...He Who Trembles at My WordRelated Media
One of greatest joys in life is being able to read and understand something for yourself. Such is a chief goal of Bible study. We want you to be able to feed your own soul from God’s word and then turn around and help others as well.
George Burns once said, “I’d rather be a failure at something I enjoy, than a success at something I hate.” The good news for Christians is that these are not the only two options; why not be a success at something you like? We want to help you become a success at studying God’s word; studying it faithfully, honestly, prayerfully, obediently, and intelligently.
But, studying God’s word is not easy, per se. There are no overnight successes in this venture, but there are numerous rewards, surprises, and encouragements all along the journey. There are two basic strengths you will need to cultivate if you are to be a good Bible student (e.g., studying, applying, and teaching others). First, you will need a “stick-to-it mentality (Philippians 4:13). At first, failure (at least in your eyes) may come often. Did you know that one of Monet’s (the famous French artist) first jobs as an artist was doing sketches for a local paper? Did you also know that only one of the scores of sketches he produced was ever used? These initial setbacks obviously did not hang him out to dry—nor should they us. Success is not found on the path of least persistence! Examples abound. Calvin Coolidge may have overstated the case, but only slightly:
Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with great talent. Genius will not: unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence, determination alone are omnipotent.
Ninety percent of success is just showing up. Never quit!
The second quality that you and I need to develop in order to be good Bible students is the appropriate “know how,” that is, “understanding” specific to our task. We need to learn—and never cease learning—how to study a book like the Bible. Until we are helped, most of us are in a fog regarding how to study the Bible. But, what a great experience it is when the fog rolls away and understanding illuminates our hearts. Clarence Edward Flynn expressed it this way:
Peering into the mists of gray
That shroud the surface of the bay,
Nothing I see except a veil
Of fog surrounding every sail.
Then suddenly against the cape
A vast and silent form takes shape,
A great ship lies against the shore
Where nothing has appeared before.
He who sees a truth must often gaze
Into a fog for may days;
It may seem very sure to him
Nothing is there but mist clouds dim.
Then, suddenly, his eyes will see
A shape where nothing used to be.
Discoveries are missed each day
By men who turn so quick away.1
IA. The Point of Bible Study
1B. Spiritual Nourishment: Knowing God and Growing in Holiness
We must see Biblical study within the theological-covenantal framework God himself has set out in salvation. The goal of our election, calling, regeneration, justification, and sanctification is that we become like Christ and that we enjoy God forever (Rom 8:29-30). The Lord has given several means of grace to accomplish these ends, including His Spirit who opens our eyes and gives us understanding concerning the salvation procured for us (1 Cor 2:12), the people of God who reflect God’s interests and values, and who and sharpen us (Prov 27:17) and the Word of God which when animated by the Spirit of God instructs, rebukes, encourages, and directs our steps (sacraments also). The scriptures then were given to us that we might know God, enjoy him, grow into his likeness, and serve him wisely and properly (Deut 29:29; 2 Tim 3:16-17). We study the Bible to learn these things from him. Every time we approach the Scripture we do so within this framework and with these kinds of questions and interests in mind.
2B. Service in the Church: Loving and Living in God’s Family
We said above that one of the chief reasons God has inscripturated his truth is so that we might learn how to walk in the salvation he has brought about in our lives. One aspect of our salvation is the new community into which God has called us and made us a member on equal standing (Eph 2:11-22). Thus we study scripture so as to see how to live well in our new family. There should be a corporate concern in our reading of Scripture.
3B. Salvation in the World: Bringing Healing to the Brokenhearted
Finally, we study and meditate on scripture so that we might clearly understand the gospel and glorify God by carrying his good news to a hurting and thoroughly confused world.
IIA. The Person To Whom God Speaks
1B. The Basic Principle
It is true that God speaks to all kinds of people, even in their sin. But, the kind of person to whom he shares his heart with are his friends—those whose hearts are knit together with his and who thus share in his holiness (John 14:21). “‘For who is he who will devote himself to be close to me,’ declares the Lord” (Jer 30:21).
