When I first attended church, people were studying their Bibles in all different ways. I remember one Sunday school class where the teacher was going through John 15 talking about “the vine.” People were debating back and forth between non-Lordship salvation and Lordship salvation. Others were talking about how the passage had nothing to do with salvation and related to the book of Isaiah and his language of “the vine.” I thought to myself, “How can people reach such different conclusions of God’s word?” It occurred to me that most Christians end up relying on their study Bibles more than their own study of their Bibles.
This hits home to many believers in many different contexts. I believe it’s important for the Christian to dig deep into the truths of God’s word for themselves. Therefore, to lay the groundwork for one’s own personal Bible study, I have outlined 5 foundations to personal Bible study: Biblical Fundamentals, Biblical Exegesis, Biblical Theology, Biblical Application, and Biblical Exposition.
First, Biblical Fundamentals are the foundation to Bible study through Hermeneutics and Biblical Languages. Hermeneutics is the science of Bible translation, interpretation, and exposition. As many scholars describe it today, it refers to the set of underlying principles for interpreting the accurate meaning of God’s word. For more information about Hermeneutics click here. Also using the Biblical Languages is critical in interpreting Scripture accurately. Originally, God divinely inspired His word through Aramaic, Greek, and Hebrew: not English. Especially with the free tools available today, even a person who doesn’t know the original languages can dive into deeper study, understand the authorial intent, and ultimately live in light of Scripture’s depth.
If hermeneutics is understood as the principles for interpretation, then Biblical Exegesis is understood as the practice of interpretation. Therefore, to understand the actual meaning of a passage as the original author intended and as the original audience would have understood, then there are 8 practices to exegesis. I see these 8 practices as a “lens of Scripture.” Start big, zoom into the text to understand the details, and zoom out again to get the big picture.
- Observation provides the initial observations and overall perspective of the text.
- Context bridges the cultural and historical settings of the book.
- Genre understands the passage in light of how it is written.
- Literary Style observes the structure, purpose, and plot of a specific passage in view of its’ surrounding context.
- Textual Criticism zooms in on the specific textual variants of a passage.
- Grammar looks at a frame by frame approach of each phrase to see how the text fits together.
- Lexical Study studies each individual word to understand its meaning.
- Summarizing reviews each step of exegesis and summarizes all the content.
Through Biblical Theology, not only is the student able to understand a specific passage, but also how it aligns with the whole counsel of God. Specifically, with Progressive Redemptive History the believer is able to trace through Scripture and notice how this passage relates to other Old Testament and New Testament passages. Also, Systematic Theology is the study of categorized systematized, and crystalized theology found in a specific passage. By understanding the systematic theology of a passage, the student can understand the same theology found in other passages of Scripture. Even with Historical Theology, Christians can see how a particular Bible passage was understood throughout Church history to provide insight into the meaning of a text.
Biblical Application is the fourth foundation and is one of the most important. Not only must believers study Scripture, but they must also examine their own lives. Believers must take the truths they have studied and apply them to their life. There are 3 aspects to Biblical Application: Examination, Obedience, and Repentance. Second Corinthians 13:5 summarizes the believer’s responsibility,
Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? — unless indeed you fail to meet the test!
Ultimately, the pinnacle of Bible study is Biblical Exposition. When preachers, teachers, pastors, church leaders, etc. preach, their expositions of Scripture bring the process of Bible study to fruition. This does not mean that every nuance of hermeneutics, languages, exegesis, theology, and application come to light in a sermon.
However, this does mean that the preacher has thought through all these nuances and communicates them clearly to the congregation. For the expositor, the sermon is both a science and an art. Yet the essential means that he is to communicate the word of God in the pulpit is through Reading, Explaining, and Exhorting God’s word. Even for someone who isn’t a pastor, Biblical Exposition should be the foundation of any biblical conversation to understand what the Bible means and how it applies to us today.
Although these 5 foundations to Bible study expand deep and wide, they must flow out of a heart of devotion and worship to Christ; not of demand and obligation to oneself. Studying the Bible in this way is meaningless without a spirit of devotion to Christ.
First Corinthians 8:1 teaches that knowledge “puffs up.” Students of God’s word must be careful to not make the study of Scripture merely an intellectual exercise. Rather, the study of God’s word must be an act of devotion and dependence upon Him. As 2 Peter 3:18 states, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”
Masters of Divinity, The Master’s Seminary
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Harris Connection: I met Dr. Harris in 2010 while attending The Master’s College. His influence and teaching has shaped the way I understand Scripture and how that applies to the way I live my life. After having Dr. Harris as a professor at The Master’s Seminary in 2014, he invited me to be a Pastoral Intern at Lake Hills Community Church. Because of his impact, I consider him my professor, my pastor, and my friend.