How to Study the Bible

How to Study the Bible
A congregational tool, by Todd Wendorff

The goal of good Bible study is to learn what the Bible is saying and how it applies to your life.

  • “It is through applying the Word that God changes our lives.”
  • But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.” – James 1:22 (NLT)

Use the guidelines in this article to study God’s word for yourself. Once you know the passage you want to study simply observe, interpret, and apply. These three steps will get the Word into your life.

  1. Observe the passage by asking the question: What do I see?”
  2. Interpret the passage by asking the question: “What does it mean?”
  3. Apply the passage by asking the question: “What do I do?”

Just answer the questions as you study your passage.

SELECT A PASSAGE
Select 3-10 verses dealing with the same topic. Think about why you want to study this passage.

OBSERVE THE PASSAGE BY ASKING QUESTIONS
All observations are valuable. Write them down. Use the following list of questions as a guide.

  • Who is writing or speaking and to whom?
  • What is the passage about?
  • What are the commands?
  • What are the promises or cause/effect relationships?
  • What are the repeated words and ideas?
  • What problems were the recipients facing?
  • Where does this take place?
  • When does this take place?
  • Why does the speaker or author say/write what he does?
  • What do I learn about God?
  • What do I learn about Jesus?
  • What do I learn about the Holy Spirit?
  • What do I learn about me (or mankind)?

Write out any additional observations or insights from the passage. This may include contrasts, lists, comparisons, etc.

INTERPRET THE PASSAGE
WHAT IS THE “BIG IDEA” OF THE PASSAGE—YOUR THEME?
This can most readily be identified from the commands and the repeated words and ideas in the passage. Often there will be one command in the passage with several motivations.

In one phrase sum up the main thought of the passage. Make sure your theme is large enough in scope to include all the author is saying in the passage. It’s often the biggest point that is being made. It often requires you to step back and look at the passage as a whole.

ANSWER THE QUESTIONS YOU RAISED IN THE OBSERVATION STEP
Put your answers in the form of an outline. Take your main theme and break down the passage into sub points under the theme. These sub points form principles of life and ministry. A principle is defined as a timeless lesson in the way God works or is doing things in the world.

To develop each principle (each point in your outline) you will want to EXPLAIN IT (interpretation), ILLUSTRATE IT (from the Bible or personal examples of how this principle worked out both positively and negatively) and APPLY IT (not every point will have specific application). You may want to do this on a separate sheet of paper.

For example, you may be studying Luke 10:38-42, the passage about Jesus visiting the home of Martha and Mary.

The passage is about choosing what is best for your spiritual life. The author is saying that sitting at the feet of Jesus is best. Now, how does each verse fit into the theme? This is where interpretation comes in.

  • Martha is distracted by busyness. Busyness robs from our spiritual life.
  • Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus listening to Him. Sitting and listening to Jesus is always a priority in our spiritual lives. Jesus says make time to sit and listen.

STEPS TO INTERPRETING THE PASSAGE
To help you interpret the passage, answer like the ones listed below. Use as many or as few as you need to.

  • What are the meanings of the words?
  • What does the immediate context suggest? (preceding and succeeding verses)
  • What does the broader context suggest? (chapter and book)
  • What do other cross references suggest?
  • What is the cultural meaning? (What did it mean to those to whom it was originally addressed?)
  • What do commentaries suggest?

APPLY IT TO YOUR LIFE
This is where you purpose to do what God has taught you through bible study. (James 1:21-25, Matthew 7:24-27). It is through applying the Word that God changes our lives.

Application does not happen by osmosis, but by intent. God enlightens us from the Word, we enact the application with our wills, and the Holy Spirit empowers us to carry out these choices. It is usually best to concentrate on applying one principle at a time. The goal of all application is to glorify God by becoming more like Jesus.

2 Timothy 3:16—”All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for:

  1. TEACHING: What did I learn?
  2. REPROOF: Where do I fall short? Why do I fall short?
  3. CORRECTION: What will I do about it?
  4. TRAINING IN RIGHTEOUSNESS: How can I make this principle a consistent part of my life?

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Copyright 2003 by Todd Wendorff [ from Christianity Today online ]

Asking Jesus Into Your Heart?

There has been some controversy recently about whether Christian salvation is a matter of asking Jesus to come in to your heart. The problem with this phrase is that it is not  biblical.

