Bible Study can be as simple as A-B-C-D
Good interpretation begins with a prayerful and thoughtful reading of the Bible that trains our eyes to carefully examine Scripture. We will read and reread, make specific lists, and develop questions to produce our personal study guides. This process enables us to gain new insight into what God is saying through His ancient book.
We are looking for cues, not buried clues, obvious cues the author, led by the Holy Spirit, gave us to increase our understanding of his message. However, reading is Step B. First, we put our passage into context.
STEP A. How was a passage of text interpreted by its original hearers? To understand what the original readers (hearers) understood, we need to look at the book in its ancient Cultural and Biblical context. What was happening in the lives of the original readers? How would they have heard the message from the author? I'll always provide you with the Cultural Context - the who, what, when, where, and why of the book before each new Bible study.
STEP B. Now we can read our passage of study. Before beginning to read, ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate your mind so that you can better hear God's message in His book.
STEP C. After you finish reading the selected passage, ask yourself, "what do the author's words mean?" Look at how he used his words and the way he formed those words into sentences, paragraphs, and chapters to relay his message. The words he chose and the way he constructed his book will help us interpret his message.
STEP D. How will the message change my life today? Given the interpretation we develop through steps B & C, we ask how to best make application of the Scripture to our modern life today. How does the original message apply today?
It's easier to skip B and C and go directly to D when we read the Bible. The problem is, however, how do we know we are applying the message correctly if we skip B and C?
Maybe we can't. Perhaps that is why Bible study sometimes seemed confusing before. However, led by the Holy Spirit, this step-by-step method may help us hear and understand more clearly. It might seem a tedious process at first; soon it will be the natural method you employ each time you read God's Word.
The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.
Cultural Context Before reading the passage, read the Cultural Context that I provide. It defines the author, the text's date, place, and time - the who, what, when, where, and why.
I'll always provide this information for you.
Before you begin the Bible Study steps, read straight through the selection. Sometimes you can do that in one morning; sometimes, this first step may take a few days. However long it takes, don't stop to take notes or look up any information; just read it through. You only want to gain a general understanding of the entire narrative.
Grammar Context: As you read, don't forget that the Bible is a book. Books are made up of words the author uses to relay a message. However, how the author forms his book also reveals his message: The book begins and ends a certain way for a reason, the author repeats certain words for a reason, etc. Scrutinize his words. Do you notice repetitions? Did the author use a particular word repeatedly? Did he ask lots of questions? Do you note the use of comparisons or contrasts? All these questions and others help inform our interpretation (asking the right questions is the key to understanding).
Please list anything you notice that might help us interpret what the author intended to say.
By looking at your lists and the questions I've offered after you've read our selection, you can begin interpreting what the author was trying to say. When he repeated the same word, he had a specific point he was making. When he made the contrasts, he was pointing something out to us. The way he began and ended his chapters was to tell us something.What was the point in the way he put his words together?
All of this helps us interpret his primary message of the chapter. As you read more chapters, you'll begin to see that message becoming more obvious.
Guided by the Spirit, we will engage our hearts and minds to better interpret God's purpose for having this author write to the original readers. What have we learned about God? How do we know and understand Him better and how can we be a better steward of His Word and of the life He has given us?
I will always provide questions to guide you in Step B and my interpretation in Step C.
"Because God chose to speak his word through human words in history, every book in the Bible also has historical particularity; each document is conditioned by the language, time, and culture in which it was originally written (and in some cases also by the oral history it had before it was written down). Interpretation of the Bible is demanded by the "tension" that exists between its eternal relevance and its historical particularity." G. Fee, Reading the Bible for All its Worth
After we have produced a genuine exegesis (interpretation) of our passage, we should ask ourselves how we apply it to our lives? How should the message of Scripture change us, how will God's Word guide our choices, our behavior, our thoughts? We don't want to be merely "hearers" of the Word, but "doers" as well.
We should be careful that our application derives from the principles developed in the text.
You can make an application that doesn't come from the primary message; however, always remember that wasn't the point the author was attempting when he originally wrote the passage. Try to keep your application close to the original meaning of the text.
Guided by the Spirit, we will better engage our hearts and minds to interpret God's message to the original readers. At the end of all this, we always have one crucial question: What have we learned about God?
I also encourage you to use a good study Bible, maybe the NASB, the HCSB, or the NKJV. I will use Zondervan's New American Standard Bible - NASB.