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5 Steps to Understanding the Bible

Step 1:  Question: What did the text mean to the biblical audience?

The first part of Step 1 is to read the text carefully and observe it. In Step 1, try to see as much as possible in the text. Look, look, and look again, observing all that you can. Scrutinize the grammar and analyze all significant words. Likewise, study the historical and literary contexts. How does your passage relate to those that precede it and those that follow it?

Be specific. Do not generalize or try to develop theological principles yet.


Step 2: Question: What are the differences between the biblical audience and us?

The Christian today is separated from the biblical audience by differences in culture, language, situation, time, and often covenant. These differences form a river that hinders us from moving straight from meaning in their context to meaning in ours. The width of the river, however, varies from passage to passage. Sometimes it is extremely wide, requiring a long, substantial bridge for crossing. Other times, however, it is a narrow creek that we can easily hop over. It is obviously important to know just how wide the river is before we start trying to construct a principlizing bridge across it.

IIn this step you look for significant differences between our situation today and the situation of the biblical audience. If you are studying an Old Testament passage, also be sure to identify those significant theological differences that came as a result of the life and work of Jesus Christ.

Step 3:  Question: What is the theological principle in this text?

This is perhaps the most challenging step. In it you are looking for the theological principle or principles that are reflected in the meaning of the text you identified in Step 1. Remember that this theological principle is part of the meaning. Your task is not to create the meaning but to discover the meaning intended by the author. As God gives specific expressions to specific biblical audiences, he is also giving universal theological teachings for all of his people through these same texts.

The principle should be reflected in the text. The principle should be timeless and not tied to a specific situation. The principle should not be culturally bound. The principle should correspond to the teaching of the rest of Scripture.

Step 4: Question: How does our theological principle fit with the rest of the Bible?

During this step you must enter the parts-whole spiral. That is, you reflect back and forth between the text and the teachings of the rest of Scripture. Is your principle consistent with the rest of Scripture? Do other portions of Scripture add insight or qualification to the principle? If your principle is valid, it ought to “fit” or “correlate” with the rest of the Bible.

Step 5:  Question: How should individual Christians today live out the theological principles?

In Step 5 we apply the theological principle to the specific situation of individual Christians in the church today. We cannot leave the meaning of the text stranded in an abstract theological principle. We must now grapple with how we should respond to that principle in our town. How does it apply in real-life situations today?


From: Grasping God’s Word / J. Daniel Hays and J. Scott Duvall