Abide Together: What Exactly is a Bible Study?

Today’s post is part of a six week series on how to start and facilitate a women’s Bible study group. We’ll cover the basics like what and why, as well as the more difficult parts, like who and how. Our hope is to encourage you to study God’s word with fellow believers, equipping you with practical how-tos for starting a study in your local church or community. If you’re just joining us, you can start at the beginning of the series here


We’ve never had more resources available to us than we do right now. There are books, online articles, printed magazines, podcasts, videos, and music coming at us from every direction. As a woman eager to learn more about God’s word, it can be exhilarating to have easy access to so many teachers and influencers.

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These resources can be extremely helpful and can encourage a busy mom when her hands are full of little children and dirty dishes. It’s a joy to turn on a favorite podcast, or sneak in a quick devotional reading in the school pick-up line. Our modern age of information provides lots of great opportunities for spiritual growth and reflection. But however nice and helpful the resources may be, they aren’t the same as studying the Bible itself. We still need first-hand knowledge of the eternal word of God so we can know him more fully and be sustained as we serve him in this world. Without even realizing it, we often just “take people’s word for it” when it comes to understanding God's nature, character and plans. But if we don't know what he actually says, how can we be sure that the podcasts, online sermons, devotional books, and Christian books we consume are actually giving us truth?

These questions and concerns are why we need to prioritize Bible study and learn God’s word for ourselves.

How are Devotionals Different From Studying the Bible?

These days, the words “devotional” and “Bible study” are often used interchangeably, but in reality they are two different things.  For many of us, when we aren’t sure how to get to know what God’s word says, it’s easy to start with a devotional book. Devotionals are usually meant for reading one-day-at-a-time, beginning with a short Bible verse that is explained with an encouraging commentary written by a man or a woman. This type of reading has a place (and there are some really excellent devotional books and apps out there today) as long as we understand how devotionals fit into the bigger picture. In fact, they can be helpful when it comes to thinking about and applying specific scripture passages and praying for the day. Devotionals can be excellent resources, but they are different from a Bible study which helps us understand God’s word for ourselves.

A Bible study, in contrast, is where we read scripture in hopes of understanding and discerning its truth for ourselves. We ask questions like, “What is happening in this passage? Why did God put this in the Bible? How does this fit into the bigger story of the Bible?” As we examine the text, either through inductive study or a guided question / answer format, we start to uncover the truth with the help of the Holy Spirit. We get a feel for specific passages and the Bible as a whole, which increases our literacy and ability to apply it to our lives rightly.

Here is another way of thinking about the differences:

The Bible: the Bible is the Word of God, living and active, breathed out by the Spirit without error, and is the special revelation given by God to His people for all matters of faith and conduct in order to transform believers for all generations. (Heb. 4:12, 2 Tim. 3:14-17, Isa. 40:8, Rom. 12:2, John 1:1-5) When we do a "Bible study," we study this text.

Devotionals (and everything else!): All other resources are human thoughts, (hopefully) based on Scripture (but not always), meant to encourage the believer in their walk with the Lord.

Studying the Bible itself grows us in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ so that we’re not carried away by poor doctrine. For example, most of us can’t immediately tell the difference between a high-quality cubic zirconia and a real diamond. But a jeweler can spot it right away because they spend time closely examining the real thing. Only long hours and varied experiences with precious jewels allow them to discern the difference between authentic stones and their counterfeits. It’s important that we recognize a Bible study can only be one thing: studying the Bible. A true Bible study is digging into the pages of scripture, praying for wisdom and understanding, and discovering more about who God is.

God’s word is given to us to know who he is, what’s he’s done, and how we ought to respond to him. It’s a true gift and our only sure source for all matters of faith and conduct. It reminds us of God’s faithfulness throughout creation and our future glory with Christ. It has the power to judge the intentions and thoughts of our heart, renew our minds, and train us in righteousness. Man’s word does not hold this power, nor can we ever trust man’s word fully and freely. We can humbly approach the Bible with full faith in its validity, inerrancy, and power. It’s unlike any resource – which is why we think it’s so valuable for a group of women should gather to study the Bible itself.

Now that we’ve thought about why it’s important to study the Bible, we’ll talk more about choosing the right Bible study for your group in the next post – because they are not all created alike.