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Bible Study for Every Christian (Part 3): Observation

Tom Pennington • Selected Scriptures

  • 2011-07-10 PM
  • Bible Study for Every Christian
  • Sermons


Well, I really thought that after the assignments I gave you last week, I really wasn't sure if anyone would show up, frankly. I was afraid I'd killed you, but before we get to the heart of how to study the Bible tonight, let me make a couple of key points. First of all, any new habit you try to learn feels awkward at first. I just want to remind you of that. If you tried to do the steps that I mentioned last time, this week, it may have felt a little awkward, it may have felt very awkward, but that's true for every habit worth learning.

I just want you to think back for a moment, the first time you tried to get on a bicycle. It was awkward. You wondered if you would ever, if you would be like the one exception who would never learn how to ride a bike. Driving a car is the same way. You remember the first time you actually got behind the wheel of a car to try to drive it, especially if it was a stick shift? It felt awkward; you were unsure of yourself. You despaired of ever getting comfortable with this process. And now, and you probably shouldn't do this, but now you can drive and do several other things at the same time. Well, how did that happen? It happened because you kept at it, you kept practicing, you kept trying. Eventually, that habit that's worth learning, that feels awkward at first, as you adjust, as you do it again and again and again, it becomes comfortable. It becomes second nature. And that's, I can promise you, how it is with taking this approach to Bible study. Don't expect learning the inductive method of Bible study to be any different than learning any other habit. It will feel awkward at first, but if you stay at it, it will eventually become second nature to you.

A second issue I want to address before we really get started tonight is the issue of how much time. I know some of you were thinking, you know, if I do what he's telling me to do, it's like two hours out of my day. I don't have two hours in my day. That's not what I'm encouraging you to do. Start by setting aside a small amount of time to study. You don't have to dedicate the two hours a day to this process. Start somewhere between 15 and 30 minutes several times a week, whatever your schedule will allow, and I would say make it allow more than you think it will allow because this is the most important thing you can do, but start with a reasonable amount of time, that's doable, fits into your schedule, that you really think you can stick with several times a week. And I'll tell you what will happen. Once you really begin to get a taste of what you can get to in this kind of study, you'll want to give a little more time, and you will. That's how it works.

Another point I want to mention is just to reiterate that the process of carefully studying the Bible is not just for super-Christians. This is the same basic path believers have followed since Old Testament times. I'm not saying every little method I'm teaching you, but the serious approach to the Scriptures is what they have followed.

So with those caveats, let's continue studying how to study the Scripture. Just to remind you, the process of inductive Bible study includes several steps. I have decided to approach it as six distinct steps. First of all, preparation, we've dealt with that already. You have to prepare yourself, you have to make sure that you understand why Bible study is important, you have to have a good translation, you have to pray and ask God the Holy Spirit to give you insight into His Word. You have to make sure you're a Christian; you have to make sure that you're not living in unrepentant sin, but rather you've confessed your sin so that the Holy Spirit can help you to really understand the Word of God. That's the preparation.

Then comes sort of the meat of the study. You could put the word study next to observation because, in a very real sense, this is where the heart of the study comes in. Then meditation, this is where you think deeply about what you have studied, to understand it as well as to plan how to do it. Then comes interpretation. This is when after all of the study and all of the thinking, you decide ultimately and finally this is what God was saying in this passage, and there are principles that we'll go over to help you make that decision.

Then comes evaluation. You take all of your work and you compare it against godly men who have written commentaries and study Bibles and you see that you are at least in line with where their study is landing because truth is the same truth in that passage to each person. It doesn't change. So you want to make sure that you're not grossly misinterpreting it for some reason. And then comes application. Once you're sure you understand it, once you're sure you really understand that passage and what it says, then you take the bridge, the bridge from this is what it says to this is what I'm to do with it. Don't take that bridge until you're sure you understand what it says.

Now, last week, we began to look at step two, observation. This step is called exegesis. Exegesis is, as I defined it last time, using careful reading, thought, and analysis, and all the available tools, to systematically study the details of the text in order to arrive at its meaning. It simply means, the word exegesis comes from two words, it means to guide or lead the meaning out of the text, to guide or lead the meaning out of the text. As opposed to eisegesis, which means to lead or guide the meaning into the text where now you're making the text say what you want it to say as opposed to leading or guiding out from the text what it actually says. In exegesis, we follow an approach that theologians call, kind of get this in your mind, you won't need it a lot but you need to know this is what we're doing, it's called the historical grammatical method. It's looking at the text in the context of its history and in the context of its grammar and its words and syntax and all of that. Every paragraph has only one intended meaning, that's the meaning the author originally intended. Our goal is to discern what that is. What did the original author really intend to say?

