Bible Scholar? No way Jose'.
Okay - Before I write another devotional I gotta to be honest...
1. I am NOT a Bible Scholar...and will never be one.
2. I have several college degrees but NONE of them are in Theology.
3. And most of the time? I DON'T HAVE a clue what I'm doing.
I'm taking Bible courses and spend alot of time reading, studying and asking God for wisdom. But I tell you - studying the Bible can be overwhelming. I've learned so much but because God's word is a living, breathing entity - it grows...it expands...and it has no limits. No matter how much of an expert that you think you may be....you will never reach bottom. The more I learn - the more I don't know.
But I was and will always be a teacher. I love to share what I know and if I learn something new, as little or simple as it may be, I want to teach it to others to help them know what I know.
So -- in case you are remotely interested - I'm going to share some of the tips that I've learned so far.
These tips are in simple layman's terms so if you are a Bible scholar....don't judge (haha) just bear with me. It's the way I process the information.
First of all definitions:
her·me·neu·tics: interpretation of the Bible
theology: the study of God
Here are my top 10 tips (in random order - it's way my brain works):
Context, context, context
Don't take a verse out of context.
Context means: the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed. Remember the what-where-when-why-how of the scripture verses. You are trying to recreate the passage – walk in the shoes of the author during the time it was written and recreate the experience as they write. That's the way you find the meaning.
2. Don't read so much so fast
I know that you may be on a read the Bible through in a year plan - and I've done the same and there is a place for that but I think of studying the Bible as eating, slow enough and little enough at a time so that your body can digest the food. I know that I can not remember or understand if I read too fast to digest it. Just like you chew food several times before swallowing - allow yourself the time to read and re-read the same passage over and over in order to digest it.
Read a little bit and take time to think about it one chapter or one passage or even one verse at a time. Use that in your prayer – meditate on it. God is not more pleased with you if you read 2 chapters a day than He is if you spend time studying 2 verses in order to get the meaning from it.
3. Don't skip around and grab a bunch of verses - putting them together to support your belief.
Each of those verses, even though they may have the same theme, may be to a different audience, written for a different purpose, and had a different meaning. Don't come up with something that you believe and look up all the verses with that in it in order to support your belief. Remember Satan? He would actually pull out scripture and use it against Jesus. Start with God's word first - what was His focus when He had it written.
For example: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" Phillipians 4:13. I wouldn't use that for ALL things....always winning a football game, the lottery, lifting a 300 pound barbell? It doesn't mean that God is going to strengthen us so that we will be able to do anything we want to do. Everything will not always turn out in a positive way --the context in which the verse was written was that Paul, who was in prison for preaching the gospel of the ressurection, said this because he was stating that regardless of what happened he could do it with the strength of Christ.
4. Use outside sources.
Commentaries are wonderful. Not that you will take their word as God's word (because they are just human) but use them to add to what God is telling you about the passage. It's another viewpoint. But, if you are interpreting a passage absolutely contrary to what 17 commentaries and 10 sermons/pastors have written you may want to rethink your interpretation. Also, use several different commentaries from all different denominations - if you always use a Baptist commentary you will have a very narrow view of the scripture.
There are several different free resources on this site:
Blue Letter Bible: https://www.blueletterbible.org/study.cfm
And if you teach Sunday School and do not know about these....go find out. I have almost all of them and they are simple - easy to use - and good for personal Bible study....not just teaching Sunday School.
5. Look at different versions/languages
Remember that the Bible was NOT written in English but translated to English. Some of the scripture was written in Hebrew and some in Greek, due to the author's native language and the audience. So, if you read just a very small passage at a time, it will give you the time to investigate the word origin of certain key terms and figure out what it meant in the orignial text.
Makes a big difference.
Here are a few of the more popular translations and they are all available online:
New International Version (NIV)
New American Standard Version (NASV)
King James Version (KJV)
New King James Version (NKJV)
English Standard Version (ESV)
6. Look at the Bible and each of the books globally....what are they?
The Old Testament is divided into 3 sections: The Law, The Prophets and the Writings.
Remember that each book is different.
Psalm - a book of poetry and songs
Esther - tells a story and the word God is never mentioned but implied all throughout
Revelation - tells of things to come or our future
Proverbs - a book of wisdom for daily lives
Philippians, Colossians, Ephesians, etc. - Paul wrote these as letters to a certain group of people
The synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) - same overall story but through different writers so some contain different stories and details
Samuel (Samuel wrote most of it), Kings (Jeremiah wrote) and Chronicles (Jewish tradition suggest that Ezra wrote) - These are very similar and in fact the stories in them and entire chapters are repeated at times but since they are in different sections of the old testament and written by different authors the focus may be slightly different.
7. Remember that the books are not in chronological order
First of all the Canon (rule of faith) of scripture are the books that are determined to be the divinely inspired word of God that make up our Bible.
The Jewish order of the books of the Old Testament is different than our newer translations (which are based on the Greek).
So knowing this, you can't just read along book after book and think that they just go in order. If you want to know about Paul you not only have to look in each of the letters that he wrote, which are located in the New Testament, but also back to the book of Acts because his testimony is in there. Luke, who was with him on some of his missionary journeys, recorded things about Paul in the book of Acts.
8. There are 3 steps that you can use when you read:
What do I see? Look at the facts and answer these kinds of questions:
Who is the author - Luke was a doctor and loved details, Mark was written from Mary's point of view, etc.
Where did it take place
Who is the audience
What were other events going on at the same time around them
What jumps off the page at you
Notice every detail, the small stuff because every detail was put in for a reason
What words repeat - things were said 3 times for emphasis and notice the little words like: "and", "or", "therefore"
Place yourselves in the scene - was the author in prison? or a prophet in exile, or running for his life (David)
Interpret – "So What"
What does it mean?
Sometimes well-meaning people jump into interpretation before they even know the simple things like the fact - who wrote it, why, to whom, where, what was the culture, etc. Interpretation should come second.
Was it written as a parable (which is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning)? Was it written to a specific group of people or church in order to combat an issue they were dealing with? Was it a prophecy that speaks of things to come? Is it a retelling of a historical event?
The meaning is not our subjective thoughts brought into the text but rather God’s objective truth read out of the text.
Apply "Now what?"
The culture was different but how are we like them or how are we unlike them? The application of the text may be different because we are all different but the interpretation should remain constant because God is the constant throughout history.
Is the passage a:
o Truth to understand
o Command to obey
o Prayer to express
o Challenge to heed
o Promise to claim
o Fellowship to enjoy
How does God want to apply it to our lives - run it through the filter of your experiences, knowledge, culture, present lives but don't change the meaning.
9. Read - Record - Reflect
Keep a journal in your Bible and when you read - jot down things that jump off the page or things that God brings to mind. If you don't you will forget them later. You don't have to spend hours doing this but if you only have a few minutes to read a short passage or few verses - jot down anything that comes to mind.
I'm a Bible writer. I write in my Bible and I love to go back and see what I was thinking when I read or heard a sermon about a certain passage. If I don't write it - I will never remember it.
10. Pray that God would give you wisdom
God's word is a living, breathing entity and can bring different meanings to different scenarios as God teaches. It is divinely inspired by God Himself. Only He can bring the interpretation and understanding.
John 14:26 says that the Holy Spirit will teach us and bring back to our remembrance.
It's the only way to understand the scriptures. Ask God for wisdom and He will not say no.
Hope that helps!