I’ll Take Hermeneutics for $1,000, Alex: 5 Bible Study Principles for Interpretation

Bible reading is profitable for the soul. Cracking open your Bible every day is essential and necessary to understand and hear God’s word. But let us not confuse it with Bible study. Study is much different than reading. Studying a passage forces us to slow down and ask questions of the text, whereas reading simply informs us of general things in the text. Over the next several weeks I hope to present some Bible study tips to help you get the most out of your study. Note that I said study–not reading! There are five general principles I believe can aid your study of the word. They will be presented below and over the next several posts will be dealt with in a more comprehensive fashion.

bow to your king, King context

You’ve probably heard the saying, “Context is king,” on more than one occasion. It is absolutely true and vital for both the interpretation and the application of Scripture. In our post dealing with context, we will explore three main areas of context: (1) the immediate context – this is the surrounding verses of the passage you are studying. (2) the book context – this deals with the reason behind the author’s writing of the book. It speaks volumes on interpretation. (3) other author writings – authors had particular phrases, words, and concepts that they used in their writings. Most New Testament authors wrote more than one book and so their language may have spilled over in these other writings. It is important to look at these other writings when determining how certain words are used.

the background information station

Like context, background information is vital for correctly understanding Scripture. As Westerners, we have the habit of reading Scripture through our cultural lenses. This tends to be a great travesty in the area of hermeneutics and yields false interpretations. In our post dealing with background, we will consider the cultural nuances that help us interpret Scripture accurately, particularly in the Gospels and parables.

Discover Diagramming joys

They’re hard, they’re a lot of work, and no one likes to diagram—ever! But diagramming a passage will help you understand the syntax like nobody’s business. When you understand the main subjects and verbs of a clause you will have a better overall understanding of the structure of a passage. And seeing a visual representation takes a step further, especially as you are dealing with multiple sentences. In our post on diagramming, we will examine three different types of visuals that will help understand the syntax of a passage: line diagramming, text flow diagramming, tracing (AKA, arcing, or bracketing).

Original language blues

The Bible was written in three different languages. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and Aramaic, and the New Testament in Greek. The goal, therefore, is to get back to the original authorial intent. What did the author mean when he used this particular word? Why did he choose to use that particular structure? These are questions that good word studies can answer. But be careful not to fall into the pit of word study fallacies. All of this will be discussed in our post on word studies.

structural masonry

Applying the hermeneutical principles can often be a daunting task. As overwhelming as it can seem, there are rules, or a structure, if you will, that guide these principles. When the proper foundation is laid the rest of the rules are a bit easier to manage. In our microwave-instant generation, we have tendencies to skip straight to the results without actually preparing the ingredients. Imagine a construction company attempting to build a skyscraper without a blueprint! It would all be guesswork and disaster would certainly follow. Interpreting God’s word is a much more serious thing and skipping the instructions results in spiritual disaster. For more on bad hermeneutical principles, see my earlier post on ways you may be interpreting Scripture wrong. In the final post, we will see how this structure works and how each of the principles is built upon each other.

Bible study is work. No great Bible teacher got to be great or understand the things he understands without first putting in the work. As we embark on this journey together it will be important to keep in mind that the methods presented are not exhaustive. They are simply there to get you started and hopefully continue to spur you more and more towards deeper study.