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The Practice Of A Good Interpreter

1. Do an Initial Synthesis of a Book

A. The Book of Titus

For the sake of illustration I have chosen the book of Titus. It is small, only three chapters, and is fairly uncomplicated. The first thing I want to do is to read it through several times noting the beginning and the ending and the basic idea of each paragraph in between. In the NET Bible the beginning or introduction is found in 1:1-4 and the ending is found in 3:12-15. There are six paragraphs in between. They are: (1) 1:5-9; (2) 1:10-16; (3) 2:1-10; (4) 2:11-15; (5) 3:1-7; (6) 3:8-11.

B. Title the Paragraphs

Let’s title each paragraph so that we can remember at a glance what’s in that paragraph. These titles are not permanent, but only temporary and may be changed somewhat if we were going to do a complete analysis of the book.

      1:1-4

      Greetings: Faith, Truth, Godliness and the Hope of Eternal Life

      1:5-9

      The Qualifications of Elders

      1:10-16

      Rebellious People Teaching for Dishonest Gain

      2:1-10

      Proper Ethical and Doctrinal Teaching for Congregations

      2:11-15

      Grace Leads to Holiness

      3:1-7

      Relationships with the World

      3:8-11

      Summary of Letter

      3:12-15

      Final Instructions and Greeting

      C. Now, Let’s Relate the Paragraphs One To Another

        1. 1:1-4

        There are elements in the introductory paragraph (1:1-4) that appear throughout the letter. Did you notice that? In certain ways, then, 1:1-4 serves as a preview of what is coming. The lesson we learn from this is to look for similar patterns elsewhere in Paul and the letters of the New Testament. These patterns will be seen in Paul most clearly and often in his opening thanksgiving and prayer sections. At your leisure some time, compare Romans 1:1-17 with the rest of the letter. Try also 1 Cor 1:1-9; Galatians 1:1-5; Phil 1:1-11; Col. 1:1-14; 1 Thess 1:1-10.

            a. The Importance of Introductions

          The comment about a “knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness” brings together the idea of “truth” and a “lifestyle” that goes with it. From your readings of the letter you can tell that this basically sums up what is said throughout. The qualifications of the elders in 1:5-9 is a lifestyle based on the message of truth (cf. 1:1, 3, 9). The rebellious people of 1:10-16 are those who reject truthful teaching (1:11, 14). Timothy’s responsibility not only to the elders (1:5-9), but also to the church at large (2:1-10) was to urge ethical conduct consistent with sound teaching (2:1, 8, 10), etc.

            b. Eternal Life

          Paul mentions “eternal life” in 1:2. He mentions it again near the end of the letter in 3:7. Both of them refer to a future time.

            c. God our Savior

          He refers to God as “God our savior” in 1:3, 2:10 and 3:4. He also refers to Christ as “Christ our savior” in 1:4, 2:13, and 3:6.

            d. Faith

          Faith” is referred to in 1:1 and in 1:4, 13; 2:2, 10; 3:15.

        2. 1:5-9

        So we know now that the first paragraph, somewhat unusual in Paul in that it contains so much theological information, is really intended as a general survey of what is coming in the rest of the letter. So it is functioning much the same way as the “thanksgiving and prayer” sections in some of Paul’s other letters. Now let’s move on to talk about 1:5-9.

        Paul has already said that he is a “slave of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to further the faith of God’s chosen ones” (1:1). One of the ways he furthered the faith of God’s chosen ones was to disciple other men, faithfully imparting his life and teachings to them (cf. 2 Tim 3:10) so that they could teach others (2 Tim 2:2). Titus was such a man whom Paul had earlier sent to Crete to organize the churches there and teach them properly, thus furthering the faith of God’s chosen ones (1:5). It seems, then, that 1:5-9 as it concerns elders and their leading the churches in Crete begins the letter as an example of what Paul meant by furthering the faith of God’s chosen ones (1:1).

        3. 1:10-16

        The next paragraph in 1:10-16 is connected to 1:5-9 through the first word “For.” This indicates that 1:10-16 is the reason why the elders should have the qualifications spoken of in 1:5-9. The reason, then, that elders should live and teach a certain way (1:5-9) is because there are many rebellious men who are living unholy lives and teaching false doctrines (1:10-16). Do you see the connection between these two paragraphs?