  • The Bible doesn’t mention Jesus coming into a person’s heart.
  • The idea of Jesus entering a person’s heart is nowhere used in any gospel presentation in the Bible.

The Scripture verse from which the “ask Jesus into your heart” concept is usually taken (Revelation 3:20) does not mention the heart or our asking Jesus to do anything. In context, Revelation 3:20 is speaking about the church fellowshipping with Jesus, not an individual person getting saved.

When the Bible gives a gospel presentation, there are certain things happening:

  • The Bible says we are to believe in Jesus (John 3:16; Acts 16:31)
  • The Bible says we are to receive Jesus (John 1:12)
  • The Bible says we are to change their minds, or repent (Acts 3:19).

These are the proper response to the authentic gospel.

  • We are to change our minds about our sin and about who Christ is.
  • We are to believe Jesus died and rose again.
  • We are to by faith receive the gift of everlasting life.
  • We are to recognize that we are all sinners (Romans 3:23)
  • We are to understand that we deserve to be eternally separated from God (Romans 6:23)
  • We are to trust that Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24)
  • We are to receive the gift of salvation that God offers us out of his grace (Ephesians 2:8–9).

All of this is done in faith, with God’s enabling (John 6:44). Salvation is not something we do or earn. Salvation is something we receive from God due to His mercy and grace.

While asking Jesus to come into your heart, or to enter your life, is not explicitly biblical, it is also not necessarily anti-biblical, if it is done in the context of a presentation of the biblical gospel. If a person understands sin and its penalty, understands the payment Christ made on the cross, and is ready to trust Jesus alone for salvation, an invitation to “receive Jesus” is not wrong (John 1:12). It may be a matter of semantics to say “receive Christ” or to “ask Jesus into your heart.” It could help a person understand that the Spirit of Christ comes to indwell the human soul (John 14:17). It is best to use the terminology the Bible uses, so “Ask Jesus into your heart” does not fully communicate what is actually occurring.

When we are sharing the gospel, we should be careful what we say and how we say it. Even the word believe can be misleading if it is presented as intellectual assent (agreeing that certain facts are true) instead of as trust (relying on those true facts).

  • Salvation is not about believing a list of facts.
  • Salvation is not about asking Jesus to come into your heart.
  • Salvation is not about asking God to forgive you.

Salvation is about trusting in Jesus as your Savior, receiving the forgiveness he offers, by grace through faith. Salvation is about being made new through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5).

I discovered one passage that deals with God’s message and the heart… When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road. (Matthew 13:19 NASB)

The gospel is sown in the heart, the goal is to be the good, receptive soil that produces a bountiful crop.

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Why FEAR God?

Throughout the Bible we are told to fear God, but have you ever considered what that means?

At the start, we need to make some important distinctions about the biblical meaning of “fearing” God. While these distinctions can be helpful, they can also be a little dangerous because God’s Word is so much higher than my human words.

When Martin Luther struggled with the “fear of God,” he made a distinction between what he called a servile fear and a filial fear:

The servile fear is a kind of fear that a prisoner in a torture chamber has for his tormentor, the jailer, or the executioner. It’s the kind of dreadful anxiety in which someone is frightened by the clear and present danger that is represented by another person. Or it’s the kind of fear that a slave would have at the hands of a brutal master who would come with the whip and beat the slave. Servile refers to a posture of servitude toward a malevolent owner.

The filial fear draws from the Latin concept from which we get the idea of family. It refers to the fear that a child has for his father. In this regard, Luther is thinking of a child who has tremendous respect and love for his father or mother and who dearly wants to please them. He has a fear or an anxiety of offending the one he loves, not because he’s afraid of torture or even of punishment, but rather because he’s afraid of displeasing the one who is, in that child’s world, the source of security and love.

This distinction can be helpful because in Deuteronomy and in Wisdom Literature, we are told that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Job 28:28, Psalm 111:10, Proverbs 1:7, 3:7, 9:10, 15:33, Isaiah 11:2, 33:6). The focus here is on a sense of awe and respect for the majesty of God, which is often lacking in contemporary evangelical Christianity. We get very flippant and casual with the God of the universe. We are invited to call him Abba, Father (Romans 8:15) and to have the personal intimacy he promised to us, but still we’re not to be flippant with God. We’re always to maintain a healthy respect and adoration for him.

