Studying God's Word
GARY INRIG, Senior Pastor, Trinity Evangelical Free Church in Redlands, California APRIL 9, 1999
One of the great privileges of modern Christians is that of owning and personally studying God's Word. On one level it is a challenging and demanding task, because the issues involved are of eternal importance. On the other hand, the process is straightforward and clear. It is not an esoteric task, open only to an enlightened elite. As someone has said, the Bible is a pool in which infants can play and elephants can drown.
I. BASIC BIBLE STUDY TOOLS
1. A good study Bible
- another good version for comparison
2. A concordance
3. A Bible dictionary
4. A Bible atlas
II. THE FOUR STAGES OF BIBLE STUDY
1. Observation: What does it say?
- bombard the text with questions: who? what? when? where? why? how?
2. Interpretation: What does it mean?
- the God-intended meaning for the original audience
3. Correlation: Where does it fit?
- the larger context of Biblical history
4. Application: what does it mean for me?
- a text has one meaning, but a multitude of significances
- application must always follow and submit to interpretation
III. THE PROCESS OF BIBLE STUDY
A. Survey the forest (get the big picture) Read the book through as a whole. With the exception of Proverbs, no part of the Bible originally existed as isolated sayings.
1. The historical context
- what do we know about the author? the recipients? the general setting? The occasion or purpose?
2. The literary context
a) What kind of literature is this?
- we do not read all types of literature the same way e.g.the newspaper
b) What is the structure of the book?
B. Mark out your section (recognize the literary unit)
1. the paragraph is the basic unit of thought
2. be sensitive to the flow of the passage
C. Examine the trees
3. key terms/ideas
At this stage it is appropriate and valuable to check your conclusions by consulting with some quality commentaries.
D. Summarize and synthesize
IV. SOME IMPORTANT PRINCIPLES
1. A passage has only one meaning, although it may have a variety of applications. Interpretation always trumps application.
2. Usage and context determine meaning.
a) the author's usage is important
b) the context, not the dictionary, determines meaning
3. Begin with whole before you focus on the parts.
4. The paragraph, not the verse, is the basic unit of meaning.
5. Be sensitive to the kind of literature.
6. The "plain, normal" meaning of the text is primary. Resist the temptation of the exotic or unusual. What would this have meant to those who first heard or read it?
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