        4. 2:1-10

        The next paragraph, 2:1-10, is set off by the word “But”—a contrast marker. This means that what follows in 2:1-10 is in contrast to 1:10-16. What Paul is saying, then, in 2:1-10 is that Titus is not to be like the men in 1:10-16, but is instead to communicate the kind of holy behavior that accompanies sound teaching. Just as the men in 1:10-16 taught whole households (1:11) so Titus is to teach older men and women, younger men and women, and slaves (i.e., everyone in the church) and is to do it with integrity and dignity (neither of which the false teachers of 1:10-16 possessed) so that the message of God might be honored in every way and nothing evil spoken of the church (2:10)! Wouldn’t this principle, if properly applied, help a lot of our churches today?

        5. 2:11-15

        The next paragraph begins with a familiar term, i.e., the word “For.” Once again, this term here means that what follows in 2:11-15 is a further reason for the commands given Titus in 2:1-10. In 2:1-10 we learned that there was a practical reason that Titus was not to be like the men in 1:10-16 who were godless and taught incorrect doctrines. We learned in 2:8-10 that he was to live and teach properly so that the teaching of God would not be maligned by outsiders. In 2:11-15, however, Paul wants to give Titus a theological reason for teaching sound doctrine: it is because the same grace that saves us, also teaches us to say no to ungodliness. God’s grace teaches us to live upright and godly loves while we wait for Christ’s return.

        6. 3:1-7

        The next paragraph, 3:1-7 has no apparent connecting word with it, i.e., there is no “therefore,” “but,” “for,” “since,” etc. at the front of the first sentence. But the theme of the paragraph concerns a godly life style based on God’s saving mercy, similar to 2:1-10 and 2:11-15. The difference in 3:1-7, however, is that Paul is not talking specifically about relations within the church as seems to be the focus in 2:1-10, 11-15, but is concerned with how the members of the church relate to political authorities outside the church and indeed to the world in general (i.e., “all people”). Thus it is a development of the idea of 2:10 (“to credit the teaching of God”), but not in reference to relationships in the church, but rather in reference to relationships in the world.

        7. 3:8-11

        The next paragraph, 3:8-11, begins with the words “this saying” which undoubtedly refers to the idea of justification and the hope of eternal life expressed in 3:7. But the reference to “such truths” in 3:8 broadens the idea to include all the Paul has just talked about in the letter. Further, the reminder to reject foolish controversies in 3:9 (cf. 1:14; 2:8) and the manner in which Titus is to deal with divisive people, outlined in 3:10-11 indicates that this is probably a summary connected to the original intent of the letter (see 1:5).

        8. 3:12-15

        The last paragraph, 3:12-15 (aren’t you glad?), seems to be simply a conclusion in which Paul makes certain wishes known to Titus and gives his final greetings.

      D. State the Message of the Book

      2. Do an Analysis of a Single Paragraph

      Now that we have a fairly good idea of the overall “big picture” of the book we are ready to start to study a paragraph. Let’s study 2:11-15. On an 8.5” x 11” piece of paper reproduce the following chart:

      A. Analyze the Details of the Paragraph

        Book: Titus Passage: 2:11-15
            Context:

        Before: Paul talks about “elders (1:5-9), “rebellious teachers” (1:10-16), and the truth that Titus is supposed to teach while he is in Crete (2:1-10), teaching which stands in contrast to the rebellious teachers.

        After: The relationship of the church to those in the world (3:1-7).

        The Paragraph: Ask “Who,” “What,” “When,” “Where,” “Why,” and “How” Questions. You can ask literally hundreds of questions on any passage or paragraph. Here are a few examples. Try to answer the questions that you think are most crucial to a proper understanding of the paragraph. If you ask good questions you will not be able to answer them all. Some are just too difficult or there simply isn’t enough information. You may use a dictionary, or other passages in Paul or the rest of the Bible to answer your questions. Be careful in the use of other verses to answer questions: don’t assume that Paul is necessarily talking about the same things here just because the same terms are used. Check the context of each cross-reference you make.

        The point of this exercise is to get you making observations on the text (e.g., noting details about words and how they’re put together in sentences and paragraphs) and asking questions based on what you observe. This is a skill of fundamental importance in studying the Bible and will be greatly developed at the intermediate and advanced levels.

