Reading The Bible Better - Lesson 10

Principles and Tools

In this lesson, you will learn the importance of biblical interpretation, its purpose, and goals. The lesson presents various principles for interpreting the Bible, including the importance of context, genre, and language. It also introduces essential tools such as Bible translations, commentaries, dictionaries, and encyclopedias. Lastly, the lesson offers practical steps for applying these principles and tools to your Bible reading, emphasizing the significance of prayer and seeking guidance throughout the process.

George Guthrie
Reading The Bible Better
Lesson 10
Watching Now
Principles and Tools

TH102-10: Principles and Tools for Reading the Bible Better

I. Importance of Biblical Interpretation

A. Introduction

B. Purpose and Goal of Interpretation

II. Principles of Biblical Interpretation

A. Context

1. Literary Context

2. Historical and Cultural Context

B. Genre

C. Language and Translation

III. Tools for Biblical Interpretation

A. Bible Translations

1. Formal Equivalence

2. Dynamic Equivalence

B. Bible Commentaries

C. Bible Dictionaries and Encyclopedias

IV. Application of Principles and Tools

A. Practical Steps

B. Importance of Prayer and Guidance

  • Dive into this lesson to gain a deep understanding of how to read the Bible better, focusing on hearing scripture accurately, personal transformation, the grand story, and reading in community, while fostering a sense of joy and wonder in your journey.
  • Discover the power of words, their impact on our lives, and how God's words and communication in the Bible provide guidance, shaping us to live with purpose and spiritual growth.
  • Being receptive to what God is saying to you in the Bible is an important part of reading the Bible better. The parable of the sower gives you a word picture of obstacles you face in attempting to cultivate a receptive heart.
  • By embracing receptivity, you can overcome barriers and enhance your understanding of the Bible, ultimately leading to personal growth, stronger relationships, and deepened faith.
  • In this lesson, you learn about literary context's importance in interpreting the Bible, identifying literary genres and structures, and applying context for accurate exegesis and application.
  • By understanding historical context, you can better interpret the Bible, considering cultural, social, and geographical backgrounds, ancient literary genres, and archaeology to bridge the gap between the past and present.
  • This lesson provides you with knowledge on the importance of Bible translations, their types, and the criteria for selecting the most suitable one for your needs while also offering insights into their historical development.
  • You will learn to identify and interpret various biblical genres, enhancing your understanding of the Bible and applying its teachings more effectively in your life.
  • By entering the story when reading the Bible, you enrich your understanding, connect with biblical characters, and foster personal spiritual growth, Bible study, and teaching skills.
  • In this lesson, you gain insights into biblical interpretation principles, like context and genre, and explore essential tools such as translations and commentaries, leading to better understanding and application of the Bible.
You and I need to embrace the powerful, beautiful, life-giving words of God on a regular basis. Various surveys in different cultures, over the past half century, have determined that the number one predictor of a person’s spiritual health is the regular practice of personal Bible reading. Nothing else comes close. If our purpose in life is to live for him and to his glory, and the Scriptures shape us for his mission, then God’s Word provides us with a means to that very desirable end. Everything else in our lives is shaped by whether or not we are living out of a life grounded in the Word of God, the Bible. We need to read it and read it better than we ever have before, so that we can live it well. As we thrive in the Word of God, knowing and living the Scriptures, we have the opportunity to walk with the God of the universe. So you are invited to walk with me as we figure out how to read better this amazing book we call “the Bible.” Perhaps you have tried reading the Bible before and the experience wasn’t that great. I am here to help. There is no more important task in life than hearing from God and trusting him on the basis of his Word.

Recommended Books

A Short Guide to Reading the Bible Better

A Short Guide to Reading the Bible Better

The number one predictor of a person's spiritual health is the regular practice of personal Bible reading. ÂBut this is precisely the point where many Christians...

A Short Guide to Reading the Bible Better
Read the Bible for Life: Your Guide to Understanding and Living God's Word

Read the Bible for Life: Your Guide to Understanding and Living God's Word

The Bible may be the most-purchased book in the world, but it is often the least read and least applied due to a basic lack of understanding and motivation on the part of...

