How to Study the Bible, Part 1
Have you resolved to study the Bible in 2019? If not, maybe this post will help. If you are ready to start studying the Bible, then you may be wondering, “What now?”
This new series of posts is intended to help with that question. Although the Bible is unique because it is the inspired Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16), we study it as we would any other literary text. The Bible, simply put, is a book. It is The Book. We want to know what it says, what it means, and then how to respond. Another way to say this is that we want to observe, interpret, and then apply the text.
- Observe – What does it say?
- Interpret – What does it mean?
- Apply – How do I respond?
We begin with observation because we need to know what it says if we want to correctly determine what it means. Furthermore, we don’t want to respond to how we feel at that moment about the text, we want to respond to the true meaning of the text. Observation is not hard, but it does take time. Observations are things in a passage that cannot be disputed. In other words, things that are simply true about the text.
But how? First, take time to pray. God loves that you are seeking Him out in His Word. He wants to be known. Ask Him for wisdom and to help you understand and handle His word rightly (2 Tim 2:15). Next, get out your Bible, paper, pen and start to read, read, and read the text again. Here are some things to look for:
- Who is it talking about, who is the author talking to, who are the key people?
- What are the keywords, repeated phrases, repetitive thoughts/patterns?
- Identify and make note of lists and/or any contrasts or comparisons
- Take a close look at grammar, especially connecting words (therefore, thus, for, but, so that, hence, if/then), also note subjects and verbs, questions and answers, and quotes
- Note imperatives (direct commands), these show us the outcome(s) the author desires
Let’s use Hebrews 3:12-14 as an example. Here are 10 observations from this text:
- V.10: The author is talking to “brothers”, so these are believers. The author includes himself with the believers when he uses “we” two times in v.14
- V.12: The author wants the believers to watch out for unbelief within themselves and each other
- This unbelief is a repetitive thought and key concern of the author. It is brought up again in v.13 as a sin that is deceitful and could “harden” the believers
- V.13: An unbelieving heart can lead these believers to fall away from God
- V.12 & 14: The result of unbelief/sin is serious because of the effect it would have on their relationship with the “Living God” or their “sharing in Christ”
- V.13: “But” is a key transition word shows a contrast or another option. Instead of an unbelieving heart, exhort “one another”
- V.13: The frequency of when to exhort seems stressed as he says, “every day” and “as long as” it is called “today”
- V.13: Exhortation serves a purpose to help against being hardened by sin – I see this in the transition word “that”
- V.14: “For” shows me there is a reason the author wants the believers to watch out for sin and to take care to exhort one other. (See next observation)
- V.14: I’ll want to carefully observe the “if / then” statement – If believers hold their original confidence firm to the end, then the believers have come to share in Christ
If you are like me, my mind is already going to interpretation. I have lots of “why” questions that I may write down for later and then go back to my observation. It is a good practice to reference the verse for each observation as it keeps us accountable to the text.
Now, it is your turn. See if you can make 10 additional observations from this passage. Our next post will talk about what to do with these observations as we move onto interpretation. I encourage you to follow along and practice with us as we move through this series of blog posts. Let me be clear, this does take practice. Don’t get discouraged if you are finding it hard. Laboring to understand the word of God is the best labor you will ever do.