    Verse

    Observations

    Questions

    Answers

    2:11

    “grace of God” This seems to be the topic of the paragraph, broadly speaking.

    What does “grace of God” mean in this passage/paragraph?

    The unmerited favor of God. Cf. Rom 5:8. While the word “grace” seems to convey the idea of “help given to the helpless and undeserving” (cf. 3:3) is there anything in the passage that shows how that “grace” was expressed by God, since after all it is the grace of God that we’re speaking about. Verse 14 seems to provide an answer (Notice that we appeal first to the immediate context to answer questions). In v. 14 we are told that Jesus gave himself to set us free and purify us, so that we might be eager to do good works. Further, the fact that it teaches us to say “no” to sin indicates that it involves the imparting of spiritual strength to the recipient.

           

    2:12

    “trains”

    How so?

    The “training” involves both a negative and positive aspect. Negative: to reject godless ways and worldly desires; Positive: to live self controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present evil age. But this still doesn’t tell how this is accomplished. It seems that the internal motivation comes from the renewing work of the Spirit who was himself given to us on the basis of Christ’s sacrificial work. This is the point of 3:4-6. Thus the “training” taught to us by the example of Christ and the apostle’s teaching is applied to our hearts and consciences through the Holy Spirit who lives in us. This seems to agree generally with Romans 8:1-39; Galatians 5:16-23; and Ephesians 5:18-20.

           
           

    2:13

    “great God and savior”

    In what sense is he God? How is he our savior?

    Paul refers to Jesus as “our great God and savior” indicating that while he did not deny his humanity he also held that Jesus was full deity (cf. Phil 2:6-11; Col. 1:15-20; cf. also John 1:1; Heb 1:8). He is our savior in the sense that he sets us free from every kind of lawlessness and brings us into a relationship with God.

           
           

    2:14

    “He gave himself…to set us free…to purify…to do good”

    To what does this refer?

    The expression “he gave himself” probably refers to Jesus’ death as substitutionary to deliver us from sin (cf. Galatians 1:4). The focus on Jesus as Savior in the letter to Titus also carries the positive idea of bringing us into a right relationship with God. This is expressed in the idea of a purified people who are truly his.

           
           

    2:15

    “exhortation”

    What does it mean? How would he do it?

     
     

    “authority”

    What does this mean?

     
     

    Summary Statement of the Entire Passage

    The Subject: The grace of God

    The Complement: has appeared and brings salvation to all men, training them to live godly lives until Christ returns.

     

    Application

    Theoretical Principles:

    Practical Applications:

      B. Summarize the Paragraph

      At the end of your study of the paragraph, after you have made numerous observations and answered questions, you will need to tie the study together again. The way to do this is by writing out in one sentence the “big idea” of the paragraph. There are two parts to any idea: (1) the subject, or what the author talks about, and (2) the complement, or what he says about what he’s talking about. Our purpose is only to introduce this to you here. At the next level we will learn how to do this in more detail. We will also learn how to verify that the subjects and complements we write out are most likely correct. NOTE: You cannot include every detail of the paragraph in your subject/complement. You might as well rewrite the paragraph. The point of this exercise is to force you to summarize. On the other hand, do not be so vague that your summary could fit any paragraph of Scripture.

      In our example above we have written out a subject-complement as follows:

      The Subject: The grace of God

      The Complement: has appeared and brings salvation to all men, training them to live godly lives until Christ returns.

      The first sentence, in this case, expresses the topic Paul wishes to communicate to Titus, namely, the “grace of God.” Several things are said about the grace of God: (1) it has appeared; (2) it brings salvation to all men; (3) it trains… (4) it is related to Christ’s offer of himself. Thus Paul is discussing, broadly speaking, aspects of the nature of the grace of God. This is his subject. Verse 15 forms part of the subject to the degree that he wants Titus to exhort people to live according to a correct understanding of this grace. The injunction to Titus in v. 15 would not be in the complement since it is not, per se, part of the nature of the grace Paul is referring to.

      The complement represents a greater level of summary, in this case, than the subject. In it we have covered all the material from 2:11-14. If there were more verses we would not be able to include as much information (from each verse) in our subject/complement as we did in this one.

      3. Relate the Paragraph to Your Original Synthesis of the Book

      You have done an initial synthesis of the book you’re studying. Then you analyzed and summarized one particular paragraph in the book. Now you need to go back to your overall synthesis and see if the detailed study on this particular paragraph affects your synthesis of the message of the whole.