2B. The Person who is Born Again
The metaphor of being born again, used twice in the NT (John 3:5; 1 Peter 1:22-23), while it involves more than possessing the Spirit has at its heart this idea. It involves the new life that Spirit brings us and the new relationship that we enter into with God. It is the illuminating work of the Spirit that is center stage in our understanding of God’s truth (1 Cor 2:13-14). He enables to understand and embrace truth in Scripture.2
3B. The Person who is Humble
The key to profiting spiritually from Bible study is humility. This is true because the Bible’s design is to point us to God and therefore we are unable to hear its message if pride and arrogance dwell in our hearts. The Bible has a correcting, rebuking, and encouraging role in our sanctification and this is stunted when our hearts are not humble before God. This is especially problematic when we let what we know, get in the way of what we need to learn. Be very careful how you “hear” scripture!
4B. The Person who is Seeking
This cannot be stressed too much. A person must want to find God through Scripture, seek him there, and expect to hear his voice. Seek and listen, and you will hear (cf. Matt 7:7). Remember, you are in a relationship with God. It’s very difficult to have a good relationship with someone when you don’t care to listen to them.
5B. The Person who is Fearless
The Bible brings us the truth about ourselves and it’s often not a very pretty picture. Jeremiah said, “the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9). Discipleship begins when God introduces you to yourself. Pray for courage and let the text speak to you. Do not fear to look through your life, holding it up to the measuring rod of God’s revealed truth.
Not only does good Bible study challenge who we are, but it also challenges what we hold to be true. Be prepared for this and be fearless. Let the Bible speak whether it agrees with your pet doctrines or not. Anything else is sub-Christian for God it refuses to listen to God in his word.
6B. The Person who is in Community
It is true that we must allow the Bible to speak whether we like its message or not. But this does not mean that we are constantly on the lookout for some new doctrine or secret that no one else in all of church history has discovered. Rather, we should check our work against the work of others to sure up our blind spots and to keep us from running headlong into error. We can also benefit through the insights of others, though every Christian’s conscience is free to interpret Scripture.
But there is another aspect to community as well. The Bible has much to say about relationships and it is seriously questionable whether those who are not in “significant community” can relate well to much of Scripture teaches.
7B. The Person who is Responding
Finally, but by no means least, the Bible is studied most profitably when we are responding positively and by faith to its message. Once we have understood the meaning of a text or doctrine, we should seek to advance its truth in our experience and in that of others as well. Further understanding ensues as we live out God’s truth (cf. John 14:21; James 1:19-25).
IIIA. Principles of Bible Study
1B. Study the Bible Grammatico-Historically
1C. The Basic Principle of Communication: The Issue of Meaning and Significance
We study the Bible historically in the sense that we want to uncover the meaning of the various texts according to their literary and historical contexts, i.e., in connection with the author, recipients, and the circumstances surrounding their relationship and the language conventions at that time. We do this as a matter of our understanding of the way in which written (indeed, all) communication works and the facts surrounding the production of Scripture; though it is divinely inspired,3 nonetheless, it did not fall out of heaven, but came to expression through the efforts of real people in real historical situations. We seek the divine mind through the writings of his spokespeople. In keeping with this, let us turn for a moment to discuss the ideas of “meaning,” “authority,” and “authorial intent.
1D. Meaning, Authority, and Authorial Intent
The referent and the sense of the terms being used in their respective historical and literary contexts are determinate, the production of the author, and are ours to discover. When we have done so we have approximated the author’s meaning at these two levels (sense and referent). Such issues as our historical situatedness and the necessary finiteness and struggles that go with being human in a fallen world, while posing constant hindrances to understanding a Biblical author’s meaning—as many postmodern literary critics are fond to argue—do not jeopardize the entire interpretive program. This is so for at least four reasons.
