Contextualize The Passage In The Book And In Its Original Context
A Bible dictionary is a great place to learn basic information about a biblical book and its original context. Other good resources include study guides and written for a general audience.
Matthew 5:3848 is part of the Sermon on the Mount , which according to Lexham Bible Dictionaryis the first of five large blocks of Jesus teachings in Matthew. With this context in mind, N. T. Wright in Matthew for Everyonecategorizes Matthew 5:3848 under the heading Loving your enemies. Wright explains that Jesus is contrasting his views with first-century Israelite teaching:
Jesus offers a new sort of justice, a creative, healing, restorative justice. The old justice found in was designed to prevent revenge running away with itself . . . reflect the astonishingly patient love of God himself.
Jesus disciples should reflect Gods self-sacrificial love this is the intent of Gods law.
Pro Tip: Application-based commentaries often emphasize the big picture of a biblical book, which helps with contextualizing a passage. Supplement this with a Bible dictionary to see multiple options for outlining a biblical book.
Consider The Literary Context
Reading a text in its literary context involves interpreting it in light of its flow of words and the form the words take .
First, considering the texts literary flow involves reading a text in terms of the words around it. Words mean something in the sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and books in which they are used . Thats why we dont start reading a novel in the middle, because each word, paragraph, and chapter all add up to something important. And yet this is often how we approach the Bible, by starting in the middle with little regard to the literary flow that adds up to specific meaning. Hunter and Wellum explain:
Since its a long book and pastors preach out of different sections each week, we get used to entering and exiting portions of Scripture without considering the context of the books in which they are found, let alone their location in the rest of the Bibles storyline But this practice can also reinforce our tendency to read passages in isolation.
The authors offer a solution: if you take the time to read and reflect on a book as a whole, then every part of that book will start to make more sense .
Second, properly reading the Bible in its literary context means considering the literary form the author chose in writing. The Bibles words are written in the form of minimally three different kinds of texts: discourse, narrative, and poetry :
How To Study The Bible
Jim George, Th.M.
One of the noblest pursuits a child of God can embark upon is to get to know and understand God better. The best way we can accomplish this is to look carefully at the book He has written, the Bible, which communicates who He is and His plan for mankind. There are a number of ways we can study the Bible, but one of the most effective and simple approaches to reading and understanding Gods Word involves three simple steps:
Step 1: ObservationWhat does the passage say?Step 2: InterpretationWhat does the passage mean?Step 3: ApplicationWhat am I going to do about what the passage says and means?
Let’s dive into each step of studying the Bible.
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S To Studying The Bible In Context
Context is king, as they say. But when it comes to studying the Bible, context is far and wide.
A verse is contextualized in a passage a passage in a biblical book a biblical book in a particular place and time and each time and place is characterized by language and culture.
Yet the biblical writings are not limited to the ancient world. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable . . . for training in righteousness . The Bible is both ancient and eternal. It is contextualized to then and applicable now.
When we neglect the context, its easy to end up studying the Bible as if it were Old MacDonalds farm: here a verse, there a verse, everywhere a verse, verse. But as we pay attention to what surrounds a versein the text and in its cultural settingwe can get a clearer sense of what God is saying to us.
We recontextualize Scripture each time we read it. How can we honor Scriptures context while applying it today? To answer this question, lets look at a commonly cited statement from Jesus: Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you . How should we understand this verse today? Should I simply give to anyone who asks of me, or did Jesus mean something else entirely?
In four steps, we will analyze this verse and its surrounding context. The results will likely surprise you.
Get It Right By Getting The Biblical Context
We want to glean as much truth from the Word as possible, and achieving this requires us to take the context into consideration. Take the aerial view before you use you zoom in to look at the details. You cannot completely understand a particular part until you understand the whole. Remember, meaning is derived not only from the passage itself, but also from all the passages surrounding it.
Biblical context is important because it can help prevent wrong interpretations of Scripture, faulty theology, and confusion while reading Gods Word. It can also help you realize the full meaning of a passage and get the most out your Bible Study.