Now in this step of observation there are several sub-steps in our study and we looked at several of those last time. Let me just remind you of where we went last time in the process of observation. First of all, we started by saying always remember the big picture. Keep the study of your little passage, your paragraph, in the context of the big picture of Scripture, and I'm not going to rehearse that again. Again, if you weren't here last time, catch up with us so you have that foundation.

Secondly, if you're going to study, you've got to choose a book. What are you going to study? We talked about criteria for choosing the book to study. Thirdly, read up on the book's background in the introduction comments in a good study Bible. Find out a little bit about the background of that book, who wrote it, when they wrote it, why they wrote it; all of those things a good study Bible will lead you to. Number four, read through the book multiple times. This is why I encourage you to start with a short book so that you won't be discouraged in this process. Read through the book multiple times, somewhere between five times, minimum, and John MacArthur's 30 times, all right? Somewhere in there, I'll leave that between you and your conscience.

Fifthly, identify the paragraphs. Once you've read through the book multiple times, let's say you're doing Ephesians, for example, not that you would do that after our four years or whatever it was, but you would go through there and you would say, okay, where are the paragraphs, because, and remember you study the Bible in paragraphs, because that's how it was written. It was written where there were units of thought and those units of thought are contained in paragraphs. That's the smallest reasonable section in which to study the Bible. And I showed you last time how to identify paragraphs in your English Bible or in poetry, both in prose and in poetry. And then last time we finished with this, make observations and ask questions of the text, and I gave you some examples of how to do that. So that's really where we left off last time.

Tonight we're going to look at a couple more steps that are absolutely critical to this observation stage. Step number seven in the process of observation, or study, is look up all the proper nouns. You need to know what the places are, who the people are. That matters. Identify all the peoples and places and things in your paragraph and then if you don't know them, or even if you do, it's good to look them up in a good Bible dictionary because you'll learn things you didn't know about them. And if they're key to that passage, then it's key for you to know something about them. So sometimes an understanding, say about a place, I think if you haven't been to Israel, and by the way, at some point I would encourage you if you have the opportunity, go to Israel. At some point, I'm not making any commitments, we might, as a church, take another trip to Israel, but when you go, the places will begin to matter to you. You'll realize these are actual places and they have actual geography related to them that matters, that figures into the text. And so before then just take my word for it and look them up because it can affect the meaning of the passage.

I'll give you an example. This is just one little example. Let's say you're studying that tragic, the end of Saul's life, the tragic pursuit of the witch at Endor. You remember that story? Well, that's bad. It's bad enough just to read the text, but the places are mentioned, and when you look at the places, you know what you realize? You realize that the Israelite army was here with Saul. Then there was the Philistine army. And on the other side of that army, through the enemy lines, was Endor. Saul had to be absolutely desperate to find his way through the enemy lines to go find this witch. Tragic story of a tragic life, but those little insights help you see what's going on. It was the ultimate act of rebellion against God and the ultimate act of desperation.

I mentioned recently we were studying Mark, about how Jesus, after the raising of Lazarus, you remember, they decided they were going to kill Him, and He headed to a little town called Ephraim. Well, if you don't know where Ephraim is, you don't understand what happens next, because He goes to a little town just north of Jerusalem. He waits there until it's time for the Passover and then instead of going the few miles back to Jerusalem, He goes all the way north to Galilee, joins up with pilgrims, and comes down with the pilgrims, teaching them and confronting the Pharisees. When you understand that, it helps you see what Jesus is doing, that He has a plan, He's trying to accomplish something. So places and people matter. Look them up in a Bible dictionary. I mentioned to you already a couple weeks ago, or maybe it was last week, Merrill Unger's The New Unger's Bible Dictionary, a single volume that could be really helpful for you. So look up all the proper nouns.

Step number eight, and this is where we get to the heart of it, analyze the grammar. Now, I know as soon as I say the word grammar, some of you get cold chills up and down your spine. It brings back nightmares from your days in school or in college, but listen, grammar is not as foreign to you as you might like to think. You analyze grammar every time you read anything. When you read a road sign, you have to analyze grammar. When you come across that sign that says Slow Children Ahead, (okay, you're with me here?), your mind has to deal with grammar because you have to decide, is slow an adjective describing the children or is it an imperative, a command, to you to slow down? In one case it's sort of a terrible assault on the local neighborhood children and in the other case it's something you need to do something about. So you understand, grammar is something we have to deal with; it's a reality of language. You analyze grammar every time you read a newspaper, every time you read a magazine or a book, and certainly you have to deal with grammar every time you read the Bible. All I want us to do is do it better and more intentionally, okay?

