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All Studying the Bible

Our Guide on How to Study the Bible

Author: Charles Hegwood, M.Div., Contributing Author for Foundations by ICM

 

How to Study the Bible

So, you have decided to start studying the Bible? Or perhaps you are a seasoned pro looking to further sharpen your skills? For whatever reason at all, you have decided to read God’s Word, reading is the first and most important step. This brings up the question, “How do I study the Bible?” Well, you have maybe heard of the S.W.O.R.D method, FA.I.T.H., R.E.A.P., H.E.A.R., and on and on they go. There are enough Bible study methods out there to make your head spin. So many options can leave us paralyzed. Yes, that’s right. Too many options can leave you spending more time trying to figure out which method to use than reading the Bible itself. What I want to do is to boil these methods down to their core and get back to the reason we have made so many of these methods, to begin with; actually reading the Bible. When we read Scripture we want to hit these three areas: observation, interpretation, and application. Let’s take a look at each one of these components of reading the Bible while looking at Joshua 3.

 

Observation

So recently I taught a lesson on Joshua 3. I want to use this passage as our example as we look at how to study the Bible. When I begin the observation stage I first look at what genre of Scripture I am reading. Noting the genre will help in correct interpretation and application. Some books of the Bible have different genres within them. Joshua 3 is a narrative. Now that I have noted the genre I want to read through the chapter. Then I want to read it again slowly. Why? Well, there are no points for speed reading Scripture. In fact, if we read fast there is a danger of missing key details hidden within the passage. Since this particular passage is narrative, we may want to ask some questions like, “who is talking?” We see that in Joshua 3 God is talking with Joshua and Joshua then talks to Israel.

Now as we read through the passage slowly, we want to note details. First, observe the big details. What is the context? Well, here it is Israel about to cross into the promised land. They had been rebellious in the past and now are in a change in leadership and geographical location. You also want to notice little details such as Joshua 3:15 where we will get some detail on what the Jordan River does in harvest season. Spoilers, it overflows its banks. This detail is not trivial to the story. Sometimes I make mental notes of these details and sometimes I write them down.

We want to ask questions about the text as well. This may seem counterintuitive to some, but it is okay to ask questions when reading the Bible. One of the questions that I had was: ‘why does Joshua note the detail of the Jordan River’s seasonal overflowing?’ This seems to be a trivial detail but it actually will help us build our interpretation. Ask questions about what, how, and why things are in the text. Why does God ask the priest in Joshua 3 to step into the water before it parts? Note any words you do not understand. It may help to look at another translation or a dictionary. Like the word “consecrate” for example. It is not a word we use much in everyday life.  Ask questions even if you know the answer again because it helps us to get to the overall meaning of the text.

Before we move on to interpretation, let us have a word about words. One thing I do when I observe a text is take note of the words used. For example, when you see ‘so that’ this phrase is a purpose clause. Conjunctions tell us there is a change in the story or pros. I personally like to underline or highlight these words in my Bible. That way next time I read a passage I can observe quicker the textual details, words, and phrases. Before moving on from words, observe repeated words or phrases. Words are repeated for a reason. Observing word usage as well as all that was mentioned above will help us in the next section, interpretation.

 

Interpretation

Following observations made in Joshua chapter 3, we now want to begin to interpret these observations. Israel is in a time of transition of leadership (Moses to Joshua) and geography (wilderness to promised land). They are scared, they have sinned. So Joshua tells them to “consecrate themselves” or make themselves holy before God. God tells Joshua to tell the priest to step into the river holding the ark of the covenant and then the waters will part. We observe that it may require some faith to step into the water. And we must observe that the ark of the covenant represented God’s presence for the people of Israel. Interpretation is connecting the dots. God is calling the people of Israel to faith. After all, remember the Jordan river is overflowing its banks at this time in the story. This is a tactical nightmare. And yet that is the point. Joshua will not lead Israel across the river on his intuition of tactical genius, but instead completely reliant on God’s power to do what God has asked.

Now we have locked in on the theme of faith we may interpret that God is calling His people to have faith in Him to do what He has called them to do. The previous sentence is the main idea by the way. But it is not blind faith, instead faith that is preceded by God’s presence. See how I took all of the observations and plugged them in to find the theme and then the interpretation of a seemingly odd, unimportant story becomes knowable and important to the life of Israel and to our lives today. But we are not yet done. We must now work to apply the interpretation to our lives.

 

Application

This step is perhaps the most difficult. It is easy to be too generic here. Such as Joshua 3, have faith in God, the end. But that is not really application. In your personal study, this is the part that might take you hours to suss out. Yes, that is right. It is a process. Just like we did not want to rush observation, we do not want to rush the application. I personally will read, observe, interpret and then pray. I meditate on the text as I go about my day. This allows God to let His word seep into my soul. Take your time.

