If you want to know how to do Bible study, there is an interpreting process to discover the meaning of a passage. Do not bring any meaning to the text when you read it. Read the scripture like you are reading it for the first time.  Here are things to know before you read and do interpreting work.

1.) How to read in context?

The three most important things to know about Bible interpretation.  The first thing is the context that you are reading determines the meaning.  The second is the Holy Spirit is the Divine author of the scripture will not contradict Himself when He illuminates the scriptures.  The Holy Spirit does not create a new meaning to a passage.  There is only one interpretation to the scripture and there are many applications.  The third is do not say to someone that is what it means to you and this is what it means to me.  No.  It was written to an audience in that time.  What does it mean to them?

  • What was the author saying to the people who the scripture was written to in their historical background and situation? 
  • What did it mean to them? 
  • What is the one and only meaning of the passage? 
  • What was the original meaning to them into New Covenant?  If it was an Old Testament passage, then the text has to be brought into the New Testament meaning. 
  • What are the differences between them and us in our time?
  • How does this apply to us? 
  • What are the parallels between them and us?

Literature determines meaning

What is the literary context that the book is written in?  There is the law which is the first five books of the Old Testament.  The whole Old Testament is the covenant of the law, which consists of The Pentateuch, poetry, prophetical and historical literature.  The literary genre can make a difference in what the author is communicating to the reader.

The Gospels record a lot of dialogue.  In order to understand the flow of thought being communicated, the reader needs to know who Jesus is talking to.  If it is a Pharisee that Jesus is talking to, then what do they believe?  It helps the reader to be able to understand why certain questions are being asked and the way that they are being answered?  In an epistle the flow of thought and connections will be different than in the gospels.

2.) How do you find background information of a Bible book?

Be careful not to list inaccurate background information.  Compare different sources to see if there are any inaccuracies from one to another.  It can make your interpretation of the Bible wrong.  Here are all the steps that need to be followed.  The historical and cultural background of the Bible book has to be researched. 

What was happening during their time historically and culturally?  The passage has to be read and understood how the text fits within its literary context.  How does the passage that is being studied fit within the author’s flow of thought throughout the whole book.  The grammar should be carefully read.  The keywords have to be defined in the original language from which they were written.

Here are a list of tools that can be used to find the historical backgrounds of Bible books and cultures: 

  • Special studies in ancient life and cultures
  • Bible background commentaries
  • Old and New Testament surveys
  • Bible dictionaries
  • Bible encyclopedias

Questions to answer in background work

• Who wrote the Bible book that is going to be studied?
• What can you find about the author’s upbringing?
• When was the book penned?
• Who was the author to the people that he was writing to?
• What people or church city was he writing to?
• What was their situation and, or problems? Look for specifics.
• What was going on economically, socially and politically at that time?
• What were customs of the people that were being written to?
• How was their relationship with God?
• Did the author have a relationship with the people or individuals being written to?

3.) How to read context principles?

You need to identify the author’s flow of thought?  Read the whole book.  Divide the book into sections.  Here are some tips that will help identify transitions in the book.  Look for conjunctions, topic changes, change in locations or settings.  The author may start with a greeting, and then shift to a topic.  Look at grammar changes, repetitive words or phrases.  Look for the big idea or main point in the passage.  Write a summary of how the authors thought flows through the book.  Read what you want to study.  How it fits into the overall context of the book.  When you find how the passage fits into the whole context, then you need to understand the words that the author uses to convey what he was saying to the audience.   

4.) Do a word study using the key words  

The word meanings are determined by the context that they are in.  The important thing to know about doing a word study is to look at the original language that the book was written in.  The Original language word study will determine the words meaning.  Remember that the New Testament was written in Greek.  The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and Aramaic.  The Old and New Testament was translated into the English.  Choose the words in the passages that are important.  Look at what the Words can mean. 

What are the ranges of meanings of this word? 

The context determines what the word does mean.  Here is an example of the word “tent”.  The word tent could mean a person’s body or a make shift tabernacle.  The context would tell us which meaning of the word tent is to be used according to the passage that is being read.

The ending of the Greek word can determine which definition is being used.  It can even enhance the meaning of the text.  There are different types of noun or verb that can express meaning to the text.  English is a limited language, but Greek is expressive.  The Greek can express meaning in a picture.  There are different tenses and moods that the Greek uses to express the text.  The text must be studied in its original language to discover New Testament meaning.

  • The whole New Testament
  • Other New Testament authors, same topic or same kind of literature
  • Look at the same author and other books to see how they used the word (99% time find the meaning at this point)
  • Look at the Bible book
  • Look at surrounding context
  • Start with the word Study (N.T)

At this point the student of the bible should be able to answer these questions below. 

  • What was the author saying to the people who the scripture was written to in their historical background and situation? 
  • What did it mean to them? 
  • What is the one and only meaning of the passage?

