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How to Do a Bible Manuscript Study: Step-by-Step Plus Tips

Cholee took several theology classes during college and enjoys partaking in bible studies and diving deep into scripture.

Brackets define breaks in the theme. Red underlines indicate people. Green boxes indicate what's happening.

Brackets define breaks in the theme. Red underlines indicate people. Green boxes indicate what's happening.

What Is a Manuscript Study?

A manuscript study is an engaging, challenging, and fun way to learn and understand the bible. It is an interactive way to read and study the various passages within the bible.

Manuscript simply means an original document or piece of writing. In this case a manuscript will refer to books or passages from the bible.

A manuscript will be typed, double-spaced with wide margins, have no paragraphs, and must be single-sided. The more white space on a page the better. This allows for optimal space for writing notes, questions, and other thoughts or ideas. There are no headings, and usually no chapters or verses. Verses may or may not be marked, but I find it more useful to erase all other distractions and have a clean page of text.

Where Can I Get a Manuscript?

Manuscripts are available for free on the internet or from various software programs. Free ones tend to be hard to find though as different sites only have select books or passages. You can also buy them from the Intervarsity Store. Creating your own is simple and can be done in just a few minutes by using different bible sites.

I have found the easiest way to create your own manuscript is to go to There you can select your book, passages, and even the version of the bible you want to use. It is as easy as copying and pasting the book into a word document and then printing it off. It took me five minutes to copy, paste and then print the book of Jonah. It took me slightly longer, because I took the time to remove the chapter and verse numbers. If you do not mind the numbers this site has an easy print button that will allow you to print each passage as is without any of the ads, search bar, or other page functions. I highly recommend this site if you would rather create your own.

How to Start a Manuscript Study Session

Whether you are trying to understand the bible alone, plan to go to a group bible study, or teaching a bible study in the hopes of helping others understand the bible better; a manuscript is the perfect way to study the bible.

Bible studies are a great way to bring people from every background and experience level together. Using manuscripts allows a leader to engage everyone within small and large groups and encourage participation from all members. In order to provide a successful study session I suggest following these three ideas to start your study off on the right foot.

Study Session Tips

  • Create an inviting atmosphere and be sure to make everyone feel welcome and comfortable
  • Provide snacks and drinks if appropriate and have all supplies needed laid out and ready for everyone
  • Always start and end your session with prayer and continually turn to the Lord for guidance throughout the entire reading and draw strength, encouragement, and truth from His written word. For where many are gathered in His name, He will also be.

If you have never heard of a manuscript study or have no idea where to start you've come to the right place. This article will give you a simple and easy four-step process to studying the bible by using a manuscript.


How to Choose the Best Books From the Bible

Choosing a book that is short (no more than five chapters) or that is easy to understand and has stories or parables is the best for individuals or groups that are just starting out. You want to make sure the content is not only easy to read but relatable as well. If your group can relate to the passage it will make the session all that more heartfelt and meaningful. Some of my favorite beginning bible studies can be found below.

  • Genesis: Everyone knows the story of Adam and Eve, but how much do they understand of the creation story and what God is saying through out the rest of Genesis. I thoroughly enjoyed my studies through Genesis. Genesis 1-9 has some really thought provoking ideas and makes for a very interesting study.
  • 1 Samuel: I love the story contained within 1 Samuel 1-4. This is where we first are introduced to Samuel and Hannah's unfaultering faith. Hannah's story is relatable on so many levels which makes it more appealing for beginners.
  • Colossians: A short book with some great scripture on how to keep Christ in everything you do.
  • 1 John: What is love? This is the question that John answers in this short yet life changing book.
  • 1 Corinthians: This book is a little long with 16 chapters, but I think it holds so many important messages. Paul's words and writings are tailored to a city where they are facing the same problems that we are all facing in the modern world. He addresses all of these issues that no one else wants to face and he does so head on and with real life advice that we can use in today's ever changing and modernized world. If needed, it can be split into 3 sessions with each session containing 5/6 chapters. The chapters actually break up nicely if you do 1-5, 6-10, and finally 11-16.

Step 1: Select a Passage

The best way to select a passage is to find a book of the bible you are interested in learning about and going from there. Once you have a book selected, you can take it chapter by chapter or two to three chapters at a time if they are smaller.

Doing a manuscript study to pull all the information out of a certain book, chapters at a time, will greatly increase your understanding and knowledge of what you are reading. If you do not know where to start I highly suggest starting with one of the books I noted above. Be sure to read the passage aloud as a group before breaking away and starting the study.

