Hear, Understand and Obey: How the Three Column Bible Study Works

I first learned about this wonderful method of Bible study from David Watson. David is a missionary and strategist who has helped begin church planting movements worldwide. Since 1990 he has helped movements that have planted over 100,000 churches. The three column Bible study method is a fundamental part of the process of church planting movements. This method of Bible Study is beneficial to an individual and it is foundational to a small group discovery Bible study which is the foundational unit of church planting.

In the “Hear The Word” column you will write out the passage of scripture that you are studying word for word. Someone might ask, why must the passage be written, I can just read it. But if you are doing this for your own study, it is important that you write it. As you write the passage, you have to read it a number of times. So this process is causing you to read it and think about it as you are writing the passage. In your study you will focus on just a few verses...a logical unit of scripture, longer than 1 verse, but usually shorter than a chapter. Take a unit of scripture that contains a whole thought or unit of information...at least a paragraph.

Now, in the middle column, called “Understand The Word”, rewrite the passage in your own words. The question here is: what does this mean. How do you understand the passage? Don't bring in other knowledge that you have at this point from other scriptures or teachings. Focus! What does this passage SAY and MEAN on its own merit. Rephrase it in your own words. Write it in the way you would use to explain it to someone else. (If you can't explain it to another person, you probably don't understand it yourself). This is the step of understanding.

Finally in the 3rd column, called “Obey The Word”, ask yourself "What does this passage tell me about God? What (if anything) am I told to do in response to this passage?

Now try to put that into a sentence beginning with the words "I will..." Not I should, or I ought, but I will, because this is the sentence that will move you from knowledge to obedience.

So go ahead and try it. In fact, let me suggest a passage to start. Let’s just do one verse. Try Joshua 1:8.
Here is an example of how that verse might look.
COLUMN 1 (Hear The Word): This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. (English Standard Version)

COLUMN 2 (Understand The Word): In fact, do not let the Book of the Law (Word of God, the Bible) depart from your mouth. Think and meditate on it, speaking it in your own hearing, day and night. Do this so that you will give special attention to obey everything in it. If you do that, you will prosper and succeed in what you do, having the wisdom to accomplish everything.

COLUMN 3 (Obey The Word): 1. I will read the Bible daily and think about what I read.
2. I will meditate on God's word by doing 3 column Bible studies.
3. I will repeat passages aloud, in my own hearing, to enforce them in my
4. I will list steps of obedience and will implement them in my daily life.

Why do we call the three columns Hear, Understand, and Obey?
Long after David Watson had taught me this method and after I had been using it for quite some time I did a study of the parable of the sower.
A comparison of the 3 parallel versions of the parable of the sower (Matthew 13: 3-23; Mark 4:1-20; Luke 8: 4-15) shows that 3 principles are involved in becoming the good soil that will result in fruitful multiplication.

1. We must HEAR THE WORD (the wayside soil did not hear).
2. We must UNDERSTAND THE WORD (the rocky, shallow soil did not understand).
3. We must OBEY THE WORD (the thorny soil did not obey).

Where the word is Heard, Understood, and Obeyed there is good soil that is productive. Here the seed (the Word) will produce the harvest.

It was when I saw this and noticed that each of the 3 columns of the 3 column Bible study coincidentally corresponded to each of these principles (Scripture=Hear, Meaning=Understand, I Will=Obey) that I even more realized what a powerful tool the 3 column study is. It does not automatically make me good soil by merely using the tool, but it does sort of plow the ground, if you will. It causes me to be in a pattern in my scripture study in which I will not merely Hear, but move toward Understanding and Obedience as a regular part of my approach to God's word.

So there it is, the most powerful (to me) argument in favor of using the 3 column method of Bible study.

(This blog is a blending and editing of 3 previous blogs with some additions. I received feedback from the previous blog and thought that this might be even more helpful for those who are learning about the 3 column study process for the first time).

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