There are five questions that you should ask of every Bible text. Once you have the answers you are well on your way to a productive understanding of the Bible. There are more than five questions to ask but these provide a good starting point.
Who is speaking?
Are the words coming from an authoritative person? Not all Bible speakers are to be heeded. The best example comes from Job. Three friends and a fourth young man come to visit the beset Job. In turn, each offers advice to Job which has the ring of truth, yet they are rebuked by God near the end of the book (Job 42:7-9).
Job’s wife famously says, “Curse God and die” (Job 2:9). There is a great difference when we understand the words come from her and not Job himself. Indeed, had Job spoken these words the entire focus of the book would be different.
Once you have determined the speaker, jot it down in your notebook; it will help you understand what is being said.
To whom is he speaking?
It is important to know the person being addressed too. Consider the strong words of Jesus directed against the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23. Compare those words to John 8 and the woman taken in adultery. Knowing the recipient of Jesus’ words helps us understand better.
In the prophets, one should always observe whether the prophet speaks to the northern kingdom, the southern kingdom or a non-Israelite kingdom. The words were tailored by God for each. The student must appreciate who the recipient is and the particulars of his situation.
What is the context of the passage?
You cannot understand a text unless you know and respect the context. The context is the purpose of the text. What is the writer talking about? Many stumble here. We find a passage that seems to say something supporting our thoughts and we latch on to it. But what if the passage is not talking about the same thing? [bctt tweet=”You cannot understand a text unless you know and respect the context.”]
A fine example is found in Matthew 24 as Jesus speaks of terrible future events. Many people have linked these events to his second coming and the end of time. Yet, Matthew 24:34 makes clear that he is not talking about the end of time but of events that will happen in the lives of the people listening to him. The context changes everything!
It is vital to know the context of Scripture as you study it.
What is the covenant or dispensation of the text?
The Bible can be broadly divided into dispensations or covenants under which God dealt with men. Today, we live under the Law of Christ. We live in the Christian era. God deals with us differently that he dealt with the Jews under the Law of Moses. Believers must “rightly divide” the Scriptures (2 Timothy 2:15).
Consider Leviticus 23 and the feasts ordered by God. These commands were given under the Law of Moses and were never intended for us today. Paul speaks strongly of the Mosaic law which he says was nailed to the cross (Colossians 2:14). Here we see that there a difference between laws for those under Moses and for us today.
What are the commands or imperatives?
Not every passage contains commands. Some are more descriptive in nature and some aim to encourage rather than instruct. But, we must always watch for commands that God has given the Christian.
If the Lord says to do something, we comply. As our study progresses we learn to seek out his commands and obey them (John 14:15). In time, as we mature in the faith, we seek principles which guide us in areas where there is no specific command.
These few thoughts should help get you started. You will discover more study ideas as you spend time in the word.