Methods in Making Observations When Interpreting the Bible
by Bobby Bruno 3/28/2014 / Bible Studies
God has shown man many ways to study His Word in the Bible. In this paper, I am going to look at a couple of those methods taught by others who have made not just studying the bible their life, but who also have a desire to help others properly study the Bible, and have made it a priority, as well.
One organization that has given us a proper way to study the bible is the Grace Institute for Biblical Leadership (2005). According to the Institute, there are multiple facets to studying the Bible correctly to get the full meaning out of every Scripture you want to understand in its full context and meaning, such as the one they utilize (pg. 7): the literal or "plain" method that accepts "the literal rendering of the Scriptures unless the text specifically gives us reason not to."
This method begins with reading; not the simple kind of reading just to find out information, but the kind of in depth reading where you can fully grasp what the person writing is trying to say. They suggest (pgs. 11-14) reading the Scripture like a detective by praying first; by asking questions like who, what, why, where, and how: by meditating on what you have read; by repeating the process all over again; and doing all of these things with the purpose of understanding the writer's intents and purposes for writing the book or letter.
Most Bible study methods will have you utilize observational questions for the Scripture you are studying, and the Grace Institute is no exemption. Asking of the Scripture where, when, who, how, what, and why, as the first step will give you an initial understanding of what the Scripture itself says about why it was written, when it was written, and so on. It is best to get these answers first (if the Scripture allows you to answer them by the information within the Scripture itself) so that, when you go deeper using other methods of interpreting the scripture, you will have a basic working interpretation of that Scripture. Beyond these two methods, the
Institute recommends doing a historical study of the Scriptures (pgs.19-20) which are comprised of the finding the "geographic setting" (where, what), the "chronological setting" (when, what), the "political setting" (who, how, what), the "cultural setting" (what, how), and, lastly, the "spiritual setting" (what, are, is). This method will help you fully find the purpose for why the book or letter was written.
Then there are the literary genre interpretations (pgs. 20-24) which include the narrative books (Gospels), the books of law (Deuteronomy), the wisdom books (Proverbs), the prophecy books (Daniel), the epistles (Galatians), the apocalyptic books (Revelation), and the poetry books (Psalms). All of these different interpretations give us a grand picture of the Word of God in all of its fullness. Studying every aspect of the Bible will take more than one lifetime to achieve.
Getting deeper into the meaning of scripture requires a more worthwhile effort if one is to fully understand the entire intent and meaning of the Word of God. In an article entitled "How to Study the Bible: The Methodical Approach", written by Mark McGee (1993, 1995), McGee gives us more questions to ask ourselves when studying our particular scripture for that day.
(McGee quotes heavily from a college text entitled "Methodical Bible Study: A New Approach to Hermeneutics"(1952, 1980), written by Dr. Robert Traina.)
McGee begins by quoting Dr. Traina when he says that observation "begins with 'the will to observe'". Dr. Traina continues, "Willed observation, vision with executive force behind it, is full of discernment, and is continually making discoveries which keep the mind alert and interested. Dr. Traina interestingly says that observation is "exactness in observation," and "persistence in observation." We must be exacting and persistent in making sure we have interpreted the Scriptures correctly so that we can teach them to others without fear of being judged by Jesus for not imparting His Word as it correctly stands.
McGee gives us many suggestions to "help you observe better during Bible study." These suggestions include: answering the basic questions of who, what, etc; look at other passages of Scripture that speak on the same topic; read the Scripture as if you are seeing it fir the first time; and many, many more ways of observing more deeply.
Once you have answered all of the questions, and have discerned all that you can from observing the Scripture you have studied, McGee says that it is time to interpret the Scripture for all its worth. McGee gives such suggestions for this phase, such as: "what was the standard way of beginning letters during that time"; "why does Paul begin the letter with his name"; and so on. Asking as many questions as you can come up with will help in interpreting the Scripture in a
much fuller fashion, helping the student know exactly what God intended for that particular Scripture to mean.
At the end of studying comes the last step which Mr. McGee calls "Correlation." He does not explain this step, but I would believe that it has to do with coming to the conclusion that, once we put all of our research together, we will have the full picture that God wants us to have about that Scripture at that time in our lives. Everyone must agree that we will not know every exact meaning of every Scripture in the Bible in our lifetimes, but that does not mean that we will never stop trying to glean all that God has for us to know and understand in His Word. Bible study, in all its ways and methods, will help us be all we are to be in Christ. Praise the Lord for His Word!
McGee, M. (1993, 1995). How to study the bible: the methodical method. Retrieved from http://www.pursuingthe truth.org/studies/files/biblestudy.htm
Traina, R., Methodical Bible Study (1952, 1980) First Francis Asbury Press Zondervan, Grand
Bobby Bruno was saved 15 years ago in a way that left him no doubt that Jesus wanted him to reach others with His great and abounding love. He started writing at the age of 12 and hasn't stopped since. He achieved Associates Degree in Biblical Studies from Ohio Christian University in early 2014.