I thought I'd pass along some things I have learned that help me study the Bible. I'm giving you a tool you can be thankful for.
The Bible is a book of ancient literature. Most people read it devotionally to feed their faith, to be instructed by its wisdom. But the Bible is more than an ordinary book. It originates from beyond time and is inspired by the Holy Spirit. It stands up to the harshest scrutiny.
The Bible is a complex book written by many authors. It spans many centuries and has amazing prophecies about Christ that were fulfilled. Everyone should approach it with the respect due any historical document.
The biggest source of error about the Bible arises from taking things out of context. Examination of biblical writings should be based on good exegesis. Without protocols, we might arrive at false doctrines or weird beliefs.
Exegesis is the science of analyzing a historical piece of writing to discover the author's original intent. Used to research biblical passages, it answers the question, "What was the author saying?" and "Why was he saying it then?"
You can't have a good understanding apart from studying (getting at the author's original meaning), not settling for what we may want it to say.
I've formulated seven steps of exegesis. I developed these keys from How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, by Gordon Fee, an excellent scholar.
Following the steps in sequence will help you arrive at the original intent.
1. Pray for Understanding. The Holy Spirit is our interpreter. He inspired the scriptures originally so he can unlock their meaning to us now.
2. Read the selected passage in context, several times. Think in terms of paragraphs, not solitary verses. This is like zooming out to see a wide-angle view of the landscape. Often the context is the best key to a wider understanding.
3. Compare reliable translations such as NIV, ESB, HCSB, NASB, NKJV, NRSV. This is a great way to see what scholars of the biblical languages, culture, and history have seen in the passage. Doing this is almost as good as knowing the original language yourself.
4. Define the meanings of keywords. Use Strong's Concordance and other resources.
5. Read related passages elsewhere in the Bible using cross-references. Let the Bible be its own commentary. Compare scripture with scripture. The Bible has 66 books by 40 authors written over 1500 years integrated with incredible cohesiveness.
6. Consult Christian extra-biblical sources. Here is where you need access to a good reference library. Study what has been written in commentaries, read Study Bible footnotes, and follow up on archeological or historical references. You're searching for a fuller understanding of these things: background, history, geography, culture, (traditions, manners, customs), and most importantly, the occasion of the book or letter. This last point is very important. Who wrote it? To whom? Why? Know the kind of book it is (epistle, history, poetry, law, apocalyptic). The various kinds of books in the Bible should not all be treated the same way. Knowing this distinction is important. Notice alternative translations of some words found in your Bible's footnotes.
7. Ask yourself: "What is the author saying?" and "Why is he saying it now?"
If you know the answer to these questions, you can usually correctly interpret the word of God for yourself. This last step gets right to the heart of the matter. You can use these two key questions when you are reading your Bible, even when you can't do extensive scholarly research.
• • •
Ron Wood is a writer and minister. Email him at [email protected] or visit www.touchedbygrace.org. Opinions expressed are those of the author.Editorial on 11/27/2019
Print Headline: Serious Bible student