Sharing today from The Gospel Coalition.
Ever heard the parable about the man who, in order to discern God’s will for his life, would open his Bible and read whichever verse he saw first?
One day, as he was going through a difficult time with his family, he sought the Lord’s guidance. Opening his Bible, he pointed to a random verse. His finger rested on Matthew 27:5: “Then Judas went away and hanged himself.” Puzzled by these directions, but still hungry for a word from God, he called a “do-over” and flipped to another page. His eyes settled on Luke 10:37: “Go and do likewise.” Flustered but chalking it up to coincidence, the man decided to give his method one last chance. Saying a quick prayer, he flipped the page and placed his finger on John 13:27. There, staring up at him, was a command from Jesus: “What you are about to do, do quickly.”
It’s a humorous anecdote, but it illustrates a serious point. Misusing the Bible is easy; “correctly handling” it is not (2 Tim. 2:15).
In my little book Before You Open Your Bible, I explored nine heart postures that are helpful, even necessary, for rightly approaching God’s Word. But what happens when the prelude ends and you begin reading? What then?
1. Observe: What Does It Say?
The first step is observation (or perhaps better, comprehension). Whenever we open God’s Word, our most fundamental task is simply to see what’s there.
The good news is that observation isn’t complicated. It mainly consists of reading slowly and carefully in order to gather the basic facts of who, what, where, and when. Good questions to bear in mind include:
- Are there any repeated words or ideas?
- Who is speaking or writing?
- To whom are they speaking or writing?
- Who are the main characters?
- Where is this taking place?
- Are there words that show chronology?
- Are there contrasts, comparisons, or conditional statements?
- What is the logical progression in the author’s argument?
- Are there words that indicate atmosphere, mood, and emotion? Figures of speech?
- What are the section divisions and linking words?
- What don’t I understand here?
Biblical observation doesn’t have to be some drawn-out, laborious process. You don’t need to consciously ask and answer each question. The more you engage the Bible, the more alert you’ll become to such things. (By the way, it’s best to work through whole books of the Bible from beginning to end, rather than adopting a “popcorn” approach that ignores context and bounces randomly from one passage to another.)
2. Interpret: What Does It Mean?
The next step is interpretation. You’ve considered what the passage says, but what does it mean?