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.
Christ-follower, husband, dad, friend & the Senior Pastor of Hardy Street Baptist Church.