At New Tribes Bible Institute we like to say, Context is King! To learn more about biblical context and gain other valuable study tips, sign up for our free email course below:
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How To Understand The Bible In All Things Pray Pray Pray
Basically, all these how to understand the Bible tips are nonsensical garbage if you dont pray for God to meet you. The Holy Spirit cant be manipulated by tactics and tricks. He blows where He will, enlivening our hearts and deepening our passion for Him.
The Bible is how we understand Gods will for our lives, but we cant know what he desires for us if we dont have the Spirit enlighten us.
I really hope these simple methods help you, but they are never a substitute for simple prayer and reading.
God WILL meet you. Just ask Him.
Read A Single Book Multiple Times
Sometimes it can be immensely helpful to immerse yourself in a single book for an extended period of time.
I remember hearing pastor Mike Bullmore say that there was a lengthy period when he went through the book of Psalms repeatedly for the health of his soul.
Diving way deep into a single book allows you to pick up nuances you would never get on a single pass. It forces you to grapple with the logical arguments of the author and pushes you to a more thorough understanding.
As you read 2 Corinthians again and again, youll start to understand why it mattered so much to Paul when God said, My grace is sufficient for you.
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If We Want To Read The Bible In Context We Must Be Willing To Learn About The History And Culture Of The People Who Were A Part Of It
So I challenge you. Reading the Bible in historical context is amazing! Understand that the New Testament letters were just that letters. Paul didnt write them with chapter and verse numbers like we see in our Bibles today. He meant for them to be received as a whole. So read them that way. We cant just read the Bible through our 21st-century eyes, dissecting Pauls letters to the point that weve made them say something Paul never meant to say.
I can honestly say that I loved studying the first-century world while I was in seminary. I finally understood the gravity of what was happening at that time. It opened my eyes to the hardships, the persecution, the struggle, and yet the immense joy that these new believers felt. Im still learning how to read the Bible this way, but I cant help feeling excited with them. They were real people just like you and me. They had a difficult call to be the first Christians in history. And if God can work in their lives and in their culture the way He did, He can certainly do the same in ours! What an amazing God we serve!
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Choose A Translation Of The Bible That Best Fits Your Needs
There are many English translations of the Bible. Some are more literal, word-for-word to the original languages the Bible was written in, but might not read as smoothly in English. Others are paraphrases and flow well in the English language, but you lose some of the richness of the original languages.
Choose a modern translation that aims for a good balance of accuracy and readability. Some of the popular translations include the NLT or the ESV.
I wrote an article that goes into a bit more detail about Bible translations: What Version of the Bible Is Easiest to Read . I explain the differences and share my recommendations.
One way to understand the Bible better is to read a different translation or two to supplement the one youre most used to. There are websites like Biblegateway that make looking at different translations very easy. I use one translation for my main reading Bible and look up the rest on my phone or computer.
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Initial Observations Of The Immediate Context
Without looking at any of the context surrounding this passage, theres a lot we dont know. Who is speaking? Who is being spoken to? What does the author want that he hasnt obtained but is working toward? How is the author pressing on what does he mean by that? What specifically lies behind the author?
But when we do a little extra reading of the previous and following text, we have a much more accurate picture of what is happening here. Philippians is only four chapters long, so it wont take too much effort to read it. By starting at the beginning, we find that the author is Paul , and that the audience is all the believers that belong to the church of Philippi .
The answer to our question of what Paul is trying to obtain is found in the more immediate context, just a few verses back. Starting in 3:10, Paul begins to list out some goals he has: that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, share in his sufferings, become like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead . He then goes on to say at the beginning of our section, Not that I have already obtained this or am already made perfect.
How To Understand The Bible For Beginners
Whether you are new to the Bible or have been familiar with its content for a while doesnt matter it can still be confusing. Learning how to understand the Bible for beginners can be quite daunting. Which translation should I use? Where should I start? How am I supposed to understand it when it is in such a different cultural setting?
