It is important to be able to properly distinguish at times between what the Bible says and what it means. For example, when Jesus said in Luke 14:26, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be My disciple,” didn’t He literally mean that true followers of His hate their parents, spouse and other family members? Of course not. He was using hyperbole (intentional exaggeration to make a point) to make the point that as followers of Christ, our love for Him must exceed and be in priority to all our other relationships. Strong words, but certainly not hateful ones!
The steps presented below offer some guidance which can be used as part of your reading and Biblical interpretation that, when followed, will help us to be able to more properly understand and apply God’s word for us.
How to Study a Bible Passage
1. What did it mean originally?
Bible cannot mean something different today than it did originally. The application may be different but the basic meaning will be the same. Consider:
• Immediate Biblical context – What is said before and/or after that aids in understanding?
• Linguistic context – Narrative, poetry, apocalyptic, etc.? Any metaphors, parables, hyperboles, etc.?
• Cultural/historical context – To whom is it being spoken and why? Explore any background information, beliefs, practices, customs, etc. relevant to the passage.
• Larger Biblical context – Interpret unclear passages with clear ones. What else does the Bible say that relates to this passage?
• Logical context – Look for the most obvious meaning first.
2. What does it mean today?
What are the fundamental principles or timeless truths that would carry over to today?
3. What does it mean for me?
What am I going to do about it? How will I live my life differently now that I have interacted with the words of Scripture?
When in doubt and when questions arise, seek the wise counsel of a Pastor or scholar who can help make the text make more sense for you and to you.
Some recommended resources:
▸ New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB): New Revised Standard Version; New Interpreter’s Study Bible; Jewish Study Bible (For Hebrew Bible/Old Testament)