I’ve been reading Tony Merida’s book “Faithful Preaching.” And in the book he provides 7 overarching principles for studying Scripture. These aren’t just principles for pastors and preachers. These are principles for everyone that reads and studies the Bible. Some of you already practice these principles naturally as you study. But, if these principles are brand new for you, then read them slowly and practice them so that they happen naturally with time.
The goal of interpreting Scripture is to minimize subjectivity and confidently say, “Thus says the Lord.”
Principle #1: Read The Bible in an Attitude of Prayer
Undoubtedly, the process behind studying Scripture is both scientific and literary in method. But, as students of Scripture, we must never forget that this is a spiritual exercise. Open your study in prayer. Ask God to open your eyes and incline your heart so that His words burns in you (Ps. 119:18; Luke 24:32). The Holy Spirit is our great teacher and guide, leading us into all truth (John 16:13). The words of Scripture are the Holy Spirit’s words, to be led by the Holy Spirit is to have the Word of Christ dwelling in us richly (Col. 3:16).
Principle #2: Remember that Context is King
Always, always, always consider the context of the passage that you are studying. “Context” means “that which goes with the text.” To study a passage in context means to examine the verses before the text and those after. Ripping verses out of context, and using them in a way that does not represent the intended meaning of the Holy Spirit, is irresponsible and inexcusable. Ask yourself, “How does this passage fit within the surrounding context?”
Principle #3: Look for the Historical Meaning First
The Bible was written during particular periods of redemptive history. Therefore, before application is made, the historical meaning must be identified. While a text may have numerous applications, the goal is to look for the meaning the original author intended for his original audience. Always ask, “What did the original author want the original readers to understand about this passage?”
Principle #4: Indentify the type of Literature in which the Verse is found
Some of the classifications of scripture, albeit oversimplified go like this: (1) Law, (2) OT Narratives, (3) Acts, (4) Prophets, (5) Psalms, (6) Wisdom, (7) Gospels, (8) Parables, (9) Revelation. We must interpret a text in a manner that is consistent with its literary genre. For example, we should remember that narratives are not always normative. In other words, Luke’s purpose in Acts (A narrative genre) is not to prescribe particular actions. His purpose is to describe certain events that happened in the early church. Not everything that happens in the book of Acts is normative for us today. For the book of Revelation, we must remember that is was written to a particular people at a particular time. So, before we go rushing after predicting the future, the book had to mean something to the original hearers. The original meaning for the original readers is the meaning for us. Genre keeps us tied to the nature and history of the books of the Bible.
Principle #5: Remember that the whole Bible Focuses upon God's Redeeming Work in Jesus
The Old Testament points to Christ, and the New Testament flows from Christ. Therefore, always ask, “What does this passage teach me about God? How does it point to Christ?” Always read with an eye for how the text is connected to Jesus.
Principle #6: Interperet Scripture with Scripture
Scripture is not only historical, it is also harmonious. Always ask, “How is the teachings of this passage consistent with other teachings found elsewhere in Scripture?” Practically, this means that we should look for cross-references for specific teachings.
Principle #7: Since the Bible is a Unified Testimony, Always look for Theological Themes in the Selected Passage
Look for where the theme started, how it is developed, and where it culminated. Ask, “What is the biblical theme in this text?” This is one way to look for the redemptive focus of a selected passage legitimately.
Adapted from Tony Merida’s “Faithful Preaching”