Last week I just dove in and gave you a template for how to move your Bible study to a lesson format. This week, let me back up and give you a template for how to study the Bible. Much more can be said about studying the Bible, but I find these three analogies helpful.
Hike through the text! You might think of the first phase of Bible study as hiking. This should be done with a good English translation in hand or on a screen. In addition, have a notepad and locate to a quiet place. Focus on the following things in this initial stage of study:
Don't run, walk through the text. There's no need to hurry. Take your time and read through the text slowly, reflectively, audibly and repetitively.
Don't get tripped up by the root or sticks on the ground. As you read through the Scripture don't get bogged down with questions you don’t have answers to. The point is to listen to God through the Word. Spend time getting the Word inside of you.
Read with your senses. See it, hear it, feel it, smell it and taste it. If the passage evokes tears then read it until you cry. If it scolds you then bow before it and repent. If it roars then listen with your ears and be awed by the Word.
Stop periodically along the way and take pictures of the beauty that is around you. As you read, certain verses and phrase will stand out to you. Linger at the overlook of those thoughts and let them stay with you all day. Write them down in a journal and come back to them through the week.
Survey the text looking for the original markers. A friend of mine is a land surveyor and he tells me the major task of surveyor is to find the property's original land markers. This is a great analogy of the second stage of Bible study. Once you have hiked through the trail of your text you will want to find the boundaries of the forest in which it is situated. When we survey our passage, we learn the context of the Scripture. Here are a few thoughts to help you in this stage of study:
Look for textual markers to help you see where your passage fits within the larger framework of the Bible. One of my favorite tools for locating these markers is the NIV Compact Bible Commentary by John Sailhamer. This one volume work will give you the context of every book of the Bible and you can get it for less than $15. One free resource is Peter Enns’ introductions to each of the books of the Bible.
Look for historical and cultural markers as well. Here is a tip, instead of buying background books, biblical culture books and atlases, just buy one very good commentary on the book you are studying and it will provide all that information, plus you will have an outstanding commentary for using in the third point below. Here is a trustworthy site for comparing the very best commentaries: https://www.bestcommentaries.com/matthew/
Look for theological markers. Here are 2 resources that will help you understand the theology contained in the passage or book you are studying. I know they are big but if you will just open it up and try, you will find they are pretty easy to understand, I promise!
An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach
by Bruce Waltke
Theology of the New Testament: A Canonical and Synthetic Approach
by Frank Thielman
Mine the text for helpful treasures. Mining the Scriptures is different than enjoying a hike through them or surveying their boundaries. This is research that digs deep on a phrase or word. Here are a few tips for helping with this stage of research:
Only mine where the ground is right. Don’t spend time trying to drill deep on obscure words or phrases that are simply circumstantial to the passage. Locate the major words in the passage, the words you don’t understand and the action words, and start there.
If you don’t know the original languages don’t pretend you do, just rely on those trustworthy authors who do. I mentioned a website above where you can find excellent commentaries. Here is a very helpful website where they have done much of the mining work for you, http://www.preceptaustin.org/ Just go to the verse by verse section and have fun. When you are starting to build your library with commentaries, it is good to have a one volume commentary on the whole Bible. After that, pick and choose, I don’t recommend buying many sets. Just find the best commentary on the book you are studying and master it. Also, I’m not a big fan of word study books because words don’t have meaning out of context. So if you get a good commentary it will give you the mining riches while remaining in context.