First, our common sense experience of “reading” texts informs us that when we are open to listen, the meaning of texts become much clearer to us, not solely texts in the Bible, but all sorts of texts, though not all with the same degree of ease. I have found reading the Toronto Star much easier than Hegel, Kierkegaard, or Wittgenstein. In my opinion, the reason that so many common folk like me believe that we can read and understand an author, is because this is our overwhelming experience and it is consistent with God’s design. We believe men and women were created by the Great Communicator with certain cognitive abilities, including the power and ability to receive written and verbal communication without necessarily overriding another’s meaning in light of one’s own interests. Though we sometimes fail, if failure were as rampant as some folk think, one would experience the world as much more chaotic than it really is. Just making a dinner reservation would be an exhausting affair. We may not be able to adequately describe the aroma of coffee—which is not the same thing as saying that we can say nothing about it—but what does this prove? All this demonstrates is that language as a vehicle for communication has certain built in limitations. These allow for mystery and some misunderstanding, but certainly not complete failure to grasp what an ancient author meant.4
Second, when certain people doubt that we can “get back” to an author’s intended meaning, either because we are too far distanced with too many competing agendas or because there is no such determinate and realizable meaning (e.g., we cannot reproduce the psychological state in the author’s mind), it seems clear to me that they, on the other hand, fully expect to be understood according to what they say and mean. In fact, most of them take great issue when their intended meaning has been misconstrued. Thus, they believe that meaning is determinate, is the production of the author, and can be reasonably passed off to others, whether in writing or verbally. I am not saying that there are no bridges to cross at times (cultural, linguistic, etc.), but they can be crossed and most often are by informed, responsible interpreters. In short, I can present an idea, an object of consciousness, to your mind and together we can dialogue until I’m sure you’ve got my intended “meaning.” The same sort of experience is true at the level of writing and true at the level of reading scripture.
Third, apart from spiritual rebellion—which is greatly (though in no way exhaustively) overcome by the present work of the Spirit—it is indeed our place as “creatures in history before a holy God,” as were the writers of the ancient text, that gives us a place from which to experience understanding if we want it. With this statement I am suggesting, given the moral and spiritual realities addressed in Scripture, that I would not be surprised (logically speaking) to find those with parallel sensitivities in a much better epistemic position from which to rightly grasp the meaning and possible significances of Biblical texts.5 In a narrower sense still, I am saying that those who have professed Christ and are indwelt by his Spirit, since this aligns them most closely with God’s people as the audience to whom the Biblical authors wrote (1 Cor 2:12ff), have an advantage (that terrible word) in realizing the goal for which Scripture was given, i.e., true knowledge of God, ourselves as image bearers before him, and our world and God’s plan for it.
Fourth, those who argue that we always read our meaning into the text and not the author’s out of it, or that we do so to the degree that the author cannot be rightly heard, are to some degree caught in a self-referential problem. How do they know this, since they claim that no one can know what an author means by what he has written? Thus, as Christians committed to the Scriptures as the unveiling of the mind of God through the mind of men, we are deeply interested in what the Supreme author meant by what he said and we believe that it can be ascertained with an appropriate level of confidence.6
2D. Meaning and Significance
Generally speaking we can discern a difference between “meaning” and “significance.” “Meaning” refers to the proper sense and referent assigned to a unit of text and is tied to the author’s intentions in producing the text. “Significance” refers to the various ways in which the text has application to me, the present church, or the world at large—ways which are tied to its original meaning, but which are sometimes only entailed in what is meant.
3D. The Meaning of “Understanding”
It is one thing to understand the sense and referent of a text of Scripture. It is another thing to possesses biblical understanding (which involves me personally). There are a number of terms used in scripture to describe the human faculty of understanding as well as the product of understanding. Thus, Scripture sheds light on both the manner in which things are known, i.e., through deliberation, thought, experience, in conjunction with divine intervention, insight, etc. and the resulting knowledge gained. In each case of “knowing” or “understanding” where God is involved, the effect is human transformation through a clearer picture of who God is, i.e., his character, will, and ways and who we are as his creatures.
The understanding we get through the Spirit at all stages of the process of reading the Bible (as the primary authority for faith and life), can be compared to attending a seminar with a number of students, all of whom (including you) have been asked to prepare a synthesis of the day’s reading material in order to present it to the class. Everyone is nervous, of course, and thankfully another person besides you suffers being chosen first. After the student has read the paper in front of the entire class, the expert professor decides to comment on the presentation, giving his ideas about its strengths, weaknesses, and ways it can be improved. As you sit there listening attentively, you learn a ton about what you perhaps should have said in your own paper (or left unsaid) and thankful for what you did say, though perhaps now you see even that in a new light. This is the kind of general and important understanding we get when we listen in on how God related to the thoughts and deeds of saints and sinners throughout scripture.7 When God deals with Abraham we get to “listen in” with the result that we understand his grace and his faithfulness to his people. When he deals with disobedient nations and certain wayward individuals we learn of his holiness, justice, mercy, redeeming heart, and sovereignty. And so on. The Spirit is there to point this out to us as we read attentively. This is undoubtedly why so much of scripture is in narrative or poetic form; it immediately invites participation—we instantly say “that’s me” as we read these inspired stories. And that is why Paul can say, “all scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16-17).