Read the Bible for Life: Your Guide to Understanding and Living God's Word
Read the Bible for Life - Workbook: Listen. Understand. Respond

Read the Bible for Life - Workbook: Listen. Understand. Respond

Read the Bible for Life - Workbook by George Guthrieis a participant's guide to a whole-church approach to greater biblical literacy. This study equips individuals and...

Read the Bible for Life - Workbook: Listen. Understand. Respond

Dr. George Guthrie

Reading The Bible Better


Principles and Tools

Lesson Transcript

[00:00:00] Welcome back to our final session of reading the Bible better. Now, what we're going to do in this last session is pull together a lot of the information and the thoughts that we've covered, things that help us to read the Bible more effectively.

[00:00:17] I've just finished reading one of my favorite books and that is J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. And there's a place at the beginning of that story about Bilbo Baggins in which he finds himself invited to participate in an adventure. Gandalf is wanting him to go off with a bunch of dwarves, and they're going to be seeking treasure in a mountain that is guarded by a dragon. He really is not that interested in participating, but something in him really prompts him to suddenly, at the last minute, decide to go with the dwarves and head out on this adventure. And this is what Tolkien says at this point in this delightful children's book. He says, To the end of his days, Bilbo could never remember how he found himself outside without a hat or a walking stick or any money or anything that he usually took when he went out. Leaving his second breakfast, half finished and quiet, unwashed up, pushing his keys into Gandalf's hands and running as fast as his furry feet could carry him down the lane, past the great mill across the water, and then on for a mile or more. Very puffed he was, when he got to Bywater just on the stroke of 11 and found that he had come without a pocket handkerchief. One of the delightful things about this story is that Bilbo goes off into the world, completely unpacked and unprepared. Well, what we've tried to do in our series of sessions together is to get you packed well for reading the Bible effectively in your life. And I hope that you feel that that has taken place.

[00:02:07] What we want to do in this last session together is pull together a lot of the points that we've made as we've worked our way through these eight sessions. And here's what we're going to do. We're going to kind of go step by step. I'm going to remind you of principles and tools that you need to pack in order to read the Bible effectively. So here we go. All right.

[00:02:31] The first thing that we want to do is we want to make heart and life space. You remember when we looked at the parable of the sower, we said one of the main points of Jesus's parable is that we have to have space in our hearts and space in our lives in order to read the word and hear it effectively.

[00:02:54] When I think about this, I think about the importance of space for relationship. Remember, we're wanting to read the Bible relationally, not just to find information, but to be transformed as we open up our hearts and our lives to the Spirit of God, as we read the Bible, wanting God to speak to us and change us so that we can live more effectively as His people in the world.

[00:03:23] I remember when I first met my wife, I actually was substitute teaching a Greek class in seminary. This was during my doctoral days. I was a single guy and I substituted for a Greek class because the professor had gotten sick and there was this beautiful girl sitting on the front row, and Pat and I finally connected and and started relating to one another. We dated for a few weeks and then we had a define the relationship moment. We were at a cafe one evening after church, and I knew it was time to kind of bring up the topic of whether she wanted to just see me or if she still wanted to see other guys. So I was nervous. I had my hands up on the table and I started explaining to her that I had really enjoyed our time together, that I felt that God was working in our relationship, but that I also felt a bit insecure because my hair was already starting to retreat, there were other guys who would gather around her to help her with their Greek in the library. And at that moment, when I was nervous and kind of reaching out and sharing my heart, baring my heart with her for the first time, she reached out across the table and put her hand on my hands. And I thought, this is a good sign. And she said to me, You know, I also feel a bit vulnerable here. I'm not sure why you would be interested in me, but I really, really am enjoying our time together and I don't want to see anybody else but you. Well, we started this face to face, heart to heart relationship that is continued to this day. We still love to take take walks together to talk about what is going on in life. And God wants a relationship with us where we talk to him openly. We share with him about how we are feeling vulnerable in life, and God wants to speak to us through His Word. Words of encouragement. Words of guidance. But we want to approach the reading of the word in a relational fashion so that we see it as something that is facilitating and growing us in our relationship with God.

