It isn’t uncommon to hear people ask, “How can I be a better Bible student?” Certainly, nothing in the world could be more important than knowing God and His will and using such knowledge to love Him more and serve Him better. While many helpful volumes have been written on how to properly handle God’s Word (2 Timothy 2:15), the following eight principles are crucial considerations for better Bible study. The relationship that exists concerning all 8 of these principles must not be underestimated. There is an interconnectedness we must respect to truly be people of the Book. We’ll note four principles now with the remaining 4 in our next edition of Mondays With Mike.
The Literal Principle. God has spoken to man in a way that is capable of being understood. This means that Scripture should be taken at “face value.” The Bible was written for a purpose; it is divine revelation. The literal principle has behind it the idea that the Bible is a book by God and about God and the relationship He wants to have with us. The literal principle understands the legitimate use of types and figures of speech in the Bible. For example, calling Jesus “the Lamb of God” (John 1:29) obviously is not intended to be taken literally, but is rather a reference to His sacrificial death on our behalf (See 1 Peter 1:18-19). An important part of this principle is to avoid reading into a passage something that isn’t there. The meaning of the text should be the meaning of the author to the original recipients.
The Contextual Principle. In Scripture, at three types of context should be noted, and each is a fairly exhaustive study in itself. First is the historical/cultural context. This deals with the history of the particular time, people, culture and circumstances of the text. This background material is important as an interpretive help. Next is grammatical/literary context. By grammatical context is meant the immediate and remote context of a passage. In grammatical context, one is dealing with words and phrases and relationships. Digging is done about words and how they relate. Literary context refers both to the type of literature one is dealing with (examples: narrative, poetry, proverb, letter), as well as specific figures of speech and other devices which may be utilized for literary effect. Finally, there is canonical / theological context. This has to do with how a passage or text should be viewed within the over-all story of God’s saving message. Each book of the Bible makes a valuable contribution to theology and to Scripture’s story. These grammatical-historical-literary-theological lenses must be properly seen for the Bible to be properly observed, interpreted and applied. Indeed, a failure to properly consider these matters leads to Scripture twisting (cf. 2 Peter 3:14-18). For this reason, the watchword of many Bible teachers through the years has been “context, context, context!”
The Exegetical Principle. At its heart, the Exegetical Principle states that meaning is to be properly drawn from the text and not read into it. There is the whole-hearted idea to let the passage speak for itself. A passage cannot possibly mean what it never says. We must seek to remove any agendas and personal biases that might get in the way of seeing what God actually says! While this can at times be difficult, it is a noble and worthy pursuit in seeking God’s will (cf. 1 Samuel 3:9-11). Therefore, one makes every effort to get into the text with the understanding, “when Scripture speaks, God speaks.” Through exegesis, we dive into the depths of God’s word and find priceless pearls of Divine treasure.
The Linguistic Principle. This principle reminds us that the original languages of the Bible, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, take precedence over particular translations. And while not every student of Scripture is well-schooled in the original languages, comparative study of the most reliable Bible translations yields a rich harvest. Consulting 3-5 of these translations on a passage can be quite enlightening. Further, many helps in the original languages are now available in book form and digitally that are user-friendly (often using numerical keys and other helpful means) to the student who is willing to expend the additional effort. Frankly, we are blessed with a wealth of information that makes navigating these languages much easier than ever.
In closing this first article on the subject, let me say this: BIBLE KNOWLEDGE NEVER IS AN END WITHIN ITSELF! The best Bible students understand it as a means to an end. “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5).