(This is a short handout I wrote for my High-School Sunday School class).
Tools for Studying the Bible
Correct Mindset, or “Calibration”-In the same way that a car needs a tuneup to run smoothly, or the scope on a rifle needs sighting in order to be usefully accurate, so also our hearts and minds should be prepared and calibrated before we begin our study.
Recognize that this is the inspired Word of God and not an ordinary book.
Pray that God would humble us below the Word so that we don’t become its judge. Pray that God would let his Word speak to us, rather than us inserting our meaning into the Word.
The Text Means What the Author Intended it to Mean-Emotions are important, God created us as emotional beings. However, how a certain text makes you feel or even what you happen to think about it pales in importance to what it actually means. Remember, exegesis, not eisegesis.
Never Read a Bible Verse-Chapters, verse numbers, and headings are NOT inspired and are sometimes unhelpful when interpreting the Bible because they artificially “chop up” what should be read as a continuous narrative or idea. Whatever part of the Bible you may be studying, read at least the entire paragraph, and read a little before and a little after to gain context.
Know the Reporter Questions-Knowing the who, what, where, why, and when about the passage being studied can be very helpful when determining what the text means. Who wrote the book, when it was written, the immediate cause or occasion for its writing, or who the audience was all help determine what the author was intending to communicate to his audience.
Scripture Interprets Scripture-See WCF 1.9. Each and every part of scripture must be read within the context of the entirety of scripture because God is the author of it all and he is consistent with himself. Let the clear passages illuminate the uncertain ones.
Use the cross-references in your Bible.
If a specific word is giving you trouble, see where it has been used in other passages. The internet or a Greek/Hebrew Dictionary such as Strong’s would help.
Genre!-Remember the ridiculous picture one would get if one interpreted the description of the woman in Song of Songs literally? Although the rule of thumb is to interpret the Bible literally (i.e. naturally), we must recognize that the presence of figurative language alerts us to different meanings of the literature we are reading. Keep in mind the differences between prose, poetry, historical narrative, prophecy, epistle, etc.
Be Aware of the Church-Studying the Bible alone or in a small group in isolation is a potentially dangerous practice because doing so alienates yourself of the rich tradition and theology found in the local church to which you belong and the larger corpus of saints throughout church history. When puzzled about the interpretation of a passage, in sync with following the previous steps:
1. Consult the Elders and teachers in your local church
2. Consult the confessions and creeds within your church tradition (for the Reformed, this includes the Westminster standards, the Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dort, and the Heidelberg Catechism
3. Study how the Church Fathers and various Theologians in history have interpreted the text
4. Be aware of books, commentaries, study bibles, theological dictionaries, etc.
…And remember, CONTEXT IS KING! :-)
Practice passages: Jeremiah 29:11, Revelation 3:20, John 3:16, John 20:29, Philippians 4:13
-J.R. Snow, November 2015