by Ron Leonard, Missions Pastor
How is Scripture to be understood and applied? Since we believe "all Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16) it is crucial that we understand how to rightly take in and apply God's Word.
Recommended reading: Grasping God's Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting and Applying the Bible by J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays.
Much of what follows has been gleaned or influenced by this book and it is recommended reading for anyone seeking to personally understand and apply the truths of God's Word.
1.) Consider the context.
As Duvall and Hays word it, "[Grasp] the text in their town." Seek answers to questions such as: who wrote the text, what was the intention of the writer, when was it written, where was it written and who were the intended recipients?
Examine not only the specific context but also what may have been going on in the surrounding culture at the time. Understand the various genres of the Bible: whether history, prophecy, gospel, letters, etc. -- each must be approached appropriately to understand the intent of the writer. Read carefully, research the context and historical background, study specific words, consult various translations, and keep in mind the genre. Utilize Bible software, resource books and/or websites that may include Bible dictionaries, concordances, handbooks, maps, etc.
Here are few simple resources that I find to be helpful: www.biblehub.com, Holman Quicksource Guide to Understanding the Bible by Kendell H. Easley, and Holman Bible Atlas by Thomas Brisco. Of course, there is an abundance of resources available. However, use discernment when consulting commentaries and seek recommendations from pastors and theologians whom you trust.
2.) Determine the differences.
As Duvall and Hays have said, "Measure the width of the river to cross." Obviously, there are differences between the biblical audience and people today. Time, location, people, and other circumstances must be considered if we are to understand and meaningfully apply Scripture. Take note of the differences and try to understand the writer's intent. Realize that because of these differences, our understanding may be limited or difficult, but rise to the challenge. Even though time and culture have a great impact on our comprehension, there are still theological principles to discover.
3.) Apply theological principles.
While Duvall and Hays use three steps for this aspect, they are all closely related: (1) we identify the theological principle in the text, (2) recognize how it fits with the rest of Scripture, and (3) realize how Christians today should live it out.
Too often we scurry through the first two steps looking for application without grasping the context and principles. Only when we thoroughly examine the text to understand the intent of the writer and how the theological principle fits with the rest of the Bible can we accurately apply it in today's context.
Scripture is rich with applications for people today, but we should exercise caution so that we do not search Scripture for justification for our own ideas. Rather, let our ideals come from the faithful searching and application of Scripture. Likewise, let us not be satisfied with knowledge of the Bible but let us wisely and faithfully apply the principles in our lives today.