Two Methods of Bible Study

plow & trowel

During the last 2 Dwelling Richly interviews, both Kelly and Mardi Collier referred to doing either a “plow or trowel Bible study.” If any of you were confused by those terms, today should prove to be an enlightening experience for you. 🙂

As I mentioned before, Kelly provided so much helpful material during her interview that I had a difficult time choosing what to share! One of the things she shared (that I cut out only for the sake of space!) was the following explanation of 2 methods of Bible study. Even though I’ve heard her talk through these methods, it was so helpful for me to read through the explanation again (especially as right now I’m doing my own plow study in my 90 day Bible reading challenge). I trust this  explanation will prove helpful to you as you seek the Lord through His Word!


What is a Plow Bible Study?

“Plow work moves through large portions of Scripture more quickly, looking for specific themes. You could think of it as building a Biblical theology about a certain topic. It is not just a verse picked out here and there; plow study helps you get a fuller understanding of what God says about a specific topic. The key is to prayerfully look for something or Someone as you read. Plow work, though less intense than trowel work, still takes a lot of time. If you aren’t a seasoned studier, this may be the type of study you want to start on first. It is simple and straight-forward.

I used to really have a low view of “plow study” because of the many people who would say they were reading through the Bible in a year but weren’t getting anything out of it. How many of you have read chapters of the Bible and you can’t remember what you read when you were finished? We can all relate to that! Even if you are reading through the Bible, which is a great practice by the way, look for something specific and have pen and paper in hand. It will keep your mind engaged. There are lots of different kinds of Bible reading plans, such as reading through the Bible chronologically. If you decide to do this, I would encourage you to read the introduction to the book you are getting ready to read through before digging in – you can find this in a good study Bible. Find a main theme to look for as you read. That is where the idea for pride and humility in Jeremiah came from.”


What is a Trowel Bible Study?

“Trowel work means taking a passage or verse of Scripture and settling in to dig for a long time.

The Inductive Study Method is an example of this kind of Bible study. Trowel work, though more intensive than plow work, is not complicated. But neither is it easy. The believer who seeks to dig out the treasure in God’s Word must understand that solid Bible study takes a lot of effort.”


What type of study should I do?

“Both types of Bible study are needed for a “balanced diet” in our Christian life. Even when we settle down to accurately interpret smaller portions of God’s Word, it is helpful for us to have the “big picture” view provided by plow work. In other words, the plow and the trowel work well together. As with any type of Bible study, trowel or plow work, the goal is to understand God’s Word. And whenever God opens our eyes to understand His Word, the result is long-term change – we become more like Christ.

In my own life, I like to have both types of study going on simultaneously. I’ll take several days a week to do my trowel study and several days a week to do the plow study. It helps me not get bogged down in one passage, it provides variety and keeps me from getting stale.

If you pursue this course of study, some days it will seem like just an exercise in grammar. You have to recognize the value in embracing the whole process. There will be times you just don’t get it. The answer to your question isn’t easily found, you don’t understand the passage. There will be times of frustration. We don’t face that very often in our culture- answers for just about everything are readily available. When I want to look up something I don’t know, I simply google it or look for a video on You Tube. We don’t like to “dwell in the ‘I don’t know’,” we don’t like feeling lost and confused. This kind of Bible study is totally counter-cultural. You Tube will not help you know God better. Google can’t help with this process. Sometimes you will have to fight for understanding. But that is not a bad thing. It is part of the learning process and it actually help to “make the moment of discovery stick.” As you agonize over a passage of Scripture and pray for God to give you understanding, all of it will come together. The “aha” moment will come. And I have to confess it is rather addictive. You will never forget the truth you have labored hard to understand! You will love the truth and you will feel it deeply, and you will want more of it! You will glow with the glory God has shown you.

So there will be days where your God and I time doesn’t leave you on an emotional high, where it feels like work and no glory, where you don’t feel like you have a sweet spiritual truth to carry with you…but embrace the process. Emotions can’t drive this train. They follow our faith-filled obedience.

All the work of deep digging in the Word is worth it when God illumines you to spiritual truth!


Read Kelly Collier’s Dwelling Richly interview here!


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One comment

  1. Barbara H. says:

    I’ve never heard it put quite this way before, and I really enjoyed the analogy. Sometimes when I am doing one type, I feel like I am missing out by not doing the other. I usually go back and forth, reading generally for a section and then stopping to camp out for a while in a passage before reading generally again. More recently I’ve been using a small commentary to slow myself down through the epistles and take time to dig deeper there, but then I’ve felt the need to read several psalms afterward.

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