This leads to a second and more personal illustration. First, let me remind us that in Scripture we learn in contour form God’s ways with the world and more importantly his ways with his people and this sets the overall agenda for his work in our lives, i.e., in the lives of his people (all those who have come to know, love and obey Christ by faith) in the 21st century. While these texts were not written to us, they were most assuredly written for us.8 It is the Spirit that shows us as individuals and churches what he is doing with us right now (cf. Rev. 2-3). Now, on to the illustration; I’m thinking about pilot training. You, as the trainee are sitting in the left seat while your instructor looks attentively on from the right seat. You trust him to show you what to do and how to do it and you (hopefully) respond to what he tells you (after all, you’re life and well-being are in his hands). You’ve read the material for the flight lesson, so you know what sorts of things to expect, but when you’re up there he’s constantly clarifying what the lesson plan was all about. And there are many times, under his personal tutelage, that you say to yourself, “Oh…that’s what that means!” He nods his head and there is personal understanding. So it is with us. We read about Abraham’s faith and by the power of the Spirit we want that faith. Then we move from the lesson plan to our lives today and the Spirit shows what he intends for us in light of scriptural truth.
In short spiritual understanding involves both what was intended and what is intended; it involves comprehending what God meant when he spoke to so and so (in the Bible) and what he means for us through that. As we come to live in his presence this way, we become wise unto salvation (i.e., salvation conceived of, not only as entrance into, but as life in ongoing relationship with God).
2C. The Various Uses of Language
1D. Informative (referential)
Language is used to provide factual information which a person would otherwise not know.
Language is used to command that certain attitudes and actions be carried out or refrained from.
3D. Expressive or Celebratory
Language is an adequate vehicle for the deepest expressions of the human heart, though the heart’s longings cannot be completely contained or expressed in language.
Language is used to make things happen or cause a new state of affairs to exist. For example, when God says you are forgiven, with that pronouncement, a new state of affairs in terms of your relationship with him exists.
Language is used to think with. There is no little debate surrounding the precise understanding of this issue, but it seems fairly clear that thought is severely limited by one’s capabilities in language.
2B. Study the Bible Organically
The general application of this principle involves ultimately reading episodes (narrative), paragraphs (epistolary), visionary scenes (apocalyptic), etc. in light of the book (in which they appear) as a whole. What do they contribute to the meaning of the entire book such that were they not present the meaning would be changed? Then, the organic principle implies that works by the same author should be compared for further insight, then similar works, then the entire writings in the particular testament as a whole (e.g., the NT) and finally the Bible as a whole (and other background and related literatures). For example, if I were studying Ephesians 2:11-22 (the unification of Jew and Gentile in one “new man”) I would want to first be able to place this paragraph in the argument of Ephesians as a whole, then set it alongside other prison epistles (Phil, Col, Phlmn), then all of Paul’s letters, then other NT epistles, then the Gospels and Acts, and finally its relationship to the canon as a whole and the concept of progressive revelation. In short, the “organic” principle recognizes that while there are sixty-six books in the Bible, given by different authors and in different locales and times, etc., they are all ultimately the expression of one (divine) mind and hence can be synthesized together to realize a consistent message on any important theological idea or topic in general.
3B. Study the Bible Existentially
The Bible was given not to make us smarter sinners, but to encourage us to live in a way honoring to God; in a way that pleases him and is according to our best interests thus defined. It was given in order to encourage and strengthen (Rom 15:4) by “teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16-17). Thus we should ultimately approach the Bible as listeners and expect that through example, prophesy, hymn, exposition, or psalm God will speak to us about His character and ways and about our condition before him. By faith we are to respond, having encountered Christ in his word. Repentance, trust, and loving obedience are the appropriate ways to think about reading and responding to God’s word.
