Studying God’s word requires proper heart preparation. I proposed in last week’s post that the necessity of prayer, the requirement of purity, and the mindfulness of perspective are important as we approach the word of God. We need to realize our dependence and desperate need of divine guidance as we look to God’s Spirit inspired word. God requires our hearts and lives to be pure as we come before his holy word. This means that as Christians confession and repentance are a part of our daily lives. We are also to be mindful of having the perspective of not only applying the truth of Scripture to our lives but to pass along the truth of God’s word to others. This protects us from studying for purely accumulating knowledge.
With that in mind, we’re ready to open up our Bibles and study God’s word. We’ve prepared our hearts and now it’s time to observe what the text says. This is where we become nosy. This is where we ask and answer questions pertaining to what the text says. This is the time when we try to find out everything we can about the text that we are studying. So where do we begin? Let me offer a big picture practical guide for starting the study of a book of the Bible.
Before observing what the text says in the specific passage that you are studying within the book, you first need to be familiar with the context of the entire book. This would require reading and re-reading the book so that you can get a feel for why the author is writing it. What is the author communicating? What is the author’s purpose in writing it? What is the book’s overall central argument? After reading the book over and over, you should be able to come up with a concise 1-2 sentence preliminary purpose statement answering the question: Why did the author write this?
It would also be a great benefit to understand the historical context of the book. When was it written? To whom was it written? What is the background? What is the setting? Various amounts of information can be gathered from the biblical book itself. In addition to the biblical book, other sources can provide a great deal of information. I would recommend getting a good study Bible and reading the introduction section to the book (ask your pastors if you are interested in more resources).
Now that you understand the broader context, you can begin to sequentially study specific passages as you move through the book. You want to identify the main idea of the passage that you are studying. This will involve being a careful reader of the text and making text-driven observations. This means that you are drawing out of the text information that is there to support the author’s main idea of that passage. We are not yet asking, what does the text mean, but only seeking to observe, analyze, identify the parts of speech, analyze grammatical relationships, and asking the who, what, where, when, why, and how questions from the text.
No verse in the Bible stands alone and so observing the broader context of the biblical book and the immediate context within the book itself will keep us from imposing into the text something that is not there. We want to put ourselves into the mind of the author. This will lead to a more accurate interpretation of what the text means and application of what the text means. More will be said next week about understanding the author’s intended meaning as we look at the next step in studying God’s word, which is interpreting what the text means.