So, grammar is nothing more than the rules by which a language communicates meaning. In some languages the meaning is communicated by an ending that you attach to the word and you can put that word anywhere you want in the sentence, and it doesn't matter because it's got an ending attached to it, and you know from that ending what role it's playing in the sentence. A certain ending and you know it's the subject of the sentence even if it's at the very end of the sentence. Greek is like that; that's how it's structured. It's an ending-based language.

But in English, and therefore in our English translations that you'll be using to study the Bible, I've encouraged you to use either the NAS, which would be my main recommendation, or the ESV, English meaning is determined by word order, specifically how the words are arranged in phrases and clauses. And it's very important that you analyze those relationships. Why? Why is this important? Let me remind you of Luther's quote that we looked at last time. He said in his approach to the study of the Bible, here's what he did, "First I shake the whole tree that the ripest fruit may fall." He's talking about the whole book or the whole passage you're studying. "Then I climb the tree and shake each limb and then each branch and then each twig and then I look under each leaf." So far we've looked at the whole tree, the passage. Now we need to look at each branch and each twig, and in the clauses and phrases, that's what we see, the branches and the twigs. When we get to the words, now we're looking under each leaf, but now we're talking about clauses and phrases.

Now, I don't want to scare any of you off, but hang on just for a second, I'm going to give you a very brief grammar lesson. You need to know what a clause is and you need to know what a phrase is if you're going to analyze your English Bible. Remember, meaning is communicated by grammar. It only has meaning because of the way the words are connected to each other in clauses and phrases. So, first of all, clauses. A clause is a part of a sentence that contains a subject and a verb. Okay, that's easy, right? See, this isn't as hard as you thought it would be. There are two types of clauses. There are independent clauses. This is a clause, it's a group of words in a sentence, has a subject and verb, that expresses a complete thought or stands alone. It's a complete sentence. For example, Charlie ate supper. That's a complete sentence, stands alone, there's a subject, Charlie, and there's a verb, he's doing something, he ate. It's a complete sentence. That's an independent clause. A dependent clause is a clause that has a subject and a verb, but doesn't express a complete thought, can't stand alone; it's not a complete sentence. For example, while Charlie ate supper, when Charlie ate supper, as Charlie ate supper. Those are clauses, they have subjects and verbs, but they're not independent. They can't stand alone in and of themselves. Okay, so keep that in mind. Those are clauses.

The other you need to know is phrases. This is how we're going to break down the text. A phrase is simply a group of words in a sentence without a subject and a verb. So in this case, there's no subject and a verb. There are two kinds of phrases as well. The first is very common; you understand this, a prepositional phrase. A prepositional phrase is simply a group of words without a verb that's introduced by a preposition. So that is a prepositional phrase. Common prepositions, the most common one is of. The son of Adam, of Adam is a prepositional phrase. No subject, no verb, introduced with a preposition. Other prepositions, and when I taught college English, this is what I told my students, if this helps you, keep this in mind, other prepositions are anything that a squirrel can be to a stump or an airplane can be to a cloud: in, on, above, under, you get the idea. Okay, in front of, you just keep going. Anything that a squirrel can be to a stump or an airplane can be to a cloud, that's a preposition, so just kind of file that away. You get of, with, about, you get those two, you got them all. There you go. So you now know prepositions.

The second kind of phrase is a verbal phrase. It's a group of words without a main verb, but it has a form of a verb in them. Sometimes it has a verb plus ed or ing. These are called participles and gerunds. You don't need to know that, but it looks like this: Hearing the phone ring, I answered it. Hearing the phone ring has a verb form, hearing, but it's not like a main verb. It has ing added to it and it's functioning separate from the main part of the sentence. Waiting for a text message kept me glued to my cell phone. I know that never happens to any of you, but that's just a hypothetical. The other verbal phrase is an infinitive, to plus a verb. It looks like this. They cannot be made to listen. So keep that in mind, you got clauses, you got phrases. When you look at your English Bible, everything in your English Bible is either a clause or a phrase, all right?

Now, you're going to take that knowledge and you're going to break the text down into understandable units. What is the key here? Why is this important? The key to analyzing the grammar is to break the text down into smaller units. You begin by identifying the main clause, the sentence's subject and verb, and then you identify all the other phrases and clauses, and then you work to understand their relationship to each other.

