How to Study a Bible Passage

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 sound principles of Biblical interpretation that, when followed, will help us to be able to more properly understand and apply God’s word.  A fuller explanation of these principles is given in the two messages indicated, on October 21, 2012 (“How to Study a Bible Passage”) and October 28, 2012 (“Understanding the Meaning of a Text”).  These messages are available on the Video Messages page.

Click here for a PDF version of this outline.


How to Study a Bible Passage

(Based on messages preached by Jim Moelk on October 14 & 21, 2012, which were adapted from messages from Rick Warren’s, “40 Days in the Word.”)

1. What does it say?

Not what does it mean, but in plain English, do you understand what is being said?


2. 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.


3. What does it mean today?

What are the fundamental principles or timeless truths that would carry over to today?


4. What does it mean for me?

What am I going to do about it?
Pronounce – Picture – Probe – Paraphrase – Personalize – Pray


Some recommended resources:

▸ NIV Study Bible or Life Application Study Bible


Click here for a PDF version of this outline.