[00:05:41] So as you start your reading, sit down. And the first thing that I want to encourage you to do is to pray. Just say, Lord, I want to hear from you today. Would you please speak to me through the words that I'm going to read this morning? So start out with a relational reading where you're approaching things from that vantage point that you have space in your life and you are opening up yourself and really providing emotional space for God to deal with you and talk to you.

[00:06:16] The second thing that we want to do is we want to gather our tools that we've talked about a number of tools as we've worked our way through our study. We've looked at the importance of getting a study Bible because, again, a study Bible is going to have a lot of rich notes along the bottom that deal with history and culture, word meanings, all kinds of things that are going to help us in our study. A Bible dictionary is really important. Bible dictionary is going to have articles on all kinds of themes from the Bible, the background of the different books of the Bible. A Bible dictionary is going to be really, really helpful, even with addressing things like the kinds of literature that we have in the Bible. We also talked about backgrounds, commentaries, those special kind of commentaries that deal specifically with history and culture. We said that there are particular guides to genre. So as we think about the different types of literature that we find in the Bible, we can look at books like my Read The Bible for Life or Gordon Fee and Doug Stuart's book, How to Read the Bible for All It's Worth. And they will give you guidance on the various genre of the Bible. And remember that we have links for you that will connect you to the Bible project, where you can watch videos that introduce the different kinds of genre in the Bible.

[00:07:45] We talked about using a chronological reading plan, one like the one laid out in my day by day chronological bible. We also are going to put some chronological reading plans that you can just download in PDF and print out that will guide you step by step through a chronological reading of the Bible that will help you to put the different pieces of the story together. And remember that a lot of the principles covered in this video series are dealt with in the little book. Reading the Bible Better A Short Guide to Reading the Bible Better, which parallels the content of this book. And now that you've gone through the video series, you may want to get that book and read it in detail to kind of pull all of this information together. So gather your tools, start out relationally by praying. Make sure you have tools around you that can help you with your reading.

[00:08:43] The third thing that I want to encourage you to do is as you read, read rhythmically and meditatively, as you get those plans that you have and you have a daily time with the Lord, set it up in a way that you can establish a rhythm in life. You remember when Pat and I talked to you about your time with the Lord in your Bible reading? You want to choose a time and a place and a plan that will help you establish this rhythmic approach to reading the Bible. It's really important that you develop a heart habit of reading the Bible on a daily basis. It's much more important that you set aside a specific time that works for you. Begin with 15 or 20 minutes a day and set aside that block of time.

[00:09:35] That really is non-negotiable for you, where you're going to create a space in which to give focus and attention to your relationship with God. Choose a time, Get a set place that works for you. Again, my place is to have my chair. When I start out in the morning, I open the blinds, put on a cup of coffee. I have my Bible and my tools there with me. And really get to a place in life where I anticipate getting up the next morning and having my time with God. Well, that time and place for you might be another time of day, a place at the office. But the main point is get something that is going to be protected. When you have the most special relationships in your life, you make them a priority. And so with your time with God, set aside that time and place so that it can establish a rhythm, use a plan so that when you get up each day, you know what you're reading next, and that will help you develop that reading.

[00:10:40] But we also want to read meditatively. We don't want to just read through a Bible reading plan in a way that we kind of rush through it and check it off the list. We want to read in a way that we're going to settle in, read through it, maybe read through it again and start asking questions. So one of the main things we want to do in our Bible reading is we want to read through a couple of times and start noticing the details and ask the question, okay, what's the main point here?

