Bible study is not the exclusive possession of pastors or seminary professors. All believers are called to know God – in fact, Jesus explains that knowing God is the very core of eternal life (Jn 17:3). Consequently, if we want to live well, we need to allow His word to dwell richly in us (Col 3:16) and handle it accurately (2 Tim 2:15). We are all accountable for what we do with God’s word, and we should all be diligent to understand it. In addition to helping us know God better, it equips us with all we need to accomplish all He intends for us (2 Tim 3:16-17).
But where do we start? The method described in this series is explained in greater detail in Prolegomena on Biblical Hermeneutics and Method, and it is the core method I teach in classrooms all over the world. Admittedly, it isn’t the only way to exegete the Bible; some outstanding Bible teachers will adjust the order of the steps, or will combine some of them, but generally, they share the same basic approach. This particular method is a straightforward and organized method that will help Bible students to ensure they aren’t missing important pieces.
Before introducing the method, we need to consider three vital prefatory concepts. First: prayer. You will notice that I don’t list prayer as an “official” step in Bible study. That is for the very simple reason that we are to pray without ceasing (1 Thes 5:17). If we say a nice prayer before Bible study, that is all well and good, but we must remember that the process of Bible study should be communion with God. For believers there should be no distinction between academic and devotional study of the Bible. We should always be in the text for the purpose of knowing Him better and spending time with Him. So we should be in prayer throughout the entire process of exegesis and exposition – not just when we begin and end.
Second, we need to remember that we are not studying to teach someone else. We are studying for our own growth in Him, and to deepen our relationship with Him. Too often we take in information with the purpose of giving it to others, and we forget to first apply it to ourselves. Ezra provides us a beautiful example: he sought to learn the Law of the Lord, to practice it, and to teach it (Ezra 7:10). He got the order right: learn, do, and then if God provides opportunity – teach.
Finally, we need to understand that the Bible itself gives us the method of interpreting the Bible, so we don’t need to be puzzled about how to interpret the text. For example, when God told Adam about the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:15), it took a deception from Satan to muddy the meaning (Gen 3:1ff). Later, God held Adam and Eve accountable for literally violating His literal command (Gen 3:11ff). When God told Noah to build a boat (Gen 6:14), Noah didn’t consider there to be some deep spiritual meaning – he built a boat (Gen 6:22)! When God told Abraham to go (Gen 12:1), Abraham went (Gen 12:4). Like Adam, Noah, and Abraham, we need to take God’s words at face value. This is what the literal, grammatical-historical interpretive method is all about: literal, in that it takes the text naturally; grammatical, in that it recognizes the importance of following the grammatical rules of the original language; and historical, in that it recognizes the importance of the times and the historical contexts in which the words were originally written.
Next up, we introduce the 9 Steps.