4B. Study the Bible Communally
1C. The Role of Other Christians
Other Christians play a significant role in our lives and in the process of our transformation into Christlikeness. It is both wise and encouraging to study the Bible with other Christians. In this way we can both learn to give and receive.
2C. The Role of Teachers and Preachers
Realize that God has gifted certain people to teach and preach his word. In your church, this is probably and primarily your pastor. It is important to learn to combine your personal study and reflection on God’s word with attentive and reflective listening and thinking about what you hear each week at church. Expect God to speak to you there!
3C. The Role of Commentators and Theologians
Finally, we come to the area of the specialist. Christians should study the Bible individually and in a group. They can also learn to hear the Bible taught at church. Beyond this, it is very helpful to cross check your understanding of particular passages or doctrines with the work of the professional who has given him/herself to a study of Scripture and theology in a detailed and exhaustive way. There is immense benefit in this practice and Christians neglect the work of the specialist to their own peril. On the other hand, it is important for the most part that the non-specialist choose his commentaries and theologies well, from among those who align themselves with a scriptural framework and are sympathetic to Biblical teaching.
IVA. Practice of Bible Study
1B. The Use of Appropriate Tools
1C. Historical and Literary Backgrounds
The study of the Bible, in the very nature of the case, requires that we enter into another culture. While there is much in the Bible that is immediately apparent to us as members of the human race, there is much in ancient Palestinian culture that is not. It is important, therefore, either through good commentaries or historical tools themselves, that a person acquire a growing knowledge of Bible backgrounds—historical, cultural, literary, and religious.
2C. Language Tools
If a person cannot study the Biblical languages themselves, they can at least take the time to read through a good book that outlines interpretive fallacies and discusses the way language works. This will greatly help the English Bible student in properly handling God’s word. There are also many good reference works available to learn the Biblical languages. We have listed some of these in the bibliography.
2B. Some Helpful Skills
1C. Charting or Outlining Books
The basic point of a chart or an outline—as an application of the organic principle—is that the overall structure of the book can be visualized at a single glance (more so with the chart) and any one paragraph (episode, etc.) can be placed within that structure; literary relationships that are important for interpretation can be seen quickly and easily.
2C. The Subject-Complement
In epistolary literature working with paragraph as the basic unit of meaning is key because of the ambiguities of language. Words in and of themselves, even in sentences, are ambiguous, whereas a great deal of this ambiguity is dealt with at the level of the paragraph. For examples, simple subject-copula-predicate assertions are often times ambiguous; we’re not sure whether they’re asserting something about the subject or about the predicate.9 For this and other reasons the paragraph is the basic unit of the thought. But the paragraph can be summarized in what is known as a subject-complement statement. See our website /docs/splife/study/toc.htm.
3B. The Importance of Genre
The fact that we read C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia one way and the morning newspaper another, tells us the importance of recognizing the kind of literature we’re reading if we are to genuinely understand the author’s work. The expression “kind of literature” refers to its genre. A genre, in reference to literary studies, can be defined as a group of texts all sharing similar traits. Recognizing these traits, help us to recognize the genre and the appropriate questions to be asking when reading it.
4B. The Bible Is Literarily Pluralistic
The Bible is not a telephone book…though it is often read as such. On the contrary, it is literarily pluralistic! It presents a colorful diversity of literatures, much like the various kinds of literature in a good library. Its music is not generated from a sole instrument, but rather experienced as a beautifully orchestrated symphony. The key to reading and interpreting the Bible, then, is to know the kind of literature you’re looking at and the “rules” that govern its interpretation. That is, different kinds of literature set up in us different expectations as readers and we should be aware of what these are, lest we read historical narratives as parables or something else.
