Before you bake...


Read with humility. - Your character is just as important to understanding the Bible as your method. Technique is important but humility is paramount. The key character ingredient to reading well is “readiness to obey.”


Psalm 119.60 - I will hasten and not delay to obey your commands.

Psalm 25.9 - He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.


If you don’t plan on heeding, don’t plan on hearing. What this means in practice is, first of all, that we pray. And secondly, this means we check our assumptions at the door. We all have them, but only some of them stink. No one comes to Scripture without assumptions. Assumptions can either help or hinder faithful interpretation.


What should we do with our assumptions?

   Recognize… Become aware of what we think without thinking.

   Evaluate… Think through how our assumptions hold up against the Bible.

   Submit… Allow our assumptions to be confirmed or corrected by the Bible.


Never underestimate the importance of letting Scripture tell you how it is rather than the other way around.

Step 1


Begin with the right goals. We cannot succeed in anything until we know what we’re trying to accomplish. What are we trying to do when we read the Bible?

  • Our goal in reading must be rooted in the kind of book the Bible is. 

  • The Bible is a living WORD (act of communication) from God to his people through his people. 


Therefore, our goal is twofold: First of all, our goal is to discern the voice of God. Second, our goal is to discover the author’s intended meaning. Think about how communication works… There is an AUTHOR (the communicator), a TEXT (what's being communicated), and a READER.


So who determines the meaning of a text?  We pursue “exegesis” and try to avoid “eisegesis.” Exegesis = drawing meaning out of the text. Eisegesis = reading meaning into the text. This is not separate from hearing God; it is how we hear God.  We don’t bypass the human author to get to the Divine author. - Our goal is to discern God’s voice by discovering the author’s intended meaning. Put simply, we listen to God by understanding the text. 


2 Tim 2.7 - Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this.


In the case of the Christmas story, what is the goal for Matthew including this in his gospel account? Well, Matthew was writing to the Jews in order to testify as to WHO Jesus is... He is God incarnate. He is the promised Messiah. He is Emmanuel... God with us. If WHO Jesus is to us is so important, then what do you think was God's goal in sending Jesus to us? And why was Matthew so invested in sharing this truth? What does the Christmas story tell us about God?


Read Matthew 1:18-2:23. Then apply the steps for studying this passage as you continue with this experience.

Step 2


Pay attention to the details (Investigation). Like it or not, the Bible must be interpreted… - We’re taking common sense and applying it to Scripture. Remember our goal – to hear God by understanding the text. Good Bible study begins by reading the text closely with attention to detail. 


At this early investigation stage you are basically playing detective. 

  • What are we looking for? 

  • What are we investigating? 


Investigate what the words mean… 

  • How do various English translations differ? 

  • Where are the verbs and what are they doing? 

  • Any metaphors or figurative language? 


Investigate how the words relate to one another… 

  • Are any comparisons or contrasts being made? 

  • How does the logic or plot move forward? 

  • Any connectors like “if… then…” or “therefore…” or “because…”? 


Basically you do two things: Ask questions and make observations.

Step 3


Discern the author’s flow of thought. (Literary Context). We’re going to play a little game. 

  • “Give him a hand.” 

  • “That’s the largest trunk I’ve ever seen.” 


Without a context, words are meaningless. Discern the author’s flow of thought. In interpreting texts, what we’re talking about is typically called “literary context.” Literary context is the words and paragraphs surrounding our text. - This is the single most important aspect of sound interpretation. 

  • Psalm 14:1 – “There is no God” 

  • Ephesians 4:24 “Put on the new man” 

  • Matthew 18:20 – “Where two or three are gathered, there I am with them.” 

  • Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” 

  • Philippians 2:12 – “work our your salvation with fear and trembling” 


So let’s get practical – what are you supposed to do? When studying individual verses, read the surrounding verses and ask how the context clarifies what your verse means. When reading paragraphs or larger sections, ask how they relate to what came before and after. 

  1. Divide the text into sections (typically paragraphs or events) 

  2. Summarize each section as best you can 

  3. Look for connections 


Context is king.

