where When Why and How.
  • What does it say/show about God?  About mankind/human nature?
  • What genre is the book/passage I'm reading?
  • Who are the characters? What is their relationship and attitude towards God? How do they treat people?
  • Visualize yourself in the story or in the character's place.
  • Are there any repetitive words in the passage or key words/phrases?

            Example:         Genesis 1 - "And God saw that it was good."

                                    Exodus 29 - repetition of the word "Holy"



 For tips on interpreting a passage in the Bible, I refer you to a previous blog on Interpretation. here.

  • Now is the time to consult a Study Bible or Bible Handbook for the introduction, author, time frame, outline/theme, map, etc.
  • What do you LEARN about God, about mankind through this passage.
  • Check a Study Bible or eBible with cross references (other passages/verses related to this passage /verse)
  • Look especially closely at New Testament cross references
  • Does this passage point me to Jesus? Does it prophesy His birth, life, death/resurrection?
  • How does this fit in the timeline of the Bible?
  • How might this fit in God's revelation of His plan for Salvation?
  • Do I have any questions about this passage? Does anything make me uncomfortable?
  • Are there other passages in the Bible with the same key word or repeated phrase to add understanding?
  • Why might God have included this in the Bible?
  • What might be an example to follow, sin to put aside, promise God makes from this passage?



Review my blog on application here as you seek to apply this passage to your life. Remember, the reason we study the Bible is for a life transformed to be more who God wants you to be. So as you look at your notes, think about what God is telling people in their context and what the timeless truth God has for you. While God transforms lives in every cultural setting, beware of making a cultural ultimatum to your culture from Scripture. Also be careful to not take one isolated verse and apply it incorrectly to a pet subject of yours. Rather use these tips to get at what God has for you.

  • How might this reminder or this fresh understanding of who God is, impact you?
  • Should something in this text cause me to examine my life, my attitudes, my actions? Does it warrant a specific plan of action for my life? How can I implement it?
  • What gives me hope in Jesus? Reflect on the difference Jesus, His forgiveness of sin and His victory over death, makes in our life because He came.
  • Is there a plain, direct command or promise? Not all Old Testament passages will have as obvious application, but there are golden nuggets that are very clear and valuable for our Christian life.



We have looked at some of the basics of Observation, Interpretation and Application and how they pertain  to Bible Study in the Old Testament.

I love photography. I have a complex digital camera. It is already out of date but there are still so many features I have not figured out how to use unless I consult my manual. When I practice a feature new to me it helps when I memorize and practice the feature I want to use. This enhances my photos and makes it easier to use.

I have an older camera I use manually. It help me learn the basics and why they work. Learning those basic principles helps me understand my digital camera better and makes me a better photographer. I am constantly reading and learning about camera techniques.

In a similar fashion, the Old Testament has background for us about God, sin, the need for forgiveness, Christ coming into the world and the beauty of His complete work of salvation which is much better than animal sacrifice. Learning these background principles helps us understand what Christ has done for us in the New Testament. It makes us a better Christian. Learn to use the background manual! The Old Testament.

Up Next: Old Testament: God's Partnership Plan

Previous Post: Old Testament: Poetry, Legalese and History Lessons


For Reflection: What confuses you about the Old Testament? 

Do you think following this approach to the passage might be helpful? 

Are you willing to try it? 

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