Write out big applications; for example, Joshua 3, “have faith in God to do his will.” And ask specifics like, “where is my faith lacking in God in certain areas of my life.” But wait, there’s more. Then ask, “Where am I seeing God’s presence in my life right now. And how is do I see His presence in that area.” Application is personal and can change as your life changes around you. For example, God is leading my family and I into a new place and ministry. There are a lot of fears. And fear can lead to disobedience. God has called my family to trust in Him to do what He has led us to do. God has promised to go before me. I have the works of Christ behind me and all around me. God is calling me to trust in light of who He is. I must step forward into these next steps trusting He will carry me and my family through. See now that is personal. I could go on but time and space will not allow it, but you can see how it is personal and my next step in application is to make specific steps and things to do. Application is a process that takes time and prayer.

Just make sure that your applications are always tied to the main idea and interpretation of the text. If your application seems untethered from the passage then you need to go back and repeat the above steps.

Let me end with this: We observe the text so that we may better interpret the text. Once we have observed and interpreted we must now apply it to our lives. There are different levels of application. You saw that above. We whittle the broad application down over time and through thinking on what we have read. Reading the Bible is not easy, but it is always worth it and rewarding. Take your time, saturate every moment in prayer, and think about what you have observed, interpreted, and applied throughout the day. After all, it is not a to-do list item but a time of communion with the King of all Creation. He promises to meet us in His Word and through prayer. Go and read and find yourself in the presence of the King.

 

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All Studying the Bible

Does it Matter What Bible Translation I Read?

Author: Patrick Krentz Th.M., Managing Editor for Foundations by ICM

 

There are over 100 different English translations1 of the Bible. That’s a daunting number if you think about it. That’s 100 different options to choose from – 100 different versions that one group or another thought was so necessary that they would spend years of arduous work producing. So, when you pull out your personal copy of Scripture, why do you have that version and not another. More importantly, why do you have that version, and does it matter that you read that one and not another.

Today’s blog will look into some of these issues and hopefully give you some confidence in your own selection. Let’s begin by talking about why there are so many translations, to begin with. Translations typically fall into one of three categories:

  1. Word-for-Word Translations
  2. Meaning-for-Meaning Translations
  3. Paraphrases

Before you decide what Bible translation to read, you should decide which of these categories will be most helpful to you and your personal study. Each has its own pros and cons.

 

Types of Translations

Word-for-Word

Word-for-Word translations seek to translate the original language into English as accurately as possible. They give great attention to grammar and word choice, ensuring that the English you read is as close as possible to the original words.

Pros: Word-for-Word translations are excellent for deep, intentional study, especially when it comes to word studies, grammatical context, and so on.

Cons: These translations can be difficult to read and understand. They can sometimes obscure the meaning of the text when a word or phrase is translated too literally.

Examples: NASB, ESV

Meaning-for-Meaning

Meaning-for-Meaning translations attempt to deliver in English the meaning of the original text as accurately as possible. In these translations, the words themselves and the grammar are not as important as the meaning.

Pros: These translations can be easier to read than Word-for-Word translations. They can also make the meaning of a passage clear when a more complex translation might make the meaning difficult to grasp.

Cons: The quality of the translation depends far more on the translation team and their understanding of Scripture. When you read one of these, you are reading someone’s interpretation of the meaning of a passage, which may or may not be accurate to the passage itself.

Examples: NIV

Paraphrase Bibles

Paraphrase Bibles are not true translations as they typically seek to restate the message of Scripture in unique ways. The Living Bible, for instance, uses the ‘in other words’ method of paraphrasing and worked from the American Standard Version from 1901 rather than from the original languages. The goal of a paraphrase is to make the message of scripture easier to understand.

Pros: A Paraphrase Bible is very easy to read. It can be considered a commentary on Scripture, which can be helpful for understanding the meaning of a difficult passage in the same way as reading a Bible commentary.

Cons: A Paraphrase is not Scripture and is not typically a translation; it is one person’s (or a group’s) comments on the meaning of Scripture. A Paraphrase should not be read in place of the Bible. It is tempting to read a Paraphrase because it is easy to read, but it should only be read alongside Scripture. A great way to use a Paraphrase is to read the Bible, then read the same passage in a Paraphrase (the same method for studying Scripture with a Bible Commentary).

Examples: The Living Bible, The Message

As you look over all the translations available on the bookstore shelf, you will find that the vast majority of them fall somewhere between Word-for-Word and Meaning-for-Meaning. There is a spectrum, or sliding scale, between the two.

 

Does It Matter?

To answer the question, “Does it matter what Bible translation I read?” – yes, it does matter. You will get a different experience with each version. But at the same time, nearly every major translation available today is excellent. If you are reading the NASB, ESV, NIV, NKJV, or many similar translations, you can have full confidence in what you are reading. In fact, there are benefits to reading multiple translations – doing so can help to highlight things you may not have noticed while reading just one version.

On the other hand, there are certainly translations that you should avoid. Many of the lesser used translations are created by groups that, for various reasons, insert a theological slant into the text. The New World Translation, for example, was created for Jehova’s Witness churches. It makes changes to several key passages that identify Christ as God. Others, such as the Queen James Bible,2 are explicitly designed to promote a certain interpretation.

Any Bible version that claims to represent a specific group, identity, culture, or even denomination should be avoided, while most versions that attempt to accurately represent the original text (regardless of the translator’s personal preferences) will make a fine choice.