How do you do this? How does this happen? Well, what's the best tool to make this happen? Some teachers would urge you to do the old sentence diagram. Just out of curiosity, how many of you, when you went through English composition in school, had to do sentence diagramming? Let me see. All right, that's fine for English class, I don't think it's helpful in studying the Bible and here's why. I think it potentially atomizes the text, that is, it breaks it down and destroys the main thought of the paragraph. I've done sentence diagramming; I don't prefer it.

Instead, I think a better tool is what is called block diagramming. It doesn't diagram each sentence, but it diagrams the paragraph as a whole. Each phrase and clause in your paragraph is kept in the normal, natural order of the text as it appears in your English Bible, but you show the supporting phrases and clauses indented under what they modify, and I'm going to show you this, so stick with me. This approach arranges all the material in the passage so that the relationships between sentences, clauses, and phrases are visually apparent at just a glance. You can look, once you finish this, you can look at it, and by the way, I do this for every passage I study. I do it in the original languages, you're going to do it in English, but I keep it attached to the file where I studied and where I put all that together. This is foundational to understanding the text. You say, "Do you really go through all that?" Absolutely, the only way to discern what the author meant is by looking at the relationship of those phrases and clauses to one another. Now, this is fully developed if you're interested in reading more about this, and there may be a few of you are, in Walt Kaiser's book Toward an Exegetical Theology, which is a book that I've recommended to many of you.

Now this tool that I'm about to show you has become so important to me personally that I never, ever study a passage of Scripture without using this tool. The quickest and best way to do this, you can write it down longhand, you can do what I'm about to show you on a piece of paper, the quickest and best way is if you have a computer and you have some Bible software or at least access to a Bible online, where you can copy your paragraph of text, put it into your computer and then do what I'm about to show you. Okay?

Now with that background, let me show you what I'm talking about. Let's take a couple of passages. Let's take Ezra 7:10. I love this passage. "For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel." Now what you want to start by doing is identifying the phrases and clauses. What are the phrases and clauses? What are the key words that show movement in this sentence? Well, first of all, "Ezra had set his heart" is obviously the main part of the sentence, right? You got your main subject, your main verb. Everything else is somehow related to that.

So with that background, here's how I would block diagram that text. First of all, the word "For," sort of, and I apologize this is going to be a little smaller for you in the back, but I want to get it all on one screen, one slide. This'll be online as well so you can go back and look at it. "For," now obviously that's transitioning from the previous verse, right? I mean, you don't begin a sentence with for unless it's leading out of the previous verse. So, if I was studying this I'd want to know what relationship does this have to the previous verse? "For Ezra had set his heart," there is the main clause. So I've, notice how I've indented that under "For," I've put it under and beneath. "To study the law," here you have what Ezra had set his heart to do. Do you see that? So it modifies "had set his heart." It explains something about Ezra setting his heart, exactly what it was he set his heart to do, "to study the law." There's a verbal phrase, an infinitive. And "of the Lord," is what? A prepositional phrase and it modifies "law," it's the "law of the Lord." "And to practice it," that's parallel to "study," to study and to practice. You see that? So I've lined it up right under he set his heart to study, he set his heart to practice. "And to teach," it's also parallel, to study, to practice, to teach. And so I've lined it up right under what it modifies. Ezra set his heart. He set his heart to do what? He set his heart to study, to practice, and to teach. Then you have "His statutes." Here the Scripture is telling us what Ezra set his heart to teach. He was going to teach "God's statutes and His ordinances," that's parallel to "His statutes" so I lined it up with that under what he was going to teach. Do you see this? Are you getting the feel for how it works? I'll show you why this is important in a moment. And then finally, "in Israel," that's where he's going to teach it. He's going to teach it in Israel.

So, I now have a visual display of this sentence. I know by glancing at it the most important factor and that's "Ezra set his heart." That's the key point of the passage. Then, out of that comes the other important details. Now, let me show you this with some comments added. Now I'm going to go back to my block diagram and I'm going to explain the relationship between these phrases and clauses. "For," this is leading out of the previous verse, this is the reason from the previous verse. So I've got to look back in the previous verse and see what this is a reason for. "Ezra had set his heart," there's your main proposition of the sentence. "To study the law," that was his goal or purpose. He set his heart with the goal of studying the law. "And to practice it," that's a second goal he had. "And to teach it," that's a third goal he had. "His statutes," that's the content going back to the law that he studied. That's just a different way to say the specific elements of the law. "In Israel," that says to whom or where he would teach. So, if I were teaching this passage, I would do this. If I were studying it on my own just to learn it, I would do this. And now I have a handle on what's going on here. Once I understand it, I would do a little more work. Then I would start applying it. So what about Ezra and what was true of him should be true of me? I should set my heart, not necessarily to teach, not everyone is called to teach, but I ought to set my heart to know God's law. That's not like something that's just for teachers. And to practice it, I better do that too. And so there's a lot that unfolds just from a simple block diagram.

