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I. Preliminary Steps


A. The Spiritual Aspect (which is so necessary but so difficult to define because godly, sincere, educated people disagree over interpretation)

1. Pray for the Spirit’s help every time we read and try to understand the Bible (cf. I Cor. 1:26-2:16).

2. Pray for personal cleansing (cf. I John 1:9).

3. Pray for greater desire to know God (cf. Ps. 19:7-14; 42:1ff; 119:1ff).

4. Apply new insights to your own life (cf. Eph. 4:1; 5:2, 15; I John 1:7).

5. H.H. Rowley: "It perceives that no merely intellectual understanding of the Bible, however complete, can possess all its treasures. It does not despise such understanding, for it is essential to a complete understanding. But it must lead to a spiritual understanding of the spiritual treasures of this book if it is to be complete. And for that spiritual understanding something more than intellectual alertness is necessary. Spiritual things are spiritually discerned, and the Bible student needs an attitude of spiritual receptivity, an eagerness to find God that he may yield himself to Him, if he is to pass beyond his scientific study unto the richer inheritance of this greatest of all books" The Relevance of the Bible (p. 19).

6. A good article is found in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 1 pp. 66-67.

7. A good book is Listening to the Spirit in the Text by Gordon D. Fee.


B. The Logical Process of Analyzing An Ancient Literary Document

1. Allow time to read the whole book through at one setting.

2. Re-read the entire book (or the literary unit) in several translations from differing translation theories.

a. literal (word for word correspondence)

b. idiomatic (dynamic equivalent)

3. Basic practical procedures

a. seven interpretive questions (exegesis and application)

b. four reading cycles for specific information (historical setting and literary content)

c. use of research tools in graded steps

4. These procedures are an attempt to help us check all the steps of interpretation. They are similar to the way professional airline pilots use take-off and landing checklists. They have done these hundreds of times, but sometimes human beings forget. The checklist is a way of assuring a well known procedure. Pilots have very important jobs, hundreds of lives depend on them. How much more important is the Bible interpreter’s? People’s eternal lives depend on them!

Our processes of interpretation and the reasons for our interpretations need to be documented so that other rational creatures made in God’s image can follow our logic and evaluate our biblical evidence. Good interpretation is:

a. common sense interpretation

b. textual interpretation

c. logical interpretation

d. Spirit-guided interpretation

e. biblically consistent interpretation.


II. Take Good Notes of Your Reading Observations (Read analytically, sample form on pp. 50-53).


A. Read the entire book (1st reading).

1. Look for overarching plan or purpose(s) of the book.

2. Look for the key verse(s) or paragraph(s) that express this theme(s).

3. Identify the literary genre.


B. Re-read the entire book (2nd reading).

1. Identify the major literary units or subject divisions (outline).

2. Summarize their content in your own words in a brief phrase or sentence.


C. Check your outline.

1. With your church leaders

2. With mature Christian friends

3. With a commentary

4. With an introduction to the Bible

5. With Bible encyclopedia, handbook or dictionary

6. With a Study Bible


D. Re-read the entire book (third reading).

1. Try to answer from the biblical book itself the questions concerning the historical setting:

a. the author of the writing

b. the date of the writing

c. the recipients of the writing

d. the occasion of the writing

e. the historical setting of the writing

2. Identify the paragraph divisions (compare translations) and give a brief summary of each one in your own words. Develop an outline to paragraph level. Compare the paragraph divisions of modern translations, then do your own outline.

3. Check your observations on the historical setting as you checked your outline (cf. II. C).


E. Re-read the entire book (fourth reading).

1. Use parallel passages (concentric circles) and systematic theology books to gain the big picture.

a. Let the passage itself speak.

b. Let the whole book speak.

c. Let the same Testament speak.

d. Let the entire Bible speak.

(1) similar teaching

(2) paradoxical teaching

2. Develop specialized lists (if applicable) in order to ascertain the original author’s intent.

a. List the major and minor characters.

b. List the key term(s).

(1) major theological terms

(2) recurrent terms

(3) terms used to express the central truth of the passage

(4) unusual or unknown terms

c. List the major events.

d. List the geographical movements.

3. Note especially difficult passages.

a. textual problems

b. historical problems

c. theological problems

d. terms, phrases or verses that cause confusion

4. Note application points of every major literary unit and paragraph.


F. These reading cycles are structured to help you discover as much information as possible from your personal reading of the Bible. Research tools should not take the place of personal Bible reading. You, the Bible, and the Spirit are priority!


III. Proposed Order for the Use of Research Tools After You Have Finished the Four Reading Cycles.


A. Start with the historical setting.

1. Use Bible introductions.

2. Use articles in Bible encyclopedias, handbooks or dictionaries.

3. Use introductions in biblical commentaries.

4. Use study Bible notes.

5. A good book on how to use these study aids is How to Use New Testament Greek Study Aids by Walter Jerry Clark. A more scholarly approach would be Multipurpose Tools for Bible Study by Frederich W. Danker.


B. Use several types of commentaries.

1. Small. These will help you get an over all understanding of the passage. (Examples: Tyndale, Zondervan’s Study Guide Commentary)

2. Technical. These will help you answer difficult questions. (Examples: The New International Commentary, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary)

3. Devotional. These will help you develop application points. (Examples: Matthew Henry, Griffith Thomas)


C. Use supplementary specialized material. (See recommended books section at back of notebook.)

1. word study books

2. cultural background books

3. geographical books

4. archaeology books

5. apologetics books




▣ Remember that we receive truth in increments.

▣ Do not take shortcuts in your study.

▣ Do not expect instantaneous results.

▣ Do not become discouraged.

▣ Stay with the program.

▣ Expect tension and disagreement in interpretation. Remember that interpretation is a Spirit-led task as well as a logical process.

▣ Read the Bible analytically.

▣ Use research tools critically.

▣ Make a commitment of at least thirty minutes every day.

▣ Find a quiet place.

▣ Set aside a specific time.

▣ Choose a short New Testament book first.

▣ Assemble some research tools.

▣ Get paper and pencil.

▣ Pray—and start!


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