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If you want to get more out of Bible study, it helps to know what you're looking for. Use the following list of questions to help guide you in your search of Scripture. You probably won't use every question for each passage you study, but at least they provide a good starting point. The more completely you can answer these questions, the better you will observe God's truth, which then provides a strong foundation for interpretation and application.
Who is the author of the passage? Whom is the author addressing? (God's people? A specific church? Unbelievers?) What is the most important term and/or concept of the passage? What are the main verbs? What are the tenses of those verbs? Are there terms you need to define so you can better understand the passage? Are there people or places you need to identify? What do you already know about the people and places mentioned? Can you identify any cause-effect relationships in the author's writing? In what ways does the passage apply to your own personal life? (If there isn't an obvious application, is there a more subtle one?) What things from this passage might you want to study later in further detail?
You might want to make a copy of this page to place in each of the Bibles you use.
TODAY'S PASSAGE: Psalm 93:1
TIME COMMITMENT: 30 minutes
"Remember, in Observation your main concern is, What do I see? Pay special attention to terms and grammatical structure. Also look at the context" (p. 65).
Let's try observing Psalm 93:1. Since we're choosing a psalm, the context of what comes before and afterward may not be as important as in a narrative passage. However, the more you read the psalms, the better you can detect similarities and contrasts.
But for now let's turn our attention to this single verse:
"The Lord reigns, He is clothed with majesty; the Lord has clothed and girded Himself with strength; indeed, the world is firmly established, it will not be moved."
Begin by going through the questions on the "Observing a Passage of Scripture" sheet (p. 15). Not all of them will apply, of course. But note the present tense of the verbs. If the psalmist wrote in present tense, does that mean the verse is now past tense? _______________________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________
What would you say is the main theme of this verse? _______________________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________
Forget about religious language for a moment. What then comes to mind when you think about a "lord"? _______________________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________
In addition to the questions already provided, here are a few additional things to observe to get you started:
What words or phrases are repeated? Why do you suppose they are so emphasized? __________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________
God is described by the terms "majesty" and "strength." What connection, if any, do these terms have? (Does one necessarily suggest the other?) __________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________
Why did the author suddenly move from describing "the Lord" to writing about "the world"? __________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________ We all know the earth is turning on its axis. So what does it mean that the world "will not be moved"? __________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________
Does this verse evoke any positive feelings for you? __________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________ Might this verse cause less positive emotions for some people (fear, anxiety, etc.)? __________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________
What other observations can you make from this single verse? _______________________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________
TODAY'S PASSAGE: 1 John 3:12
TIME COMMITMENT: 30 minutes
"Whenever you study any verse of Scripture, be sure to place it in its context. See it both in terms of what goes before and what follows" (p. 58).
First John 3:12 should provide ample opportunity for you to practice your observation skills. Here is the verse, with space provided for your notations:
"not as Cain, who was of the evil one, and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother's were righteous."
Here are a few suggestions:
Again, begin by using the questions on the "Observing a Passage of Scripture" sheet (p. 15). This time you should find more significance in the author, the context, and the people mentioned. (Regarding context, any time a verse begins in midsentence, you have a clear mandate to take note of what precedes it.) __________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________ Read the story the writer refers to (Genesis 4:1-16). What new insight does this shed on the verse? __________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________ Determine why this verse is dropped into the center of a chapter focusing on God's love. __________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________
Try to think of examples in your own life in which you see a contrast between righteous and evil actions and the consequences that result. __________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________
When, in your own life, have you acted as Cain did (to a lesser extent)? When have you suffered as Abet did? How does this verse speak to each of those situations?
What other observations can you make about this verse? _______________________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________
TODAY'S PASSAGE: (See below)
TIME COMMITMENT: 30 minutes
"It helps to read the Bible in different versions. If you've been reading the same translation for years, try something fresh and contemporary for a change" (p. 69).
Today's assignment might require a trip to the library or a nearby Christian bookstore. Or perhaps you can borrow some Bibles from friends or your church. But be prepared to find several different translations/paraphrases of the Bible to read and compare.
