Follow Jesus Week 2
The article below digs deep into Week 2 of a 3-Week Course called Follow Jesus offered by our Emmaus Institute in January 2020. You can listen to the podcast or read the article.
In this session we will go over the final two steps for reading and studying your Bible: interpretation and application.
The second step in studying your Bible is interpretation. Interpretation seeks to answer the question, “What does the text mean?” To understand what the passage means, we have to understand what it meant to the original audience. A text cannot mean something today that it never would have meant to the original audience. Historical context is key to this part, especially the purpose or occasion for the book.
There are five steps for interpretation:
- Examine the text in its context.
Context determines meaning! Meaning is not usually determined at the word or even verse/sentence level. You have to move beyond the verse to the paragraph and larger section of the passage you are studying to understand its context.
It is so easy to misunderstand a verse when you take it out of its context. Look at what comes before the passage. What comes after? What larger argument, point, or theme is being developed by the author?
- Pay attention to sentence structure.
Helpful questions to ask and things to remember for this step:
- Is anything in the passage repeated?
- Are there any quotes/references to the Old Testament? If so look them up!
- Are there any conditional clauses (if/then), cause and effect, commands, similes, metaphors?
- Ask why the passage is located here? Authors were not using chapters and verses (these were added to books much later), but they wrote the things they did and put them in that specific spot for a reason.
- How does this passage build off what was said in the previous section? How does it connect to the next section?
- Does this passage contain any symbolism or figurative language?
- Does it have a connecting word like “therefore?”
- Who do the pronouns refer to?
- Interpret according to the type of book the author wrote.
The Bible has various types, or genres, of writing. Examples are narrative, prophecy, poetry, and letters. Each genre has its own rules for interpretation. Many mistakes made in interpretation come from misunderstanding the style the author was using. Consult the last few pages of the participant guide posted in week 1 to see the interpretation rules for each genre.
- Look for theological principles
In other words, what is the author teaching in this specific passage?
To help with this step, ask these questions:
- What does the passage say about God?
- What does it say about man?
- What, if any, explicit commands are given?
- What promises or warnings are given by God to man?
- How does this passage point to Jesus?
Finding the theological principle(s) of the text help you bridge the gap between the original audience to what it means for us today (which is what the third step, application, is all about).
- Make conclusions about what the text means.
The questions listed above will help you discover the author’s main point. Once that is determined, you can make conclusions as to what the text means. Remember to make conclusions firmly in the original context as you seek the author’s original meaning, and hold the conclusions with open hands (it’s always possible to be wrong about our interpretation).
Other tools to help with interpretation:
- The role of the Holy Spirit (John 14:26, 16:13). One of the roles of the Holy Spirit is to help us understand Scripture. Look to the Holy Spirit for help and wisdom.
- Look up cross-references.
- Try to paraphrase the section you are studying in your own words.
- This might be a challenge at first, but it is a helpful exercise as it will help you try and focus on the author’s main idea in the passage. Be sure to hold your paraphrase with open hands, it might be totally off, but continue practicing as it can be helpful.
- Look up words in the original language at biblehub.com.
- For help using this website, check out this video: https://youtu.be/v2KddYxKQ3E
- Consult a commentary or Study Bible notes.
- Use this as a last step!
- My recommendation for Study Bibles: ESV or CSB Study Bible
- My recommendation for commentaries:
- Use bestcommentaries.com for help finding a good commentary
- Commentary series I like:
- God’s Word for You
- Bible Speaks Today
- Preaching the Word
- Pillar New Testament Commentary
- New American Commentary
- NIV Application Commentary
The third and last step for studying our Bible is application. Application seeks to answer the question, “What does the text mean for me?” With this step, we are seeking to apply what we’ve learned through the first two steps practically to our lives.
There are three steps for application:
- Use the main point or theological principle of the passage to form a propositional statement.
A propositional statement would look like this: Because the passage teaches [fill in blank with theological principle/command/etc.], I ought to do [fill in consequence of believing theological principle or of obedience to command].
This will help you think practically with the main point or theological principle so that you can apply it to your life.
- Think through specific ways this passage can apply to you today.
Some questions to help with this step:
- How should what this passage reveals about God change you today?
- What sinful thoughts and/or behavior in my life is revealed by this passage?
- How does it show sin against God? Against others?
- What specific steps need to be taken to repent of these sins and live in obedience?
- If a command is given, how can this command be practically obeyed today?
- What does this passage teach about living in godly relationships with those around you?
- How should this passage increase faith in God?
- Remember all Scripture points to Jesus.
If studying an Old Testament passage, ask how does this passage point forward to Jesus?
If studying a New Testament passage, ask how does this passage point to the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus?
Other tools to help with application:
- Meditate on passage
- Memorize Scripture
- Study in community