If we really have a healthy adoration for God, we still should have an element of the knowledge that God can be frightening. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). As sinful people, we have every reason to fear God’s judgment; it is part of our motivation to be reconciled with God.

Jesus even warns his disciples not to fear men who may kill them, but to fear God, who could not only kill them but throw their souls into hell (Matthew 10:28, Luke 12:5).

But the good news is, for those who are in Christ, there is no longer condemnation (Romans 8:1)

[print_link] [email_link] Adapted from R.C Sproul

Basics of Biblical Greek

To properly understand the Bible, knowledge of the original language is helpful to gaining the proper meaning of the text. While I am no Greek scholar, I post this here for quick reference.

Number and Person: Before discussing tense, voice, and mood, it is first necessary to have an understanding of person and number.

  1. Person: This is what determines whether
    1. The subject is the speaker (first person)
    2. The subject s being spoken to (second person)
    3. The subject is being spoken about (third person)
  2. Number: This is what determines whether a verb is singular or plural.

Number

Singular

Plural

Person

First

I

We

Second

You

Y’all

Third

He, She, It

They

Tense: Tense plays a very crucial role in the study of New Testament exegesis. Dana and Mantey understood its significance in saying that “no element of the Greek language is of more importance to the student of the New Testament than the matter of tense” Tense deals both with time and kind of action. Ancient Greek focused more on kind of action; however, time does play a role in verb tense when the mood is indicative.

The aspect of a verb correlates with the kind of action. It determines whether the verb’s action is punctiliar, linear or perfected. These are described in the following table.

Punctiliar: The action relates to a specific point in time.
Linear:

—————

The action is in the progress of occurring.
Perfected:

Results

The action is both punctiliar and linear in that it refers to action relating to a point in time, yet has results that are in the progress of occurring.
  1. The Present Tense: The present tense usually denotes continuous kind of action. It shows ‘action in progress’ or ‘a state of persistence.’ When used in the indicative mood, the present tense denotes action taking place or going on in the present time. The continuous present is usually translated as “I am following” while the undefined is best translated as “I follow.” Another example: “In Whom you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in spirit.” (Ephesians 2:22) or “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together.” (Hebrews 10:25).
  2. The Imperfect Tense: The imperfect tense shows continuous or linear action just like the present tense. It always indicates an action continually or repeatedly happening in past time. It portrays the action as going on for some extended period of time in the past. This is best translated as “I was following.” Another example: “For you were once darkness, but now light in the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:8).
  3.  The Aorist Tense: This tense is hardly a tense at all. The aorist is said to be “simple occurrence” or “summary occurrence,” without regard for the amount of time taken to accomplish the action. This tense is also often referred to as the “punctiliar” tense. Punctiliar in this sense means “viewed as a single, collective whole,” a “one-point-in-time” action, although it may actually take place over a period of time. The word aoristos derives from an alpha privative (ie. negation) and the verb horizô (meaning “to bound”) thus meaning “without boundaries.” With the indicative mood it is often best translated as a simple past: “I follow.” Another example: “God…made us alive together with Christ.” (Ephesians 2:5) or “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6).
  4. The Future Tense: This tense generally denotes action that will occur in the future. This is best translated as “I will follow.” Another example: “We know that if he is manifested, we will be like Him, for we will see Him even as He is.” (1 John 3:2).
  5. The Perfect Tense: The basic thought of the perfect tense is that the progress of an action has been completed and the results of the action are continuing on, in full effect. In other words, the progress of the action has reached its culmination and the finished results are now in existence. Unlike the English perfect, which indicates a completed past action, the Greek perfect tense indicates the continuation and present state of a completed past action. The perfect is often translated as “I have followed.” Another example, Galatians 2:20 should be translated, “I am in a present state of having been crucified with Christ,” indicating that not only was I crucified with Christ in the past, but I am existing now in that present condition, or “…having been rooted and grounded in love,” (Ephesians 3:17).
  6. The Pluperfect Tense: The pluperfect (‘past perfect’) shows action that is complete and existed at some time in the past, (the past time being indicated by the context). This tense is only found in the indicative mood and is rarely used in the New Testament. Both the completed action and the results of that action occur in the past. The usual translation for the pluperfect is “I had followed.” Or another example: “…and they beat against that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.” (Matthew 7:25).
  7. The Future Perfect: There is also a future perfect tense in Greek which is very rare in the New Testament. It is only formed by periphrasis in the New Testament is much like the past perfect, only the completed state will exist at some time in the future rather than in the past.

