Knowledge is a great place to start in uncovering the gems of Scripture, but knowledge alone isn’t particularly helpful. Alone, it tends to cause us to feel smart, which can lead to arrogance or pride. Rather, we need to sift through the dirt to find the gems of understanding.
So here we move from knowing the facts of the passage to comprehending what those facts actually mean. You may know that Jesus wept at Lazarus’s tomb, but why was that fact significant enough for John to include in his Gospel? Or maybe you can recite all the attributes of love found in First Corinthians 13. But do you know what sort of kindness love is to display?
So once you’ve done the work of collecting all your facts, it’s now time to ponder the why. For God didn’t include anything extraneous in His book. Every fact and word is there to help us better understand Him and how we are to live accordingly. So let’s look at five things to help you sift through the dirt of knowledge:
1. Ask open-ended questions.
These questions, unlike the ones you asked with knowledge, often have no simple, right-wrong answer. In fact, if you can answer the question in a sentence or less, you are likely oversimplifying the answer or asking the wrong question. These questions are meant to make you think. They should require the application of imagination and logic.
Some generic questions you can ask include:
· “Why is this important?”
· “Why did God __ ?”
· “Why did the author include __ ?”
· “What does this mean?”
2. Do a word study.
This can have multiple layers. First, make sure you understand all the English words. Some translations use big words not found in everyday language or words with meanings that are now out-of-date.
Second, identify key words in the verse. These words can include (but aren’t limited to):
· unique words (e.g. dull and unskilled in Hebrews 5:11-14)
· emphasized or subject words (e.g. wisdom in Proverbs 1)
· frequently repeated words (e.g. the five uses of righteousness in Romans 10:3-6)
· list words (e.g. true, right, pure in Philippians 4:8)
· actions verbs (e.g. the command and submit in Ephesians 5:22-24)
Third, note anything the surrounding verses have to say on those words. Also pay attention to the connections between the key words you noted. If you made a word cloud during the digging of knowledge, that might help you here.
Fourth, learn the meaning of those key words in their original language. Often they have rich or complex meanings that cannot be fully captured in English. For example, that word dull in Hebrews 5:11 can refer to the sluggish, lazy, and slow-moving, and thus it can be used for the numbed limbs of an ill animal or the imperceptive, stony nature of a person.
To find those meanings, you can use an amplified Bible, Bible dictionaries (many church libraries have one, like Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary), or certain Bible software, like e-sword (https://www.e-sword.net/).
3. Consult others.
We have much we can learn from those have come before us. The pastors, teachers, and scholars of the past may not be perfect, but they often have something valuable to offer. Therefore, consulting the work of others can be helpful in deepening your understanding of a passage.
A study Bible’s footnotes and cross-referencing is a great place to start. This can provide extra historical context and point you to biblical references you might not be aware of.
Commentaries can also provide you additional insights from those who have devoted their lives to gaining and sharing a deeper understanding of God’s truth. Again, many church libraries will have at least one, if not multiple of these.
4. Engage your imagination.
This is especially important when studying a story-based section of the Scripture, such as one of the miracles of Jesus or the life of an Old Testament king. Putting yourself into a scene can really help you grasp the emotion and therefore the impact of something said or done.
Consider the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures.
Think about the bigger picture. What might have life been like for these characters before this story occurred? What did they hope for, fear, struggle with? What might they have felt while the story was going on? How might have life been different afterward?
But even instructional sections weren’t written in a void. Real people wrote them in the midst of real events to real people who received those words in the midst of their ongoing lives. What might have the author been feeling while he wrote this? How might the reader feel upon hearing or reading those words for the first time?
5. Explain the core truths in your own words.
Almost anyone can repeat back something taught them. This kind of learning does not require the ability to comprehend. But when we can rephrase and expand on a concept in our own words, we gain a better and deeper understanding.
So first, isolate the core truths. What does the passage tell me about God? What does it tell me about me? Or about the world? What should I do—or not do?
Then make a list of those core truths, rephrasing them in your own words, usually in a simple sentence. For example, in Hebrews 5:11-14, one core truth might be “discernment takes training.”
Next take at least two or three of those truths and explain the significance of each truth in at least a paragraph. If need be, draw parallels to modern ideas and culture. Or imagine explaining that concept to a young child or someone who knows nothing about God or the Bible.
So I might expand on “discernment takes training” this way:
Discernment, the ability to distinguish good from evil, can be learned. It is not an instinct or a gift. It is a skill that must be practiced. Regularly. Day in and day out. That means discernment also takes time, effort, and even the use of drills to develop, just like learning a sport or a musical instrument.
Now like with knowledge, these aren’t the only way to deepen your understanding. Rather, they are a few ideas to get your going. But while this second step takes more time and energy than knowledge—and a lot of pondering—it’s deeply rewarding as God’s truth becomes comprehensible.
Editor’s Note: This is the second part in a four part series from Chawna. Read part one, The First Step to Effective Bible Study: Digging Into God’s Word, The First Step to Effective Bible Study: Digging Into God’s Word – The Rebelution here and come back for more later in the week!