      4. Apply Your Passage: Ethical Principles and Practical Applications (with Scriptural Correlations):

      A. Ethical Principles

        i. Christians are to reject godless ways and worldly desires and live self-controlled, upright and godly lives.

        ii. Paul implies that the Christians are to be patient for the Lord’s return and not give in to temptations to live like the world.

        iii. Christians are to be eager to do good works as an expression of the grace of God in their lives. These good works are, however, not to be done in any way other than from pure motives and in keeping with their relationship with Christ.

      B. Practical Applications According to One’s Life and Needs

      These applications will flow from a person’s life. For example, if you as a Christian have a hard time watching what you say or the way in which you say it, and you feel before God that your language is not godly, then you can first sit down and evaluate why you do what you do. Try to get at the root cause and repent of that as well as the act itself. Then, you might want to read some passages that speak about the correct use of your tongue and seek to apply the passage the next time you say something to anyone (cf. James 1:26). Will what I say build others up (Eph 4:29)? Will it be truthful (Eph 4:15)? Is it at all hypocritical? You may wish to study James 3:1-12 in order to get a better handle on this issue.

      Perhaps there is some other area of your life you feel that you do not have the kind of self control that is honoring to God, that is, your life in this area doesn’t reflect the kind of grace that God has shown you. Perhaps a practical way to apply Titus 2:11-12 is to study some passages, using the concordance in your Bible, which relate to the problem area either directly or indirectly. Then set out a plan to play daily about these issues. Make your plan measurable, attainable, and personal.

      5. An Example from the Book of Ephesians

      Book: Ephesians Passage: 2:1-10

      Context:

      Before: __________________________________________________________________________________________________

      After: __________________________________________________________________________________________________

    Observations

    Questions

    Answers

    2:1 “dead”

    In what sense does he mean “dead” since he says in verse two that “we lived” in this deadness?

     

    ”transgressions” and “sins”

    Do these mean the same or different things? Why two words?

     

    2:2 “formerly”

    What time contrast does Paul have in mind here?

     

    “the world’s present path”

    What is the world’s present path? How is this related to what follows in v. 2

     

    “Kingdom of the air”

    What does “kingdom” mean here? “Air”?

     

    “ruler”

    Who or what is the “ruler” Paul refers to?

     

    “spirit”

    Who or what is this “spirit” Is it a personal being or an attitude?

     

    2:3 “cravings”

    What are these?

     

    “flesh”

    What is this? How does it relate to my physical body? My “nature” as Paul calls it later on in the verse. cf. also Thoughts? Feelings? Will? Specifically to the “mind” mentioned later in the verse?

     

    “nature”

    What does he mean by “nature”

     

    “children of wrath”

    Why “children of wrath”? What “wrath” is he referring to?

     

    2:4 “mercy”

    What does this mean?

     

    “love”

    What does this mean?

     

    “made us alive together with Christ”

    How? When? Why? What does this mean? Alive in what sense?

     

    2:5 “grace”

    What does this mean here?

     

    “saved”

    What does this mean here? Saved from what?

     

    2:6 “raised up”

    When? In what sense?

     

    “seated”

    When? How? In what sense?

     

    “heavenly realms”

    Where is this?

     

    “in Christ Jesus”

    To what does this refer?

     

    2:7 demonstrate

    Does this indicate the purpose for God saving us?

     

    “coming ages”

    What are these?

     

    2:8-9 “For”

    What does this term indicate?

     

    “gift” and “works”

    What is the nature of the contrast?

     

    2:10 “For”

       

    “workmanship”

    How so? How does this relate to what came before in the paragraph?

     

    “created in Christ Jesus”

    What was created? in Christ Jesus?

     

    “good works”

    What are the good works that Paul is envisioning here?

     

    “God prepared beforehand”

    When? Why? How does it relate to our previous life discussed in 2:1-3?

     
         
         

    Summary Statement of the Entire Passage

    The Subject: The reason God saved us by his amazing grace when we were dead in sin and seated us in the heavenly realms

    The Complement: is so that in the coming ages he might express his kindness to us and so that we might currently walk in the good works he has predetermined for us.

    Application

    Theoretical

    Practical

    Related Topics: Bibliology (The Written Word), Teaching the Bible, Bible Study Methods