When a piece of literature begins with: “Once there was a gentleman who married, for his second wife, the proudest most haughty woman that was ever seen,” we know that we’re now in the realm of fairy tale, Cinderella to be exact. We then have certain expectations about what can and cannot happen or what can or cannot be said in such a piece. Or, take for example, the story of Rumpelstiltzkin which opens with the words: “There was once upon a time a poor miller who had a very beautiful daughter.” With that introduction, we are not surprised (only amused and delighted, initially anyway) to find a very little man, a so-called manikin, that can spin straw into gold. We also instinctively know how to understand the final lines of the story, when the manikin realizes that the Queen has discovered his name: “‘Some demon has told you that, some demon has told you that,’” screamed the little man, and in his rage drove his right foot so far into the ground that it sank in up to his waist; then in a passion he seized the left foot with both hands and tore himself in two.” The author is not referring to a historical person who did such a thing. The genre of the story tells us what the nature of the interpretive game is and what rules are appropriate; it’s the difference between watching and interpreting SCTV news and CNN.
1C. Prose Narrative (Story)
Over 40% of the Old Testament and approximately 60% of the New Testament use the form of literature called narrative. Biblical narrative is not simply a bare reporting of the facts, however, but is rather history unfolded from a divine, theological perspective. Real people and events are written about and put together in such a fashion as to highlight God’s work in the world and examples of positive (belief, righteousness) and negative (unbelief, sin) responses to him. These texts were written from a posture of informed faith and are thus able to teach us as the new covenant community how to walk with God and please Him in the every day affairs of life (Rom 15:4).
Large portions of Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, the Gospels and Acts fall into this category, though more specific qualities or identifications may be assigned within each of these examples of narrative. Important for understanding and interpreting narrative material is an understanding of how story functions, including an analysis of settings, characters, plot, and point of view. Some keys to interpreting story include recognizing the use of parallelism, implied comparisons and contrasts between people, repetition, dialogue, and authorial comments. Stories move by episodes (not by paragraphs as we see in epistolary literature), and these episodes must be visualized within the context and concerns of the larger work as a whole. The most important fact when dealing with narrative is the realization that it invites participation through imagination.
Poetry is, at its most basic level, the use of an image for something concrete that gives it meaning and affective power. Poetry involves metaphors, similes, and other forms of speech such as hyperbole and personification. It generally requires a fair amount of sanctified imagination and feeling to understand what the poet desires to communicate. Thus these texts cannot be read like mere prose or epistolary literature (cf. Judges 4 with Judges 5). This would be to confuse the dentist with the lover; there’s a difference you know!
Much of the Bible is written in poetic verse, including the psalms (which are hymns and prayers), prophecy, and much in the NT (e.g., Phil 2:6-11). The difference between Hebrew poetry and other forms of poetry is not so much in the kinds of symbols, etc. used, but rather in its parallel structure. There are many kinds of parallel structures observed in Hebrew poetry. We cannot cover them all, but we can comment on a few. First, there is synonymous parallelism, where the second line interprets the first, as in Psalm 19:1:
19:1 The heavens declare God’s glory; the sky displays his handiwork.
An example in the NT would be the well known passage, Matthew 7:7:
7:7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you.
The second type of parallelism found in the poetry of the Bible is antithetic parallelism. This is where the second line provides a contrast with the first. For example, read Proverbs 27:6:
Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.
A third type of parallelism is climactic parallelism. This is where the second line doesn’t just repeat the thought of the first line, as in synonymous parallelism, or simply give a contrast, as in antithetic parallelism, but instead advances the thought from the first line. Read Matthew Psalm 29:1 and Matthew 10:40:
29:1 Acknowledge the Lord, you supernatural beings, acknowledge the Lord’s majesty and power!
10:40 “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.
A fourth type of parallelism is chiastic or inverted parallelism. An example is Isaiah 11:13b:
11:13b Ephraim will no longer be jealous of Judah, and Judah will no longer be hostile toward Ephraim.
This passage could be represented as:
will no longer be jealous of
will no longer be hostile toward
In chiastic parallelism the emphasis usually falls on the center or the extremes. These should be given emphasis in interpretation.
It is also helpful to note that the psalms have been arranged according to content and emphasis into some of the following groups and it is helpful to study them as such.10 There are lament psalms (3, 44, 6, 13, 142), praise psalms (32, 33, 135, 138), royal psalms (45, 110, 144) enthronement psalms (2, 47, 97, 98), Zion and pilgrimage psalms (84, 121, 122, 125), wisdom psalms (1, 49) and hallel psalms (113-118).