Let's take a New Testament passage. Ephesians 5, and wives, I'm not picking on you, this just was an easy section to grab. Okay? Ephesians 5:22,

Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.

Now, you'll notice I've underlined some words here. That's just to show me where phrases and clauses are beginning. It helps me discern where my phrases and clauses are. When I get to diagram them, I'll know where to do that.

So here's what that would look like diagrammed, and again, I know it's going to be a little small, I want to get it all on one screen, so stick with me. "Wives, be subject," there is immediately the main proposition of this sentence. It is a command, an imperative, to wives, "be subject." "To your own husbands," again, there you have, it's clearly modifying who they're to be subject to. "Be subject to your own husbands," so I've indented it under "be subject." "As to the Lord," that's not who now, that's how. Be subject "as to the Lord." "For," okay, now we have a reason. Here's why to be subject, "For the husband is the head of the wife," that modifies "head," I just don't have enough room to get it quite far enough over there to get it all on one slide, but you get the idea. My prepositional phrase goes there. "The husband is the head of the wife." "The husband is the head," "of the wife," and "as Christ also is the head." So here is a comparison. He's the head in the same way that Christ is the head. And "of the church" is obviously referring back to "head," He's the head of the church. Christ is the head in the sense that he is "the Savior of the body." So there's a little aside about Christ in the middle of this passage. Then he comes back, "But as the church is subject to Christ," and notice "but as the church" modifies back to "for the husband is the head," the church is subject to Christ in the same way. So he's kind of repeating what he said up there previously "as Christ also is the head." And the church is subject "to Christ," so I've put it under "subject." "So also the wives ought to be," and they "ought to be to their husbands in everything."

Okay, so there is a visual display of that text again. All I've done is indented the phrases and clauses under what they modify. And I have a wonderful glimpse of this passage. I know that wives are commanded, all wives are commanded, to be subject and they're not told to be subject to all men, but to their own husbands. And they're to do it as to the Lord. And then a reason's given. And the rest of this passage is the reason. You see that? So immediately, I understand the flow of this passage by just doing this exercise.

Now again, let me show you this with some comments added. "Wives, be subject," that's the main subject and verb; it's a command. To whom? "Your own husbands." How? "As to the Lord." I'm showing you the relationship of these phrases to one another. "For the husband is the head," there's the reason. And then you come down, you have a comparison. You want to know what this looks like? He's the head in the same way that Christ is the head. As the church is subject to Christ, wives are to be to their husbands. So there's the other side of it. Who ought wives to be subject to? "To their husbands." And to what extent should wives be subject? "In everything." So immediately, I understand the basic flow and content of this passage by making this analysis.

When you're done with this, and by the way, this works regardless of the kind of literature. It works in the epistles, it works in the gospels, it works in the prophets, it works in poetry, because all you're doing is showing how the phrases and clauses relate to one another. And once you've completed this block diagram, what do you have? You have a visual display of the flow of the author's thought and argument, simply by indenting the phrases and clauses under what they modify. You can look at it and see what's happening.

I would strongly encourage you to at least try your hand at this for more than once, all right? I promise you if you will commit yourself to it, and there are a number of folks in our church who have gone with me through block diagramming in other settings, and I think they will testify if you ask them, there is great value in understanding God's Word by breaking it down like this. You're looking under the branches and the twigs. Now, look up all the proper nouns, this is what we looked at tonight, then analyze the grammar.

Number nine, identify a preliminary theme. Now that you've done all that, you're looking at what is the main point of this paragraph. The Biblical text has only one unchangeable meaning and that meaning is determined by the intent of the author. A text or passage may have many different implications, many different applications, but it only has one meaning, or as Walt Kaiser calls it, "one single truth-intention." And that meaning is expressed in your Bible by means of letters, words, and grammar.

Now, you're then looking at that paragraph saying what is the basic message of this paragraph reduced to one simple sentence. Put it in your own words. What is this paragraph saying in one sentence? What is it saying, what truth is it communicating? Our job as students is to find the author's central theme and to understand how he develops that theme. At this point in your study, it's still tentative, you've still got some meditating and thinking to do. You've still got some checking with other resources to make sure you're right, but there's only one main meaning to every passage, one single truth-intention.

