For the last couple of weeks I’ve posted on the subject of Biblical discernment: what it is and why it’s important. We talked about arming ourselves with good questions that would help to filter what we hear and identified some influences that may contaminate the purity of the gospel. (See my last posts here and here). I’ve enjoyed so much of this study, especially all your insights and comments.
Now we come to the nuts and bolts of Bible study. In a practical sense, is there any kind of guideline or set of principles we can use / keep in mind as we interpret the Bible? That is, given that someone starts with prayer and submission to the Holy Spirit, (which is first and foremost), are there any helpful aids we can use alongside the Bible itself?
Well, I’m not an expert, but I’d like to share a list of several resources I’ve gathered over the years that have been very helpful to me, and I hope will be a good source of information to you, too. I know this is a departure from my usual format, but my aim is not only to reach out on a personal level in this blog, but to also have it serve as a handy reference when needed. So, I’ve compiled all of these resources together and come up with a method I use as I meditate, read, and write about a given passage.
It occurred to me that all these different resources are like the different tools in a toolbox, each with its own unique function.
So, let’s open our toolbox and see what we have!
I start with the Bible as the primary source of study, taking in mind 3 components: Observation, Interpretation, and Application.
I. Observation – What does the text say? I ask myself Where? When? Why? What? How? as I read.
- I do a book overview of the chapter I am studying. I get the big picture. What type of book is it? Is it historical, poetic, a letter? Why was it written? What is the theme?
- I determine who the people are in the book. They will show me what is happening at the time the book is written. How are they described? What is their character? I may write all the things the text is saying about each person in columns.
- I get key words. These are the words that are crucial to the passage, the words that need to be in the passage for it to make sense. Then I look these words up in the following sources:
Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words – A very helpful aid for those with no background in Greek or Hebrew. Words listed in English, then list the original language and definition.
- I look up all the key words in the different resources, then I’ll take those definitions back into the text.
- I look for references to God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, and list what is learned about each in the text.
- I note all the contrasts (words like however, nevertheless), comparisons (like, as, likewise), expressions of time (when, then, since, after, until) Terms of conclusion (therefore, so that, wherefore, for this reason).
- I cross-reference the same words I find in different verses, or read different texts that address the same subject.
I may then look for a Bible Dictionary for more background / historical information. I like “The New Manners & Customs of the Bible”
I then consult commentaries. I make this my last step because I want the Holy Spirit to be my first influence rather than just reading what someone else has studied. Many times I have come to see that it is similar. (Funny how the Holy Spirit works). Some of my favorites are John MacArthur’s, R. Kent Hughes, and James Montgomery Boice.
I’ve picked up a lot of the how to’s from courses that I have taken. This is so important if you are serious about Bible study. I highly recommend Kay Arthur Precepts courses. Here in Houston, the College of Biblical Studies offers a Bible Study Methods class that is also excellent. You may have a similar course where you live. Check them out!
There are some great online helps and Bible Study software, such as Logos. I haven’t used it myself but got to see a great demo at a writers’ conference last year. Its a bit pricey but I know there are great online helps as well. My fellow blogger, Stacy Voss, offers some great options here.
After I gather all the material from my observation, I move on to the last two steps:
II. Interpretation – Taking all the objective information, I ask myself what does this mean? I gather it up and integrate it.
III. Application – How does it apply to me? How can I all this to change me? How can I apply this in my own life and what is the Holy Spirit telling me through this?
In doing this, I keep in mind some valuable principles:
Context is king– Context plays a huge part in interpreting scripture. I can’t just pull it out of line and make my own interpretation. I must consider the chapter and book that the passage is in, to whom it addresses, who is speaking, and the conditions under which the words are spoken. Some tips:
- Don’t take one passage and make a doctrine out of it.
- Note when the Bible is using different literary devices (metaphor, simile, and other figures of speech) and when it isn’t.
- Let scripture interpret scripture – there is seldom just one place in the Bible that addresses a subject. There are usually parts of that subject in different scriptures. To accurately handle the subject, I look for everywhere it is taught.
Well, there it is, at least a summary, anyway. It doesn’t do justice to the process or the joy in discovering just how rich God’s word is…but like I’ve said before, don’t take my word for it. See for yourself!
I’m sure I may have missed some other resources; there are so many! Many of you may also have your favorite books, method, or apps. Chime in so we can check them out!