Last week, we learned that every Christian is responsible for growing spiritually through Bible study besides discipleship, prayer, etc. Not only that, we’re responsible for ‘getting it right.’ Putting someone else in charge of our spiritual development without our involvement is a horrible idea! So, together, we’re going to explore how to study effectively and find tools to help. To start, here are a few principles basic principles I present in greater detail in my book Finding the End of the World.
Grammar. The essential grammar-related thing to remember is to match personal pronouns to proper names carefully. If the text is “He …” then find out who “he” is. Does the text state “this?” What is “this?”
Literal Approach (when possible). Unless there’s a good reason to believe that biblical writing should be taken symbolically or ignored, keep it as written. The Bible does a great job explaining most symbols, so look before deciding that something is symbolic or that the text should be ignored or ‘spiritualized.’
Figures of Speech. I’m an end-times author, so I understand how important it is to be aware of Jewish idioms (figures of speech). A great example of careless theology is claiming, as some do, that the “budding of the fig tree” of Matthew 24:32-33 forecasts Israel’s becoming a nation in 1948. Here’s the text:
“Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door.
Jesus is just telling His and subsequent disciples that “when you see the signs I mentioned, your redemption will follow.” It’s like another saying He made in the same context (Matthew 24:28): “Where there are vultures, dead bodies are near.” In summary, it’s a “when you see this thing, you will also see that thing” idiom (saying).
Contexts. Make sure that you consider verses within paragraphs within chapters within books. Always keep text in its ‘home’ to keep the intended meaning alive. And, answer these fundamental questions:
“Who is the author?”
“Who is the intended audience?”
“What was the author’s purpose in writing?”
“If addressing a problem, what was it?”
Consider the timeframe and culture. And, remember that some biblical text is prescriptive (e.g., a commandment – something you must do). Some text is descriptive, something that may not apply to you (as in descriptions of cultural challenges Paul often addressed in letters, biblical histories, etc.). We can sometimes benefit from using descriptive stuff, though.
In summary, be diligent Bible detectives through proper techniques, watching for symbols and figures of speech, and keeping contexts. Why? To understand the single, intended meaning (one meaning, many possible applications!). Next week, we’ll continue our journey by exploring examples of theology-gone-bad through flawed Bible study.
Blessings and peace,