Howard Hendricks How To Study The Bible

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Howard Hendricks How To Study The Bible

When people are taught how to study the Bible, they “get the excitement of actually discovering stuff,” says Dr. Howard Hendricks. “That is what is lacking today. We give people all the answers. If you don’t have the basics, you are not going to get that much out of Bible study. Once people are taught how to do something, they can see the value of it.”

Hendricks has trained thousands of Bible students at Dallas Theological Seminary, including Chuck Swindoll and David Jeremiah. For a period, he was even the chaplain for the Dallas Cowboys. For much of his life he’s been a traveling evangelist for Bible study—ministering in over 80 countries. Now 85, Hendricks serves as Distinguished Professor and Chair of the seminary’s Center for Christian Leadership.

Author of over 15 books—including Living by the Book, a handbook on how to study the Bible effectively—Hendricks is finally scaling back for health reasons. He now teaches two courses: “Bible Study” and “Advanced Bible Study.” “All of my courses are built on the basic pattern of observation, interpretation, application and correlation (or communication),” says Hendricks. “I have been teaching that for 60 years. I love it. It opens up the Bible for me.”

Hendricks says he begins teaching people about how to study the Bible by showing the power of the Bible. However, he has observed an unfortunate trend: “Christians are less and less knowledgeable about Scripture and decreasingly motivated to be so. Understanding the Word’s power is no longer a given. Only after someone believes the value of the Bible can they really start to study.”

People who grasp the meaning behind what they study, says Hendricks, are the ones clamoring to talk about it with professors, other students and everyone they meet. “The Bible is changing their life and changing the way they interact with the people around them. People want to spend time with people like that.” Hendricks’ Bible study method will hopefully create more people who clamor to talk about the Bible.

1 Observation

“So many people are trying to interpret the Bible, but they don’t study it,” says Hendricks. “They don’t answer the question of ‘What do you see going on in the text?’ All of this wasted time is spent trying to find out what the Bible means without a basic understanding of what it says. If you can’t understand the text, then ultimately you can’t communicate it.”

According to Hendricks, our ability to observe the biblical text can be enhanced without a Bible in hand. “What were your co-workers wearing today? What was the title of the sermon on Sunday? Set up tests for yourself to encourage your mind to start observing everyday life.” Natural observation will spill into Bible study.

Ask questions of the biblical text while reading it, suggests Hendricks. “Who are the people? What are their relationships? What do those terms mean? What is the importance of the place they are in? Read the passage as for the first time. Look for things that are emphasized, repeated, related, alike, unlike and true to life.” Hendricks recommends observing the text in 10 different ways:

  • Thoughtfully. Be a detective.
  • Repeatedly. Read entire books at a time.
  • Patiently. Spend quality time in each book you study.
  • Selectively. Decipher the who, what, where, when and how in the text.
  • Prayerfully. Don’t copy others; ask God to reveal things to you.
  • Imaginatively. Think about how you might write the verse.
  • Meditatively. Reflect on the words.
  • Purposefully. Understand that the author used structure to send a message.
  • Acquisitively. Attempt to retain the text.
  • Telescopically. Understand the significance of the text in light of the entire Bible.

2 Interpretation

Under Hendricks’ rubric, once the steps of observation are completed, interpretation can begin: “Grasp how the context fits with literary genres, history and culture. Also, what does the context say about the writer’s relationship with God, or even about the natural world?”

“Work to compare words, themes, phrases and styles of the text with other biblical texts,” says Hendricks. Then examine “the cultural setting of the book.” This will tell you if your observations fit the culture. Hendricks warns, “Don’t lose sight of the value of consultation in the process—using other resources to ensure your interpretation is accurate.”

3 Application

Application is about what the text means to you. Before we can be certain our application is correct, Hendricks says that each person “needs to know the text, relate it to life, meditate on its meaning, and then practice it.” Hendricks has created nine application questions to consider:

  • Is there an example for me to follow?
  • Is there a sin to avoid?
  • Is there a promise to claim?
  • Is there a prayer to repeat?
  • Is there a command to obey?
  • Is there a condition to meet?
  • Is there a verse to memorize?
  • Is there an error to mark?
  • Is there a challenge to face?

4 Communication

The correlation and communication step is simple. As a Bible teacher, it is about understanding and reading the audience you are speaking to.

Getting Started

If you haven’t practiced Hendricks’ method, it may seem stilted or philosophical. To fix this problem, Hendricks starts new students in the book of Mark because it is simple. But if the length of Mark is overwhelming, he suggests a shorter book: “Take a book like Jonah, for example, that has only four chapters. Take a good amount of time with it. Get so deeply involved with it that you can hardly wait for the next chapter.”

