How to Study the Bible - Part 2
Summary: In this lesson, you will receive guidelines to help you interpret the Bible properly. Some things are to be interpreted literally, and other things figuratively.
Interpretation is discovering what the Bible means. We must approach the Word of God carefully, not carelessly.
Poor interpretation comes from preconceived ideas, bad theology, being too hasty in reaching conclusions, and ignoring principles of interpretation. That’s why it’s important to learn basic guidelines to help you understand what God meant by what HE said. Keep the following in mind as you study:
Realize the Word of God is worth the investment. It won’t take long for you to realize that studying the Word of God is work. I want to encourage you to overcome the temptation that it won’t be worth the time spent. Miners who search for gold or other precious metals keep their minds fixed on the value of the discovery they hope to make. To reach the desired result, they must devote time to the task. The Bible is just as much a book for sinners as it is for scholars. Studying God’s Word is like lifting weights. You start out with light weights and work your way up to heavier weights. In other words, grab the cookies from the shelf you can reach!
Additionally, watch out for false teachers.
Inductive Bible Study
Inductive Bible Study seeks to discover facts and details in a text and to draw conclusions about the meaning of a text based on those observations.
Inductive study has a sequence of three components: Observation, Interpretation & Application.
Observation answers the question, "WHAT DOES IT SAY?" What is the actual content in the text? Observation always comes first. Before we know what a text means, we must understand what is being said. This requires reading and rereading the text for familiarity. Learn to be observant. Try to discover all that can be found. Look for facts!
6 Facets of Observation
- WHO? Who is writing the text? To WHOM was it written? Who are the people involved in the scenario?
- WHAT? What’s happening? What is said? Is it a command, rebuke, exhortation, question, answer, prayer, quotation of another scripture, or something else? What’s the main point? What key words or phrases are being used? What is the context? What is the literary style? Is it narrative, conversational, a parable, prophecy, poetry, letter or a sermon?
- WHEN? Are there time references? Are there words related to the past, present or future? Look for words like after, until, then.
- WHERE? Are there locations mentioned – towns, roads, rivers, mountains, regions, or other landmarks?
- WHY? Are there any clues about why things are being said or done?
- HOW? Is there an explanation about how things are done?
Once we’ve asked these questions, we are ready for Interpretation.
Interpretation answers the question, "WHAT DOES IT MEAN?" Our task is to discover the original intent and meaning of the author. The ultimate interpretation question is What did God mean by what HE said? Interpretation is determining the meaning of a text once all of the facts are in. Interpretation of the Bible isn’t a matter of personal opinion, feelings, or democratic agreement; it’s a matter of gathering evidence from the text and following established principles.
The 6 Methods of Interpretation
1.) The Literal Principle – Interpreting the Bible with the normal meaning of words while recognizing figures of speech like symbolism, allegory, and metaphor. It is important to let a text speak for itself. When Jesus was born, it was a literal virgin birth. The miracles performed were real. His death and resurrection were actual historical events.
Many portions of scripture like poetry and prophecy are filled with figurative language. Psalm 91:4 is a good example. It states “He shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you shall take refuge.” This does not mean that God has wings or feathers, but rather it provides an image of God as our Protector the same way a bird protects its young by covering them with its wings.
A prophetic example comes from Revelation 1:16...
"And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp two edged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength."
The symbolic meaning is found in Revelation 1:20. The meaning of the sword is found in Revelation 2:16 and 19:15.
When the literal principle is used, the Bible is much easier to understand. There’s no need to uncover hidden meanings.
2.) The Historical Principle – The Bible must be understood in its historical setting before it can be fully understood in our contemporary setting. What was originally intended by what was written? Would our interpretation make sense to the audience to which that writing was originally intended? Before we ask what the text means to us, we must ask what it meant to the first intended audience. In so doing, it is helpful to investigate lifestyles and customs of that day. (Footwashing, praying on a rooftop, girding the loins, etc.)
It is also important to know political and social backgrounds as well. I’ll be sharing some tools with you in the next few lessons.
3.) The Contextual Principle – We should interpret scripture verse by verse and by the verses surrounding it. Some scholars suggest that no one verse should be read alone, or that all verses should be read together in context. A Bible verse standing alone can be misunderstood or misused to prove an error.
Start with a bird’s eye view and work down to a worm’s eye view. Get the big picture, then the context, and finally the details. The following 5 steps can be used in interpreting with the contextual principle:
- Find out the general theme of the book.
- Determine the emphasis of each chapter and how it relates to the overall theme.
- Find the paragraph divisions and how they relate to the thrust of each chapter.
- Get the main idea of each verse and how they relate to one another.
- Go deeper into each verse by doing word Studies.
4.) The Compatibility Principle – The basic premise behind the compatibility principle is to compare verses or passages of scripture with other scriptures to see how they fit together. Always remember, the best commentary on the Bible is the Bible! We let it interpret itself. When properly understood, the Bible does not contradict itself. If our interpretations contradict what the Bible says elsewhere, we have come to a faulty conclusion.
5.) The Grammatical Principle – As you can imagine, the grammatical principle has to do with grammar and sentence structure. Recognizing parts of speech and the way they relate to each other can reveal a lot about a text.
Seven easily overlooked but important words are: therefore, and, but, that, for, because, and if. Examples can be found in Romans 11-12.
- And introduces an addition.
- But points to a contrast.
- That is used to introduce a conclusion.
- If is used when a condition is present.
6.) The Christological Principle – Always be looking for Christ! Jesus Christ is the main theme of the entire Bible. Keep an eye out for references to Him throughout scripture.
Application answers the question, "WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO ME?" How does it apply to my life? How does this passage apply to me?
The goal of Bible study is not just gaining INFORMATION, but experiencing TRANSFORMATION. It’s not about us getting through the Bible, it is about getting the Bible through us. If there’s a good example, follow it. If there’s a warning, heed it. If there’s a command, obey it. If there’s a promise, believe it!
Our lifestyle is to be affected by the Bible as well as our beliefs. This requires a humble response to doing the Will of God. We should be "doers of the Word, and not hearers only." James 1:22
The Word is ours not only to LEARN, BUT TO LIVE!
"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" 2 Timothy 3:16
These four things make us complete as Believers so that we may do whatever God has called us to do.
Conclusion: Interpreting the Bible consists of asking these six questions, following these 6 principles of observation, and the necessary application to our lives. These steps help us to find things we otherwise may have missed. Without these steps, interpretive abuse will likely take place.