Tuesday, August 18, 2009

interpretation | #2

[NOTE: This is the 6th post in a series of entries intending to help readers learn how to study their Bible.]

In the last several posts, I have lightly surveyed the basic steps to good Bible Study. We start with the Spirit, then learn to see, then make sense of what we see. This is the discipline of interpretation. Once I have answered my interpretive questions, I attempt to summarize the passage several ways. This task of summarizing is a very helpful exercise.

One way to summarize a passage is to determine a "topic" for the passage. Try and reduce the passage to one word [two, if you must]. This one word must take the entire passage into account. It's a challenge, but forces the Bible student to look at the big picture. For example, after studying the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes [John 6], a person might conclude that the topic is "provision."After studying the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego [Daniel 3], they might choose the topic "conviction" or "perseverance."

Another way to interpretively summarize a passage is by drafting a "Big Idea." Every passage in the Bible answers an implied question. In John 3, the question is obvious: "How can a man be born when he is old?" [Nicodemus asked, v. 4]. So, this passage more generally answers the question, "How can people be 'born again'?" The challenge is to discern the question being asked and answered in each passage.

Here's an easy example. James 1:2-18 deals with trials. The question implied may be, "How should a Christian deal with trials in their life?" The answer [summary of the passage] might be: "...by choosing joy, seeking wisdom in faith, looking to the greater reward in the end, and resisting the inherent temptation that is sure to come." Put the question and answer together and the Big Idea is: "The Christian endures trials in life by choosing joy, seeking wisdom in faith, looking to a greater reward and resisting inherent temptation that is sure to come." Reduce the phrase a bit more and one might write: "We overcome trials with joy, wisdom, hope and fortitude."

Let's try another: Matthew 5:13-16. After a quick study, I might summarize:

QUESTION: Why must the Christian be salt and light in their world?
ANSWER: Because it reflects who they truly are and illumines the glory of God to others around them.
COMBINE: The Christian should be salt and light to reflect who they truly are and illumine the glory of God in the world.
REDUCE: We shine to reflect the glory of God in a dark world.

If I wanted, I could spend time writing and rewriting each question/answer to refine what I really believe the passage is about. This exercise is a great interpretive process.

Now it's your turn.


BRANDY said...

This is good and a bit challenging. I never thought about truly drilling down the message into a few words.

I am studying in the book of Hosea and I will try this tonight. Thank you for the tools and equipping the Saints.

BRANDY said...

Hosea chapter 8 (two words) wrath & brokenness