Hermeneutics may seem a daunting task. To properly understand Scripture, the interpreter must consider the text's genre and literary structure. He must understand the text within its historical, cultural, geographical, literary, and redemptive-historical context. And he must analyze the text's original language. One might conclude that to properly understand Scripture, he must invest hundreds (or thousands) of dollars in Bible software, master the original languages, and purchase several shelf-fuls of Bible commentaries, encyclopedias, and lexicons. If that's the case, hermeneutics seems a daunting task, indeed.
In reality, most Christians don't have the time or the resources to carry out such in-depth, scholarly study. Am I suggesting that we can't enjoy a deep understanding of the Bible? In the words of the Apostle Paul, "By no means!" Thankfully, God has provided everything that we need to properly understand His Word. In this article, we'll look at five practical tips for the in-depth study of God's Word.
All the time and resources that this world can offer are ultimately incapable of producing a true knowledge of God's Word. As finite human beings, we rely upon the Holy Spirit to illuminate our minds so that we can understand God's Word (1 Cor. 2:11-12). By implication, we should always approach the text with humility, praying along with the Psalmist, "Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law" (Psalm 119:18). Have you ever wondered why our pastor always prefaces his sermons with prayer? Simply put, he recognizes that even history's greatest sermons are insufficient to produce true understanding of God's Word. Only the Holy Spirit has the power to soften our hearts, unplug our ears, and open our eyes so that we can receive the truth.
Although some people distinguish Bible reading from Bible study, I would argue that reading the text is actually the most important part of studying the text. It amazes me how many would rather read a Christian book, or listen to an online sermon, than read their Bibles. Our study of God's Word must begin with reading the text – there is no substitute! Here I want to introduce two levels of Bible reading; the first level deals with the book that we're studying, and the second with the entire canon of Scripture.
Concerning the first level, we must read the book that we're studying repetitively. Ultimately, we want to grasp the author's logic – how the book works, why the author was writing, and how he develops his argument. And that only comes when our minds have been saturated with the text through repetitive reading. Concerning the second level, we must become familiar with the entire canon of Scripture. Two weeks ago, the Westmount Wordsmiths released a helpful article entitled "Concerning Hermeneutics," which explained that the biblical authors often draw upon previous revelation (I would recommend reading this article for further explanation). Thus, Matthew 1 does more than merely trace the family line of Christ; in reality, Matthew's genealogy resumes the storyline of the promised seed that was begun in Genesis and announces the arrival of the long-awaited Messiah who will fulfill the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants. To make that connection, however, we have to know our Bibles – really well!
Perhaps you're beginning to feel a sense of despair, "What if I don't know the Bible that well?" Fundamentally, we must recognize that we're all growing in our knowledge of God's Word – not one of us has arrived? That said, in order to keep moving forward in our understanding of Scripture, we must continually expose ourselves to the biblical text, and that happens primarily through the regular, consistent habit of reading God's Word. So, how's your Bible reading plan coming along (and I'm speaking to myself, as much as to you)? If we want to enjoy a deep understanding of God's Word, we must discipline ourselves to faithfully read the text.
When reading the Bible you come across a difficult passage, what's your first reaction? Do you just keep reading? Do you glance down at the study notes in your Bible? Do you look up the meaning of the text on the internet (to the surprise of many, "Google Search" and "Hey Siri" are actually not part of the hermeneutical process)? Regardless, I wonder how many would pause, lean back, and ponder the text – though I would imagine, not many. Of all the spiritual disciplines, meditation has easily become the most neglected. We would rather consult the thoughts of others whom we deem 'more qualified' to offer insight into God's Word. That's too bad, because God blesses those who meditate upon His Word (Psa. 1:2). And you would probably be surprised at how much understanding you would bring to God's Word if only you would think deeply about the text.
If you're anything like me, you've had the experience of staring blank-faced at your Bible, determined to figure out a tricky passage, but unsure of where to begin. That's partly because we've lost the skill of asking good questions. Good questions always prompt clearer, deeper reflection upon the text. They direct our minds toward solving a specific, tangible problem. Unfortunately, the Information Age has greatly stifled our ability to ask good questions (after all, Google has all the answers). As a result, our society has forfeited a fundamental part of the learning process. We must learn to ask good questions of the text! Don't suppress that internal voice crying, "I don't understand!" Voice your question!
While I want to stress the importance of personal reflection, we cannot underestimate the value of learning God's Word within community. Let's consider three ways that we can put this principle into practice. First, we must submit ourselves to the regular teaching and preaching of God's Word. God has blessed the church with skilled teachers who have studied and thought about the text at incredible depth, and we would be foolish to neglect such a tremendous source of instruction. So set your alarm early for Foundations of the Faith! Come on out for Midweek Gathering! And join us for Men's and Women's Bible study! We must capitalize on every opportunity to learn God's Word corporately.
Second, we must pursue conversations that foster a deeper appreciation and hunger for God's Word. On a personal note, I cannot overstate the spiritual benefit that I've derived from my conversations with Christian friends and family. Suffice to say, I know and understand God's Word better because of them.
Finally, we must take advantage of the abundant resources that God has blessed us with. In the Lord's providence, we're living in a unique age with unprecedented access to a wealth of excellent resources from men who have made significant contributions to the study of God's Word – that includes books, articles, sermons, and more! If we want to become diligent students of Scripture, we will seek out the best of these resources and learn from them.
We've looked at five practical ways to dive deeper in our study of God's Word. As you can see, it's not rocket science. First, we must approach the text prayerfully, acknowledging our dependence upon the Holy Spirit to illuminate our minds so that we can understand God's Word. Second, we must read the text regularly and repetitively. Reading God's Word is the most important step in Bible study. Third, we must learn to think 'long and hard' about the text. Fourth, we must ask good questions. And finally, we must learn God's Word within the Christian community by submitting ourselves to the teaching of God's Word, pursuing conversations that sharpen our understanding of Scripture, and capitalizing on biblical resources that deepen our study of the Bible. God has used these principles to profoundly shape my own study of His Word, and I trust they will deepen yours also, assuming that you're diligent to put these principles into practice. May the Lord richly reward your study of His Word!