I want to start with an admittance that I would never claim to be either a scholar or theologian. Rather, I am a forever student of the Bible, aiming to always be corrected, pointed, and drawn back to what glorifies God most. By God's grace, I have grown much in my approach to studying the Bible, but I know there is an endless bank of wisdom, knowledge, and rebuke as it relates to all that it encompasses. My aim with this blog is to help equip any who read it to both study the Bible rightly and continually fall in love with knowing and applying it where appropriate to your own life today; keeping always at the forefront that it is a book about God and His glory and not about us and ours. First, before we start in the scriptures or the study of them, I want us to understand the first principle in both study and application: Prayer.
When we approach certain subjects, we often reference or go-to authors for insight on both teaching and application. Why then do we as believers often neglect to go to the author that divinely ordained all of the Bible first before we aim to understand that in which it is saying and teaching us about truth?
So let us then draw near to God's throne of grace with hearts and minds desiring to be transformed, renewed, and washed by the water of the Word. Prior to opening up or aiming to understand any passage of scripture, it is both wise and encouraging to come before the Father asking for His help, guidance, and the illumination of the text's intent, meaning, and interpretation. Our approach to the Bible should never be me-centered but God-centered knowing it is a book where we learn more about the true character and nature of God and His story of redemption for His glory.
Prayer also continually humbles me before God serving as an always important reminder that His ways are not mine and that that is a good thing. In humility, as we approach both God in prayer and His word aiming to know more of Him and His character, we remember that its wisdom and guidance is often contrary to all that the world tells us is beneficial to us. Rather, its intent and guidance often remind us that the life of a Christian is one of suffering, opposite of the culture around us, and for His glory and not our own.
Furthermore, as James tells us in 1:5-6, God is generous in giving wisdom to those who lack and ask Him. So, let us ask God for wisdom on the book authored through His divine guidance with faith that He delights in guiding His adopted children on His ways, His Word, and His character; for that is where ultimate joy is found.
Before we dive in, I want to point out a very practical and yet useful tool in studying scripture: Have a notebook, pen, and highlighters. If you have a printer, print the chapter or passage you are studying so that you can write question marks, notes, common words, repeated phrases, thoughts, etc. all over it. I've found this incredibly helpful in being able to unpack all that the scriptures entail.
The title of this blog might have been both confusing and offputting before you even began to read its content. Although the words hermeneutics and exegesis are not often used in Christian circles today, their use, whether proper or improper, is applied as many read the Bible. Both are wholly important when aiming to actually know the intent and meaning of passages. It can be so easy, with all things, to get caught up in the culture-based lens rather than taking the time to let the text inform how you view and apply it to your life. For as it says in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." How are we equipped for every good work that aims to bring God glory? By growing in knowledge, teaching, and applying the true intent of God's word.
We will start with a definition for both before I explain well-researched and utilized methods that help to illuminate the beauty and fullness of God's word. This will also not serve as an exhaustive list of all that can be learned with regard to studying the Bible. Rather, I want this to serve as a starting point to draw you into a sometimes hard but fruitful approach to knowing God more through knowing His word further. Give yourself grace as always, knowing that the Bible is endless with insight and no one person can know every aspect. Instead, utilize some of these tools in order to continue to approach the Bible with humility, joy, and grace.
The exegetical approach is one that aims to draw out proper conclusions from what is being said in the Bible. This approach, in its perfection, does not come to the Bible with any presuppositions placed upon the text but rather allows the original context to reveal the true intent of what the text is saying. Exegesessentially means to not add anything to the text, based upon our culture and circumstances but to study the Bible aiming to know it from its original contextual meaning. Among the teachings of many Biblical scholars, there are five methods in which to exegetically study a passage of scripture.
Historical - Understanding and using the historical context in order to inform what it means
Canonical - Treating the Bible and books in it as a whole document and not fragments to be studied separately from each other (i.e. not picking and choosing various scriptures to say what we want them to without understanding the bigger story)
Symbolic/Allegorical - Aiming to understand what each character, story, or event represents in the context/intent of the passage
Literary - Utilizing literary forms, genre, word choices, main themes, narratives, etc. in order to understand what is written
Rational - Utilizing deductive and logical techniques to understand context/intent/meaning
It is incredibly important to point out that each one of these methods may not be applied to every passage of scripture. It is important for all Bible students to remember that these are tools and not rules and regulations that have to be used or you'll fail in your studies. As someone who can easily get caught in the weeds and rabbit holes of scripture, I like to remind myself of the eternal truths and foundations of my faith when diving deep into any passage. Using exegetical approaches and methods is still though wholly important in aiming to understand and interpret both the true intent and meaning of a verse, chapter, or passage you come across.
Ultimately, the exegesis of the Bible is aimed and drawing out what the text is actually saying. It is a common and oftentimes accepted practice to apply our thoughts, circumstances, and opinions to a passage in order so that it says what we want rather than what is actually being said. Through an improper interpretation of the Bible, we can bend the words to justify our own fleshly and sinful beliefs. This is a very dangerous practice that ultimately often leads to false doctrine, misinterpretation, and not being transformed by the Word but conformed to the culture around us. We all have our own biases, and it can be easy to apply them to scripture. So, how do we know if we are applying our thoughts to the Bible, drawing conclusions of what serves our desires? That leads us to the next practice of hermeneutics.
Hermeneutics is the art and science of interpretation. There can be many approaches to hermeneutics as it relates to all texts, but two commonly used and supported methods with regard to the Bible are historical and contextual. Hermeneutics and exegesis truly go hand-in-hand as we study God's word. In order to interpret the text, we have to first properly study it. In order to interpret the Bible both historically and contextually, I ask myself the following questions in order. (This is where the pen and notebook often come in handy)
What do I see? - Practically, what can I actually see through the reading of the text? (Who is the author, who are the characters in the passage, what is happening, what are the landscapes, what point in history is it as it relates to other significant events, etc.)
What would this have meant to the author?
What would this have meant to the original reader(s) both historically and contextually?
Another important facet to both exegesis and hermeneutics is the original language of the text that you are reading. The Bible was written primarily in two languages. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew (with Daniel and Ezra being the exceptions being written in Aramaic), while the New Testament was written in Greek. Do you have to be a Greek or Hebrew scholar in order to draw out both meaning and interpretation from a passage of scripture? Definitely not. I do encourage you though to utilize both Greek and Hebrew lexicons when aiming to know the fullness and true nature of what the author was meaning. I've often found different chapters and verses in scripture illuminating truth in my heart as I studied the definition of the original language.
As we approach the interpretation of scripture, we have to retain the truth that this is a book of truths from God that are pointed towards His glory and story of redemption; not a book aimed and glorifying man and our desires. Retaining this thought is wholly important in ensuring we are not applying our cultural biases and influences onto the inerrant and true nature of the Bible.
We have just barely touched the surface of both of these Bible study methods, but you might still be asking why does studying the Bible in this way matter when we can go to any sermon or teacher around us in order to discover what a passage or chapter is saying? Furthermore, why are both of these methods and approaches crucial in proper application to our lives today?
In order to live a life that is set apart from the rest of the world that does not aim to serve or abide by the word of God, we have to first know both in mind and heart what the Bible actually says and means. It simply is not enough to know a few verses of scripture in order to live a life abiding in Christ. If we are to bear much fruit that aims at glorifying God above man or self, Jesus instructs us that He is the vine, we are the branches, and this is only done by abiding in Him. In fact, He says apart from Him we can do nothing. (John 15:5) The most vital and crucial way to know and abide in Jesus is to know the Bible properly. The canon of the Bible points towards the story of God's redemption for man through Jesus. If we are to both see our sin rightly in light of the glory of God, we have to first know and then apply out of that proper knowledge of God's word.
It is not simply enough to fill your head with all the knowledge of scripture. If we cannot live out of the truth we discover through exegesis and hermeneutics, then our lives are not aimed at being the light and salt of Jesus. We can fill our heads with knowledge until we are the most scholarly and theologically sound people in our communities. But if we are to live out the command to make disciples of all the earth, we have to apply the transformation of our minds that happens as we know God's word more and more. It is not an act of striving to receive blessings or salvation, but instead living life knowing all of it is to be for God's glory because of His abundant grace and mercy He showed each of us who are His through Christ's death and resurrection.
For we were once dead in our sins, but through God's rich mercy and great love, we are made alive together with Christ. (Ephesians 2:4) So, we do not study the Bible either to apply our bias and desires for its meaning and intent or to fill our brains with only head knowledge without application. Rather, through our ultimate purpose of being in relationship with God and glorifying Him as holy in all we do, we are to approach and study the Bible knowing as we do, our lives are transformed through the renewing of our mind.
Let us strive to enter the rest of Jesus as we study the Bible properly, knowing that it is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)
I pray these very introductory approaches to the proper study of the Bible help to encourage you to know it more and more; knowing it is where we find ultimate and eternal joy, hope, and truth to live a life abiding in the one true holy God.