3 Steps to Understanding and Applying the Bible – a Brief Overview!
There are many ways we can study the Bible but one of the most helpful ways involves three simple steps: Observation, interpretation and application.
Observation asks the question: what does the passage say? Interpretation asks the question: what does the passage mean? Application asks the question: what am I going to do about what the passage says and mean?
Let’s look at the 3 steps to understanding and applying the Bible individually!
Observation is the first step in understanding and applying the Bible. This is where we ask and answer the question: what do I see? By investigating what we see in the passage, we will understand what the passage is saying. What are we looking for when we read and investigate the passage of Scripture?
We are looking for key words and phrases. Key words and phrase will help us understand what the original author was communicating to his audience.
We are looking for structure. There is first grammatical structure. We communicate through words and phrases in sentences. The sentence is the basic building block of language. A sentence usually has a subject, verb and object. When we read the Bible, we need to read it with grammar in mind. What is the subject of the sentence? What is the object? What is the verb or action word? Grammatical structure will help us understand what the original author was communicating to his audience.
There is also literary structure. Literary structure helps us understand what the passage is saying. In Romans 11:1, a question is put forward. The apostle Paul answers that question in the remainder of chapter eleven. Literary structure involves questions and answers, climax and resolution or cause and effect.
We are looking for literary form. It is important that we understand the genre of each book in the Bible. Hebrew poetry is different to didactic literature in the epistles. Narrative is different to apocalyptic literature in revelation.
We are looking for atmosphere. Atmosphere is about the setting and feelings within the passage. Atmosphere is like putting yourself in the author’s shoes. Paul said rejoice in the Lord but where was he when he said this?
Observation leads to interpretation. Here we ask: what does it mean? What was the author trying to convey to his original audience? This is where you become a detective. You ask and answer questions of the passage.
When you ask questions beware of the context – the immediate context and the broader context. You can answer most questions by reading the text within it context. Also beware of the writer’s cultural context. If you are struggling to understand the context, consult a commentary for help or cross-reference the text of Scripture.
Observation and interpretation lead to application. Application answers two questions: what does this have to say to me and what does this have to say to others? When you answer these two questions, you will need to look at how to put it into practice.
These 3 steps to understanding and applying the Bible form a Bible study method that will enhance your reading of the Scriptures. You can keep it simple if you are a beginner and you can expand it as your abilities expand.
Hendricks Howard G and William D. Hendricks, 1991, Living By The Book, Moody Press, Chicago.
Zuck Roy B. 1999, Basic Bible Interpretation: A Practical Guide To Discovering Biblical Truth, Chariot Victor Publishing, Colorado Springs, Colorado.