The Method of Bible Study
The nature and content of the bible require that is be studied thoroughly, systematically, and accurately. This requires a method.
I. Look at the Content
The first step in bible study is simply to look at the content and observe what the bible actually says. So many theological controversies could be avoided if we simply observed what the bible actually says instead of assuming it says what we believe.
a. content of sentences
Start by looking at sentences. What does it say? Is is a question, a command, or a statement? Identify subjects, verbs, and other parts of speech to determine what the author is communicating. This is especially important in the epistles (especially Paul).
b. content of words
Identify important, or strange, words and determine their meaning. Look them up in a cross-reference or dictionary to determine what the word means. Once you know that the word means you can better understand how it fits into the sentence.
II. Look at the Context
A second, and indispensable, step is to look at the context of the passage. Just as you wouldn’t want someone to take your words out of context, God does not want you to take his words out of context. He has placed them within a paragraph, a book, a Testament, a bible, and a historical context for a reason.
a. context of the paragraph
How does it fit within the author’s argumentation? What came before this? What comes after this? What links this passage with the surrounding context? The rule of thumb in biblical interpretation is that context is king. (i.e. Colossians 3:14 helps us see that 3:15 is talking about peace in the body not “inner peace.)
b. context of the book
How does it fit within the argumentation of the entire book? To whom was the book written? Who wrote the book? (i.e. The ways Paul uses the word “faith” compared with how James uses the same word.)
c. context of the genre
What is the genre (i.e. poetry, epistle, gospel, history, etc.)? (i.e. This helps us to discern that Song of Solomon is about newlyweds not the church and Christ.)
d. context of the Testament
Is it in the Old or New Testament? Is it pointing forward to the Cross, or looking back on the Cross?
e. context of the Bible
How does it fit with what the rest of the bible teaches? The bible is its own best interpreter. If it contradicts the teaching of another passage in the bible then you have misinterpreted this passage.
f. context of the culture
How did the original reader receive this? What are the historical or cultural features (especially in the Gospels) that affect the meaning of the passage? (cf. Mark 7:1-13)
g. context of Church history
Does it contradict what the Church has taught for 2,000 years? Is my interpretation brand new? If so, you’re probably wrong. The same Holy Spirit helping you has been helping the church for 2,000 years, he wouldn’t hide “revealed” truth for that long.
III. Look at the Conclusions
a. conclusions on interpretation
The interpretation of the passage is the meaning that the author intended. There is a single interpretation to every passage. The interpretation is not based on what the text means “to me” a couple thousands years after it written; the interpretation is what the author intended to communicate in a passage. For instances, the interpretation of 1 Samuel 17 is that God empowered a teenage boy named David killed a warrior named Goliath. The interpretation is not that we need to “sleigh the Goliaths in our lives.” Or, we need to find the “five smooth stones to help us defeat our foes.”
b. conclusions on implications
The implications of a passage are the truths that God’s people learn from an accurate interpretation. The implications of a passage can be numerous. For instance, there are a number of truths contained in 1 Samuel 17:
- God uses the weak to shame the powerful
- God is a covenant keeping God
- We should trust in God not human power
- We should fear God not man
c. conclusions on applications
The applications of a passage are what God’s people are supposed to do with the implications. In other words, the application is how an individual can apply God’s timeless truth to his specific circumstance. The applications are as numerous as the circumstances of people’s lives. For instance, here are a few applications based on the interpretation and implications of 1 Samuel 17:
- Don’t be afraid to witness at work because of fear of man.
- Put your hope in God not in the results of elections.