A Greatly Lacking Introduction to Studying Your Bible pt. 2
Okay, so I’ve read it a billion times in several translations. Now what?
This is part two of a general introduction to studying your Bible. If you missed part one be sure to read the first part before you dive into this second part. How you study the Word of God directly affects the way you live your life and the ability for you to discern right and wrong.
The Bible is a collection of books and the authors of these books utilize different genre’s to get their point across. Just like any other literature, the way we understand different genres is different from genre to genre. A poem is not a narrative and neither are a letter. I can’t cover all of the genre rules in this blog post; one because I don't know them and two because to give you good examples would take even more than I have already written. “A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible: Playing by the Rules” by Stein (aff) covers Biblical Narrative, Covenants and Laws, Poetry, Psalms, Proverbs, Prophecy, Idioms, Parables, Hyperbole, and Letters. I found online lectures given by Stein, based on his book that can be listen to for free and include talks on genre ( I have not personally listened to them). Here are a few websites that talk about how to understand different types of genre but nothing online that I found does as well as Stein’s book but I am sure there are plenty of other books that do a good job as well, I just have his book from a class I took.
For Romans, the genre is an epistle or letter and that draws your attention to different elements that are included in a letter just like how we write letters today, e.g a greeting. A letter may mean correspondence, like with 1 and 2 Corinthians we are only reading Paul’s letter not their response and there are other letters to them which we don't have.
Doing a word study is not merely looking up a word in the Bible that you’ve never heard before but finding out about what the word in the original language can mean. Huh? By using something called a lexicon in conjunction with a concordance you can find a word from your passage and see its definition, what part of speech it is, and how that word is used throughout the Bible, especially by that specific author. biblestudytools.com, biblehub.com, and blueletterbible.com all can help you conduct word studies. They all use Strong's numbers, which are from a concordance. Each word has a number applied to it so that we can see all the places that it is located in the Bible. By doing this for the word for “love” (Strong’s Number 25) in Romans 13:8, I found out that it appears 143 times in the NASB, is a verb, and is always translated as variations of the word love. I chose to research love because it is in Romans 13:8-10 five times. One of the five is not #25 but #26 which is a noun. Words that are repeated or words that are unclear are good words to look into.
Are we done yet? Nope: What it Means When.
This whole time we have been looking for what the passage meant back then: to the author and to the audience. Keeping with Romans 13:8-10 the research (more so the things I did not share in this blog) showed that there must have been an issue with the Christians in Rome having love for one another so Paul writes a letter to them walking them through how people are sinful, redemption comes through faith in Jesus, everyone is included, and because of these things we must have love. The main truth in Romans 13:8-10 is summarized by the statement that Paul was telling the believers in Rome that the answer was godly love to address any of their concerns about how to live in light of the existing Jewish Law. What it always means (Implications) is a universal truth from the text. This would be that a Christian’s actions should always stem from love for God and people. What it means to us (Significance) can change depending on the group of people that it is being applied to. Don’t misunderstand me, it still is deeply rooted in the implication and should not be incompatible with what it meant to the original audience. The application of owing love to people can be different for me, you, or a specific church because our mistakes can be different, but ultimately the truth of the text should bring us to about the same place. If I am just using and hurting people to get ahead I am not living a life that is required by the Christian life. Another popular example of meaning is to not be drunk with wine. If the author did not know about different mind altering drugs, he could not have meant them specifically, but the universal says that if the reason to not be drunk is because it has compromised us then it can be applied for us to also include other types of alcohol and other intoxicating substances (drugs).
Fill this out as you go:
Don’t just fill in one-word answers, say why this piece of information is important or matters. Put the answers in a document on your computer or in Evernote notes. If you do it on paper, I recommend digitizing it afterward so that you can have easier access to it in the future. The point is to keep the work you do. Half of the work is general for that book of the Bible so it’s smart to be able to refer back to it when you study a different passage in the same book. Don’t do work that you won’t remember and can’t refer back to in the future. You can add to the research in the future if you come across something you did not find the first time. Don’t think that you know everything after studying a passage once. Keep learning and don't get discouraged!
Location in the Book (book outline):
Keywords (ones you will study):
What it meant to the original audience:
What is always means:
What it means to me/ us:
Links to Bible Study Resources
For more on studying biblical literature check out "The critical study of biblical literature: exegesis and hermeneutics" on Britannica.