Tuesday, Nov 13, 2018
How to Study the Bible (Part 4) - Applying the Discipline of Observation
Speaker: Jerry Wragg
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We are continuing today in Grace & Granite by examining the basic principles for studying the Word of God. So far, we studied six general principles:

  1. Scripture is clear; it has clarity.
  2. Revelation is accommodated to us.
  3. Scripture is harmonious.
  4. Scripture can be normally/literally interpreted.
  5. There is one meaning to a text.
  6. Interpretation as opposed to application.

As we think about these principles, let’s keep in mind:

  • It is naïve for us to think that a cursory glance at any passage will give us a deep and thorough knowledge of a text.
  • Even passages that we think we know, years later upon further reading, we are surprised to see how much was there that we didn’t see in our first studies.
  • This is the inexhaustible nature of divine revelation.
  • Eternal truths are imbedded in the clear language of Scripture. An eternal God can do this without making it difficult on His people. A special code is not needed.
  • Still, the text of Scripture is as deep and profound as He is.
  • 2 Timothy 3:16 – All Scripture is inspired by God. This is not cheap inspiration. The original language literally means all Scripture is breathed out by God.
  • 2 Peter 1:21 provides further clarity on how inspiration works, saying, “Men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” If it is from God, it carries His eternal nature.
  • Therefore, Scripture says that He has exalted His words above His own name (Psalm 138:2).
  • Psalm 19:7ff says God’s Word has the power to transform.
  • Isaiah 55:11 God’s Word always accomplishes the purpose for which it was sent.

When studying the Bible, we realize that we have tremendous joy in the privilege to study revelation from God. This is not just work for institutional professors. Every man is charged with plumbing the depths of Scripture, so that the Holy Spirit can share the mind of God with us. We use Scripture’s clarity of salvation, sanctification, and discipleship. So, don’t think that studying the Bible is for others. And don’t think that you can naively open your English Bible and know a text immediately without applying these and other principles in your study.

General Principle #7 – Study the context.

  • Reading the context of a passage means that we must study the flow.
  • We examine the words, sentences and units of thought that come before and after the text you are studying.
  • Key point: The words of Scripture means something based on the words around them. And a passage might not mean something based on the words and context.
  • When someone needs discipleship, you start by opening your Bible for various passages to help. Here are some recommendations:
    1. Modern resources are endless, including “Googling” the issue with the word Bible after the issue will give you a list of passages that address that issue.
    2. Other trusted resources from the internet include:
      1. Ligonier Ministries (https://www.ligonier.org/)
      2. Grace to You (https://www.gty.org/
      3. Grace Immanuel websites (www.gibcjupiter.org; http://churchmen.org/)
      4. Bible.org (https://bible.org/)
    3. A very trusted resource is Walter Elwell’s Topical Analysis of the Bible – It is a cataloging of Scriptures about everything you need to know in the Christian life. (https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0801032059)
    4. Once you have passages of Scripture that address an issue, you want to thoroughly understand the passage as it relates to the issue.
      1. You don’t want to apply the passage superficially.
      2. You are not just giving them what they can get at a cursory glance.
      3. Don’t be a minimalistic discipler. Don’t just say what the verse says.
      4. You want to explain the meaning of the text and implicate the heart as you plumb its depths.
      5. A faithful discipler does his own study of passages and brings the truths to the disciplee.
    5. To avoid shallow discipleship, take the one or two key texts that address the issue and set upon your study as follows:
      1. Read that section 10-20 times to see the flow.
      2. Read the section before and after the text; the whole chapter, if need be.
      3. Let your mind absorb the flow of thought in what is written.
      4. Put some markers in place for where thoughts begin and end. Identify units of thought (pericopes).
      5. Narrow your study to the main unit of thought.