For small group Bible study, Hendricks suggests studying “individual books according to the group and its needs. If they ‘take off’ with it, even having never done it, their motivation keeps them going. I get them into something easier to handle and prove to them that they can study the Bible. Generally speaking, I find people at varied levels are not convinced they can do it. But in our classes at Dallas Theological Seminary, people who have never done this in their life come out with A-level grades.”

For veterans of Bible study, Hendricks recommends they learn to use the biblical languages. “Get Greek and Hebrew resource tools that tell you what a word means. For some people it is not important, but if you can weave that into your understanding, you can increase the value of your study. You can’t lose with that.”

Anyone Can Understand the Bible
Understanding the Bible like Howard Hendricks might seem like an impossible feat. But like everyone else, Hendricks’ biblical understanding started with simple hard work and dedication. In Hendricks’ second year of seminary he pledged to study the Bible for an hour every day. He has. Using the pattern he teaches his students, Hendricks works through one Bible book per month, hitting all 66 over a six-year span. While the hourly study is for his own spiritual walk, he says that what he learns often emerges when he speaks, writes and teaches.

howard hendricks seven laws of teaching

These are my notes on the video series.  Using the acronymn TEACHER, Howard Hendricks will tell you how to teach with a life-changing impact. 


If you stop growing today, you stop teaching tomorrow.

  1. The PHILOSOPHY that you as a teacher should embrace is that you are a learner. Would you rather have your students drink from an overflowing living stream or a stagnant pool? What have you learned lately?
  2. You must have the ATTITUDE that you have not arrived and always ask, “How can I improve?”  
  3. Teaching involves a RELATIONSHIP between the message and method – the nature of the message determines the nature of the method. Our message is the Word of God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth. It is a crime to bore people with the Word of God.

How can you implement the law of the teacher?
(a) By a consistent study and reading program. Get into the Word of God yourself and reflect upon what you read.
(b) By getting to know your students. Not just age-group characteristics but their specific needs.
(c) By intense personal evaluation (of your teaching)


A process of inciting and directing the self-activities of the pupil andas a rule telling him nothing that he can learn by himself.

Your role as a teacher is a stimulator and coach while that of the student is a discoverer and player. The ultimate test of an educator is what your student does as a result of what you do.

There are exceptions to the discovery process.

  1. When your objective is to save time – no time for discussion
  2. When you are confronted by certain types of students (who need encouragement and support)
    – Beginning student
    – Weak or discouraged student
    – Older student
    – Disadvantaged student 
  3. When you have a student with intense interests – so highly motivated that he takes in everything you feed him and runs with it 
  4. When you have a resource individual – tap his expertise, ask questions and listen to him

As a teacher, you need to have clear objectives. Teach them …

  1. How to think
  2. How to learn
    – Learning is a process so that it can be carried on for the rest of their lives.
    – It is a logical process moving from the whole (synopsis) to the parts (analysis) and back to the whole again (synthesis).
    – It is a discovery process. 
  3. How to work
    Never do anything for the student that he is capable of doing himself else you make him into an educational cripple.


Maximum learning is always the result of maximum involvement or activitybut only if the activity is meaningful.

Do you agree with the following statements?

  1. Practice makes perfect – Practice does not make perfect only permanence. If you keep practicing the wrong things, you will not improve. Well-guided practice makes perfect. 
  2. Experience is the best teacher – Experience is a good teacher but not the only one. Experience of drugs can be dangerous and a difficult teacher. Properly evaluated experience is the best teacher. 
  3. We learn by doing – But we must make sure that we are not doing the wrong things. We learn by doing the right things and sometimes, we can learn by doing the wrong things.

    What you do results in more than understanding, you change! The goal of Christian education is not knowledge but obedience.

Ancient Chinese Proverb
I hear and I forget;

We remember up to 10% of what we hear

I see and I remember;

We remember up to 50% of what we hear and see

I do and I understand.

We remember as much as 90% of what we hear, see and do 
Characteristics of a meaningful activity

  1. Provides direction but not dictatorship
  2. Stresses on function and application 
  3. Planned with a purpose – What do you want your student to know, feel and do? 
  4. Concerns itself not only with the product but also the process (of learning) and launch the students on a path with no limitations 
  5. Is realistic (life-like)  
  6. Involves problem solving (their problems)


Establish common grounds with our students

The presupposition is that you have something to communicate and that has 3 components: concept, feeling and action. The evangelical church is strong in communicating concepts but weak in the areas of feelings and actions.That which we want to communicate must be encoded into words and life because we are not simply communicating a word message but a life message. There are verbal and non-verbal communication (body language and what we do). What you say must be in harmony (congruence) with what you do.Next, that which you want to communicate must be translated into speech. This involves:

  1. Presentation – (a) Enunciation (b) Voice: volume, pitch and speed (c) Gestures: feel your message and (d) Distractions