If you ever hear the word exegesis, this is the process being explained in its steps above.  Once these questions are answered, then the meaning can be determined:

Write out in the past tense what the passage meant to the original Bible audience.  The Bible study research is completed when the steps above are completed.  It is time to move forward with the meaning of the scripture being studied and the application for applying it today.

  • What are the differences between the Biblical audience and us today?
  • The differences are in time, culture, covenant, and language.  Write them out.
  • What are the similarities between them and us today?
  • The similarities can be found in situations and topics that are universal like blessing.  Write them out.
  • What are the differences in the covenant?  If you are reading the Old Testament, then you have to bring the passage into New Covenant meaning?  Write out the differences.
  • What are the theological principles, differences, similarities and bring the New Covenant meaning to the text if needed?  Write out the theological principles.

5.) How can these theological principles benefit us today?  

In what way are they relevant for us today?  Be as specific as you can for believers to be able to apply the principles into their daily routine.  How to they build up the body of Christ?  What messages of encouragement can they bring to the believer?  Write out the specific benefits to us today.

The bible has one interpretation.  What it meant to its original audience.  The scriptures can be applied in more than one way.

What are the different levels of meaning in the Bible?  There are different levels of meaning.  The bible is to be taken literal until you can’t take it literal.  Here are the different ways that meaning can be expressed in the Bible.  There is literal meaning, spiritual (be careful with how far you take this one), allegory, typology, and metaphors.

Here are some examples:

  • Typology- Jesus is called the second Adam.  The First man Adam is a type of Christ.  In this sense, Adam was the head of the earthly race that caused the curse of sin to spread to all mankind through one act of disobedience.  Jesus is called the second Adam, the Lord from heaven that caused the gift of justification to come to men by His one act of righteousness.  The result of the act of righteousness brings the free gift of abundant grace and life to those that receive it by faith.
  • Literal- Jesus is the light of the world. God is light. This is literal.
  • Picture- The lambs without spot and without blemish that were offered up for sins had to be perfect to be accepted.  The sacrifices of the lambs that covered the sins of Israel, they had to be offered each year.  The sacrifices were a picture of Jesus who is the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world by His perfect sacrifice on the cross.  He came in the likeness of sinful flesh without sin.  He fulfilled the whole law and as the perfect sacrifice without spot or blemished died for sins once and for all.

I Hope this is enough to give you an idea of the different levels of meaning in the Bible.  Here is a tip.  The types, pictures and shadows are in the Old Testament and the revelation is shown in the New Testament referring to Christ.

6.) What is the Holy Spirits involvement in the interpretation process of the Bible?

The Holy Spirit is the Divine Author of the scripture.  Jesus told the Disciples that He was going to send the Holy Spirit after His departure, the cross when He is glorified.  Jesus told the disciples that the Holy Spirit will teach them all things and bring to their remembrance all the things that He taught them.

The scriptures were penned by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit through Holy men as the Spirit moved through them to write.  Since the Spirit is the author, the Spirit plays a role in the interpretation.  The Holy Spirit reveals the Word of God to the believer through inspiration and teaches through study.  The Spirit gives discernment to believers concerning the spiritual things in the scriptures.

The purpose of the scripture is to give the testimony of Jesus.  A person without the Spirit of God can only understand the scriptures up to a certain extent.  The unregenerate person that hears the testimony of Jesus can logically come to the conclusion that the testimony is true.  It is the word of God that produces faith.  The Spirit draws people to Himself when they hear the testimony of Jesus.  If the unbeliever repents and is born again, then the Spirit comes to live within them.  The Holy Spirit gives them discernment, teaches and reveals truths to the believer.

If the unbeliever does not become born again, then they cannot understand the things of the Spirit that the scriptures teach.  The reason why is because the unbeliever does not have the Holy Spirit living inside them to reveal spiritual things.  The unbeliever’s understanding of the things of the Spirit is limited because their spiritual understanding is blinded by the god of this world.  The effects of sin limit the unregenerate person by their carnal understanding that they bring to the text.

I Corinthians 2:12-13 says that this is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.  The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.

In summary, the Holy Spirit is the author of the Scriptures.  The Holy Spirit teaches believers as they study the Scriptures.  The Holy Spirit gives discernment to the believer concerning things of the Spirit that the Scriptures say.  The Holy Spirit will not give new revelation that has not already been revealed in the person of Jesus.  If the Holy Spirit reveals something to a believer, then it is something that the believer previously did not understand.  Now the believer understands it.  It is a revelation to that person.

The full revelation of the scriptures came already revealed in the person of Jesus Christ.  A person has to have the Spirit of God living on the inside of them to be able to discern the things of the Spirit and understand those things.  The scriptures are interpreted through the Divine inspiration of Holy Spirit living inside the believer teaching them through study.  The Holy Spirit gives discernment to the believer as well unveiling the revelation of the person of Jesus Christ through the scriptures relating the revelation to the things of the Spirit.
© Copyright 2012, Martin Williams

Is The Bible God’s Word

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