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Look Down At The Close Context
When we look down at the page, we seek to understand the words in their immediate context. The close context takes into account the divine inspiration and human character of the words written . This general kind of context includes the chosen words, communicated ideas, and the specific book were reading, understood within its historical setting. Its everything we see when we read the page in front of us, both the divine and human aspects of the book.
Scripture as a divine book means it is unified, from one Author, coherent, sufficient, perfect, and urgent. These truths carry several implications for how we read the Bible:
- We should read it with creaturely humility because these words are from our Creator and Lord
- We are to read with expectation
- We should also read with caution, recognizing that we are inclined to misunderstand what God has written
- We should read the Bible patiently to accurately discern what God has said
- We dont stand over Scripture we stand under it in submission to God
Since the Bible is also a human book, we need to pay attention to its human aspects. We must not focus on the Bibles divine character to the extent we neglect its human ones. Hunter and Wellum remind us that God speaks to us through what the authors wrote, which demands hard work from us to discern what the authors intended to say. Reading a given text in its close context means reading it in its literary and historical context .
The Sword Method Of Bible Study
The Sword Method of Bible Study is a simple, but powerful way to study the Bible. You simply ask 3 questions that cover the 3 most important points. It can be applied to a single verse or multiple verses .
The blade of the sword points upward toward heaven, so you ask what do I learn about God in this passage? Next, the handle of the sword points down toward man, so ask what do I learn about people in this passage? The 3rd question asks how we apply what we learned: What does God want me to do?
There are many variations of this type of devotional or observation Bible study. You might have seen different graphics or charts for Bible Study methods that emphasize different aspects of learning and applying the Bible.
The important thing is to not get distracted by the tools. Highlighters, charts, acronyms are helpful if they help you engage with the Bible and apply it to your life. Usually, its best to go with a simple, reproducible method like the Sword Method.
Its simple and reproducible, so it can be used and taught by adults and children. It can be used to lead a small group Bible Study or discussion.
Here are a few related questions you can branch off into. You can get an idea of how useful the 3 main questions are.
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Keeping In Context: Always Step One
Whether were studying a verse or passage, discussing the Bible with a friend, or reacting to something weve heard, context is always the most important place to start. Know the who, what, where, when, and why of that verse. Sometimes this means reading the verses around the one in question, the whole section or chapter, or sometimes even the whole chapters before and after the verse.
Theres a time and place to debate whether something is good or bad or what it means to our lives. But none of those discussions mean anything unless youre talking about what the words were actually intended to mean. This is why context is so important without it, theres nothing to discuss.
A great reference for looking up the context of any given verse is our network site BibleRef.com. They are working hard to provide a commentary on every verse of the Bible!
Observe How Your Paragraph Fits Into The Flow Of The Book
Paragraphs before and after the target passage provide even more context. Analyze them as well, using the same method. This will allow us to trace the development of the idea in its entirety. Ideally, we should do this for every paragraph in the book, arranging the paragraphs into sections and divisions. If time does not permit you to do this, dont give up. Instead, consult an outline of the book, like those in many study Bibles, Bible dictionaries, Bible introductions, or Bible handbooks. Observe how your paragraph fits into the flow of the book. Ask how its information, its point, fits the overall message of the book.
Reading closely and thinking in context are not talents, but skills. They can be developed and improved with practice. Why not began with your Bible reading for today?
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The Living Flame Of Gods Word
As you seek to understand the Bible better, ask God to teach you and have a teachable spirit. God wants to communicate with you. The Bible is meant to be studied and understood by normal, ordinary people.
Gods Word is an open door and an invitation to know the mind and heart of God. Keep bringing your heart and mind before the living flame of Gods Word!
They said to each other, Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?
|If you found this article to be helpful, here are others that I think youll enjoy:21 Valuable benefits of Studying the Bible. The Bible promises these blessings for those who read and study it. I hope youll find encouragement and motivation to dig deeper into Gods Word.In the Bible Explained for Beginners, I share a simple diagram that gives a helpful overview of the Bible.If you want to read more about how to read the Bible in its context, heres an article I think will be helpful: How the Bible is Arranged: The Main Structure and Its Meaning.|