How do you identify it? How do you come up with this preliminary theme? Well, sometimes it's directly stated in the passage. For example, look at 1 Timothy 4. I love it when it's directly stated in the passage because then you're not left in the mystery. It's there. Look at 1 Timothy 4 and the paragraph, the larger paragraph, really begins in verse 6. There's a paragraph break in verse 11, but really it runs down through verse 16. When you look at that text, it is summarized, the theme is placed, in verse 16 at the very end. "Pay close attention to yourself," Timothy, "and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you." The theme is in verse 16 that I just read to you. When you look at the text and how it unfolds, verses 6 through 12 have to do with himself, dealing with himself, and verses 13 to 16 with his teaching. So sometimes the theme of the passage will be clearly stated. A lot of the times in Paul's letters it becomes very clear, particularly when he's in that how to live section. "Don't let there be any sexual immorality named among you." Okay, now you see the theme is clearly stated and he's developing that theme. Other times, it's more difficult. Sometimes, though, it's directly stated.

Other times, you're going to see the theme contained in the words or concepts that are repeated. For example, when we studied through Ephesians 1 the most common word or concept in Ephesians 1:3-14 rather, is God's will or His purpose. There are words about God's plan, His will, or His purpose, showing up throughout that passage. And as you study it, that'll become clear and you'll say, oh, this passage has something to do with the will and purpose of God because Paul keeps falling all over himself to use synonyms for that concept. So sometimes it's in repeated concepts and words.

Other times, it's discerned from the context. For example, if you were studying, look at Ephesians 4, Ephesians 4:25. "Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another." Clearly, the theme of the verse is what? Not lying, speaking the truth. But what's its point in the passage? Well, excuse me, if you go up to the verses right before it, he's just explained the process of sanctification. So what you have, beginning in verse 25 and finishing through the rest of the chapter, are examples, working out in the Christian life the process of sanctification, that he's just explained, which is putting off, being renewed in your thinking, and putting on. And so verse 25 is, guess what? Putting off, being renewed in your thinking, and putting on in the area of dealing with the truth and lying. So sometimes the context, the verses on each side, will help you understand what's really going on in that passage, but you're looking to identify the theme, in your own words, as simply as you can state it.

All right, let me just hurry on to a couple of other concepts here and we'll be done. Number nine, or excuse me, number ten, look up cross-references. After you have identified a preliminary theme, this is when it's a great time to look up cross-references to see how that text relates to the rest of Scripture. How do you do that? How do you find those cross-references? You don't have to dig them up out of your brain. If you think I do that, I don't. I rely on good tools and that's what I'm encouraging you to do. Sure, there are passages that immediately jump into my mind when I think of a concept or I'm studying a passage, but there are others that don't and don't in yours. So you want to see how it connects to the rest of Scripture. First of all, parallel passages or cross-references that use the same words in the original language. How do you get to those?

Two tools, first of all, look in your New American Standard Bible. Look, for example, at Ephesians 1:4. If you have a version that has notes in it, now if you don't, you need to get, for study, a version that has notes, but if you have notes and marginal references, look at verse 4 of Ephesians 1. Notice, "just as," and then before "He" you have a little "a." "He chose us in Him before the," and then there's a little "b" before "the foundation of the world, that we should be," and then there's a "c" before "holy and blameless before Him," and then there's a 1 before "Him." What is all that doing? Well, cross that over to the margin. Look at verse 4 and then you'll see a little "a." That means that's a cross-reference for that concept. So you look those verses up. There's "b," and so you know that those verses are relating back to the foundation of the world because that's what it's ahead of in your English Bible. "C," you know those cross-references are talking about holy and blameless and so forth. So you look up those cross-references. I've found the NAS to be very helpful with cross-references in this way, so I would encourage you to use it. The numbers are notes, are specific notes, about a particular word or a different translation. The letters are keyed in the margin to important cross-references.

The other tool, particularly when you're studying the gospels, and I've recommended this again and again and again to you, is get a harmony of the gospels. I like Thomas and Gundry's Harmony of the Gospels. Basically all this does is take the four gospels and weave them together into one story putting, when several gospels comment on the same story, putting them in columns next to each other where you can compare them immediately and know what Matthew says about that story versus what Luke says about it. It's really a great tool. That helps you deal with parallel passages in the gospel. That's, those are great resources.

