How to Study the Bible for Sermon Preparation
In order to study the Bible with complete and precise understanding of its meaning, you must engage in the following three activities: (1) Ascertain how your text fits and functions in its various contexts and the propositional value of this. (2) Learn the complete and precise meanings of key words in the text and their propositional value. (3) Learn the propositional significance of the grammar of the words and syntax of the sentences making up the text. These three activities may be achieved by following six sequential steps of Bible study:
Step 1: Pray for God’s help in understanding the text.
Step 2: Read the entire book in which your text is found several times.
Step 3: Ascertain the historical context of the book by performing a historical analysis of the book in which your passage is found and writing your own introduction to the book.
A. Gather information about the writer.
1. Who wrote the book?
2. What were the circumstances of the writer?
3. Where was the writer?
4. What can you know about the character of the writer?
B. Gather information about the recipients of the writing–its first readers.
1. To whom was the book written?
2. What were the circumstances of the recipients?
3. Where were the recipients?
4. What can you know about the character of the recipients?
C. Gather information about the date of the writing of the book. This will require that you consult a book on introduction or an introduction to the book as found in a commentary. However, often much can be found concerning the time by looking closely at the book with this question in mind.
D. Gather information concerning the occasion of the writing of the book. The occasion is what was going on that caused the writer to decide to write the book.
E. Gather information concerning the purpose for writing the book. Sometimes this will be explicitly stated in the book (e.g., 1 John). However, usually this will be implied by the content of the book (e.g. Ephesians).
Step 4: Ascertain the book context by performing a structural analysis of the book.
A. Write a one sentence general summary of each paragraph in the book.
B. Group these summaries according to the idea they each support.
C. Write a one-sentence summary of each group of paragraph summaries, i.e., sectional summary.
D. Write a one-sentence summary of all of the sectional summaries—a proposed statement of the theme of the book.
Step 5: Ascertain the relationships of key words, phrases, and clauses by performing a syntactical analysis–a grammatical diagram of each sentence in the paragraph being studied.
A. Pick out the subject, verb, and complement (direct object and subject complement). When this is written out, it will form the kernel sentence.
B. Break the remainder of the sentence down into meaningful parts– words, phrases, and clauses.
C. Write the modifying word, phrase, or clause under the part of the kernel or other modifier that it tells something about.
Step 6: Ascertain the meaning of key words and phrases by performing a semantic analysis of the key words and phrases in the sentence–seek to establish the complete and precise meaning of each word.
A. Study words in lexicons.
1. Establish the Greek word in the text by using a Greek-English Interlinear New Testament.
2. Establish the lexical form of the word by using an Analytical Greek Lexicon.
3. Establish the semantic field (general meaning) and the semantic context (specific meaning of the word in your text) by using a standard Greek-English Lexicon (e.g., A. & G.).
B. Perform an independent study of the usage of the key words–an independent study of word meaning.
1. Discover the passages where the word is used by consulting a Greek Concordance.
2. Study each passage where the word is used and make notes of your observations in each passage. There are internal helps that help one to discover meaning of words in a text.
a. The writer’s own definition given in the text.
c. Words that are opposites that are stated in the text
d. What the word is associated with in the text.
e. The subject and verb in the sentence.
3. Draw a conclusion concerning the meaning of the word and write it out—even if it takes a paragraph.
Step 7: Perform a grammatical analysis–study of case, voice, tense, mood, number, etc.
A. Get the analysis of the word that is given in the Analytical Lexicon.
B. Consult handbooks, charts, etc. to learn the significance of all of this.
Step 8: Put all of this information together and interpret the passage on the basis of the evidence provided by the total context of the passage. Let your information force a conclusion upon you. Don’t let your previous conclusions manipulate the evidence and cause you to misinterpret.
Step 9: Consider your conclusion in the light of the canonical and theological contexts of the Bible.
A. If your conclusion does not square with the evidence in the rest of the Bible, the entire biblical context, it is an erroneous interpretation.
B. Likewise, if it contradicts or differs from a clear statement of the Bible on the same theme, you need to reinterpret.
C. If your interpretation or application of a text contradicts the nature of God or of biblical Christianity, your interpretation is wrong.
Step 9: Contextualize the message of the text.
A. Strip the supracultural principle (i.e., nonnegotiable and eternal truth) of its Temporary cultural and situational particulars–recognize their discontinuity.
B. Apply the principle to the culture and situation (i.e., needs) of your hearers.
© Prof. William T. (Bill) Lambert, EdD
Professor Emeritus – New Testament Literature and Interpretation