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The Bible itself, and not books about the Bible, should be the basic textbook of the Bible student.[1]


Panoramic Preview:  Getting the Big Picture


      Read background material for historical context.


      Read the book/text several times, looking for

            Reoccurring words or ideas.

            Abrupt changes in tone or content.

            General Themes


      Make a general outline based on content, rather than interpretation.



Observation:  Answering the question, "What does it say?"


Observe a thought unit (paragraph) at a time.



            Who was/wasn't there?



            What happened?

            Who did it?

            How did it happen?

            Where did it happen?

            When did this happen?



            What is the literary genre of this passage?[2]

            What exactly does it say?

            What nouns/ pronouns are used? 

            What verbs are used?

            What is the main idea in each paragraph?

            What is the sequence of ideas or words?

            What is repeated?

            What is emphasized?

            What is related?

            What is alike/ unlike?


What didn't happen or wasn't said?



Interpretation: Deciding, "What does that mean?"


            The Basic Rule of Interpretation

A text cannot mean what it never could have meant to its author or (original) readers.[3]


Interpretation: (continued)


            Why did he say what he said?

            What does he mean when he says...?

            Is this figurative language?[4]

            How does this passage fit/contribute to the context as a whole?[5]

            What is the logical argument being made?

            Build the historical timeline, if there is one.

            Summarize conclusions


Why doesn't it say something else?



Correlation:  Looking for, "What the rest of the Bible says."


            In priority of...

                        The same book, then

                        Other books by the same author, then

                        Others books in the same testament, then

                        The rest of scripture.



Application:  Answering the question, "How does this apply to me?"


Define the truth/principle to be applied.

Identify the specific application of this to your life.

Plan how to apply this to your life.

Be accountable to others for this application.


Is there a command to obey?

Is there a principle to apply?

Is there an example to imitate?

Is there a sin to avoid?













Doriani, Daniel, Getting the Message, P & R Publishing, 1996


Fee & Stuart, How To Read The Bible For All Its Worth, Zondervan, 1982


Hendricks & Hendricks, Living by the Book, Moody Press, 1991


Traina, Robert, Methodical Bible Study, Ashbury Theological Seminary, 1952

Biblical Literary Genres


The Bible is Gods Word, transmitted and preserved for us as literature.  Language is a vast warehouse of...


Historical Narrative:


This is a story with a purpose.  The goal is to teach and instruct using other peoples lives as examples.  It can be trusted as accurate, but not expected to be comprehensively detailed.  These are the people and events that are important to Gods plan, not what people of the day might have thought noteworthy.  Genesis, Ruth, 1 Samuel, Luke and Acts are examples.  Read it like any history...that the Holy Spirit wrote!




In poetry and song, God uses imagery, hyperbole, contrast, simile, analogy, and the full palate of literary devices to communicate truth.  Take what it means seriously, but be sure of what it means first.  Psalms is the largest example of this in Scripture, but it appears in multiple other passages.




At the time of their being written these predictions, warnings, and encouragements were future.  Now, many have come to pass and are history.  Like poetry, it uses descriptive language that requires thoughtful analysis.  However, prophecy was intended to be understood using normal language skills by average people.  There are no secret codes or mystery meanings.  Examples:  Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc.




These are wise sayings that are godly advice to the open hearted.  They are neither prophetic nor promissory.  Because something usually happens, does not mean it always happens.  These should be taken as good advice from God.  See the book of Proverbs




Parables were one of Jesus favorite teaching tools.  It is a story, told to make a point.  Key to understanding a parable is stepping back and taking it as a whole, paying particular attention to what might have prompted the story.  You are looking for the one central point, resisting the temptation to assign multiple meanings, interpretations, and side applications.




This is straightforward statements of truth; commands to be obeyed, warnings to be heeded, and facts to be believed and trusted.  Jesus teachings and much of Pauls writing fall into this category.  Such profound and complex subjects require careful study, but are not the restricted province of a special class of Christian.  The Bible was written to be understood and obeyed by laymen.  Learn what it says, understand what it means, believe it, and obey it.  Examples:  Romans, 1 Corinthians, 1 Timothy, etc.





[1] Traina, Robert, Methodical Bible Study, Ashbury Theological Seminary, 1952

[2] Hendricks & Hendricks, Living by the Book, Moody Press, 1991, pg 209 ff.

[3] Fee & Stuart, How To Read The Bible For All Its Worth, Zondervan, 1982,  pg 60

[4] Hendricks & Hendricks, pg. 257 ff.

[5] Doriani, Daniel, Getting the Message, P & R Publishing, 1996, pg 29 ff


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