When studying the Bible, there are several key principles to keep in mind.
1. “The meaning of a text comes from the top down, not from the bottom up, from the larger units of Scripture to the smaller units.” Here is the order to look to get the meaning of a text: genre, big idea of the unit of thought (e.g., epistle), big idea of the paragraph, sentence, word.
2. Try to determine what the author’s intention was when he wrote what he wrote. It is helpful to answer this statement:
__________________________wrote __________ because________________________________
In other words, how would the original audience have understood what was said/written? It makes sense that the author wanted his audience to understand what he was saying, so it becomes our challenge to also understand what the author is communicating.
3. It is helpful to know what genre the book you are studying falls under. By doing so, you won’t make the mistake, for example, of looking for historical details in poetry. Taking into account the genre is an important part of interpretation. Thus, in this guide, we first provide overall guidelines for interpreting prose and poetry and then specific principles for each genre..
4. Finally, and most importantly, we know that the Holy Spirit inspired the authors of the Bible (2 Timothy 3:16-17) and we need Him to help us to understand, interpret, and apply the Scriptures.
In the pages that follow, you will see the emphasis on understanding the meaning that the author intended, as well as understanding the intended application, or response. Studying the Bible, then, is a combination of information and formation. We cannot overemphasize prayer and the seeking of God’s wisdom and guidance throughout this process. The purpose in studying the Bible is not to become more knowledgeable, but to grow in your relationship with God, the One who has stooped down to us to have a relationship with us and to reveal Himself to us. The Bible is, indeed, God’s Word.
1. Read the entire book in one sitting. This will give you a sense of what is important and how your passage fits into its main idea.
2. After you have read the entire book, try to write a one sentence summary.
Keep rereading, and refining the summary.
3. Next, outline the structure of the argument. This will give you a sense of where your passage fits into the overall picture. In looking at the structure, watch for summary statements, transitional conjunctions, and introduction of new topics.
4. Now, focus on the section that you are studying. If it is a verse, expand the context to include at least one paragraph. Get the big idea of the passage. Then look at what the author is saying about the topic.
5. At this point it would be helpful to rearrange the paragraph as a “syntactical display.” In other words, line up parallel passages, words that are repeated, comparisons/contrasts, etc. This will provide a visual depiction of the author’s flow of thought.
6. Turn this visual into a sentence outline.
7. Check outside resources. Do this after the above, so that you can better dialogue with the author. Look up historical and cultural background information. Read a devotional commentary.