What about passages that have the same or similar ideas, but not necessarily the same words? Well, two tools, John Macarthur has told me personally and has said publicly that if he had to be marooned on a desert island and he could only have one book in addition to his Bible, it would be this book. I would encourage you to get it either, I would personally encourage you to get it in an electronic format because it's a whole lot easier to use than the print version, but it's called A Treasury of Scripture Knowledge. You can get it online. I think that website I gave you,, where you can get some Bible software, I think they have the Treasury of Scripture Knowledge there. But basically, it gives you many different Scripture references for each verse that you can then track down and trace. The other tool would be The MacArthur Topical Bible that I mentioned to you before. Those are great tools for tracing cross-references. Why do that? Because you want to understand that passage in the larger context of what the Bible says. And this is what it lets you do. This is, when I take you other places outside of the text we're studying, this is what I've done. I've traced down those cross-references and have locked in on some that I think are particularly helpful.

The final step in the process is study the key words. Study the key words in your passage. Now we're looking under each leaf, to use Luther's analogy. Now, why is this important? Because words are the building blocks of all communication, but words are also complicated. If they've been in a language any time at all, they acquire a variety of senses. For example, just take a couple of English words. The word cool, think about that word for a moment. It means temperature, it means relaxed, it means half-hearted, somebody's cool toward something, it means distant and uninterested, it means unfriendly, or it can mean really up to date and attractive. That's just one English word. Take the word board. It can describe a piece of lumber, it can describe your housing expense at college, it can describe the controllers that are leading an organization. Take the word run. Here's an interesting one. Your nose runs, your feet run. Ladies, not that you do this anymore, but your hose run. Your engine runs. You get the idea.

To understand a paragraph with any of those words in it you need to know the various senses and determine which one best fits the context. Now, when you're reading a newspaper, you just do that for the most part, but it's hard if you're not reading the newspaper, you're reading some other, particularly an ancient document. Let me show you an example. Just take this sentence I made up that has all those words in it: The leaders of the company were cool with how the board ran its affairs. Now, if you just got a dictionary, you weren't speaking English as a first language, or you're being lazy, and you just get a dictionary and you look up the senses of those words and you start picking and choosing, you could end up with something like this: The leaders of the company lost body temperature because of how the piece of lumber dripped its affairs. Okay? You get the point? You could legitimately, using a dictionary, get there. Your goal in this part of the study is to decide what the key words in your passage can mean and then which meaning the author intended in that passage because words only have a single sense in a particular passage.

So, first of all, you've got to identify them. How do you know they're key words? Very briefly, words that are key in that passage, you'll recognize them, words that affect the meaning. If you don't understand them, you don't get the meaning. Words that occur frequently in that book or that author, like in 1 John, "light." You've got to understand what that means if you're going to understand your passage. Words that are major Biblical words like justified, redemption, grace, etc. You've got to recognize those as key words and see what they mean.

So, once you recognize them, how do you study them? And I'm going to hurry through this, but this'll be available. I want to finish up. I don't want to kill anybody tonight either. But let me just tell you how to do this. First of all, look them up in a Bible dictionary. Start there. I've encouraged you to get one. Look them up there. That can be helpful. Number two, look them up in Greek in New Testament, or Hebrew, Old Testament, dictionaries. You say, "How do I do that?" If you have a concordance where all the words of the Bible are listed, those words that you look up will be keyed to the back part of that which will have a Hebrew dictionary and a Greek dictionary. All you have to know is the number. If you can follow a number, you can look up its meaning in the original language. And so I would encourage you to do that. And then many dictionaries that have more detail, like Vine's Dictionary of New Testament Words, are keyed by that number as well. So you can look that number up and keep tracing it into other books now, people who don't know Greek and Hebrew. Okay? So look them up.

Number three, do a concordance search. Look through your concordance trying to find everywhere that Greek word or Hebrew word is used. Where do you look? You start in the same book you're studying, right? I mean, whatever the word means, it probably means the same thing in the rest of that book that it means in the passage you're studying, so you start there. Then you look in that same author because it makes sense, right, that Paul's likely to use the same concept the same way in his other writings, then in other books written about the same time, and finally, in the entirety of Scripture, in that order, if possible. If you can't, don't worry about it, don't sweat it, look it up, and follow the word along.

What are you looking for when you do this? When you do a concordance search, what are you looking for? You're looking for the various senses of the word. How is it used in different contexts? What does this mean? You're looking for the connotation of the word. You know, words have emotional meanings to them. For example, "he is incorrigible" does not have the same connotation as "he has the courage of his convictions." One of those is positive and the other is negative, but they mean essentially the same thing, or as my wife often confuses the words stubborn and persistent. "He is stubborn" does not have the same connotation as "he is persistent" and yet much of the same meaning is implied. So you want to know, is this a negative word, is this a positive word, is this a good thing, is this a bad thing? Also you want to know, is it used figuratively as well as literally? For example in English, green can describe a color, but green can also describe someone who's lacking experience, or someone who's seasick. So you're looking for does this word have pictures to it, is it figurative? You want to know what the words used with it are because that helps you understand it as well. The company words keep tell you a lot about what they mean.

