Do you desire to be a good student and/or teacher of Scripture?
The five basic steps of Bible study listed below will provide a helpful guide to keep you on the right track in understanding and applying the Bible. Each step answers a particular question in relation to Bible study.
1. Preparation: Am I ready?
It is important to come to Scripture with a prepared heart. An attitude of humility and submission to God is the best way to approach God’s Word.
- James 1:21a ‘Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent, and humbly accept the Word ….’
- James 4:6-8a ‘…God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and He will come near to you…’
- Isaiah 66:2b ‘…this is the one I esteem; he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my Word’ (see also – I John 1:9).
2. Observation: What do I see?
When approaching Scripture, it is best to allow the Word to speak for itself. We must avoid reading into a text something that is not there.
Six questions will help this step of Bible study: When? Who? Where? What? Why? and How?
Some additional things to notice:
- Repeated words that imply emphasis
- Obvious changes of subject
- Connecting and contrasting words: therefore, but, since, and.
- Illustrations: nature, cultural things. (Sermon on the Mount, book of James).
- Key people, places, verses, themes or challenges
- A command to obey, a promise to claim, a sin to avoid, an example to follow
3. Interpretation: What does it mean?
Steps one to three will help protect you from misguided applications of Scripture. Wrong ideas and confusion often result from careless interpretation or a failure to interpret Scripture before applying it.
When interpreting the Bible, our aim should be to arrive at the valid meaning of a text. The primary consideration for doing this is context. By using various contexts, one can arrive at an accurate understanding of the meaning of Scripture. The valid meaning of a text could be a literal, metaphoric or symbolic reading. The important issue is to arrive at the valid meaning based on context. This is especially important if a less expected meaning is chosen. Scripture is to be treated with great care as God’s Word (II Timothy 3:16-17). Careless interpretation of Scripture can lead to incorrect views about God and misdirected living. As a general rule: “If the plain sense makes sense, use no other sense or it will most likely be nonsense.”
Four contexts must be considered: The key to Bible interpretation is context.
- Historical context: Is there anything in the culture, geography or history of this Bible book or passage that will help in understanding the meaning?
- Grammatical context: Does the meaning of specific words or phrases in the original language help in understanding the meaning?
- Immediate context: Does the flow of the chapter or book of this passage aid in understanding its meaning?
- Theological context: Does the teaching of Scripture in other places add to a proper understanding of the meaning of this passage? Be careful not to take Scripture out of context simply to prove a point or support your own ideas. The Scripture must be taken in its normal sense unless otherwise specified. Scripture is a completed progressive revelation. Some of the things God did and required at earlier times, He does not do or require now. The Old Testament sacrificial system had its purpose when it was revealed, but today we are no longer under it because of Christ. We must be careful not to apply our assumptions to Scripture unless they are in agreement with the clear teaching of properly interpreted Scripture.
4. Evaluation: What do others say?
There are many Bible commentaries, introductions, as well as other available helps for our use. After you have completed steps one through three, it would be wise to consult with other Bible teachers. (see: The Expositors Bible Commentary series; The NIV Application Commentary series; Old Testament Commentary Survey by Tremper Longman III; New Testament Commentary Survey by D. A. Carson).
5. Application: How does this apply to my life?
Application of God’s Word to our lives is not optional. Diligent application of Scripture is a mark of spiritual maturity illustrated in the lives of godly men and women.
- James 1:22 ‘Do not merely listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.
- Hebrews 5:14 ‘But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.’
- Ezra 7:10 ‘For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.’
God’s children should have as their goal the application of His Word to every area of life (see, Deuteronomy 6:4-9). Application of the Bible must first be personal before we extend it to others (see, Matthew 7:1-6).