[00:11:08] Now we're going to provide a tool for you online that's going to lay out. It's going to be a sheet that gives you some basic questions to ask as you're going through your reading, and it's going to guide you real simply and help you to remember some of the basics we've talked about here. For instance, with the different genre or types of literature. It will say, what kind of literature are we dealing with and what are the main questions I need to ask of this passage based on the literature? We're going to ask, what is the main point of this passage as I'm reading through it? I love this quote by Eugene Peterson from his book Eat This Book, where he's talking about reading the Bible. But notice the kind of reading that he is vying for In this quotation, Peterson says, I am interested in cultivating this kind of reading. The only kind of reading that is congruent with what is written in our holy Scriptures, but also with all writing that is intended to change our lives and not just stuff some information into the cells of our brain. All serious and good writing anticipates precisely this kind of reading, ruminative and leisurely a dalliance with words in contrast to wolfing down information. But our canonical writers, the writers of the Bible who wrestled God's revelation into Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek sentences, Moses and Isaiah, Ezekiel and Jeremiah, Mark and Paul, Luke and John, Matthew and David, along with their numerous brothers and sisters named and unnamed across the centuries, absolutely require it. They make up a school of writers employed by the Holy Spirit to give us our Holy Scriptures and keep us in touch with and responsive to reality, whether visible or invisible. God reality. They are all distinguished by a deep trust in the power of words to bring us into the presence of God and to change our lives. So we want to settle into our daily reading of God's Word in a way that is thinking about what we're reading. That is doing what Peterson calls here a dalliance with words, which is a great word that simply means to be kind of almost playful and taking our time with it and rolling it around in our hearts and our minds so that we really see the nuances of what are there in the text.

[00:13:44] If I could use an analogy, instead of speeding through the reading of Scripture, like maybe you're driving down the highway and you see a historical marker on the side of the road and you blaze past it going 60 miles an hour, you're not going to be able to see the details of what's on the sign. But if you slow down the car, maybe even stop and get out and just think about what you're reading there on the historical marker, it's going to be able to speak to you much more effectively and much more in detail. So we want to slow down in our reading of the Word and we want to think about it, to meditate on it. And as we do that, begin asking the right questions about the text.

[00:14:28] And then another thing that we want to do as we pull all of this together is we want to apply the Scripture to our lives. We want to read for application, because the fact is that these books were written to change our lives. They were written so that we might adjust our lives and bring them in line with the truth of God's Word. So we want to think about application. Well, let me give you several things to consider here as you think about specifically applying the Bible to your life.

[00:15:04] The first thing is you need to draw your application from what is there in the Scripture. Sometimes we may read the Scriptures and they make us think of things about our lives that we need to change. But that's different from reading the Scripture, understanding the meaning and the intention of what is written there, and then basing our response on what we're actually reading there in the scriptures, the message and the meaning that we find there.

[00:15:36] So we want to draw from those. Just like when I would go in my yard in Tennessee out to a blueberry bush, I never found figs on the blueberry bush. I didn't find cherries on the blueberry bush. I was picking blueberries from the blueberry bush. And in the same way, we want to go to Scripture and we want to draw out of Scripture what is actually there as God has revealed the truth to us. So we want to start by asking what does this text mean? And then begin asking the questions, What is the significance for my life today? How is this relevant for me?

[00:16:12] So we might have different kinds of application. One form of application is worship. We might ask, How does this passage bring me to worship? If I'm reading about Jesus calming the storm, it might prompt me to worship Jesus as God. If I'm reading the Psalms, it might cause me to call out to God and worship Him as my Creator and the one who gives me help.

[00:16:39] A second type of application might be to ask, Does this give me an example to follow or in a negative example to avoid? All the examples we find in Scripture are not positive ones. Sometimes we see negative examples. So when we're reading narratives of the Old Testament, we might ask of that passage, okay, what are the examples that I'm supposed to follow here? For instance, in the story of David and Goliath, I might see David as an example of someone who trusted God in the face of tremendous odds. So the main point of that story is what God is doing. But we can also learn from the example of David himself.

[00:17:18] A third thing that I might do in application is ask, Does this teach me a truth I am to believe? So if I'm reading Paul's letter to the Romans and he's talking about sin and righteousness, I might ask the question how do I need to adjust my thinking as I think about these things? In the modern world, people have all kinds of ideas about sexuality, for instance. But as you read the New Testament, you find that the that the Bible has a very specific vision for sexuality within the marriage relationship. That's important. So we might need to adjust our lives and bring our thinking in line with the Scriptures.

