Many of us self-professing Christians don’t know how to study the Bible. I grew up knowing the importance of the Word of God. My parents are Bible translators, and I loved reading the Bible growing up. I remember always appreciating it and putting it first in my life. However, it wasn’t until I went to seminary that I truly understood HOW to study the Bible. It was then that I began to understand what the words hermeneutics and exegesis truly meant. First and foremost, lets put all big words aside and make sure you pray before you begin your study. The Holy Spirit is the one who reveals the meaning behind each and every passage, so as you are studying make sure to ask him for guidance.
Hermeneutics: “Hermeneutics is a fancy word for interpretation. If you’re interested in understanding the Bible on a deeper level, you might want to try hermeneutics.”
Exegesis: “Exegesis comes from the Greek word for interpret and it’s often used in connection with the Bible.”
So, what is the difference between hermeneutics and exegesis?
Andy Naselli, a writer for LogosTalk says, “… Hermeneutics concerns principles of interpretation (i.e., it’s about how the interpretive process works), and exegesis applies those principles. Hermeneutics supplies the tools to discover a text’s meaning, and exegesis uses those tools.”
When studying the Bible, it is important to consider the context, history, and application.
CONTEXT: The number one piece of advice that I would give when you begin your hermeneutical study of the Bible is to start to see the Bible as a WHOLE and then piece by piece. We cannot understand a smaller chunk of Scripture until we have read the context. It is so easy to take Scripture out of context if we don’t first start by reading the whole chapter or book that it is in. For example: I try to first skim the whole book of Luke before I begin reading specific sections. Just like you wouldn’t start reading in the MIDDLE of a story to your kids, you can take things out of context if you don’t know what the story is about.
HISTORY: My next piece of advice is to try and study the historical context of the day. Some questions to ask are: What was society like back then? What kind of implications did the words Jesus say have for his followers? What were there jobs like back then? What were there lives like? How did this affect them? What was the author trying to communicate by saying it like that?
APPLICATION: how does this passage apply to ME today? How can I take the historical and cultural context of the day and apply this to me today?
Here are 3 steps I follow when studying Scripture:
Step 1: Observation
Seminary gave me a clear skeleton that I use to ask the RIGHT kind of questions when I am studying the Bible. In the Observation Section they have you write down your observations with very specific guidelines. Here are a few examples:
- Who? What? When? Where?: Who wrote this? What were they doing? When did this happen? Where were they going? Etc.
- Cause and Effect: What was the cause, and what is the effect of this passage? If this happens, then what happens next?
- Question and Answers: Who is asking the question, and who is answering it? Example: Jesus is asking a question to the Pharisees. The Pharisees answer.
- Contrasts: This one is comparing the differences between different things in a passage. Example: In the story of the prodigal son you could contrast the way the Father responded to the returning son and then the way that the elder brother responded to his return.
- Repetition: Is a word repeated again and again in scripture? In Mark the word, “immediately” is used over and over. What can I draw from the number of uses and what does this say about the passage?
Step 2: Interpretation
Interpretation is where you can begin to draw conclusions from the text. Do not immediately jump to applying it but instead try to understand where the author or characters are coming from and what it means for them.
Step 3: Application
Application is simple. What are you going to DO about these truths? What are some action steps you can take based on what you have read in the passage?
To learn more about studying the Bible, check out these books: