Have you ever gotten a text message, and upon first reading it, totally took it the wrong way only to later realize that you were way off and had misunderstood the meaning behind the message? This can make for some funny text threads, but misunderstanding the meaning behind messages could also lead to broken relationships, hurt feelings, and disaster if the truth wasn’t brought to light.
Quick detour for a little illustration and entertainment, Look what I found on the internet:
See what I mean? We can see that the message was clearly misunderstood because the meaning was lost.
That was a silly illustration, but we realize how important understanding the meaning of someone’s message is in our conversations with each other. That’s why we reserve certain conversations for face to face settings over text messaging and when someone is important to us, we go the extra mile to understand “where they are coming from.” We know that it would be reckless to make our own assumptions about the meaning behind someone’s message and move one.
God chose to reveal Himself to us through written words and most of these writings were inspired and recorded 1,900-3,400 years ago. It would be reckless for us to assume that our initial understanding of what the text means is correct and move on.
There are some passages in scripture that upon first reading, you may feel you could never come to understand the meaning of the text. There are also entire sections of scripture that are very straightforward and it would seem that those sections leave no room for incorrect interpretation. Unfortunately, mis-interpretation and the manipulation of God’s Word happens more often than it should. What’s worse is that these misinterpretations are often blindly accepted by the Church body because as individual Christians and members of the Church body, there is not much accountability or dedication to learning to study the Bible for ourselves.
After reading a passage of scripture, even if you feel like you have a good grip of WHAT the text is saying, it’s not uncommon to still feel like you’re missing something. That’s why being a good student of the Bible includes taking steps towards interpreting what the text means. While not ALL portions of scripture will leave you feeling totally bewildered, I would argue that these steps are always essential to ensure that our initial understanding of the text is in line with it’s true meaning.
[[ This is the second step in the Systematic Bible Study process. It’s imperative to note at this point that you can not interpret what scripture means until you have fully understood what it says. If you are looking for tools to help you better understand the content of a passage of scripture, read this post for a list of the tools that I teach for comprehension. ]]
After digging into scripture to comprehend WHAT a passage has said, we will follow these steps for interpretation to better understand what the text MEANS:
1. STUDY IN CONTEXT
We’ll gather background information to understand the original author, audience, and purpose of the text.
Using cross-referencing helps to improve our understanding of the BIG story of the Bible as well as the specific meaning of the passage.
3. IN VIEW OF...
We’ll challenge ourselves to interpret the section of scripture in view of history, culture, literary form, the bigger story of the Bible, and the gospel.
We'll start with Studying in context...
We’ll learn to dig deeper into the text to gather background information, and paired with other resources, we’ll deepen our understanding of the meaning of the text.
Click here to view the downloadable resource to help you compile the background information.
As you begin to fill in the boxes on this resource, I would challenge you to resist the temptation to just fill in the answers. Really push yourself to grow in your understanding. If you own a study bible, many of the answers to these questions will be collected for you in the introduction of each book of the Bible.
There are also some really great resources available online that can help you gather all of the background information so that you are able to study in context. A few of my favorite and trusted resources are:
The value is lost if you just fill in the blanks with one word answers. Remember that this is less about filling in the blanks on a page and more about challenging yourself to dig deeper. For example, let’s look at the first question on the background information resource in light of Colossians.
Who wrote Colossians? Paul
... or ...
Who wrote Colossians? Paul, “the Apostle of Grace” born in Tarses as “Saul”, parents were Pharisees. He studied Jewish Law under the rabbi named Gamaliel, became a lawyer in hopes of becoming a member of the Sanhedrin one day. Saul was very zealous in the faith, and believing that He was doing the will of God, he became a religious terrorist, killing many innocent men and women who followed Christ. Saul met Jesus on the road from Jerusalem to Damascus. He was blinded and sent by the Holy Spirit to meet with Ananias, who led him in prayer to receive the Holy Spirit, restore his sight and baptized him then and there. Saul immediately went into the synagogues and proclaimed Jesus as the Son of God and spent the rest of his days founding churches, spreading the name of Christ to the Roman world, and encouraging Christians in their faith. He was imprisoned for his faith and boldness and it is believed that He died a martyr's death.
See the difference? Obviously both answers above are correct but the second one has a better chance of affecting your perspective as you read the text. Collecting background information is one of those adventures that you get out of it what you put in. No one is combing through your bible study notes with a red pen. (Depending on your personality, you’re either disappointed by the fact that you aren’t getting “credit,” or you’re 100% relieved that no one else will ever see your notes.)
The point is, when we aim to be good student’s of the Word of God, the amount of time spent chasing the details won’t matter as much as the growth in knowledge and appreciation from digging deeper into the text. It’s with hearts in deep pursuit of knowing our Heavenly Father that we chase down every detail, dive headfirst into rabbit holes, and find His presence in the nooks and crannies we never would have noticed by simply reading the text.
Be sure to follow along on Instagram as we walk through this resource together in the coming weeks.