Many think that any interaction with Scripture is good - that all one has to do is open the Bible and God will move. It would be great if it was that simple! To some extent it is, but there is just a bit more to it.
When God decided to reveal Truth about Himself, creation, and the human condition, He could have done it in any way. God could have used creation to reveal all truth and for us to understand everything necessary for salvation. God could have continued to use prophets to be heralds of His truth.
Yet, when God chose to reveal eternal truth, He chose to do so through words. He chose to capture His words in a book. The Bible is much more than a book, but it is still a book, and we should approach it as we would other written texts. This book is not mystical or magical. This book is not a road map for life. This book is not a code book. This book is not a self-help book.
The Bible is truth without error, inspired by the Holy Spirit, and needed for our spiritual growth (2 Timothy 3:16,17; Psalm 19:7-11). The Bible was written over twelve centuries with many writers, under many kings of Israel, as well as during exile under three pagan empires. Differences in style and even in the evolution of different languages can be detected by scholars as one moves from book to book. J.I. Packer said this in in his book, God Has Spoken:
“The Bible appears like a symphony orchestra, with the Holy Ghost as its conductor/Toscanini, each instrument has been brought willingly, spontaneously, creatively, to play his notes just as the great conductor desired, though none of them could ever hear the music as a whole.… The point of each part only becomes fully clear when seen in relation to all the rest.”
Despite the different emphases and nuances in each book of the Bible, there is one story.
The Bible is the story of God communicating His heart with us. Therefore, Bible study is learning the story and heart of God.
If this is true, and it is, our method of Bible study must be more than a verse here or there. Our Bible intake should be more frequent than Sunday mornings. Thus, we must not approach the Bible any differently than other written works, while remembering that the Bible contains eternal truths.
With that said, here is a dependable three-step approach to engaging the Bible as a story:
Step 1: Observation. Ask, “What does it say?”
This is simple comprehension. Learn to look for facts, people, places, trends etc. In this step one is gathering all the information. What makes one person a better Bible student than another? The ability to see more. That’s all. The same truth is available to all in the text. The only difference between them is what either one can see on a page. Thus, making this step the most critical of all three steps. Far too often, we have a tendency to jump to interpretation and application without observation.
Step 2: Interpretation. Ask, “What does it mean?”
This is where discovery happens in finding the meaning of a passage—the author’s thesis. Looking for key facts about a passage during observation will guide the process of interpretation. Sometimes it is helpful to let the three “C’s” help you determine meaning:
(1) Context: Context shapes meaning. It shapes all the things that surround the text and the culture of that text, the history, historical background and meaning behind this word and that word. It is important to remember context rules.
(2) Cross-Reference: The best interpreter of Scripture is Scripture. So, when you are struggling, let other parts of Scripture help you understand that.
(3) Conclusion: Conclude the process of interpretation by describing the author’s intended meaning in the passage. Summarize the text. Be responsible with this. Remember, it is not “What does the text mean for me,” it is “What does the text mean? What did it mean to its original readers?” A text cannot mean what it never meant. Be concise. You don’t have to make this more difficult than it is. So, be simple and be specific.
Step 3: Application. Ask, “What do I do?”
This is where action happens. Application is what everyone wants but no one wants to put in the work. After we have observed a passage and interpreted or understood it to the best of our ability, we must then apply its truth to our own life. It might help to allow the following questions to lead you in the application process:
Is there a promise to claim or praise to offer God?
Is there an example to follow or avoid?
Is there an action or attitude to change?
Is there a command to obey?
Is there a sin to avoid?
Allow these steps to guide you in your journey of Bible study. More importantly, remember that the Bible is the story of God communicating His heart with us. Therefore, Bible study is learning the story and heart of God.