This was a paper given to us by our Hermeneutics and Ecclesiology teacher, Chris McMaster, near the end of our senior semester at New Tribes Bible Institute back in 2010. He gave it as a tool to help guide us in studying on our own after Bible school, and we’ve kept this handout with us since then! Here is the first (and most intensive) level of Bible study that he shared with us.
#1 Intense Study
Goal – In depth and obective study of the Word of God. This is the most objective way for us as interpreters to faithfully study the Word and be able to confidently evaluate what others are saying about they text.
Text – Pick anything and go for it.
Process – Here you want to use every tool you have been given to study a text as in-depth as you can. This type of study assumes you are attempting to be as objective as possible and not dependent upon commentators to give you the answers. The basics of this approach are as follows:
- Historical/Cultural Context – In this step you are trying to find out everything you can about the setting of the book you are studying. Who is the audience? Who is the author and why is he writing? Are there any key issues going on with the audience or author that helps us understand what the content of the book might be aimed toward? Introductions to commentaries and surveys are good for this kind of research. In this section you can also identify any cultural elements in this specific passage you are studying. These may include rituals, social life, material culture, political issues, worldview, etc. Books focused on backgrounds and history behind the Old and New Testaments are most helpful for this type of study.
- Literary Context – In this step your main goal is to get a good grasp of the content of the book the passage you are studying is found in. The best place to start is reading the book over and over. Read it until you begin to see what the book is all about and how the author has laid out the information in the book. If you do this step well you are able to explain where the book begins, ends, and how everything in between is connected or important to the overall content of the letter/book. You can visualize your finding by making a book chart and an outline of the book. In the end make sure you can answer this question – How does your passage fit into the book as a whole?
- Observation – How you do this step is largely dependent upon the type of literature you are studying. If you are studying Genesis you will be studying stories and need to make observations based upon how a story works and communicates meaning to the audience. If you are studying poetry you will need to identify parallelism and figurative language, etc. If you are studying an epistle you will need to observe grammar and syntax. You will need to identify the main clauses, modifying clauses, verbs, prepositional phrases, adverbs, adjectives, and how it all relates to communicate the authors point and so on. The goal is to see as many details as you can, not to explain what they mean. In this step you will also be doing word studies on any key or non-routine words. A term chart is a helpful tool for organizing your observations.
- Interpretation – In this step your goal is to take all the details you found in the observation phase and explain how the author was using that information to communicate meaning to the audience in their historical context. A term chart can help you take all the details and ask good interpretive questions that make you think about the meaning. Asking good questions about the details is the key to effective interpretation. Once you have thought through what all the details were saying to the audience, you can take all you have found and put the meaning of the text in your own words. What you have done is conclude what the text mean to the original audience. The next step is to compare your work with that of others. Good commentaries come in very helpful here. Read what others have said about the passage you are studying. Did you miss anything important? Do you need to adjust your findings or go back and look into something? Don’t assume the commentator is always correct. Any interpretation must be in line with context and the text itself. Don’t let theological ideas that are not there be read into the passage. Use this step to help you evaluate your conclusions. At the end of this step you should be able to explain in depth what the passage you are studying meant to the audience and how it should have impacted their lives.
- Application – Bible study is never complete without practical application. In fact, all the effort that has been put out to this point finds its value in our lives as we take the time to recognize how the truth that impacted those believers should also impact how we live today. This step is always a challenge because before we can apply the text we have to recognize how we cannot. We must consider the differences and similarities between us and the original audience. Our application must always be based upon the similarities and not the differences. We want to find a clear principle in the text that was clearly to impact them in that day and can still impact us today. Once you find that principle it is time to look to the Lord to challenge your life and make practical application steps. You want application to be something you can step out in faith and do today and not leave it at a distance truth that doesn’t have any impact on your everyday life. Applications of a text can be many depending upon the various situations of life you find yourself in.
- Communicating the text – At this point you know more than enough to share what you have studies with others. If you have the opportunity let others in on what you have learned!
Our recommended books and links:
- Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible
- Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds
- The ESV Study Bible
- ESV Journaling Bible
- Reformation Study Bible
- The Moody Bible Commentary
- The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament
- The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament
- Blue Letter Bible – online concordance, dictionary, interlinear, and Treasury of Scriptural Knowledge
- Olive Tree – a Bible study app similar to Logos
- Simeon Trust – resources, workshops, and Biblical Exposition course