How to Study the Bible Session 9

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How to Study the Bible Session 9

Bible Study IX

Last week we said that there are 5 basic keys to interpretation. The first was content. The content of a passage is the raw material. Most of this work is done in “Observation What do I see?” The second key was context. Context refers to that which goes before and that which follows after the passage you are studying. Comparison is the third key of interpretation that we looked at. We said that Scripture interprets Scripture. Making comparisons of Scripture guards against distorting or mis-interpreting the Scriptures.

Tonight, we are looking at the last two keys of interpretation. A major help in the step of interpretation is knowing the culture of the passage you are reading. Cultural context is so important. You must read the passage of Scripture you are interpreting through the lens of the culture of that day.

For instance, when you sit down to read the book of Ruth you need to know what is going on. The book of Ruth takes place during the period of the judges, Israel’s dark ages. Judges 21:25 sets up the context of Ruth. The nation was mired in a “cesspool” of sin. When you read through the book of Judges you wonder if there was anyone being faithful to God during this period. Answer? Look in the book of Ruth. The book of Ruth is a shining light in a very dark period of Israel’s history. When you come to the end of the book of Ruth, you come to the realization that here is a family that was faithful to God even in the midst of apostasy.

Another good example is 1 Corinthians 8 where Paul is discussing the problem of meat offered to idols. This seems very irrelevant in our culture, does it not? Not if you know the cultural background. Notice Verse 1 and Verse 4. Paul says, “We know there is no such thing as an idol.” Verse 7 declares, “Not all men have this knowledge.” So, he warns that we have to be very careful in this matter. A bit of research reveals that the best meat in town was reserved for offerings to idols. Not surprisingly, the best meat markets and restaurants were located right next to the temple. So, if you wanted to take someone out for a steak dinner, you’ d take him there. Suppose this person was a new convert, and he had just come out of the background of sacrificing and eating meat offered to idols. Now you are asking him to eat that same meat! How would that make him feel? The issue here is not should we eat meat sacrificed to idols: the issue is doing what is best for a brother or sister in Christ. Even harmless practices can be a source of offense to a weaker brother or sister. Does 1 Corinthians 8 have anything to say to us today? Are there any matters of conscience that some Christians practice freely, whereas others take offense? Absolutely. That is where re-creating the culture helps. That is what makes the text come alive.

A good carpenter has several tools. A good Bible student needs some tools. This is where the fifth and final step of interpretation comes in. Consultation involves using secondary sources. One word of caution: Never forget the order. First, the Scripture; then the secondary sources.

My suggestion is to start with a good study Bible. The Nelson Study Bible, Thompson Chain Reference Bible, John MacArthur’s Study Bible, Scofield’s Reference Bible, and the Life Application Study Bible are all good study bibles. As I mentioned before, the one tool you cannot do without is a good concordance that corresponds to your translation. Two well regarded ones are Strong’s and Young’s. For instance, you are reading 1 Peter 2:25 and you remember somewhere in the back of your head something about Jesus being the Good Shepherd. Your concordance will take you to John 10:11. Concordances shed more light on your subject.

A good Bible dictionary is the 2nd tool you might want to get. We are not talking about Webster’s dictionary. W.E. Vine has an excellent dictionary on New Testament words. The New Bible Dictionary is also a good one. They will help you to “unpack” the words of the Bible. Take the word “ark.” A bible dictionary will tell you what you need to know about the “Ark of the Covenant,” and Noah’s ark. The word “earth” in Acts 1:8 means “the inhabited earth.”

A 3rd tool is a good Bible handbook or encyclopedia. I’m not talking about Britannica or World Book. Zondervan’s Pictorial Encyclopedia, Eerdman’s Handbook of the Bible, and the Handbook of Life in the Bible are some excellent resources that will help bring the Bible to life. How much is a “drachma” or “denarius” worth? What kind of clothes did folks in Moses’ day wear? What were they made of? What kind of shoes did Jesus and His disciples wear?

A 4th tool you might want to get is an atlas. Geography is one of the most helpful sciences to Bible study. The cities that Paul visited on his missionary trips are so important. Antioch, Corinth, Ephesus, Rome are so much more than dots on a page. These were major metropolitan centers with hundreds upon thousands of people. The Moody Atlas of the Bible and Zondervan Pictorial Bible Atlas are two good ones.

Last, commentaries can be helpful in evaluating your study of the Scriptures. Remember the commentary never does the study for you. The Bible Knovwledge Commentary, Warren Wiersbe’s “Be Series” or Bible Exposition Commentary are two good helpful sets. I prefer individual commentaries when studying a particular book. Remember, a commentary is simply another person’s opinion.

Collect the tools you have and study Habakkuk 3:17-19. Remember the 5 ke