    – distractions within the student (attitudes, personal circumstances – all of which you have no control)  
    – distractions within the environment (room arrangement, temperature – which you can control)
  2. Preparation – Your speech must be packaged … (a) Introduction, (b) Body: use illustrations from your own life and your students’ lives and (c) Conclusion

Your students listen to your speech but note that they can listen faster than you can speak and their minds may begin to wander. Use visuals and analogies help your student to listen.Students need to decipher your speech into their own words so that the knowledge becomes theirs.The communication process begins with concept, feeling and action and it ends with the same: concept, feeling and action. The test of your communication is what your students are thinking, feeling and doing as a result of what you do. Ask for feedback – find out what do they know, feel and plan to do.The purpose of communication is not to impress but to impact; not to convince but to change.
RELATED: More on “Verbal Communication” » »


Teaching that impacts is not from head to head but from heart to heart.

The Jews used the term “heart” to express the totality of personality — intellect, emotions and will.

  1. Intellect – the knowing component
    As a teacher, what are you learning? The teacher must primarily be a student. What are some new inputs you have received? If you do not know it, you cannot give it. 
  2. Emotion – the feeling component
    What are you excited about? Too many Christians only get turned on by the trivial. 
  3. Will – the doing component
    The opposite of ignorance in the spiritual realm is not knowledge, but obedience. To know and not to do is not to know at all.

Socrates summarized communication using three words:

  1. Ethos (character or credibility)
    Ethos establishes your credibility – Who you are is far more important that what you say or do. People listen or do not listen to you because of who you are. People must trust you. As a teacher, ask yourself: “What kind of person am I?” 
  2. Pathos (compassion or emotions)
    Pathos involves arousing the passion of your students … their motivation comes out of their emotions. To arouse their passions, you need to establish rapport and relationship with your students. People do not care what you think until they know that you care. If you love them, they will be more eager to do things for you.

    All learning begins at the feeling level. If your students have a positive attitude toward you, they will accept what they hear. If a negative attitude, they will reject your message because they had rejected you. 
  3. Logos (content)
    Logos requires a gathering of evidence, helping us to engage the mind and gives understanding. It gives a reason for actions. You want students to think so that they can see how logical and reasonable the action is.

RELATED: More on “Logos, Ethos and Pathos” »»
The teaching-learning process is inseparable. If the learner has not learned then we have not taught. As a teacher your effectiveness is determined or tested by what the student does as a result of your actions. Learning is change – a change in the student’s thinking, feeling and behavior (mind, emotions and will).Four ways you can put these components into practice in your teaching:

  1. Know your students so that you can meet their needs. This will take time and effort; you have to pour your life into people.
  2. Earn the right. Credibility precedes communication. Be an example to your students. 
  3. Personal involvement with students before and after class. You impress from far but you impact up close and personal. Note: This is related to 1 above. 
  4. Become vulnerable before your students. People need to see you when you are real. Note: This is related to 2 above.


Teaching is most effective when students are motivated.

There are two types of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic. As the teacher, you can only work on the outside and you hope to trigger intrinsic motivation and develop the student into a self-starter.How to motivate?

  1. Create a need – Your task is to surface real needs (at the subconscious level) to the conscious level as felt needs . To surface real needs, use the Word of God and their experiences (expose them to challenges) 
  2. Develop responsibility with accountability 
  3. Structure their training experience
    Stages of (skill) training: telling, showing them a model (demo), practice in a controlled situation and doing in a real situation. You don’t learn how to swim by reading books. 
  4. Intensify personal relationship – you cannot impact someone across a chasm 
  5. Provide recognition and approval

Have confidence in the Holy Spirit to change people. 
RELATED: More on “How to Motivate” » »


Learning tends to be most effective when students come adequately prepared.

Value of good assignments

  1. Precipitate thinking – a kind of mental warm-up before class
  2. Provide foundation upon which you can build
  3. Develop habits if independent study

Characteristics of good assignments: (1) creative and (2) thought provoking

Predictability and impact have high correlation. If your students can predict your methodology, the lower is your impact so be unpredictable and keep them guessing!

Problems encountered in applying this law

  1. People come unprepared – So what do you do?
    (a) do it in class and
    (b) tap their experiences 
  2. People lack confidence – So what do you do? Show them how  
  3. One person dominates the class – So what do you do?
    (a) Express appreciation in his contribution
    (b) Solicit his help to get the rest of the class participating and
    (c) Call on him (to speak) 
  4. People are afraid to participate – So what do you do?
    (a) Encourage them to participate and affirm them when they do
    (b) There are no stupid questions only unanswered questions!  
    (c) Gradual experience: start with self-discovery, neighbor nudging or sharing then class participation
    (d) Exercise great patience: rephrase question and wait – people are uncomfortable with silence and
    (e) Give them notes 

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