[00:17:57] Another form of application might be to do something very specific in terms of action. If I'm reading First Corinthians Chapter 13, the chapter about love, then I don't simply want to say, Well, I need to love people more. That is what I call a vague, idealistic gas. That really comes from C.S. Lewis as well. We don't want applications that are just vague and idealistic. We want to have applications that are specific. So it might be what I read First Corinthians 13 about the importance of love that my application needs to be, you know, tonight I'm going to wash the dishes in my house, even though it's not my turn. That's something I'm going to do to put love into action. And so we need to choose specific things that are going to help us live out the truth of what we're reading. And then finally, we want to ask, what role does this passage have in God's story and what does it say about my place in God's story? How do I fit in that story? So we want to read for application.

[00:19:04] And then a final point is we want to read in community. We want to read in community. It helps us tremendously as we're doing our Bible reading, to read with other people. Now, it might be that your daily Bible reading will end up being with a group of one or two other people, but you also may do your own Bible reading your time with God, and then choose to get with a friend every week over coffee to talk about the things you're reading. It may be you as a Bible study group are reading Scripture together and then kind of getting together to discuss that. When we were doing the Read the Bible for Life Initiative, there were whole churches that read through the story of Scripture together in a year. They were reading individually. They were coming together and talking about it in small groups. And then the pastor was even preaching about that particular passage from that particular span of Scripture each week and that we're having a worship service on it. So it's important that we read from the standpoint of community.

[00:20:09] I love the image that I heard about a number of years ago from the Special Olympics, and there was a particular Special Olympics taking place, I believe it was in Washington state, where these Olympians were running and there were children who were involved in this race, a sprint. And as they were running, one of these children with special needs fell on the track. And gradually all the other students who were running in the race slowed down. They noticed out of the corner of their eye that one of their numbers had fallen and they all slowed down, turned around and looked at that student and went back and helped the student up. And then all of these special Olympic athletes went across the finish line together. That's a beautiful picture of what the church should be that you and I should be aware of those around us who are struggling. Sometimes when we're struggling, we need someone else to come and help us and pick us back up. Our Bible reading in the long term is going to be better if we are doing it in community with other people and we get that encouragement from those who are in community.

[00:21:27] There's a lady named Rosaria Butterfields who used to be a professor at an elite university in the northeastern part of the United States, and she was not a believer in God. She was living in a relationship that was not a good relationship. And she came to a point in her life where she started interacting with a pastor and his wife. And for two years they invited her into their home, had meals with her, and just loved her and her friends. And as she was a literature professor, she also started reading a lot of the Bible every day because she was actually writing, wanting to attack people who believed the Bible, fundamentalists who take the Bible seriously. And yet what happened was, as she read the Bible, lots of chapters every day, it started having an effect on her. And this is what she said. She said at first ideas like the Bible's inerrancy, infallibility, sufficiency and authority seemed outrageous, insulting and ridiculous. But after reading the Bible in big chunks, 5 hours at one sitting many days in a row, I could see how if only I loved the things that God loved, these ideas could become the bridge to what the Bible calls the fruit of the Spirit. I was a divided woman, and the Bible is what tore me in half. I felt pitted between not wanting to repent of my sin and not really knowing how one repents of a sin of identity and deeply wanting Jesus. The Jesus who promised a yoke easier than the one that bound me, and a burden lighter than the one that crushed me. Finally, when the Bible got to be bigger inside me than I, I realized that the Bible is the only book in the world that is alive.

[00:23:28] The Bible compelled me, drew me in, revealed to me that the threshold to God is repentance. It convinced me that the only way to save my life is to lose it. And at the same time, I saw how the Bible organized not just a me and Jesus sort of life, but a Bible believing community. My prayer for you is that as you read the Bible more effectively, you will get drawn into the story of God, that that story will change you and that you and the community around you will live for Christ in the world in a way that will build up the Kingdom of God until Jesus returns. May God bless you as you read the Bible better.