Have you ever really wanted to study the bible but just didn’t know how or even where to start? You have good intentions and start off with a lot zeal, but simply get stumped and discouraged. Believer it or not there is a process for properly understanding and studying the bible. Here is a basic 3 step method that will aid in your study of the Word, and can serve as a guide to accurate interpretation.
Hopefully this 3 step process will help you get started and spur your desire to take your personal bible study even deeper.
1. OBSERVATION: What do I SEE?
Begin by observing the text. Simply looking at the text. Simple enough. I know we usually study a passage to gain an understanding. But that is not where we will start. Begin by observing the text. Listen to what it says. See what’s there. Analyze the details. Make connections. Look for repeated or emphasized terms. Ask the text questions: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?
I call this step “My puzzle pieces.” I am just jotting down what I see and what comes to mind as I observe, with the expectation of putting all the pieces together. The important thing to remember in this step is that there is no wrong or right answers. We are not trying to interpret anything yet. So whatever you observe is what you observe.
The more you practice this step the more you will see. Ever hear someone communicate the Word of God? And though you may have read the particular verse they may be expounding they expose things that you may have never seen? Its not that they are any smarter than you, its just that they have learned to exercise their observation muscles. And so can you. Using your bible and a notebook. Make note of what you see. Another thing you will also discover in the observation stage is that it is progressive and organic. In other words you may see something the next day that you didn’t see the day before. The more you observe the more you see.
2. INTERPRETATION: What does the text mean?
Observation is about what the text says. Interpretation is about what the text means by what it says. We want to answer the question what did God intend to communicate when He spoke to the original author. One of my pet peeves is when I hear people attempting to interpret a text and they begin by saying “Well what that means to me is” Well the first thing that we need to understand is what did God mean when he said, and not put our own meaning on something He said. Many of us know how frustrating it is to say something, and when it is repeated it is not the same as when we say it. Interpretation allows to get to the original meaning and accurately interpret his word.
Countless times I have sat down to study a text I may have heard all my life, and thought that I knew what it meant. Until I begin to interpret the text, what I thought meant one thing actually meant something else.
Proper interpretation will employ the rules of Hermeneutics. Hermeneutics is the art and science of biblical interpretation. One of the chief rules of interpretation is context. Context rules! Context is the starting point of accurate interpretation. Context simply means that which goes with the text. To gain a proper understanding of a text you have to know what has come before and what has come after it. For example if I said I interpret the word “trunk” for me. The first things you would say is what kind of trunk? A tree trunk, elephant trunk, trunk of a car, storage trunk, trunk of a person’s body. All the while I am referring to swimming trunks. But you would not know what kind of trunk I mean unless you know what context I am using it. So it is when attempting to interpret scripture. Unless we know the context of a text, we can never properly interpret the text.
There are many tools to help with proper interpretation. Different translations, various Study Bibles, Concordances, Lexicons, Dictionaries. Atlases, Commentaries, and yes the internet. These are the tools that enable you to rightly divide the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).
3. APPLICATION: What does it mean to me?
Believe it or not the goal of Bible study is application, not interpretation. If all we do is interpret the Word and do not apply the word we merely have good information. A cookbook gives delightful recipes replete with pictures of the finished product. But no one buys a cookbook with the expectation of just perusing the recipes. The word of God is not just a book with good information. But as James says it is a mirror, and as we see ourselves in the mirror we can make the proper adjustments to our lives according to God’s word. As you study to apply the word to your life, you ought to ask yourself how this applies to you. Is there a command? Is there a promise to hold on to? Is there an example to follow? Is there a sin to stay away from? Is there something I need to implement? Is there a discipline to follow?