When you look around for articles on Bible study, you’ll find some basic instructions advising you to:
- follow an organized approach,
- consider the history and background of the author,
- consider the context within which passages are written, both within the paragraph and section, but also within the book, the type of book and the Bible overall,
- use high quality tools (I would add ‘non-doctrinal’ tools), and,
- be mindful of whether you are on a spiritual pursuit (which may shape your interpretations).
You can focus on any one of at least three perspectives:
- what the author meant to get across,
- what the text means to you, or
- what the passage means purely in terms of its literature form (characters, plot development, etc.).
If you wish to try your hand at interpreting the text, you can take any one of at least four approaches:
- The Literal, where you take what the text says at face value;
- The Symbolic, where you view statements, such as: “crossing the River Jordan to the Promised Land,” as a metaphor, in this case as referring to baptism;
- The Ethical, where you read ‘between the lines’ to interpret what the passage means to your daily life and how to live ethically, and
- The Mystical, where you spend your time reading for what passages may mean to say about the future; i.e., you look for ‘coded’ meanings.
The key to mastering the contents of a complex book such as the Bible is to:
- follow a systematic study process,
- do word studies and topic studies,
- compare verses,
- follow good principles for acquiring correct and accurate views, and therefore meanings, and
- have useful study materials.
Most of the pointers I’ve mentioned above are self-explanatory, but perhaps it’s helpful to go into more detail about following good principles for acquiring accurate and correct views, and from there the meaning of the text. In following good principles you cfa level 3 study material.
- Aim to learn the correct meaning of words. You examine how a chosen word is used throughout the Bible. This is the basis of the Word Study method. You examine the background and root of the word. You use several academic or widely recognized authorities’ lexicons or other word study materials, especially those that include an examination of translations. And you make sure to examine the word’s synonyms and how they affect the meaning of the passage where it is found.
- Use only the Bible to ‘interpret’ Biblical material. In other words, you rely on the Bible to ‘explain’ itself when there is any question of interpretation. This is especially important in examining symbolic meanings. For example, when you wish to see what a mountain symbolizes, locate and examine all passages in the Bible that refer to mountains, and then rely primarily on those passages to determine as best you can the symbolic meaning. Treat any other non-Bible based interpretation as conjecture
- Examine the context in which you find your study topic. You determine how each part or passage surrounding your topic relates to other parts and passages. As you have probably noticed, sometimes material in one chapter continues into the following chapter or is part of the preceding chapter. So, it is best not to use the chapter numbers or verse designations as guides on where to start and stop. Although the Bible is divided into chapters and verses, scholars have observed that these divisions are fraught with problems and should not be seen as groupings according to subjects or main thoughts.
- Determine the historical circumstances of the topic. In other words, you study the historical situation of the people involved. You find out what was going on elsewhere in the culture and in other cultures of the world. And, you learn about the non-Biblical history that occurred at the same time, so you gain a perspective of wider cultural events and factors.