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Too much Bible study begins and ends in the wrong place: It begins with Interpretation, and it also ends there. But we’ve learned that you don’t start with the question, What does this mean? but rather, What does this say? Furthermore, you don’t end the process by asking, What does this mean? by rather, How does this work?
Howard Hendricks, Living by the Book
Howard Hendricks wrote Living By the Book to make Bible reading a less mysterious process and show us how people can go through the process of reading the Bible well and being changed by it. This little series is largely based on his book. Over the next few weeks we’ll occasionally have a “How to Study the Bible 101” post to outline a few of the basics.
If it’s something you want learn more about, reading Living By the Book would be a great starting point. He has really helpful charts and illustrations and gives some exercises to practice what you’re learning.
1. Observation: What do I see?
The more you observe the more accurate your interpretation will be and the more clearly you will see how to apply the text to your life.
How much can you see in one verse? Well, Hendricks had his first year seminary students look at Acts 1:8 and make observations on just that one verse. Over the years he compiled a master list of all the unique observations people made and his list included over 600 unique observations! Even if it’s a familiar verse, look again for something new that you never noticed about it before.
Spend time just observing the text. Ask questions: Who is talking? What kind of literature is this (a story? a letter? history? poetry?) What did he say? What do “these things” refer to? Who is he writing to? If it’s a group, what kind of diversity is in the group? Perhaps in a letter to a church, some may be mature believers but not everyone who attends is convinced that Jesus is worth following. Are different sections of the letter aimed at addressing different segments of the group?
2. Interpretation: What does it mean?
God gave us his word to communicate with us. It has meaning. And it matters what it means, because it matters what God wants to communicate to us. So we use everything we noticed in the observation stage to try and answer as accurately as possible, What did the authors mean when they wrote it? And we need to ask that question before we can ask, What does this mean to us today?
3. Application: How does this work?
Hendricks said, “The Bible was not written to satisfy your curiosity; it was written to transform your life.”
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