Studying the Bible for Yourself: Application

And now we come to the step that most people try to jump to right away when reading and studying the Bible: application. This is where we take the interpretation we have found, the timeless principle from the passage, and apply it to our own lives for growth and transformation.
While interpreting a passage is focused on what the meaning is, application takes that meaning and puts it into action. Some questions to ask to determine application:
Who should I be?
How should I think?
What should I do?
Where should I go?
Whom should I teach?

Other questions that can be asked are:
Is there a sin to avoid?
Is there a promise to claim?
Is there a verse to memorize?
Is there a command to obey?
Is there a prayer to repeat?
Is there a condition to meet?
Is there a challenge to face?

To help with application, look at the timeless truth in the passage in the original situation. What are the key elements there – the people, the place, relationships and ideas? Then find the contemporary situation that would parallel the original: the key people, relationships and places. Take the timeless truth and relate it to the contemporary situation that would parallel the original.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 tells us that all Scripture is profitable for (1) doctrine, (2) reproof, (3) correction, and (4) instruction in righteousness. How does this timeless principle from this passage provide us with these areas: doctrine – what to believe, reproof – behavior or belief that is sinful, correction – what needs to change to be made right, and instruction – how to live in light of God’s truth?

Application is meant to conform us to the Word of God and to make us more like Christ. How can the meaning of the passage – the timeless truth – do that in our lives? The best way to then learn the application and make it part of our lives is to teach it to others, helping them to learn and grow as well. Studying God’s Word is best done in community, sharing with others so that we can learn together and keep each other on track with what the Bible is saying.

*Source material for this blog series came from a variety of sources.
Living by the Book by Howard and William Hendricks
Women of the Word by Jen Wilkins
Lord, Teach Me to Study the Bible in 28 Days by Kay Arthur
Credo House Bible Boot Camp video series (link is broken, no longer posted)
Secret Church: How to Study the Bible series
How to Read the Bible by A.J. Conyers (out of print, but seemingly available used)

Previous Posts in this series:
Studying the Bible for Yourself: Introduction
Studying the Bible for Yourself: Genre and Context
Studying the Bible for Yourself: Observation
Studying the Bible for Yourself: Interpretation

Studying the Bible for Yourself: Interpretation

Interpretation – determining the meaning of a passage – comes after much observation and asking questions. The more observations, the more accurate the interpretation. An important rule to keep in mind during the process of interpretation is that the text cannot mean what it never meant. We need to determine what it originally meant to the original audience in order to determine what it means for us today. Once we have learned what the text originally meant, we look for the timeless truth, that principle which remains regardless of time or place and is for all people throughout all ages.
In interpreting a passage, remember that context rules. We are not to take a passage to make it say what we want it to say. We must keep in mind the full context of Scripture. We compare Scripture with Scripture. It won’t contradict itself. If a passage seems to contradict another passage of Scripture, then we are not grasping the meaning of one of them.
We need to interpret Scripture plainly, but at the same time realizing what type of speech it is or the genre of what we are studying. Some principles from the Credo House Bible Boot Camp (see link below):
“Use the literal sense unless there is some good reason not to.
Use the figurative sense when the passage tells you to do so.
Use the figurative sense if the expression is an obvious figure of speech.
Use the figurative sense if a literal interpretation goes contrary to the context of the passage, the context of the book, or the purpose of the author.
Use the figurative sense if a literal interpretation involves a contradiction of other Scripture.
Use the figurative sense if a literal meaning is impossible, absurd, or
immoral.”

As we look at our observations, we determine what the text meant to the original audience. Once that meaning is determined, we can extract the theological principle that is timeless and for all people of all time. That’s the goal of interpretation – finding the timeless truth – for after that we can determine how to apply the passage. But first we determine what the text meant to the original audience in order to determine what it means for us today. As a way to determine the interpretation, writing out what the author intended to say in the passage helps to clarify the meaning for us. We compare Scripture with Scripture using cross-references to see if our interpretation matches up with the rest of Scripture. Once we have reached our conclusions on the passage, then we can look at other resources to see if our interpretation matches what others have concluded. Only after we have reached the meaning for ourselves do we then look at commentaries to compare meaning and see whether we have reached similar conclusions as others in the church throughout the ages.
Some of the factors that affect interpretation that we need to be mindful of:
Presuppositions/Pre-conceived notions – we all come to the text with our own worldview and framework for how we view the world. We need to be mindful of these, though often these are unconscious notions.
Agenda – what we want the text to say
Familiarity – a familiar passage is easy to jump immediately to a conclusion on the meaning instead of taking the time to ask questions and observe the text as though we’ve never seen it before
Our Culture – language, customs, politics, geography, family, values, ethnicity, gender, stories, religion, arts, economics, images: these will vary by person as well
We need to be cognizant of these factors and try to minimize the subjectivity that comes with them as we examine the text.