In conclusion; yes, it matters what translation you read, but as long as you are reading one of the major translations you should have confidence.

 

1Depending on how you count them, you may come up with nearly 1000 if you count all versions of English translations since the year 1526. If you count only those translations you might find in a bookstore, the number is closer to 60. If you count all English translations in use somewhere in the world today, it’s close to 100.
2The editors of the Queen James Bible state in regard to the eight most notable verses that condemn homosexuality: “We edited those eight verses in a way that makes homophobic interpretations impossible.”

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All Prayer Studying the Bible

Reading the Bible Better: The Importance of Prayer

Author: Patrick Krentz Th.M., Managing Editor for Foundations by ICM

 

The Bible can be a bit intimidating. It’s huge, it’s ancient, and it’s inspired by the eternal God who made everything. How can we possibly understand it? Well, it is one of the great miracles of history that God has communicated His Word to us in a way that even children can get it. And He has made us a part of His Church, so we are not alone in the effort. So, let’s spend some time trying to understand how we can study Holy Scripture so that we might not only understand it, but be changed by it.

What makes the Bible so intimidating is also what makes it so approachable: it comes from God. This guarantees two things that we should always keep in mind: first, that it is inexhaustibly rich and full of meaning beyond anything we will ever know; but second, that God Himself desires to communicate to us in specific ways—ways we can understand and respond to. This means that, no matter who you are or how intelligent you may be, you will benefit from your study of Scripture, even if you study the same verses every day for the rest of your life. 

Now, if God desires for us to read and study His Word, we must come to it with certain expectations and follow certain rules in order to get the most out of our study. The first and most important rule is described in 1 Corinthians 2:14, where Paul tells us that “a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” If we rely solely on our own, natural wisdom to understand God’s Word, which was breathed out by His Spirit according to 2 Timothy 3:16, it will seem to us a very foolish thing. We who are in Christ study Scripture in order to pursue God and deepen our relationship to Him. Therefore, we must rely on His Spirit, active in us, to fully comprehend and engage with His Word.

All of this is to say that, even before you read your Bible, begin your study with prayer. Ask the Spirit of God to do for you exactly what Jesus promised that He would do. Jesus tells us in John 14:26 that “the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” So, before you sit down to read Scripture, pray and ask God to teach you. Ask Him to help you understand what you read, to see new things that you’ve never seen before, and to understand and obey God as a result of what you read. 

Now, let’s take this understanding and apply it to an effective Bible Study method—inductive Bible Study.

Step 1: Observe the Text

The first step in a good inductive Bible study method is to observe the text. This means that you simply read the passage of Scripture, sometimes more than once, and make note of everything that stands out to you. Make note of what the passage tells you about God—who He is and what He wants. Make note of what it tells you about humanity—who we are, both as children of God and as sinful creatures. Finally, make note of any commands you see in the passage—how we are to respond to God. 

So far, this can all be done easily according to human wisdom, and it doesn’t require a relationship with God to do it. To transform your reading time from a book study to a devotional time of worship, take your observations and pray them back to God. Say anything that you find amazing or praiseworthy about Him. Remember, God loves to hear His own words spoken back to Him in praise and thanksgiving, so pray Scripture back to God. Then, tell God what you see about humanity, and about yourself, in the passage. You may see your own sin and shortcomings in the passage, so take time to confess. And finally, respond to any commands you see, telling God how you will obey, or confessing the difficulty you have with the command. 

When you respond to Scripture in this way, you are engaging with the God who is there; the very real and present God who indwells you by His Spirit if you are a believer, and who is the author of the words you are reading. You are no longer merely reading words printed on paper, you are conversing with your Creator who loves you and wants you to know Him. The next two steps fall in line with this:

Step 2: Interpret the Text 

After you have observed what is in the text, you can interpret its meaning. Sometimes the meaning will be clear, but there is often meaning beyond the surface. Other times you may have no clue what it means. Here, especially, prayer is needed. Ask God to help you understand His Word by His Spirit. God will certainly respond to the humble prayer, as James 1:5 says, “but if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” 

You will not likely experience an immediate flash of understanding. This will involve learning from others in your church community. It may be a long process of reading the Bible, wrestling with its content, and asking for clarity from people you can trust, but the Spirit of God will teach you according to His Word. The goal is not mere understanding. The Word is meant to change us, and that is why we also need step 3:

Step 3: Apply the Text 

Finally, you should look to apply what you have learned from Scripture and heard from God. If there were any direct commands in the passage you studied, this part is easy because it will be quite clear what you need to do. If your observation did not reveal an obvious application, ask God how He would like you to respond to what you’ve read. In either case, you can tell God how you want to obey His Word, what steps you will take, and that you need His help in doing so. And in every case, obedience means sharing what you have learned with others. 

Now, if you approach Scripture in this way, you will begin to see your Bible study time as a divine appointment; a meeting with Almighty God. Rather than sitting down with a boring, confusing book that you know you’re supposed to read, you can see that reading the Bible is like sitting down for a rich and engaging conversation with a friend who loves you, and a teacher who cares for you. This kind of study does not just inform you; it changes you.