Recommendation from John MacArthur (related by Jerry Wragg): Read a book of the Bible once a day for 30 days. It might feel tedious at first; but keep pressing on. Into the second week, some things begin happening. The flow of thought becomes so familiar that it is on your mind, the words are in your speech, ideas become familiar, you start to see repeated themes, etc. This happens just from reading and not taking notes. Around day 14, the text opens further still. After 30 days, you will be stunned at what you are able to retain, and you will understanding the text better than you ever have.  There is great value in reading and re-reading. It allows your mind to be saturated by Truth. If it is boring, it is because we are weak and shallow. We need to develop the discipline of our minds.

General Principle #8 – The discipline of observation.

  1. Look for connecting words; conjunctions – mark them out because the connections explain things and how they relate to one another.
  2. Identify verbs (action ideas) – outside the genre of stories, interpretation of propositional truth claims in any unit of thought hinges on the verbs.
  3. Look for word patterns in a text – things that are strung together.
    • For example, Ephesians 1 – “In Him”
    • For example, 1 Thessalonians 2 – Paul’s frequent appeal to what they know
    • Look for prepositions: to, with, from, etc.
    • Look for purpose clauses
  4. Look for common phrases and terminology by different authors.
    • Notice Paul’s loves to use, “put on” and “put off” motifs in his writings.
    • Matthew likes to use, “the Kingdom of heaven”.
    • Notice John (the Apostle that Jesus loved) and the way he uses the word, love, in his writings.
    • As you observe various writers, you will begin to see authors’ terms used for emphasis.
  5. Look for contrasts – the Bible makes arguments by using opposites, constantly.
    • For example, Ephesians 5:18, do not be addicted to substances, but be filled with the Holy Spirit.
    • In the original languages, the word “but” is often the strongest adversative (an expression of opposition).
  6. Look for comparisons – these are the things that are alike (similar).
    • Can be identified by seeing phrases: “just as”; you are to forgive one another, just as in Christ God forgave you (Ephesians 4:32).
    • Ephesians 5:25, Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ… (in the same way)
    • In the parables it often says, “the kingdom of heaven is like”.
  7. Look for imperatives or commands – you will do this; you won’t do that.
    • The verb idea is a must do or must not do this.
    • This indicates a verbal idea in its strongest form.
    • These are the most straight forward propositional truths that you will give to a disciple, because they are in the most explicit form.
  8. Mark out exhortations/pleadings – these are urgings or special exhortations.
    • Romans 12:1 – I urge you brethren by the mercies of God…
    • 2 Timothy 4:11ff – I solemnly charge you…. in the presence of God…
    • Look for emphatic grammar such as “look” or “behold”.
  9. Recognize the use of the definite article – passages that clearly use “the”.
    • Observe where it is used and not used.
    • It is a specifically identifying word
      1. A library is generic
      2. The library is specific
    • Luke 18:13 – the sinner.  John 3:10 – the teacher.
    • Using the specifies the one in a category.
  10. Identify descriptive phrases – these further define things
    • These provide color and further describe.
    • Adjectives are all over human language for the sake of understanding.
  11. Look for possession words (genitives)
    • The revelation of Jesus Christ – of is a possession word.
    • The Word of God – means the book of God; it belongs to Him.
  12. Determine limitations of a passage on a topic
    • Discipline your mind to determine what the verse does not say.
    • The passage addresses a topic, but there are limitations of what it covers specific to that topic. This is critical as you grow in your understanding of theology.
    • It is a challenge to not take all that you have learned and put it on the passage you are studying.
    • God gave us His revelation the way He wanted to give it to us.
    • We sometimes wish God covered more details in a specific passage.
    • Each passage doesn’t solve every tension on a topic.
    • Let the passage speak what it does say.
  13. Look at synonymous phrases that present the same ideas – these tie together parallel ideas
    • Does Eph 5:18, “filled with the Spirit,” mean the same thing as, “strengthened with might by His Spirit,” in Eph 3:16?
    • It might be the same idea, because of the words around it.
  14. Notice writers’ personal experiences – what grips the writer
    • Paul often writes in deep agony (i.e. Galatians 1)