The Bible can be a little daunting to study.
First, there’s all those pages, well into the hundreds in many versions. Then you have those unpronounceable names that seem to come from the latest fantasy novel. And have you read some of the stuff this book contains? Wheels covered in eyes (Ezekiel 10:12). Belly fat oozing over sword hilts (Judges 3:22). Prophets walking around naked (Isaiah 20:2-4). Deadly church meetings (Acts 20:7-9). This book should come with a warning label at the very least!
Yet the Bible is the most rewarding book you can study. Its treasures are worth more than the world’s collective wealth. Its beauty outshines the greatest art. Its intricacies make the fastest supercomputer look simplistic. You can devote a lifetime of study to it and never reach the end of things to discover.The Bible is the most rewarding book you can study. Its beauty outshines the greatest art. You can devote a lifetime of study to it and never reach the end of things to discover. Click To Tweet
Digging into Scripture
Those Scriptural gems, however, don’t come to the casual observer. The good news is that you are capable of doing the hard work of mining treasure from God’s Word. After all, God has given you a brain. He has provided you the training to read. He has gifted you a Bible in your own language. Most of all, if you are a Christian, you have His Holy Spirit to guide you.
Not that it will be easy. Most gems are buried in the ground, not laying around on the surface. Therefore, in order to find gems, you have to dig.Studying the Bible and mining its gems won't be easy. Most gems are buried in the ground, not laying around on the surface. Therefore, in order to find gems, you have to dig. Click To Tweet
What is true physically is also true spiritually, making our first step of mining Scripture the digging into the dirt of knowledge. With this step we want to know the specific details of what we’re reading, the basic facts of a Scripture passage.
Not sure where to start? Here are five tools to unearth some of that knowledge:
1. Note the style of the writing.
Different writing employs different styles, which influences your interpretation. Poetry, for example, uses similes and metaphors that aren’t meant to be taken literally, whereas a historical account is meant to be taken very literally. So the overall style will help you know how to read that passage.
Then observe the approach of the specific passage. Is it serious or comical? Is this a statement of fact or an opinion? Is an action being commanded or requested? Each answer will affect your understanding.
For example, let’s say I’m studying Hebrews 5:11-14. The book of Hebrews is a letter, written as practical instruction. While there are metaphors and similes in this book, they’re illustrations of a point. Also everything in the book will be written to teach me how to live and think more as God desires.
As for the approach, the opening words of verse 11 reflect exasperation over the readers’ slowness. The resulting tone is one of chastisement and even sarcasm.
So, note the style and approach of the writing you’re reading.
2. Establish the context.
This comes in two varieties. First, consider the big context:
· Who wrote the book?
· To whom was the book written?
· When was the book written?
· Where was the book written?
· Why was the book written? (What is its purpose?)
Many Bibles include an introduction to each book with this information.
In the case of Hebrews, the author is unknown. The readers were a group of Jewish-Christians facing life-threatening persecution. So the book was written as a theological survival guide. Thus it focuses on perseverance, because Christ is supreme.
Second, consider the immediate context of the passage you’re reading:
· What was the writer talking about immediately before this?
· What is being talked about immediately afterward?
· What is the relationship of this passage to those topics?
In Hebrews 5:11-14, the passage before addresses Christ’s priesthood as illustrated by an obscure Old Testament character. These deep theological waters trigger v. 11-14’s frustration over the readers’ spiritual immaturity. The passage immediately after explains how to keep growing, since this immaturity is a problem.
So recognize the context of what you’re studying.
3. Ask reporter questions.
These are questions like who, what, when, where, why, and how. Also don’t forget to include deviations like what kind and how much.
I find it helpful to write these out like a test, which I then answer. For Hebrews 5:11-12, here are some questions I asked, paired with my answers:
· What do the authors have much to say about? Christ’s priesthood according to the order of Melchizedek.
· Why don’t the authors talk about that? It’s hard to explain.
· Why is it hard to explain? The readers are dull of hearing.
· What should the readers be by this time? Teachers.
· But what do they need instead? Someone to teach them.
· What do they need to be taught? The basic principles of the oracles of God.
· What do they need? Milk.
· Instead of what? Solid food.
These questions may seem basic, but they force us to slow down and see the details.
4. Identify the pronouns.
Most of the time we recognize who “he” refers to or what “those things” reference. But it never hurts to note what each alludes to, whether through color-coding or writing the specific above the pronoun. In a simpler passage, it’ll solidify what is being talked about. In more complex passages, like Hebrews 1, it’ll clarify the confusing and complicated.
So here’s Hebrews 5:11-14 with the pronouns in bold:
“About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”
This, at the start of verse 11, refers to the previous topic, as does it. We are the authors. You is the reader. The he in verse 13 is the everyone at the beginning of that verse, while 14’s those and their points back to the mature.
Again, this might sound dull, but articulating such things clarifies them in our minds.
5. Highlight connecting words.
These words are small but mighty! While easily overlooked, connective words like prepositions and conjunctions provide insight into how ideas intersect.
Conjunctions show the relationships between two ideas—two phrases, sentences or sections. They include words like and, but, if, or, therefore, so that, and because. Prepositions connect words and fragments. They include words like to, from, in, upon, at, and among.
Here’s Hebrews 5:11-12 again with the conjunctions in bold and the prepositions italicized:
“About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food.”
So the conjunction and connects two parallel thoughts in verse 11. Since indicates a cause. In verse 12, for explains a why while though tells us something that should be true but isn’t. Meanwhile, the preposition about connects “this” to what the authors want to talk about. By indicates the grounds of the authors’ expectation—that the readers had sufficient time to become teachers.
Now these words can be hard to spot. Try highlighting them in different colors. Adding symbols like arrows to indicate the relationship can help too. Or if you are a visual person, create a word cloud, physically arranging phrases according to their relationships—e.g. stacking parallel phrases connected by and on top of each other.
Of course, there are additional things you can do, additional tools you can learn and employ, like timelines and outlines. But these five will get you started. So why not pick out a passage and give it a try today?
Editor’s note: This is the first part of a four part series on studying God’s Word. Stay tuned for the rest of the series!