3C. Epistolary or Didactic
The epistles are for the most part ad hoc theological letters written in order to praise, strengthen, correct and direct the emerging apostolic church. While there is poetry as well as other genres within them, they are decidedly expositional in form and require the ability to define words fairly precisely and follow sustained logical argument. A significant understanding of the OT is also essential to understanding these letters for often the images, allusions, and arguments are based on texts and/or concepts from the OT.
There are many other genres in the Bible including, prophecy, apocalyptic, legal, hymnic, etc. There is simply not enough space to treat them here (see bibliography). But, a grasp of what is required for interpreting prose, poetry and epistolary literature will greatly aid a person in handling all of the Bible.
VA. Paradigm for the Practice of Truth
1B. The Nature of the Spiritual Life
We have been chosen by God for the purpose of holiness or Christlikeness (Rom 8:29; Eph 1:3-4; 2 Tim 1:9). But our present experience of the spiritual life is one of strength, peace, and growth on the one hand, and struggle, pain, and defeat on the other. This is the nature of living in the “now-not yet” of our salvation experience (Phil 3:12-15). As Paul said, “the flesh wars against the Spirit, and the Spirit wars against the flesh” (Gal 5:17). Application of certain truths will be easier than others. The key ideas to think about in terms of applying the Bible are faith and love (i.e., relationships). Ask yourself what this truth would look like in your relationships with God, your wife and family, friends, others, and in your fight against the world, the flesh, and the Devil. Generalities are the refuge of a weak mind so be specific with regard to applying the Bible (see /docs/splife/study/toc.htm).
2B. The Centrality of Meditation, Prayer, and Christ-like Response
Central to applying the Bible is spiritual power and direction. The spiritual power comes from the Holy Spirit living in us in conjunction with the people of God surrounding and encouraging us. The power comes personally as we meditate on scripture, seeking to hear God’s voice through it. The direction comes as we look at Biblical examples such as Paul, and ultimately the perfect Person, Christ and as we reflect on our strengths and weaknesses in that light.
3B. Biblical Principles and Specific Applications
Formulate principles from Scripture that are timeless and according to the needs, interests and problems you face. For example, you may formulate the principle from Joshua 1:8 that mediation on God’s word leads to victory in the Christian life. Then you might seek to begin a process of Bible memory and meditation to grow spiritually. Be careful in your application of Scripture, however, that you do not foster the habit of moving straight from the text to application without prayer and without serious consideration of your heart in the process.
Please consult our website for thousands of excellent, inductive and synthetic Bible studies, works on theology, history, Bible memory programs, etc. at www.bible.org. These materials are copyrighted, but are free for download, making copies, and distributing. They must not be sold, however, under any circumstances whatsoever. In addition to the materials at the Biblical Studies Foundation, consult the following:
1B. Background Material
DeVries, LaMoine F. Cities of the Biblical World. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1997.
Evans, Craig A. and Stanley E. Porter, eds. Dictionary of New Testament Background. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2000.
Ferguson, Everett. Backgrounds of Early Christianity. Second Edition. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993.
Gower, Ralph. The New Manners and Customs of Bible Times. Chicago: Moody, 1987.
Green, Joel B. et al., eds. Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Downers Grove, IL; InterVarsity, 1992.
Hawthorne, Gerald F., et al., eds. Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1993.
Jeffers, James S. The Greco-Roman World of the New Testament: Exploring the background of Early Christianity. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1999.
Keener, Craig. The IVP Bible Background Commentary (NT). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1997.
Martin, Ralph P. and Peter H. Davids, eds. Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1997.
Walton, John H., et al. The IVP Bible Background Commentary (OT). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2000.
2B. General Books on Bible Study
Alder, Mortimer J. and Charles Van Doren. How to Read a Book. Revised and Updated. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972.
Carson, D. A. Exegetical Fallacies. Second Edition. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996.
Fee, Gordon D. Listening to the Spirit in the Text. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000.
Hendricks, Howard G. Living by the Book. Chicago: Moody, 1991.
Jackson, Gayle and Walter Henrichson, Studying, Interpreting and Applying the Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990.
Klein, William W., et al. Introduction to Biblical Interpretation. Dallas: Word, 1993.
Osborne, Grant R. The Hermeneutical Spiral: A Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1991.
Silva, Moiss, ed. Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.
Sproul, R. C. Knowing Scripture. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1977.
