In Bible Study from the Inside Out Part 1, I began to give you some practical tools to study your Bible. If you haven’t yet read that one, go back and read it first to get caught up. Go ahead . . . . I’ll wait . . .
I just directed to you to use a very critical Bible study skill. I asked you to go back and read the first article to put yourself in context. Context is key. It is vital to place yourself in the right Biblical context when studying a passage. Entire false doctrines have been developed as the result of someone taking a Scripture out of context and using it to make their point. I can’t stress strongly enough how important context is.
The elements of context remind me of Acts 1:8 where Jesus tells His apostles they will receive power to witness in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the remotest parts of the earth. We start with the immediate context of our home text, then move out from there to broaden our view of what the passage really means.
Note: There are no contradictions in Scripture. So, if we are reading something that seems contradictory, we must study further to understand the whole message.
immediate Biblical context
Look to other writings by that author or during that time period to illuminate better the whole message of the Word. For instance, if I were studying 1 John, I would look back to the Gospel of John to see what else John had to say about a particular topic. As another example, if I were reading an Epistle (fancy word for Letter) written by Paul, I would want to consider Paul’s other Epistles to gain the full context of the message he intended. This can be done in the Old Testament as well. If you are studying a history book, like Ezra for example, you would look to the prophetic book of Haggai because Haggai was a historical contemporary. (Someone who lived and wrote during the same historical time period, therefore experienced the same events)
After determining Biblical context, next comes historical context. It is extremely helpful to understand the lifestyles and practices of the culture during the period of history during which the Scripture you are studying was written. Often, you will have gleaned this information from simply doing a thorough Biblical context survey. Sometimes, however, there are some key historical or cultural events going on that will make the Scripture more understandable. For instance, it is important to understand that during the time Peter wrote is First Epistle, Christians were under persecution by Nero. One of the most infamously violent Christian persecutors throughout history. Knowing that fact will place 1 Peter in a proper contextual light while you study.
Please note: While historical and cultural context are keys to unlocking the Scripture’s interpretation, they do not negate the fact that all Scripture is timelessly relevant. We can’t look at, say Leviticus, and derive that since that was a book containing Old Covenant Law, it is no longer relevant to us. The threads of redemption by Christ are stamped on every page of every book in the canon of Scripture. It’s ALL 100% relevant today.
“There are no contradictions in Scripture. So, if we are reading something that seems contradictory, we must study further to understand the whole message. ”
Broad Biblical context
This is different from immediate Biblical context – yet not outside the 66 books of Scripture – in that it considers the entire counsel and message of God’s Word throughout Scripture to properly interpret the text. This means you go outside of the immediate Biblical context of that particular author or period of history and you move to other books and passages within Scripture that will illuminate the Scripture.
When you’re in the New Testament, consider any quotes that were made in your passage referring back to the Old Testament. Is there a character mentioned from the Old Testament from whom you can glean insight? For instance, in Hebrews, Abraham is mentioned often. What can I learn from Abraham’s life and calling that compliments Hebrews?
When you’re in the Old Testament, consider any foreshadowing of Christ. For instance, the first place Christ’s victory over Satan is mentioned is in Genesis 3:15. Then, it is confirmed again in Genesis 15 (specifically, verses 5 and 6) when the covenant is made with Abram. (Later Abraham). This is made clear in Galatians 3:16 when Paul tells us the “seed” was Christ.
Notice how I haven’t instructed you to look at one commentary yet? Commentaries by trusted sources are good. But they cannot be substituted for studying for yourself. You will never know if you can trust a commentary source if you haven’t first studied and properly interpreted Scripture. Resist the temptation to even consult a commentary until you are completely finished with the entire Interpretation step. There is one more very important element to Interpretation which we will discuss in the next article.
One final note that I haven’t mentioned yet. It probably should have went at the beginning of each article and I apologize for that. PRAY BEFORE YOU OPEN THE WORD TO STUDY. Every time. Prayer is the most useful key to unlocking the meaning of Scripture. God tells us in James 1:5 that He will not deny us wisdom when we ask for it. You can use every single step I gave you and still struggle to understand Scripture if you omit the step of prayer. Believers are given a gift of the Holy Spirit to teach us. Humbly, openly petition the Lord to use the Scripture you are about to study to change you. Be willing to allow Him to invade your thoughts and heart and mold you into the person He wants you to be. Allow the Scripture to permeate your life and invade your soul to the point of radical, lasting change.
It is my prayer that all these articles are helpful and edifying to you, the body of Christ. Again, if you find all this interesting and want more than I’ve given you here, please check out Precept Ministries’ website. I receive no compensation from my endorsement. I am simply sharing with you what I’ve learned from their ministry over that last several years. It is my desire that all believers truly grasp the understanding of how to study their Bibles and then commit to spending the rest of their lives studying the depths of Scripture and sharing it with others.