You hop out of bed and with a bounce in your step (because hey, who doesn’t love to bounce, skip, and jump in the mornings?) and with warm beverage in hand, you snuggle into your favorite chair to spend some time in Scripture. You crack the cover and wonder, “What do I do now?”
Ever been there?
You’ve already looked at several types of Bible studies and you decide you want to dive in, but where to start?
Here are three questions to ask yourself every time you study the Bible:
1. What does it say?
— Observation —
Simply, what do you see in the passage? What is it saying?
The purpose of this question is to get you to see what is in the passage itself. Sure, you’ve read it a couple times, but grab a piece of paper and pen and begin to list everything you see going on; it will be amazing how much you discover.
In seminary, we had a professor who was known for having his students take a couple verses and write out 50 observations. The next day he would send them back and write out 50 more on the same passage. Even when you thought you found everything there was to be seen in the passage, you realized that there was a lot going on beneath the surface or “between the lines.”
- What is happening? Who is speaking? Who is the audience listening in? What is not being said?
- What is the tone, mood, or attitude of what I’m studying? (every author has a “voice” or “tone”)
- What do certain words mean? Look up words you don’t know, or better yet, get on a website like blueletterbible.org to type in the passage and look up Hebrew/Greek definitions, descriptions, and where else in Scripture that word is used.
- Is there anything I can discover through the grammar? (yes, sometimes grammar is important)
- Is there any historical or culture background I need to know?
- Is there anything from the context that might affect my understanding of the passage? (context is critical!)
Remember, you are not making any conclusions, you are not interpreting what the passage means – you are only observing.
Observation is the stage that takes the longest time. Don’t rush! If you plow through observation to get to the application you will often miss the depth of truth Jesus wants to reveal.
2. What does it mean?
— Interpretation —
Once you’ve read the passage through several times, walked through the observation stage, you are ready to ask yourself: “What does it mean?”
We are not asking “what does it mean to ME?” rather we are asking “what did it mean to the original hearers/audience the author was writing to?”
This is key! The author wasn’t writing specifically to you, he was writing in a particular culture, with a particular thought process, with a particular reason in mind. So if you were in Corinth and received one of Paul’s letters written to the Christians in that city, what did that passage mean to that group?
You need to keep in mind that the author is trying to make a point. He has something specific he is trying to tell his readers. What is the gold nugget of truth He is sharing in the passage?
You’ll find as you make observations and begin to ask “What does it mean to the original audience?” that a concept or Truth will begin to surface, giving you an “aha!” moment. This concept and truth is often a principle that can be applied to any person at any age in history (ie: “love your neighbor as yourself” or “live in dependence upon Christ”).
Now take that concept/truth/principle and summarize it within a single sentence or short paragraph.
3. What does it change?
— Application —
Now that you’ve made a bunch of observations and allowed the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth contained within the passage, now (and not before) can you ask “What does it change in me? How does this apply to my life?”
If you walk through the earlier questions, this one becomes rather easy. Hebrews 4.12 says “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” If we approach the Word with open arms, willing to be revealed, pierced, and transformed, you can bet God will do it! Once you discover a principle or concept from within Scripture, it demands a response.
Even before you get to this question, you will often find yourself squirming in your comfy chair with coffee in hand knowing exactly what the Holy Spirit is pressing and revealing in your life. When He lifts up the concept or principle and examines your life by it, do you measure up? Will you allow Him to do whatever is necessary in your life to shape you as a man or woman of the Word – with the nature, heart, mind and attitude of Jesus?
Don’t skip a step; each is important and builds upon the one before it. Next week I’ll walk you through a practical example of the 3 Questions in action.
Question: what is your favorite aspect of Bible study? What do you find most difficult? Leave a comment below.