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 3)

This series was originally intended to last 31 days, but since we took a brief hiatus halfway through, we’re going to run a few days over. Hope you don’t mind. There’s cupcakes in the back to make this go faster.

Just kidding.

But if you’re munching on a cupcake (or muffin, or scone) right now, send me a picture. I’d love to join in the virtual celebration with you. We’re closing in folks. Not that much longer till we’re done!

As a refresher, these are the 3 questions we need to ask to interpret a Bible passage:

  • What is the Subject of the passage?
  • What does the passage say about the subject? (Complement)
  • What is the main point of the passage? (Big Idea)

Today we get to see how the first two questions fit together to give us the answer to the last question.

What is the main point of the passage?

If you’ve been tracking with us the last few days, you’ve learned how to discover the Subject in a passage and what the passage says about that Subject (aka the Complement).

Put together the Subject and the Complement, and you’ll get the Big Idea of the passage. Yeah, it will need a bit of tweaking, but it should pretty much all be there on paper. Your paper. In your notebook. This is grand!

A few pointers about big ideas before we look at our examples. And again, I’m indebted to Dr. Estes for these thoughts.

As you work on your Big Idea, make it precise, concise, and memorable.

In other words, make sure your big idea is flowing out of the observations you’ve made about the passage and that you use there and then language (precise). Not all your observations will make it into the Big Idea, but that’s okay. You should feel like your Big Idea is getting the main point, and nothing stated in your BI should be outside the observations you’ve made. (As in, now is not the time to introduce a new concept out of left field if it wasn’t in the passage to begin with. Stick with the text.)

Also, try to make your Big Idea concise, ideally, less than 12 words. This isn’t a golden rule, but it helps us really hone in on the main point instead of trying to cram in everything we can into one long run-on sentence. Ahem. Not that I’ve ever done that. (Yeah, right.)

And lastly, make your Big Idea memorable. Have fun with this one! Try using contrast, chiasmus, rhyme, or alliteration to make the Big Idea easy to remember. Preachers especially love alliteration, but it’s easy to overdo it, so make sure you vary it up and try other methods, too. 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

Okay, let’s go back to our examples:

  • Judges 13:1-25
    • S: Who God chose to deliver His people from the Philistines
    • C: Samson, the son of a barren woman, delivered God’s people from the Philistines.
    • BI: God chose Samson to deliver His people from the Philistines.
  • Psalm 46:1-11
    • S: Why God’s people could trust Him to take care of them
    • C: God controls both natural disasters and international turmoil, and He is the final Victor.
    • BI: God’s people trust Him with in all things because He is sovereign over all.
  • John 15:4
    • S: How disciples could bear the fruit of repentance
    • C: By remaining in the vine, that is Jesus
    • BI: Jesus’ disciples could bear fruit of repentance by remaining connected to the Him.

As you can see, there’s some wordsmithing needed in the Big Ideas above, but you get the gist of it. As long as you’re maintaining the integrity of the Big Idea, feel free to be creative and play around with this. Draft different Big Ideas and see which one best captures the main point and also sounds like a zinger.

This step is especially important if you’re studying a passage to teach it to an audience. You want to make it easy for listeners to remember the Big Idea. As you practice this step, you’ll soon find yourself picking up on other preacher’s Big Ideas in their sermons, and you’ll chuckle to yourself, knowing just what went into making that phrase sound so good that listeners rush to write it down.

But even if your Bible study never leaves the space of your home, your work is just as important. Sure, I don’t spend 30 minutes trying to turn the phrase “just so” when I’m simply studying a passage for myself. Different goals will determine how much time you spend on making the Big Idea memorable.

But whatever your goal is, don’t stop here. Having finished the observations and interpretation, you’re on the cusp of bringing the teachings of Scripture to bear on your own life. And this last step of application is where you’ll discover the Holy Spirit bringing the Word of God to life in your own life with shocking clarity and conviction. Good fun just got better.

Let’s Review

The Big Idea is the main point of the passage in a comprehensive but succinct sentence.

After you read a passage, ask yourself, “If this passage were answering a question, what would that question be: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?” Write it out. (Note that a chapter may be composed of several passages; it’s ok to focus on just one passage at a time, even if you don’t cover the whole chapter.)

After you’ve identified the passage’s question, ask yourself how this passage answers that question. Rewrite the answer until you’ve included all the important details in the passage.

Now put together the question and answer in a statement form, and you have the big idea of the passage, or what it’s trying to get at. For example, the question for John 11 could be: “How should a Christian view death?” and the answer would be “Unafraid because Jesus is Life and will resurrect those who believe in Him.” The Big Idea of John 11, then, is this: “Christians should not fear death because Jesus Himself is Life and will resurrect those who believe in Him.”

You’ve got this. Give it a try, why dontcha?

Your Turn

  1. Begin with a moment of worship, thanking God for the great love He shows us to reveal Himself to use through His Word.
  2. Read John 14 (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. Determine the Subject and the Complement of the passage.
  5. Craft the Big Idea of the passage, making sure it’s precise, concise, and memorable. Don’t apply it to yourself just yet, but camp on what the Big Idea meant for the primary audience then and there.
  6. End in prayer, praising God for your ability to read and write, your access to a Bible, your freedom to study without fear of persecution, and these precious few moments to get away with just you, Him, and His Word.

31 Days to Deeper Bible Study