- Begin with Prayer. Because you need God to help read, understand and obey His Word, implore the only One who can make your heart come alive to the truths of the Word of God. No amount of deep digging, natural intellect or time invested can replace the power of prayer before reading the Word. Pastor and Bible teacher, John Piper says, “The aim of our Bible reading is not just the response of the mind, but of the heart. The whole range of human emotions is possible responses to the meaning of the Bible. God gave us the Bible not just to inform our minds, but also to transform our hearts [and] our affections. God’s Word is honored not just by being understood rightly, but also by being felt rightly.” Praying Scripture transforms our mind, heart and affections. Psalm 119:12 teaches us to pray. Ask God to give you the desire to study, the eyes to see and the wonder and curiosity to dig deeply into His Word.
- See Details. At the heart of a good and observant reader are insatiable curiosity and diligence to look for details. Take notes to teach yourself to be an active and alert reader. Every word of Scripture reveals something about God. Take notice of words that are repeated, compared or contrasted, and emphasized to help grasp the meaning the author intended.
- Ask Questions. When approaching Scripture, get into the habit of asking childlike questions that pop into your mind. Why did the writer capitalize this word? Why does the author change tenses? What is the purpose of a comparison?
- Consider Context. Because the Bible has been translated into English and broken into chapters and verses, it is easy to forget the Bible was originally written by God through human authors who lived in a specific time in history. Keep these three contexts in mind: the historical context of the story—when and where it happened; the theological context of the story—where the story falls in history; and the literary context of the story—the genre of the story and its surrounding context.
- Let Scripture Interpret Scripture. The Bible is one unified story that points to Jesus Christ. When seeking to understand a passage, do not isolate a single verse from the whole story of the Bible. Piper recommends looking for connections throughout Scripture. He affirms, “We have to ask how the meaning we’re seeing in a passage fits together with other passages. Are there confirmations elsewhere in the Bible? Are there passages that seem contradictory or inconsistent?” Scripture cannot have a meaning that is contradictory to the meaning of another Scripture (2 Timothy 2:13b).
- Apply the Word. Interpretation answers the question: What did the author intend for the original audience to understand? Application answers the question: What does this text mean for my life? Applying the truth of God’s Word to your life will transform you to look more like Jesus. Study God’s Word to know Him and understand His ways. To be a person who gains wisdom and understanding, do not turn away from His Word (Proverbs 4:5). Understanding is only one goal. Hermeneutics professor Howard Hendricks says, “The mark of spiritual maturity is not how much you understand, but how much you use. In the spiritual realm, the opposite of ignorance is not knowledge but obedience.” Seek to understand so you can share God’s love with the world.
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