Once we have interpreted the passage and determined its meaning, then we move on to Application, which we’ll look at in our next post.

*Source material for this blog series came from a variety of sources.
Living by the Book by Howard and William Hendricks
Women of the Word by Jen Wilkins
Lord, Teach Me to Study the Bible in 28 Days by Kay Arthur
Credo House Bible Boot Camp video series (link is broken, no longer posted)
Secret Church: How to Study the Bible series
How to Read the Bible by A.J. Conyers (out of print, but seemingly available used)

Previous Posts in this series:
Studying the Bible for Yourself: Introduction
Studying the Bible for Yourself: Genre and Context
Studying the Bible for Yourself: Observation

Studying the Bible for Yourself: Observation

After getting the historical, cultural background of what we are studying, the first step in the inductive study method is observation. This includes finding the background, such as who is the author and who is the original audience that it was written to. In the stage of observation we are reading through the passage and asking lots of questions. To help get started in what questions to ask, several books recommend the 5 W’s – Who, What, Where, When, and Why? You might not be able to get answers to all these but they are a good starting point to get the juices flowing.

Bombard the text with questions:
-Who are the people in the passage?
-Who is talking?
-Who wrote it?
-Who was it written to originally?
-What is happening?
-What is the author talking about?
-What is historically taking place at this time?
-What is wrong?
-What is right?
-What did the author intend?
-What is being emphasized?
-What is the style it is written in?
-What type of genre is this?
-Where is this taking place?
-Where is the author?
-Where are the original readers when they receive this writing?
-When is it happening?
-When was it written?
-Why is this being told? Why did the author write this?
-Why is this included in Scripture?
-How is it being portrayed?

Other things to look for in observing:
-Repeated words or phrases: what is their significance?
-Verb tense – how is the action portrayed (past, present, future)?
-The order of things mentioned – is there a significance to the order that is presented?
-Comparisons and contrasts – look for similes and metaphors
-Emotion or tone of the text
-Amount of time or space spent on a particular subject
-Imperatives
-Does the author give a purpose statement?
-New Testament use of Old Testament passages
-Connections – look for conjunctions, relationships between words and sentences, prepositions
-General to specific or specific to general – how is the material presented?
-Conditions – if, then statements or consequences; cause and effect
-Question and answer – are the questions rhetorical?
-Lists – such as character traits or sins – why are these listed together?
-Major shifts – when the text takes a turn
-Pronouns – how do these connect relationships?
-What is emphasized in the passage? What stands out?

It is helpful in this stage to mark words and phrases and have a notebook to jot down all the observations that you make. If you’re not comfortable marking directly in your Bible, print out a copy of the passage that you can mark on. Repetitive reading is important- reading the passage several times through as you ask the different questions.

Summarize your observations using charts or lists. This helps to solidify them in your mind as well as organize the information. A lot of study Bibles have charts in them showing themes of the book or a timeline. Look at some sample charts or lists found in study Bibles if you feel stuck compiling one yourself at first. But eventually you’ll want to get to the point of creating them on your own.

The more time that is spent in the stage of observation, the more likely that the interpretation stage will be accurate. You may spend several days in the observation stage before moving on to interpretation and that’s okay. One aspect of Bible study that often frustrates people is that it involves delayed gratification, not instant. It takes time and effort to ask questions of the text and make observations. But the rewards are worth it if you will stick with it and work your way through the text.

Next we’ll move on to the second stage of the inductive study method: Interpretation.

*Source material for this blog series came from a variety of sources.
Living by the Book by Howard and William Hendricks
Women of the Word by Jen Wilkins
Lord, Teach Me to Study the Bible in 28 Days by Kay Arthur
Credo House Bible Boot Camp video series (link is broken, no longer posted)
Secret Church: How to Study the Bible series
How to Read the Bible by A.J. Conyers (out of print, but seemingly available used)

Previous Posts in this series:
Studying the Bible for Yourself: Introduction
Studying the Bible for Yourself: Genre and Context

Studying the Bible for Yourself: Genre and Context

The Bible is not about us. Too often we approach the Bible looking for how it can make our lives better or what it says that is meaningful for our needs. But the Bible was written to give God’s story – His plan of redemption through His Son Jesus Christ. The Bible is all about God and particularly Jesus. We need to read it in light of this truth, to see how Jesus is revealed throughout the Old and New Testaments.

When studying the Bible, we need to remember that this was written over a period of thousands of years to various groups of people. There are several aspects we need to keep in mind. One of these is the type of literary genre. We don’t read a fiction book the same way we read a non-fiction book or a poem or a newspaper. Similarly, we need to be aware of what genre we are reading when we read the Bible.
Depending on what you read or who you refer to, there are different classifications or lists as far as the different types of literary genres. The main ones are: historical narrative (for example 1 Samuel, 1 Kings), poetry (such as Psalms), prophecy (like Jeremiah), gospel (Matthew through John), epistles or letters (such as Romans) and apocalyptic (Revelation). Some also break out the Law as a genre that is given in places like Leviticus and Wisdom is considered a genre – such as Proverbs.
What can also cause confusion is that each book of the Bible isn’t necessarily all one specific genre. Genesis is mostly historical narrative, but also has poetry. Isaiah is mostly prophecy, but also has historical narrative. So understanding genre can sometimes be difficult.
Definition of Genre: “A category of literature which is to be read and interpreted according to distinct and specific rules that are assumed upon the writing.” For more information about genres and understanding the different types, the Secret Church How to Study the Bible part 4 video (and accompanying study guide available in pdf) is an excellent explanation and resource.

Next we need to consider the context. When most people think of context, they think of the surrounding verses. While this is true, there is a lot more to realizing the context. We need to know the cultural and historical context – who is the original audience? Who is the writer and why is he writing this? What is the cultural background (for example, Malachi is written after the Jews have returned from captivity and are back in their homeland but still not under their own rule)? The cultural and historical background of the audience of Leviticus is quite different from the cultural and historical background of Jeremiah. Even more so is the cultural and historical background of the audience of Ephesians. And all these are far removed from our own cultural and historical background. This is where a Bible handbook on the customs and culture of Bible times comes in handy – to see what is happening at the time a particular book of the Bible is written. What were the people who originally received this book going through?
Context is also the surrounding verses. The current chapter and verse divisions that we have in our Bibles are not part of the original manuscripts of the Bible. They were added later. And sometimes the breaks are not in the best places. So when reading a passage we need to consider what is around it – not just the immediate verses, but the larger passage and even the whole book that it is part of. And beyond that the scope of the whole Bible. Here we compare Scripture with Scripture. If the meaning of a passage seems to say something that contradicts another passage, then we are not understanding one of the passages correctly. Another aspect of context is grammatical – looking at verb tenses. How did the author present his point? Was he using past, present or future tense?
All of these factors play a part in what a passage is saying – how would the original audience have understood this in light of their culture and current circumstances? The text cannot mean what it never meant. When we come to our Bibles, we bring our own context to it, our own presuppositions and worldview. We need to learn to filter that out and look at it from the standpoint of when it was written, to whom it was written, the purpose of the author (the original intent), and other contextual factors mentioned above. The more we study and learn, the more we can understand. Bible study is a discipline and needs to be practiced in order to continually grow in our understanding.

Next in our series, we will take a look at the first step in the inductive study method: Observation.

*Source material for this blog series came from a variety of sources.
Living by the Book by Howard and William Hendricks
Women of the Word by Jen Wilkins
Lord, Teach Me to Study the Bible in 28 Days by Kay Arthur
Credo House Bible Boot Camp video series (link is broken, no longer posted)
Secret Church: How to Study the Bible series
How to Read the Bible by A.J. Conyers (out of print, but seemingly available used)

Previous posts in this series:
Studying the Bible for Yourself: Introduction

Studying the Bible for Yourself: Introduction

I have been working on and planning a workshop on how to study the Bible for yourself, mostly focusing on the inductive study method. A brief overview of that method can be seen here. As a result of my research into this topic I have found a plethora of information and resources and thought it might be good to do a blog series on how to study the Bible for yourself. Biblical illiteracy seems to be very prevalent these days and a lot of people seem to have never been taught how to study the Bible for themselves, but rather they just expect to learn what they need to know from their pastor or teachers on TV. As a result, people are not learning for themselves about the Bible but are getting spoon-fed by others. In a day and age where we have the advantage of being able to read and have the Bible available to us in our own language (multiple translations at that), we have unprecedented access to the greatest book on earth, yet we are not taking advantage of its treasures.

