Shortcut to Brilliant Bible Study

National Association of Christian Ministers How to Series: Ministry #

By Michael Mooney, NACM Exec. Elder

To my knowledge, there really is no secret kept in education.  However, the principles mentioned in this article would lead some to think so –considering how many people have never heard of them.

What I intend to share with you here is not just a few points, but actually a full-fledged toolbox of thinking skills that should be fundamental to theological studies.  The best part is that it makes no difference whether the users of these tools are above or below average intelligence.  Everyone will see an improvement in their understanding by applying them to Bible study.

The method is known as Bloom’s levels of understanding (Bloom’s Taxonomy).  The idea is that there are 6 categories of “understanding.”  Each level builds on the next with 1 being the lowest level, and 6 being the highest.

Benefits of using this resource in ministry:

    • These tools can help ministers study their Bibles with greater depth, and raise their understanding to new heights.
    • They can offer ministers a means by which to evaluate their parishioner’s levels of understanding, as well as of themselves.
    • They offer a systematic approach to teaching God’s word.
    • They offer a methodical approach to generating creativity.

Each tool is introduced below, along with an example of how it is applied to Bible study using the account of the woman at the well (John 4).


Knowledge -Level 1
At this stage, general information is learned and recited from memory. For example, being able to say all of the books of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation is Level 1 understanding. 

Common ways to teach at this level: 

    • Directing attention to important names, places and dates.
    • Showing proper spelling of words.
    • Explaining definitions of terms.

Common ways to test this level of understanding: 

    • Multiple choice questions
    • Spelling quizzes.
    • Asking for definitions of important terms.
    • Reciting stories.
    • Matching words with pictures.

This stage of understanding uses who, what, where, when, and why types of questions. 


Example using the woman at the well account (John 4):

    • Where is Samaria?
    • What or three cultural facts about the story?
    • How did Jesus start a conversation with the woman?
    • Why did John mention that Jesus did not baptize?


Comprehension -Level 2
At this stage facts, details, summaries, and comparisons are formed. 


Common ways to teach at this level: 

    • Use of illustrations.
    • Showing relationships between subjects by comparisons.
    • Showing dissimilarity by contrasts.


Common ways to test this level of understanding: 

    • Asking essay questions.
    • Asking for information to be organized into categories or outlines.
    • Asking for explanations of interpretations.


This level of understanding asks how would, how to, will _, what is the meaning of the topic, and which one types of questions.


Example using the woman at the well account (John 4):

  • What can be said about the woman at the well?
  • What is happening at well?
  • How can we summarize the story?
  • What facts did the Samaritan woman have about the coming messiah?


Application -Level 3


At this stage, learning is employed by using information to solve problems. Often the information is reduced to principles, rules of thumb, laws, etc. as a shortcut to reasoning (heuristics). 


Common ways to teach at this level: 

    • Tell stories using examples.
    • Demonstrate the results of an experiment.
    • Present a model.
    • Interview a professional while learners observe.


Common ways to test this level of understanding:

    • Assign team projects that require planning to solve a problem related to the subject matter.
    • Have learners conduct a private interview and report on the subject.
    • Request learners to make creative use of something that is not typically related to the subject.
    • Have learners develop a skit, parody, or theatrical performance around the subject.


This level of understanding asks descriptive, definitive, and categorical questions.


Example using the woman at the well account (John 4):

    • After considering how the Samaritan woman responded to Jesus’ request to water, how do you think you might have responded differently?
    • How could facts from the story be organized to show that Jesus ministered unto physical needs?
    • If you were the Samaritan woman at the well, what questions would you ask Jesus –in consideration of the context?


Analysis –Level 4
At this level, causes and effects are associated with motives to define meanings, and implications.

Common ways to teach at this level:

    • Point out comparisons and contrasts between key concepts.
    • Show relationships between facts.
    • Identify common assumptions about the subject.
    • Divide the subject into categories using an outline or decision tree.


Common ways to test this level of understanding:

    • Ask questions of meanings.
    • Ask questions of implications.
    • Ask questions about the implications of assumptions.
    • Ask for the most complicated parts of the information to be simplified and generalized.
This level of understanding asks opinionated, related, differentiated, and conclusion types of questions.


Example using the woman at the well account (John 4):

    • In verse 2, what are the implications of John mentioning that Jesus was not baptizing people?
    • What motive might be assumed by the information mentioned in verse 1?
    • John says in verse 4 that Jesus “had” to go through Samaria.  How does this relate to the whole story?
    • What are the implications of Jesus differentiating between the woman’s previous 5 husbands and not being married to the person she was presently living with?


Synthesis –Level 5


This is the creative level of understanding where themes are brought together to form new ways of thinking about a subject.


Common ways to teach at this level:

    • Elaborate on the complexity of the subject.
    • Invoke imagination.
    • Deliberately minimize the main points and exemplify the seemingly insignificant details for the purpose of discovery.


Common ways to test this level of understanding:

    • Generate discussion supposing that there were hypothetical circumstances.
    • Ask questions such as, what facts could you gather from the story to prove ___.
    • Ask what might happen differently is roles in the story were reversed.


This level of understanding asks what if, supposing, and possibility questions.

Example using the woman at the well account (John 4):

    • Elaborate on the significance of John mentioning that Jesus was at “Jacob’s well.”
    • Supposing Jesus had met the woman at a food market instead of a well, what might have been his object of comparison to eternal life –instead of water?
    • How can the concept of worship mentioned in verses 22, 23, and 24 be synthesized with the practice of evangelism?


Evaluation –Level 6
At this level, positions, opinions, and attitudes are formed and justified by means of reference to things learned from study of the subject.


    • Common ways to teach at this level:
    • Evaluate several interpretations of the events pertaining to the subject.
    • Prioritize the sequence of events across a timeline.
    • Create an ethical dilemma surrounding the subject and have learners attempt to resolve it.

Common ways to test this level of understanding:

    • Ask how a determination can be made regarding the facts.
    • Ask for an explanation of the rationale that was used to reach a conclusion.
    • Ask how an opposing opinion can be proven or disproved.


This level of understanding asks evaluation, explanation, justification, and determination related questions.


Example using the woman at the well account (John 4):

  • What is your opinion of verse 27 regarding the discovery of Jesus talking with a woman?
  • What judgments can be made about racism using this text?
  • Jesus said that God seeks worshipers in spirit and truth.  How can these two concepts relate to the bigger picture of worship as we define it?



It should be obvious by now that it does not matter what ministerial role God has given you.  Pastors, evangelists, small group leaders, deacons, etc. can apply these tools to improve their service and callings.



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