We started out with simple observation... Reading the text and asking, "What does it say?"
Hopefully you've taken time to look at the "letter from war" in the last blog post and asked some investigative questions... If so then you are well on your way to appreciating the steps to inductive study. Reading the letter itself begins to help you gain perspective on the setting (context) the relationships (sender and recipient) and the reason for writing. All of those things come to bear on the second step: Interpretation.
Step 2: Interpretation (What does it mean?)
Interpretation is discovering the meaning of a passage, the author’s main thought or idea. Answering the questions that arise during observation will help you in the process of interpretation. Five clues (called “the five C’s”) can help you determine the author’s main point(s):
● Context. You can answer 75 percent of your questions about a passage when you read the text. Reading the text involves looking at the near context (the verse immediately before and after) as well as the far context (the paragraph or the chapter that precedes and/or follows the passage you’re studying and the book).
For example, if you were reading John 3:16 - the near context would be John 3 which would help you understand that this statement is in the middle of a conversation about eternal life.
The far context would include the entire book of John and its purpose. In John 20:31, we learn the purpose of the book - but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. This sheds light on Jesus' statement in John 3:16!
● Cross-references. Let Scripture interpret Scripture. That is, let other passages in the Bible shed light on the passage you are looking at. At the same time, be careful not to assume that the same word or phrase in two different passages means the same thing.
● Culture. The Bible was written long ago, so when we interpret it, we need to understand it from the writers’ cultural context.
● Conclusion. Having answered your questions for understanding by means of context, cross-reference, and culture, you can make a preliminary statement of the passage’s meaning. Remember that if your passage consists of more than one paragraph, the author may be presenting more than one thought or idea.
● Consultation. Looking to other Bible scholar's study notes (commentaries) can help you interpret Scripture, but this should be the last step in the process. Allow the Holy Spirit to guide you in the process and then consult other pastors, scholars, & writers to see if you came to the same conclusions.
One of the most important things a growing Christian can do is learn to study the Bible for themselves!
Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law. Psalm 119:18
Before you begin, PRAY! Studying the Bible is not an intellectual exercise, but rather a supernatural-spiritual experience. You should never open you Bible without prayer first. Jesus said "But 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 things that I said to you" (John 14:26).
Pray to the Father, in your own words, for Him to be an active part of your study and for the Holy Spirit to be your teacher!
The process of studying Scripture can be boiled down to three steps:
Over the next few weeks, I'll dive into each of these steps... and hopefully guide you to a greater confidence in studying the Word on your own!
STEP ONE: OBSERVATION
When we begin to observe the text, we are asking a simple question: "What Do I See?"
Observation moves from the general to the specific, investigating the facts in a passage.
1. Read the text carefully, prayerfully, repeatedly...
Think of this as investigation and you are a detective... so ask lots of questions:
Who are the characters involved? (Who is writing & to whom is it written?)
What are they writing about? (subject matter gives great clues for understanding)
When are they writing? (timeframe helps establish understanding)
Where are they writing? (from and to) Geography helps establish relationships
Why are they writing? (what is the purpose)
Here's a practical exercise... Read the letter below and then ask and answer the who, what, when, where, why questions. Once you've developed an investigative eye of "OBSERVATION", you are well on your way to feeding yourself!
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Hi Dad - Christmas greetings from Afghanistan. Thanks for the socks and Mom's cookies. The guys loved them. In answer to your question, we continue to go out on patrols almost every day. We still can't tell the good guys from the bad guys. Some kid or woman can just as easily be carrying a bomb. Don't tell Mom--but we are nervous and scared all of the time. We don't want to kill someone innocent, but there is no way to know who the enemy is. Also if we make friends with the locals as the brass encourages us to do, some crazy local is just as likely to come along and kill them for being friendly to us. So being unfriendly is better and safer for them. We try to keep our spirits up, but it isn't always easy.
You remember Charlie who went to high school with me and got a college football scholarship. He kept talking about going back to college and winning the Heisman Trophy. Well yesterday he got his leg blown off by an IED. This was his third tour and he was due to go home next week. We hear that we all will be going home soon, but I guess not this Christmas. We can't believe there are some politicians saying that it's too soon and that we should stay longer. Let them have their own kids stay here a week and then see what they say. I bet if there was a draft this war would be over tomorrow. We've done everything we can. We have great pride and believe we can carry out any mission, but this just doesn't seem to be a winnable war. It's like that game Whac-A-Mole. You knock one down and ten more pop-up somewhere else.
I don't mean to worry you with all this. I am fine and know that I will be home soon. Give hugs and kisses all around to the family. I you’re hoping to enjoy a snowy Tennessee Christmas...If you want us to win this war and come home safe---have Mom send more cookies. Merry Christmas.
Christ-follower, husband, dad, friend & the Senior Pastor of Hardy Street Baptist Church.