Why The SOAP Bible Study Isn’t Enough (And What To Do Instead)
UPDATE: The FREE e-book mentioned in this post is no longer available because I’m using the materials in a future project. I’m so sorry for the inconvenience. I have a free Proverbs 31 Printable that I know will bless you. You can download it here.
For those of you who don’t know, the SOAP Bible Study Method is one where you journal “SOAP” — a verse or passage of Scripture, your Observations about it, the Application the verse(s) have to your life, and a Prayer.
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It’s Popular, But It’s Not Perfect
I see that the SOAP method is a very popular topic on Pinterest among Christian bloggers as an easy way to do Bible study. However, without adding some extra steps, there is great potential to have a very shallow Bible study where we take things completely out of context. Have you ever played the game where you flip randomly through the Bible, open it to a random page and put your finger on a verse and say, “Thus saith the Lord,” and pretended that verse applied exactly to your life? It’s a fun thing to do with youth groups and it’s an illustration of what happens when we study the Bible without knowing the context of the Scriptures — or “exegesis.” Exegesis is the fancy Bible college term that refers to “what the Scriptures mean for the original people who wrote it and for whom it was written centuries ago.”
Here’s The Problem
The problem with the SOAP method is it leaves out exegesis and focuses only on “hermeneutics” — the fancy Bible college term for “what the Bible means for us here and now.” Even though I use the SOAP method personally, I never do the SOAP study by itself. Because I went to ministry college, I learned to look at the surrounding Scriptures and what the original authors intended to say in their original language when I do the “Observation” part. The problem is, this isn’t necessarily something a person just knows to do when they’re doing this study.
I just realized this recently when reflecting on a Bible study I did with my sister a few years ago. At the time she wasn’t a Christian so I wanted to walk through the book of Romans with her. I gave her the SOAP method as a framework and we agreed to take a chapter each week, pick our own verse from the chapter to study, and discuss our study when we got together.
I thought it was simple enough for a non-Christian, but she usually had only a few things to say, sometimes even misunderstanding what she read. Because I always went more in-depth than just “SOAP” I always went on and on about other supporting research for what we read. It made a boring time for her, but “God’s word doesn’t return void” and “faith comes from hearing the word” so it still impacted her and she’s a Christian today! (Just not necessarily because of our study together. Jesus did His thing!)
A New & Improved SOAP Study
That being said, I wouldn’t recommend it to someone who doesn’t already know A LOT about the Bible unless they made some major tweaks to the method. So today I have an update to the SOAP method that I’ll call “SOAPx.” It’s the SOAP method with exegesis… Get it? SOAPx. It’s crucial to understand the context of what you’re reading so that you can properly apply it to your life, so here are some other things that I add to my SOAP study:
- I write the verse(s) with the exact punctuation as written and the reference (book, chapter, verse numbers).
Sometimes I do all or a few of the following, depending on how well I already know the context of what I’ve read.
- Break down a verse word for word. I write my observations about any words that stood out to me, including words I don’t understand.
- Compare translations. If I read the verse in NIV (New International Version), for example, I will also read the verse in the King James Version (KJV), The Message (MSG), English Standard Version (ESV), New English Translation (NET), etc. to see the similarities and differences between the translations.
- Use a concordance, such as *Strongs’ Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, to look up the original Greek or Hebrew of the verse and give me more details about the words I’m reading. I do this because translating Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek into English doesn’t always give us the most specific meaning and it adds a richness to the study to understand the etymology and culture behind a particular word. My go-to concordance is actually online via Blue Letter Bible. I go to blueletterbible.com or the Blue Letter Bible App, click or press the verse I’m interested in learning more about, and press “Interlinear/Concordance.” Then I click on the Hebrew (Old Testament) or Greek (New Testament) word that is most interesting to me and I’m able to learn more than I ever would about the original meaning of the scripture if I just read its English translation. I do this 100% of the times that I study the Bible. Every. Single. Time.
- Look up the theme, author, and audience of the book and why the book was written. This adds further context to what I read. For example, when you realize that Romans was written to a Gentile audience and Hebrews was written to a Jewish audience, it explains why Romans breaks down theological truths in a philosophical way and Hebrews assumes the reader knows the Old Testament.
- Find related verses. Every so often you need to jump around the Bible to understand what one verse is saying. The Hebrews example again: refer to the Old Testament to understand Hebrews.
- Read additional commentary. Reading another Bible scholar’s comments on the Scripture may add some historical knowledge that I don’t know. Oftentimes commentators will explain the Scripture verse by verse — sometimes giving additional details that I never would have known by just reading the Bible.
- When I think about application I always ask myself how does this passage/verse point to Jesus/the gospel. That is the overall point of the Bible — Jesus is the focus.
- Then I ask myself how it applies to my life.
- I journal my response to everything I’ve studied, writing my prayer to God.
- Sometimes I “pray the Scripture” – inserting my name into it if possible.
Here’s the thing; this process is lengthy. Bible study is not meant to be a quick thing you do when you have a few minutes — it is STUDYING — not cramming. To study the Bible you need to set a side a good amount of time for it.
That said, if you don’t have time for Bible study… that’s okay! We do need to spend time with God daily, but that doesn’t necessarily mean “Bible study.” Read a devotional that includes a short passage or verse of Scripture. *My Utmost For His Highest is my daily read and even though it’s short, it hits me hard every day because it is so gospel-centered!
Pray. Listen to worship music. Give yourself 10 intentional minutes with God daily and when you can expand on that, see if you can turn your time into Bible study. Maybe your ten minutes each day is one Bible study stretched out over a few days and you let one passage unfold as you dig deeper each time.
I made a FREE eBook for you c>alled How to Study the Bible – The Complete Guide for Busy Moms. It dives deep into how to do Bible study and even includes worksheets for the SOAPx study that I outlined above. Click here to subscribe and get the eBook straight to your inbox.
Your turn: What do you usually do for Bible study? ⭐️
Hey sis! I’m Imani, the Jesus-loving pastor’s wife & toddler mom who is writing here to help you “be a blessing” in your day-to-day life. Also, I’m probably dancing to Michael Jackson right now.