And you want to look at the opposites. I'll give you a great illustration of that. You know there are a lot of people who criticize our interpretation of justification, that it is a legal declaration in a courtroom. Guess what? If you trace the word justification in your Bible, the word justified or justification, you will find again and again it is opposite, what? Condemned, another legal word. Justified then is the opposite of condemned. A legal decision setting you free versus a legal decision declaring you guilty. So you're looking for those kind of things as you work your way through.

And then finally, based on the context of your paragraph, decide the sense of the word that the author intended. What is it the author meant? Based on all of that, what sense of the word does he mean there? Like I said with the word cool, it's got all these different senses. By the time you're done, you understand what he's saying in context because you've seen it in other contexts.

What dangers to avoid in this process? Well, avoid the root fallacy. Don't say this word originally meant this, and so it means this everywhere. Look, that doesn't work in any language. Think about the word gay. It originally was a good thing, but that doesn't mean it means now what it meant then. Take the word enthusiasm. It's a great word, right? Enthusiasm originally meant possessed by the gods. So if I say, "Boy, that guy has enthusiasm," you don't look in your little dictionary and the root of that means possessed by the gods. Tom thinks that guy is possessed by the gods. Here's a good one. The Latin word from which nice comes means ignorant. So, you don't want to look and, you know, Tom said I was nice, go and look and I'm going to do a word study, and boy, the root of this word is, oh, ignorant. Tom said I was ignorant. All right, don't fall for the root fallacy. A word doesn't mean today what it meant when it first started. It might, but it might not.

Secondly, don't try to read all the senses of the word into that one passage, kind of the Amplified Bible approach. Just take everything you learned and dump it into that word. No, it only means one thing. It only means one of those senses. Take the word cool for example. You can't import every sense of cool into a passage if the word cool were used in the Bible, okay?

Number three, don't choose the sense you like regardless of the context. Okay, this is a temptation because, "Ooh, I like that. My children need to hear this passage with that word in it." No, don't do that. Be honest with the text. What did the original author mean? Don't read the meaning of the English word back into the Greek or Hebrew word. It's legitimate to acknowledge that the Greek word for power is dunamis from which we get the word dynamite, but that doesn't mean Paul was thinking dynamite when he used that word. There was no such thing, that isn't what he was thinking. So be careful. And finally, giving a word the exact same sense every time it occurs, that doesn't happen in any language, like the words I've shown you tonight. So that's word study, and I know that's a lot of detail. I know you won't use all of it all the time, but I wanted it to be available to you. Thanks for bearing with me.

So, here's the heart of observation, the heart of our study of the Bible. Always remember the big picture. Choose a Biblical book. Read the book's background so you're exposed to the whole entirety of it. Read through the book multiple times so you're exposed to its whole content. Then break it down into paragraphs or sections. Then make observations about your paragraph and ask questions of the text. Look up all the proper nouns to make sure you understand who they are or where the places are, etc. Then, and I think this is absolutely key, analyze the grammar. Look at the relationship of the clauses and phrases to each other; that's where the meaning lies. And then identify a preliminary theme based on that study. What is this passage saying in a simple sentence? And look up the cross-references to see how it connects to the rest of Scripture. I've given you some tools to do that. And then finally, study the key words. Look at how they're used in other parts of Scripture and discern what they mean in the text you're studying. When you have finished those steps, you have a good understanding of what the passage says.

Now folks, don't be overwhelmed by this, okay? It's, remember the bike analogy? Remember the car analogy? These are habits to be learned and developed. Take this information and begin, as God gives you grace, to incorporate it into your approach to the Scripture. And I can promise you, you will get, by this process, more at the meat of what the Bible says, you will feed your soul more than the sort of shallow devotional reading across the text that basically reads what you want it to mean into it, rather than reading out of it what God intended. Okay! I think that means I'm done. So let's pray together.

Father, thank You for Your goodness and grace to us. Lord, forgive us for our energy and enthusiasm toward so many things that don't really matter, toward hobbies and sports, and Lord, so many different things that occupy our time, that occupy our energies, and about which we get excited and study and pour ourselves out. And yet, Father, when it comes to taking Your eternal Word seriously, we are so quick to turn aside. Lord, give us, by Your Spirit, a new resolve to be students of Your Word. May it someday be said of us what was said of Ezra, that we set our hearts to study Your Word and to practice it, and as You give us gifts and opportunity, to teach it to others. We pray in Jesus's name, amen.

Bible Study for Every Christian