Once you have selected your book, simply follow the outline below to break up your passage into managable pieces.

  1. Start by reading through the entire script (selected chapters).
  2. Next reread the passage and divide the whole reading into manageable parts by identifying natural breaks throughout the chapter/book (for example a change in topic or scene).
  3. Finally title each section so you can see an outline of the chapter and where the passage is heading.

After you have the passage broken up work on finding connections throughout the entire piece. This is where different colored pens/pencils/highlighters will come in handy. Draw different shapes with different colors to indicate at a quick glance which shape/color combination matches each connection. Below you will find some ideas on what types of observations one can and should be making.

  • Similarities
  • Keywords/main ideas
  • Repeating words/concepts
  • Attitudes/emotions
  • People
  • Cause to effect or effect to cause relationships

Step 2: Study the Passage Thoroughly

Spend time praying and talking to God throughout the study. This will help you draw on His word and pull all the information out of the passage. Develop questions as you read that you want answered. Wide margins help keep questions next to the text you have questions about. Observe and read the passage multiple times, interpret what you are reading the best you can. Spend 15 to 20 minutes individually (depending on how much time you have available), gathering as much information as you can.

After reading the passage spend some time finding the who, what, when, where and why of the passage. Color code each finding with a different color (for example code each who in the color green and the when in blue). Being able to observe the W's within the chapter will allow you to interpret and apply the context to your life.

Now that you have the passage broken up in sections and have found the who, what, when, and where of the text look for connections and write the meanings or significance of the text in the margins or an extra notebook.

Bring the group together and encourage everyone to share their observations, questions, and comments; as well as compare findings. Make sure to keep conclusions, observations, and answers to questions directly from the text. You want to make sure that everyone in the group can find what is being discussed and that the discussion is staying true to the word of God.

The story of Jonah

The story of Jonah

Step 3: Define the Central Truth

Defining the central truth means finding the main idea and what the chapter or passage is trying to teach you. Finding a summary verse and the climax of the passage will help you greatly in finding the main theme for the passage you are studying. Every book has a central topic that it revolves around.

Once found mark it in a way that you will remember this is the message of the passage. Writing in the margins or a separate notebook will help you when returning to the study as a large group or when you want to look back at the study on a later date.

Find a way to take the main topic and use it in your every day life. The reason I love manuscript studies so much is because I can find the main topic and other central ideas quickly. It's also a great way to find supporting ideas and it helps when trying to understand the characters. All of this knowledge is so important when trying to fully understand the bible.

Step 4: Apply What You Learned

God's word and spirit changes people's lives. Take what you have learned and apply it to your everyday life. Everything you learned about Jesus, the holy spirit, God, and yourself can all be used to further enrich and enhance your life.

In small and large group studies have everyone come together and talk about how the text applies to them personally and how they are going to use it to change their lives. It's important as the leader to summarize the main message and key points and help the members of the group learn how they can take the message and apply it to their lives on a daily basis.

Did you find there is praise to offer, sin to confess, examples to follow, and new commands to obey? This is the beauty of manuscript study. You make realizations you might not have known or seen otherwise.

Tips for Manuscript Study Leaders

  1. Know the passage well enough to answer questions and effectively guide the group. If you have to read the book several times before the study do so. It will help create a smooth flowing session.
  2. Remember the word of God is the authority. Let the bible do the teaching. Trust in God that He will work through His word and show you the truth.
  3. Create a list of guiding questions before hand to encourage conversation and thought provoking answers.
  4. Consider doing a group real life application for the passage that was read. This will create a sense of community and has the potential to be more powerful than simply reading text.
  5. Be prepared to share personal stories from your life. Being able to provide how the passage has effected someone's life personally can show just how God works in the real world.

Do not forget to pray! Pray for yourself, for your group, and for the word of God to speak truth to and through you. Have others pray for you as well.

Manuscript Study Is Powerful

This guide is to help you understand how a manuscript study works and how you can get the most knowledge out of each study. Manuscript study's can be hard at first, but after you get the hang of it they can be fun and extremely powerful. You will come out of each study with a multitude of new and useful information, as well as a deeper more accurate understanding of the passage.

Start a manuscript study today and dive into the bible. Your manuscripts can become a reading journal with pages of thoughts, questions, and better comprehension about the passage you have read.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Cholee Clay