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How to Study the Scriptures

Personal Bible study is a methodical process that involves taking certain steps in a certain order to guarantee a certain result. Not just any steps, not just any order, not just any result. The result governs everything. Which is the ultimate aim of the Methodical Bible Study – life change. So how will you get there? What process or steps will take you there?

We are going to look at a four step approach to how to study the scriptures that will guarantee life change – Four crucial steps carried out in a particular order.

These are:

Observation

Interpretation

Reflection and

Application

How to Study the Scriptures – Observation

In this step you ask and answer the question “what do I see” or What does it say”. Immediately you come to the scripture, you ask, what are the facts? Thus you assume the role of a biblical detective, looking for clues.

How to Study the Scriptures – Interpretation

Here you ask and answer the question “what does it mean” and probably “what else does it mean”. Your quest here is for meaning

How to Study the Scriptures – Reflection

Here you ask and answer the question “what is it telling me about God and about myself”. Your quest is find out how it relates to you as a person.

How to Study the Scriptures – Application

Here you ask and answer the question “how does it work”and probably “how does it not work”.

HOW DO YOU DO OBSERVATION?

In order to answer the question “what does it say” or “what do I see”, in how to study the scriptures, you need to look for four things namely: Terms, Structure, Literary form, and Atmosphere.

Terms: a term is more than just a word. It is a key word that is crucial to what the utter wants to say. It is a word that may hold the key to unlocking the meaning of the passage you are studying.

Structure: the Bible is not a collection of random sayings and stories that somehow fell together willy-nilly or haphazardly. Rather, it is a library of carefully constructed books and passages that display – to those who look for it – two kinds of structure. First there is grammatical structure. If you want to learn how to study scripture effectively, you must learn to read it with the grammar in mind. (Subject, objects, verbs, tenses and their usage etc.) Secondly, there is literary structure. There are questions and answers, there is a climax and resolution, there is cause and effect etc.

Literary form: the Bible is a library of sixty-six books, made of different literary forms which cannot all be treated in the same way. It contains historical narratives, poetry, prophecy, biography and personal/ general epistles. In order therefore to grasp the message, you must read and study each kind according to its proper “rules”

Atmosphere: reading for atmosphere involves picking up the setting and feelings from the biblical text. What was it like to be in the author’s shoes? You want to transport your senses into the passage. E.g. if there is a sunset see it, if there is an odour, smell it. If there is a cry of anguish, feel it. This is an exercise for the imagination, not just the intellect.

HOW DO YOU DO INTERPRETATION?

Observation leads to the second step in how to study the scriptures, which is Interpretation. Here you ask and answer the question, what does it mean? Remember that your central quest here is meaning. Here are three things that will help you get the meaning out of a passage quickly: Questions, Answers and Integration.

Questions: if you want to understand a biblical text, you have to bombard it with questions. The Bible is never embarrassed to be asked questions. Though not all the questions may answered, you still need to ask them to determine if they can be answered

Answers: If you are going to ask questions, you also have to look for the answers. Where will you find the answers? The text of course. Observation will give you the basic building blocks out of which you will construct the meaning of a passage. The answers to your question will come directly from your observation process.

So therefore, the more time you spend in Observation, the less time you need to spend in Interpretation, and the more accurate will be your results.

Integration: Not only must you ask the text questions and look for answers, but you must put the answers together into a meaningful whole. Integration is the stage where you reconstruct the meaning of a passage after you’ve taken it apart to inspect the details.

Why Interpret the Scripture

Why must we study or interpret the scriptures? Why can’t we just open the scriptures, read what it says and just apply it as it is? Why must we go through much pain to understand the text? The answer is that time and distance have thrown up barriers between us and the biblical writers, which block our understanding.  We need to appreciate what those roadblocks are and work at removing them in order to catch up with the writers. These include:

  • Language barriers
  • Cultural barriers
  • Literary barriers
  • Communication barriers

Five Keys to Interpretation

1. Content:

The content of a passage is the raw material, the database, with which we will interpret the text. And because of your work in Observation, you already know quite a bit about how to determine the content of a passage. Here, you look for terms, structure, literary form, and atmosphere. You also ask a series of penetrating questions; who, where, when, why, wherefore, etc. you also look for things that are emphasized, repeated, related, alike, unlike and true to life

2. Context:

What do we mean by context? Context refers to that which goes before and that which follows after. Example: Literary Context, Historical Context, Cultural Context, Geographical Context, and Theological Context

3. Comparison:

In comparison, we compare Scripture with Scripture. And that offers a great safety net, because the greatest interpreter of Scripture is Scripture itself.

4. Culture:

Regarding culture, we are looking at the factors that led to the writing of the passage, the influence they had on the text and what happened as a result of the message.

5. Consultation:

Consultation involves the use of secondary resources. They can shed light on the text that will help you make more sense out of what you’re looking at. There are five especially helpful tools that can get you started on building a valuable tool chest to use in your interpretational work. They are: Concordance, Bible Dictionaries, Bible Handbooks Bible Atlases, and Bible Commentaries.

HOW DO YOU DO REFLECTION?

Once we know the truth of the Word of God from our Observation and Interpretation, we must move to the third step which is Reflection by relating it to our personal lives and experiences. In Observation and Interpretation you come out with new insights never seen before. In Reflection, these new insights effect a series of new relationships and obligations to the Word of God which serves as the platform for Application.

  • The word exposes your sins
  • The word gives you God’s promises
  • The word gives you God’s commands
  • The word gives you examples to follow

HOW DO YOU DO APPLICATION?

The ultimate Goal of Bible Study is to practice the truth which leads as to the fourth and final step in Bible study, which Application. Here we ask and answer the questions how does it work? What will I do beginning from today? To see the truth take effect in my life immediately.

Here are nine Application questions you can ask whenever you come to the Word:

  1. Is there an example for me to follow?
  2. Is there a sin to avoid?
  3. Is there a promise to claim?
  4. Is there a prayer to pray?
  5. Is there a command to obey?
  6. Is there a condition to fulfil?
  7. Is there a verse to memorise?
  8. Is there an error to mark?
  9. Is there a challenge to face?

From the answers you give to each of the above questions, you ask the next question what steps must I take immediately to effect these in my life?

Write the steps down in actionable form and then begin to take action on them. Get someone as an accountability partner check you and see if you do them.

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