Voice: Biblical Greek has three voices which indicate whether the subject is the performer of the action or the recipient of the action, active, middle, and passive:

  1. The Active Voice: This occurs when the action of the verb is being performed by the subject. If the subject of the sentence is executing the action, then the verb is referred to as being in the active voice. For example: “Jesus was baptizing the people” (paraphrase of John 3:22; 4:1,2). “Jesus” is the subject of the sentence and is the one that is performing the action of the verb; therefore the verb is said to be in the “Active Voice.”
  2. The Middle Voice: When the subject of the verb does action unto itself, or for its own benefit, the middle voice is used.  In overly simplistic terms, sometimes the middle form of the verb could be translated as “the performer of the action actually acting upon himself” (reflexive action). For example: “I am washing myself.” “I” is the subject of the sentence (performing the action of the verb) and yet “I” am also receiving the action of the verb. Many instances in the Greek are not this obvious and cannot be translated this literally.
  3. The Passive Voice: The passive represents the action of the verb being done unto the subject but not by the subject. If the subject of the sentence is being acted upon, then the verb is referred to as being in the passive voice. For example: “Jesus … was baptized by John in the Jordan” (Mark 1:9). “Jesus” is the subject of the sentence, but in this case He is being acted upon (i.e. He is the recipient of the action), therefore the verb is said to be in the “Passive Voice.”

Mood: There are four moods in Greek. They demonstrate the relationship between the action of the verb and reality. They denote whether the action is factual, potential, wishful, or a command.

  1. The Indicative Mood: The indicative mood is a statement of fact or an actual occurrence from the writer’s or speaker’s perspective. Even if the writer is lying, he may state the action as if it is a fact, and thus the verb would be in the indicative mood. It may be action occurring in past, present, or future time. This “statement of fact” can even be made with a negative adverb modifying the verb. This is the mood of assertion or presentation of certainty. The indicative mood is the only one to give designation concerning time (past, present, and future). The majority of all verbs used in the New Testament occur in the indicative mood. The writer/speaker may desire or ask for the action to take place. For example: “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 12:11) or “God is not mocked.” (Galatians 6:7)
  2. The Subjunctive Mood: The subjunctive mood indicates probability, desirability, or objective possibility. The action of the verb will possibly happen, depending on certain objective factors or circumstances. It is oftentimes used in conditional statements (like, “If… then…” clauses) or in purpose clauses. But if the subjunctive mood is used in a purpose or result clause, then the action should not be thought of as a possible result, but should be viewed as a definite outcome that will happen as a result of another stated action. For example: “Let us come forward to the Holy of Holies with a true heart in full assurance of faith.” (Hebrews 10:23) or “In order that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known through the church…” (Ephesians 3:10)
  3. The Optative Mood: The optative is the mood of possibility and has relatively few appearances in the New Testament because (by the time the New Testament was written, the subjunctive has taken over some of the classical usages of it). Some of its usages include, a wish/prayer or a potential statement. The optative is two steps away from reality whereas the subjunctive is only one step away. For example: “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23)
  4. The Imperative Mood: The imperative mood is a command or instruction given to the hearer, charging the hearer to carry out or perform a certain action. For example: “Flee youthful lusts.” (2 Timothy 2:22)

Infinitive: An infinitive is a verb that can be used to function as a noun and is therefore referred to as a “verbal noun.” An example may be, “to follow.” Neither person nor number is found in the infinitive and it does not have mood designation. The Greek infinitive is the form of the verb that is usually translated into English with the word “to” attached to it, often used to complement another verb. For instance, “For to me to live is Christ” (Philippians 1:21), the words “to live” are an infinitive in Greek and are functioning as the subject of the sentence (a noun).

Participle: A participle is considered a “verbal adjective.” It is often a word that ends with an “-ing” in English (such as “following,” “speaking,” “going,” or “seeing”). It can be used as an adjective, in that it can modify a noun (or substitute as a noun), or it can be used as an adverb and further explain or define the action of a verb. For example:
In an adjectival use: “The coming One will come and will not delay.” (Hebrews 10:37) or in an adverbial use: “But speaking truth in love, we may grow up into Him in all things.” (Ephesians 4:15).

Read more from William D. Mounce and Blue Letter Bible and NTGreek.org

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