One of the best ways to read the Bible as for the first time is to look up portions of Scripture that are most familiar to you. But if you don't have a particular passage in mind, try one or more of the following:
The creation story (Genesis 2:4-25)
A prophecy about the coming Messiah (such as Isaiah 9:6-7)
The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12)
Paul's conversion (Acts 9:1-19)
Select one or more passages and read the same account from four different Bible versions. Some readings are likely to be quite similar. But if you contrast the King James Version with The Living Bible, for example, be prepared for a significant difference. In each case, try to put aside what you already know and let the text speak to you freshly, as if it were the first time you were reading it.
any discoveries or insights in the space below. _______________________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________________________
TODAY'S PASSAGE: Luke 15:11-32
TIME COMMITMENT: 30 minutes
"It is often said that familiarity breeds contempt. Well, something else it breeds is ignorance. The moment you come to a passage of Scripture and say, 'Oh, I know this one already,' you're in trouble. Instead you need to come to every text as if you'd never seen it before in your life" (p. 69).
Frequently the passages that are most in danger of being overlooked are those that are most familiar. So let's take a look at one of the best-known portions of the Bible: the parable of the prodigal soil. It's found in Luke 15:11-32.
Read the parable as if you were an eight-year-old hearing the story for the first time. What questions or comments would you have? _______________________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________
Read it again from the following perspectives, each time noting the questions you might be likely to ask:
A person from a foreign country (and different religious culture) hearing this story for the first time __________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________
A person who is skeptical about the authority of the Bible __________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________
A parent whose child has rebelled and left home __________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________ Someone who has allowed the harsh situations of life to distance him or her from God __________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________
As you read through the eyes of these various people, the text might reveal a number of fresh insights you had not yet noticed. _______________________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________
TODAY'S PASSAGE: Isaiah 55
TIME COMMITMENT: 30 minutes
"The way to come to the Word of God [is to] read it as though it were His love letter to you" (p. 71).
Sometimes we perceive the writings of the prophets to be some of the least "loving" of the Scriptures. The prophets brought messages from God, and much of what they had to say pointed to what people could expect as the consequences of their sins. But God also sprinkled the prophetic books with promises and reasons for confident hope among His people.
Isaiah wrote to alert the people of Judah that they would eventually be taken into captivity by the Babylonians. Much of what he had to say was harsh, direct, and to the point. But equally to the point was what they could expect beyond their captivity.
Put yourself in the place of someone who had been carried away by an enemy army, or left amid the ruins of a once-grand city. You would remember that Isaiah had warned about such a future, but you might also recall something else. Your world is crumbling around you as you locate a scroll containing Isaiah 55. Read the text, then consider the following questions.
How would you feel upon reading this passage, in light of your present sufferings? __________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________
What would this text tell you about God? __________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________ What would be your attitude about the future? __________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________
As you look back to see God's involvement with His people in the past, what can you determine about your own future? _______________________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________
Assignment for another day:
It's a simple matter to note the depth of God's love in such passages as Isaiah 55. A greater challenge is to learn to detect His love in passages that forecast judgment and suffering. However, if God's nature does not change, wouldn't it be true that God's discipline of sin is motivated by love just as is His outpouring of blessing? The next time you read a somber passage of Scripture, try to determine how God's love is active even during such times.
CH7[ Reading the Bible as a Love Letter
TODAY'S PASSAGE: John 3:16-17
TIME COMMITMENT: 30 minutes
"Just think of it: God wanted to communicate with you in the twenty-first century-and He wrote His message in a Book" (p. 72).
Surely the most quoted Scripture reference about God's love is John 3:16. Yet it can be interpreted quite impersonally if we don't get specific about it. Below is John 3:16-17:
"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him."
Instead of thinking about "the world," let's get personal and substitute some specific names. In order to do so, here's the verse again with some blanks. It's up to you to fill in the blanks with the names that follow.
"For God so loved _____, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son to _____ to judge _____, but that _____ might be saved through him."
Try substituting some of these names into the previous passage:
Your boss A difficult child A neighbor A coworker Someone at church Someone from your past Your spouse Your own name A personal enemy
Do you think God's love for the previous people is any more or less than it is for you? Explain. _______________________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________
If you were to see other people as God sees them, do you think you would need to make changes in any of your relationships? Why? _______________________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________________________
If you personalize John 3:16-17, the passage takes on a much more intimate feel. The same is true about many other portions of the Bible. If the love of God toward us is not clearly evident, we're probably not looking hard enough.