There are a lot of Bible study guides available and these can be useful in helping to dig into the Bible. But there is something exciting about digging into the Bible for yourself without the help of a study guide – learning how to interpret it and understanding what it’s saying. Before jumping in though, why is it so important that we learn to study the Bible for ourselves?

One reason is that it is commanded: 2 Timothy 2:15 tells us (NASB) “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.”

Another reason is that it reveals who Jesus is, so that we can have eternal life: John 20:30-31 (NASB) “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”

And, it helps us to grow in our Christian walk (it equips us): 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NASB) “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”

There are a lot of different methods that can be used in studying the Bible. The primary method we will look at is probably the most popular method and that is the inductive study method. What does inductive mean? Inductive is starting from a general overview and then narrowing down to the specifics. In further blog posts, I’ll go into more detail on this method but here is a quick overview.

Step 1: Observation
Asking questions of the text, looking at what it says (not trying to get meaning out of it, just blanket observations)

Step 2: Interpretation
Taking the observations and extrapolating the meaning – based on what is observed, what does this text mean?

Step 3: Application
After understanding what the text means, we look at how we can apply it to our own lives.

Before we can begin our study however, there are some factors we need to consider. The Bible is a book that was written by various authors over a period of a few thousand years. It was written to different people in different cultural settings and historical backgrounds. And the type of literature varies from historical narrative to poetry to prophecy to letters. We live in a different place and time from the original authors and audiences. All these different factors play a part in how we interpret the Bible. In the next post in the series, we’ll look at some of these factors – the importance of context and understanding literary genres in the Bible.

*Source material for this blog series came from a variety of sources.
Living by the Book by Howard and William Hendricks
Women of the Word by Jen Wilkins
Lord, Teach Me to Study the Bible in 28 Days by Kay Arthur
Credo House Bible Boot Camp video series (link is broken, no longer posted)
Secret Church: How to Study the Bible series
How to Read the Bible by A.J. Conyers (out of print, but seemingly available used)

How to Study the Bible – A Brief Overview

I’m not sure when I was originally introduced to the inductive Bible study method. For sure I learned about it in college but may have been exposed to it earlier than that, having grown up in a Christian home. For one of my classes in college we read the book Living By the Book by William and Howard Hendricks, which covers the inductive Bible study method thoroughly. I also used the Kay Arthur studies which uses the inductive study method.

What does the inductive Bible study method mean? In brief, it is going from the general to the specific using reasoning. Typically, inductive Bible study includes these 3 steps:

-Observation

-Interpretation

-Application

1. Observation – this is the stage we want to spend the most time in. In order for interpretation and application to be correct, we need to observe, observe, observe! One of the things that Bible study books on the inductive method suggest is the 5 W’s: Who, What, When, Where and Why. Asking these questions of the text helps to get the observations going.

2. Interpretation – here is where we take the observations we’ve made and turn them into asking what it means. The more observation, the better the interpretation can be. It is important in doing this step to determine what the meaning is before referencing others’ views such as through commentaries. Learning to determine the meaning ourselves based on observation is a huge step in doing Bible study.

3. Application – once observations have been made and meaning determined, then comes the application. Too often we want to jump to this step right away instead of taking the time to observe and interpret properly first. Another important thing to remember in the application step is that a passage can never mean what it never meant. In other words, it’s important to determine how this would have applied to the original audience in order to apply it to our own lives. If it didn’t mean or apply a certain way to the original audience, then it won’t mean or apply that way to us either.

These are great tools to use in Bible study to dig into passages and discover what they are saying to us. There are some helpful books that go through this method in more detail for those who want to learn more about this method.

Living by the Book by William and Howard Hendricks

The New How to Study the Bible by Kay Arthur

Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin