So we have all done it before; if not out loud, then in our head, so not to embarrass ourselves. We are listening to someone unpack the Bible and wondering to ourselves, “How do they find that truth? I have read those verses many times and never saw the truth that is being explained.”
It may be intuitive for some, but you can learn it! Here are a few simple tips to learning and teaching the Bible that will help you get started.
Let me begin with a necessary addendum, for all of those who think I am approaching this too pragmatically. God is not just the inspiration, but the source and fountain by which all truth is revealed in His Word. The following are aids which will help you get out of the way and allow God to use you more effectively.
First, read the bible to find out what it really says, not what you want it to say. This means you are reading and studying the passages to see where they lead before forming conclusions. The goal would be to read the verses as though you were doing so for the first time. This will take practice, but can bring great rewards as you begin to see principals and revelation you have never noticed before.
Here’s the second tip and maybe a bit of a soap box for me as well. When reading the Scripture, make sure you read and understand it in the light of its immediate context first. Simply put, A text without a context easily becomes a pretext. The one verse you are focusing on was written in a flow with what comes before it and after it. Making sure you understand the text, in light of its context around it, will keep you from making serious error in your explanation and application to yourself or your audience. Most of the Bible is written in units of thought, so make sure you read it first in those thoughts.
Third, as you are reading the passage, make sure you are reading it actively and not passively. Normally, if you pick up a book and begin to read you would read it passively, reading the sentences one after another as it guides you along. But, reading actively, puts you in the middle of every word. To interact with the text is not questioning its validity, but getting you to question the meaning of each sentence, phrase and even word. It gets us to pause at the word and ask, “What does that mean, or why did that happen?” Don’t just keep reading, but slow down and think about the text you’re exploring, who is involved, where does the action occur or when does it occur? Finding the answers to questions like these can lead you down a path of thought that can uncover fresh insight and revelation.
Fourth, when studying a passage, look for what is called hidden terms. These will look like very normal and simple words, but could carry incredible insight into God’s word. For example, Mark 8:31 says, “He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected…” The words many things are very basic words, but when you ask yourself what they mean in this context you begin to delve into the depths of God’s word. Another common word that acts like a hidden term is the word, “therefore”. If a sentence begins with therefore, you should ask yourself, “What is it there for?” Answering that question first will give you greater insight into the verses you are about to read.
Finally, when trying to dig into the depths of a verse or passage it can be very helpful to try to observe the atmosphere of the passage. This is the emotional or attitudinal sense of what you are reading. Looking for the atmosphere in the verses goes beyond just studying the words and structure of a passage. This can be difficult and should be done with care since we only have the written words and are not able to hear the tone of how it might have been said. But it can be revealing to look for key terms that could point you in the right direction. Words like joy, fear, sorrow or love can be used to dig deeper into not just the words, but the atmosphere of what was written.
Don’t be satisfied with the top layer of what you are reading. Be willing to take the time to dig down into lower layers of the verses and find solid biblical truth that can be used to build up yourself and the Body of Christ.
Greg Phelps is the founding pastor of Core Church in Tampa, Florida