Excerpted from LIVING BY THE BOOK by Howard G. Hendricks William D. Hendricks Copyright © 2007 by Howard G. Hendricks William D. Hendricks. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Part 1: Observation
1. Observing a Passage of Scripture
2. Observing a Verse (Psalm 93:1)
3. Observing a Verse (1 John 3:12)
4. Reading the Bible as for the First Time
5. Reading the Bible as for the First Time (Luke 15:11-32)
6. Reading the Bible as a Love Letter (Isaiah 55)
7. Reading the Bible as a Love Letter (John 3:16-17)
8. Reading Thoughtfully (Genesis 5:21-31; 7:11)
9. Reading Thoughtfully (Luke 17:11-19)
10. Reading Repeatedly (Exodus 20:1-21)
11. Reading Repeatedly (Romans 5)
12. Reading Patiently
13. Reading Selectively (Genesis 11:27-12:9)
14. Reading Selectively (Matthew 2:1-12; Luke 2:1-40)
15. Reading Prayerfully (Jonah 2)
16. Reading Prayerfully (Ephesians 3)
17. Reading Imaginatively (Daniel 6)
18. Reading Imaginatively (John 2:1-11)
19. Reading Meditatively (2 Samuel 6:1-8)
20. Reading Meditatively (Romans 8:28-39)
21. Reading Purposefully (Jeremiah 38)
22. Reading Purposefully (Colossians 1:15-29)
23. Reading Acquisitively
24. Reading Telescopically
24. Reading Telescopically (Lamentations 3:22-33)
25. Reading Telescopically (Hebrews 12:1-13)
26. Working with a Paragraph (Jonah 4:5-8)
27. Working with a Paragraph (2 Corinthians 4:7-12)
28. Looking for Things That Are Emphasized (Proverbs 31:10-31)
29. Looking for Things That Are Emphasized (Luke 15)
30. Looking for Things That Are Repeated (Joshua 1)
31. Looking for Things That Are Repeated (Romans 7:7-25)
32. Looking for Things That Are Related (Numbers 21:4-9)
33. Looking for Things That Are Related (John 3:1-21)
34. Looking for Things That Are Alike (Isaiah 66:1-16)
35. Looking for Things That Are Alike (Matthew 23:23-39)
36. Looking for Things That Are Unlike (Numbers 13:25-14:31)
37. Looking for Things That Are Unlike (Acts 4:32-5:11)
38. Looking for Things That Are True to Life (1 Kings 11)
39. Looking for Things That Are True to Life (2 Timothy 1)
40. Working with a Segment of Scripture
41. How to Study a Section of Scripture
42. Making a Start with Your Chart
43. Working with a Segment of Scripture (Exodus 7-12)
44. Working with a Segment of Scripture (Revelation 2-3)
Part 2: Interpretation
45. Why Do We Need Interpretation?
46. Aids to Interpretation
47. Hazards to Avoid
48. Literary Genres of the Bible
49. Examining the Content (Habakkuk 3:17-19)
50. Looking for Context (Habakkuk 3:17-19)
51. Making Relevant Comparisons (Habakkuk 3:17-19)
52. Considering the Culture (Habakkuk 3:17-19)
53. Doing Further Consultation (Habakkuk 3:17-19)
54. Coming to Terms (Book of Habakkuk)
55. Figuring Out the Figurative
56. Figuring Out the Figurative (Judges 9:9-15)
57. Figuring Out the Figurative (Revelation 17)
Part 3: Application
58. Nine Questions to Ask
59. Asking the Right Questions (Ezekiel 33:1-10)
60. Asking the Right Questions (1 Thessalonians 5)
61. Truth That Transforms (Psalms 51)
62. Truth That Transforms (Hebrews 4:12-16)
63. A Transformed People (Exodus 31:1-11; 1 Kings 6)
64. A Transformed People (Ephesians 2:11-22)
65. The Process of Application (Ecclesiastes 3:1-14)
66. The Process of Application (Galatians 5:16-26)
67. Customized Christianity (Jeremiah 36)
68. Customized Christianity (Philippians 4:1-9)
69. Cultures in Context (Genesis 25:19-34; 27; 1-46)
70. Cultures in Context (Mark 1:21-45)
71. Stating Principles from Scripture (Leviticus 16)
72. Stating Principles from Scripture (2 Peter 3)
73. A Process of Life-Change
Part 4: Putting It All Together
74. Book of Ruth
75. Book of James