These 3 questions will help you correctly interpret a Bible text whether you're doing a Bible study on your own or listening to someone else teach a passage

3 Questions to Correctly Interpret a Bible Text (Part 1)

So, I wasn’t quite sure how to pick up this series after disappearing for ten days (thanks random cold and post-conference blues), but we’re just going to jump in and finish strong. Okay?

For most of this series, we’ve talked about tools we can use to engage with a text in order to understand what it’s saying. We wrote down observations, looked for patterns, diagrammed, doodled, memorized, and more.

Today is where the rubber meets the road. We’re going to look at how to move from observations to interpretation and application. Specifically, we’ll spend the next 3 days studying 3 questions that will help us interpret a Bible passage.

I learned this method in my college Spiritual Formation class, and I still use it today. In fact, as I was writing this post, I went back to reference my class notes. (Thanks, Dr. Estes!) It’s simple and easy to remember. I think you’ll like it, too:

  1. What is the subject of the passage?
  2. What does the passage say about the subject? (complement)
  3. What is the main point of the passage? (big idea)

Let’s dig in.

What is the subject of the passage?

After you’ve engaged with the passage, begin with the questions Who, What, When, Where, and How to determine what the passage is about. Ask yourself, “Does the passage focus on a person, a time, a place, a fact, a purpose, or a process?”These 3 questions will help you correctly interpret a Bible text whether you're doing a Bible study on your own or listening to someone else teach a passage

Just to make things easy, we’ll call the answer to this question the “subject.” Yeah, like in grammar school. Please don’t hate me. This is a lot more fun than grammar, honest! Just write down the letter “S” under the passage in your notebook, and next to it summarize the content in a short statement. Force yourself to be concise.

Oh, and avoid using the word “I,” “me,” “my,” or “we” at this point. That will come later, in the application stage. For now, we’re trying to interpret the passage and we need to remain firmly planted in the there and then. It’s hard, I know. We’re so used to jumping to applications, but this step will really help in the end, I promise.

Here are a few examples of subjects of a passage:

  • Judges 13:1-25
    • S: Who God chose to deliver His people from the Philistines
  • Psalm 46:1-11
    • S: Why God’s people could trust Him to take care of them
  • John 15:4
    • S: How disciples could bear the fruit of repentance

Notice how each “subject” begins with either Who, What, When, Where, Why, or How? (You’ll soon discover that certain genres lend themselves to certain types of subjects. You can read more about genres here.)

At first, this may seem hard. That’s okay. Try out different subjects by trying to answer each of the 5 W’s (and How) with the observations you’ve made about the text. You’ll soon realize that some are a more natural fit than others. And within a few minutes you’ll have one that’s standing out as the clear winner.

Bingo.

You’re basically a Bible scholar pro.

Your Turn

  1. Before you dig into the passage, spend a few minutes in prayer, worshipping God for who He is and preparing your heart to engage with Scripture.
  2. Read John 12 (or whichever chapter you’re on right now). Pick a smaller portion of the text and re-read it several times.
  3. In your notebook, write down 5-10 observations about that passage.
  4. Now, using the method we discussed above, use the 5 W’s (and How) to determine what the passage is about. It’s okay to try out different subjects. See which one works best.
  5. End in prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to guide you as you learn how to interpret His Word.

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