Digging Deeper into God’s Word

Some General Guidelines

When interpreting Scripture, we are seeking to discover the meaning of the words as the author originally intended them. This is called the literal, grammatical-historical approach.

The specific interpretive principles we apply to a passage will vary depending on its literary format (e.g. narrative, parable, poetry, prophecy), but our goals must always be the same: to discover what the Bible SAYS, what it MEANS, and how it APPLIES.

A passage of Scripture may have many applications but it has only one meaning. Our responsibility is to discover that meaning as accurately as possible with the study tools available to us (2 Tim. 2:15). Once we've done that, we can teach it to others with confidence.

A Suggested Bible Study Procedure

Here is a six-step procedure to understanding God's Word more fully:

1. Preparation

Prayer and purity are essential to every aspect of one's Christian life, but especially when dealing with God's Word. Consequently, we must never approach our studies with an impure heart (1 Pet. 2:1-3; James 1:21) or without seeking spiritual wisdom and understanding (Col. 1:9).

The Spirit's illumination and guidance are essential to accurate, productive Bible study. He won't interpret the passage for us (2 Tim. 2:15), but He will guide our studies and give us insights that can't be discerned on a purely human level (1 Cor. 2:6-16).

2. Observation

In this step we determine what the passage SAYS. To do so, we must read and reread the text, noting vocabulary (individual words) and syntax (relation of words to each another). If possible, we should observe the text in its original language and compare various translations.

It is helpful to ask the text these questions: Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? That's how we focus on details we might otherwise overlook.

At this point we aren't concerned with interpreting what we observe. Our goal is to squeeze every drop of information from the text and formulate that information into questions to be answered in the next step of the process.

3. Interpretation

Here we move beyond what the passage SAYS, to determine what it MEANS. We must reconstruct as much of the original context as possible (i.e. history, culture, geography, and language) by answering the questions we asked in the observation step.

This step always involves the most time and effort but produces the precious rewards of biblical depth and accuracy. Study aids such as original language tools, commentaries, encyclopedias, systematic theologies, and atlases are indispensable in this process.

4. Consolidation

Raw biblical data doesn't always apply directly to every believer's life, but biblical principles do. So we must discern the principles that govern the information we've learned from the text.

Some principles are explicit, others implicit. For example, Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus in John 3 doesn't directly apply to us (because we weren't there, we're not first-century Jewish Rabbis, etc.). However, our Lord's willingness to meet with Nicodemus tells us that He cares for individuals, is personally involved in their lives, is approachable, and welcomes earnest inquires. Those are principles that apply to everyone.

5. Correlation

Here is where we ensure that the principles we've formulated don't contradict what Scripture teaches elsewhere. Scripture is always consistent with itself (Ps. 119:160), so if there's a conflict, we must rethink your conclusions.

6. Application

Once we understand the passage and know that our principles are accurate, we're ready to answer the question: What specific responses does God expect from me? Applying biblical truth is the ultimate goal of Bible study.

Beginning A Bible Reference Library

Here are a few essential study tools that serve as a foundation for a good reference library:

1. Reference Bible (Ryrie, Thompson Chain, etc.)

2. Exhaustive Concordance (Strong's, Young's, Cruden's, NASB, etc.)

3. Topical Bible (Nave's, etc.)

4. Expository Dictionary (Vine's, etc.)

5. Bible Dictionary (Unger's, etc.)

6. A Bible Encyclopedia (Zondervan, etc.)

Note: If you have a Bible encyclopedia, probably you won't need a Bible Dictionary.

7. A Theological Dictionary Of New Testament Words (Colin Brown, etc.)

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