Step 4


Study the world behind the text (Historical Background). We must understand and honor the way God chose to communicate. The Bible was God’s word to them before it became God’s word to us. - And to do this, we’ve got to close the gap between them and us. How can you do this? 

  • Increase your general knowledge of the biblical world(s). Some resources include things like:

    • The Greco-Roman World by James Jeffers, 

    • Day of Atonement: A Novel by David deSilva,

    • A Guide to the New Testament World by Albert Bell, 

    • Backgrounds of Early Christianity by Everett Ferguson, 

    • A Week in the Life of Corinth by Ben Witherington, 

    • In the Steps of Jesus and/or In the Steps of Paul by Peter Walker, 

    • Watch documentaries or miniseries on ancient Israel, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, or the Roman Empire. 

  • Identify and research persons, places, events, customs, etc. 

    • Inside the Bible itself, 

    • Bible Dictionaries & Handbooks, 

    • The IVP Bible Background Commentary series, 

    • Study Bible Notes (the NET version on the Bible app, YouVersion, has lots of of notes you can click on that will provide you with a lot of great and helpful information)


What to look for: 

  • People (author, readers, relationship) 

  • Places 

  • Events 

  • Cultural habits and assumptions

Step 5


Be sensitive to genre. Like in sports, we benefit by learning the “rules of the game.” All of the principles apply to each, but not always in the same way. 


OT Narrative 

  • Let the story draw you in. Pay attention to setting, characters, and plot.

  • Remember that God is always the hero. 


OT Law 

  • Purpose was to create and shape a peculiar people. 

  • Ultimately the laws are rooted in who God is. 

  • Many particular Laws do not reflect God’s perfect will but his accommodating guidelines for people with hard hearts. (See Mark 10.3-12) 



  • Organized by parallelism, not rhyme (i.e. parallel in content, not in sound). 

  • Designed to evoke emotion and to guide us in prayer. 


Wisdom / Proverbs 

  • Wisdom literature is designed to make you wiser by making you think. 

  • Proverbs contains general truths, not divine guarantees. 

  • Let other “wisdom literature” (like Job and Ecclesiastes) challenge Proverbs’ simplicity. 



  • Be mindful of the intense, dramatic, and often figurative language. 

  • Just as much (if not more) about the present as the future. Prophets announce God’s judgment on sin as well as hope for divine rescue. 



  • The Gospels center the church in the story of Jesus. 

  • Get to know each unique portrait of Jesus while not losing sight of the whole. 

  • Find yourself in each story. 



  • Church continues the story of Jesus. 

  • Wherever the Spirit leads, we fearlessly follow. 


Letters (Epistles) 

  • We’re reading one side of a conversation, and therefore historical context is huge. 

  • The letters give us truth applied to real life situations. 



  • Extremely high use of dramatic figurative language. 

  • Blends theological and political concerns. 

  • Speaks specifically to an original audience (churches in 1st Century Asia Minor). 

  • The Point: Things are bad. Things are getting worse. In the end, God wins.

Have a slice!


Read each passage in light of Scripture as a whole. This is hardly new! Virtually every “hermeneutical handbook” includes this principle. 


General Rules: 

  • Interpret unclear texts in light of clear ones. 

  • Don’t ignore or disregard some texts to protect your misinterpretation of others. 


Some questions to ask would be: 

  • What else does the Bible say about this? 

  • How do the two texts relate? Harmony or tension? If tension, how does it resolve? 

  • How does this text point to Jesus? 


Live what you learn. - Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like (James 1.22-24). You have not finished studying well until what you have studied determines how you live. Spiritual maturity is never measured by how much you know, but by how well you live


Remember, the goal is always to “hear” the Word of God… 


The Basic Process:

  • How did the text apply to the original audience? 

  • How is their world different from ours? 

  • How might the text apply to us today? 


Here are some application questions to ask to guide your reflections: 

  • What is God telling me to start, stop, or continue? 

  • How does this text speak into different parts of my life? 

  • What is this text definitely demanding of me? 

  • What is this text probably asking of me? 

  • What is this text possibly asking of me?

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