Stein, Robert H. A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible: Playing by the Rules. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994.
Stott, John R. W. Understanding the Bible. Revised Edition. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984.
Veerman, Dave. How to Apply the Bible. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1993.
Virkler, Henry A. Hermeneutics: Principles and Processes of Biblical Interpretation. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981.
3B. Genre Studies
Fee, Gordon D. and Douglas Stuart. How To Read the Bible for All Its Worth; A Guide to Understanding the Bible. Second Edition. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993.
Ryken, Leland. Words of Delight: A Literary Introduction to the Bible Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987..
________. Words of Life: A Literary Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987.
4B. Language Works
Black, David Alan. Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek: A Survey of Basic Concepts and Applications. Second Edition. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995.
Louw, J. P. Semantics of New Testament Greek. The Society of Biblical Literature Semeia Studies. Edited Dan O Via. Atlanta, GA: Scholars, 1982.
Moulton, J. H. and G. Milligan. Vocabulary of the Greek Testament. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1930.
Mounce, William D. Basics of Biblical Greek. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993.
Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.
Bauer, Walter. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Revised and Edited by F. W. Danker. Third Edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.
Frank Gaebelein, ed. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. 12 Vols. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980’s.
The NIV Application Commentary. Zondervan.
The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Eerdmans.
The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Eerdmans.
The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Eerdmans/InterVarsity.
The New International Bible Commentary (OT/NT). Hendrickson.
New Testament Commentary. Baker.
The Baker Exegetical Commentary Series
Stein, Robert H. An Introduction to the Parables. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1981.
Blomberg, Craig L. Interpreting the Parables. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1990.
6B. Theological Works and Dictionaries
Bray, Gerald, ed. The Contours of Christian Theology. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1993-?
Gerald Bray. The Doctrine of God.
Robert Letham. The Work of Christ
Donald MacLeod. The Person of Christ
Paul Helm. The Providence of God
Charles Sherlock. The Doctrine of Human Nature
Sinclair Ferguson. The Holy Spirit
Edmund Clowney. The Church
Klaus Runia. The Last Things
Peter Jensen. The Revelation of God
Elwell, Walter A., ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984.
Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985.
Ferguson, Sinclair B. and J. I Packer. New Dictionary of Theology. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1988.
Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994.
Lewis, Gordon R. and Bruce A. Demarest, Integrative Theology: Three Volumes in One. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.
McGrath, Alister E. Christian Theology: An Introduction. Second Edition. Oxford: Blackwell, 1997.
________., ed. The Christian Theology Reader. Oxford: Blackwell, 1995.
1 As cited in Robert A. Traina, Methodical Bible Study: A New Approach to Hermeneutics (New York: The Biblical Seminary, 1952), 33.
2 For the role of the Spirit in interpretation see, Vern Sheridan Poythress, “God’s Lordship in Interpretation,” WTJ 50 (Spring 1988): 27-64.
3 Inspiration is the theological word used to refer to the process of God superintending the human authors of scripture so that what they wrote was both their own words as well the Word of God himself. It was not limited to mechanical dictation, as we might have, say, in the receiving of the Ten Commandments, but rather in a variety of ways, the end product always being God’s Word to man (2 Tim 3:16; 2 Pet 1:20-21). Technically speaking inspiration applies to the autographa (not copies or translations).
4 See J. I. Packer, “Infallible Scripture and the Role of Hermeneutics,” in Scripture and Truth, ed. D. A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992), 327-32.
5 Cf. W. Jay Wood, Epistemology: Becoming Intellectually Virtuous, Contours of Christian Philosophy, ed. Stephen F. Evans (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1998), 16-18.
6 For a fuller discussion of the importance of the author to his meaning and the morality of literary knowledge see Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Is There Meaning in This Text: The Bible, The Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998).
7 This illustration is taken from J. I. Packer, Truth and Power (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1996), 111-12.
8 This is true on an historical level at least, though it lacks sophistication on a theological and spiritual level.
9 G. B. Caird, The Language and Imagery of the Bible (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1980), 10.
10 The reader is encouraged to consult, Andrew E. Hill and John H. Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991), 274-85 for further classifications of the psalms.
Related Topics: Bibliology (The Written Word)