In our small groups at church this year, we have been studying the texts of Scripture that I plan to preach the following Sunday. It has helped those in our congregation anticipate my message to see if what I say on Sunday matched what they saw in the text the week before. It should match! Furthermore, this practice has also given people a framework of how to study the Scriptures for themselves, so that they could approach any passage of Scripture for themselves.
In order to help everyone in this process, we have provided five questions for our groups to use. Here are the five questions with a brief comment after each question. I encourage you to use these questions when reading the Bible for yourself.
1. What is the big idea of the text? Capturing the unifying theme of a series of verses is helpful to keep us on track, lest we miss the forest for the trees. It’s also helpful to try to say the big idea in as few words as possible. This may take some work, but it is very helpful to understanding any portion of Scripture.
2. How would the original hearers hear it? We need to remember that the Bible wasn’t written to us. It was written to people who lived long ago. Before we figure out what the Bible means to us, we need first to figure out what the Bible meant to the original recipients. Then, we will be in a position to figure out how it applies to us, because it was written for our instruction (1 Corinthians 10:6, 11).
3. Where is Christ in the text? Christ is the theme of the entire Bible. Jesus told the Pharisees, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me” (John 5:39). In other words, the Old Testament Scriptures speak about Jesus. That’s the big idea of the Bible. This question forces us to understand how any particular text relates to Jesus, especially as we consider passages from the Old Testament.
4. What are the surprises of the text? This is my favorite question, because this is where you really push your understanding of the Bible. There are many times where the Bible might say some things a bit differently than we would expect, and this question helps us to wrestle with the meaning of the Bible itself rather than our ideas of what the Bible says.
5. How might we apply it today? This question, of course, is the point of all of Scripture. This is where the rubber meets the road. God detests ivory-tower theologians, who know all about God in theory, but not in practice. We aren’t called to be critics of the Bible, but to be humble followers of Christ.
So, there are the five questions. I hope that you use them in your own study of the Bible.