Bringing It All Together in Bible Interpretation

Bringing It All Together in Bible Interpretation

This article concludes our posts about skills for Bible interpretation. If you missed or want to review the previous posts, here are the links:

Interpreting the Bible

The On-Your-Mark, Get-Set, Go Principle

The When-and-When Principle

The In-the-Neighborhood Principle

The Phraseology Principle

The WYSIWYG Principle

The Symbol Principle

The Symbol-Story Principle

The So-What? Principle

How do these work together? You might want to think about a tree. A tree is rooted deeply in to the ground, absorbing moisture and nutrients. With the aid of photosynthesis, the tree makes sugars for energy to grow and produce fruit. There are many ways to think about Bible interpretation but consider this tree model. (See the diagram below.)

The life of a tree is in the roots. Start at the roots of this tree. Your beliefs about the Bible will shape every Bible interpretation skill you have. Is this book the Word of God? Is it something else? If it is the Word of God, then it demands our attention and accuracy in interpretation.

Then, before we can start our Bible study, we must prepare ourselves and focus our attention on the passage we will study.

Next, as we move up the trunk, we deal with the passage in its historical position, when and where it was written, by whom and to whom, and under what circumstances.

We look at the passage in the neighborhood where it resides in the Bible. We consider what lies before and after it, what its book is about and how it fits into its testament and in the Bible as a whole.

Then we turn our observation of the passage on the words and sentences, see how each is used to determine the author’s original meaning.

We then come to three principles that interact with each other. We determine if the passage is really straightforward. Is it actually “what you see is what you get?” Or, is there a symbol in use in the passage, or is the whole passage a story of symbols (allegory). If the passage is not WYSIWYG, then we must look for a deeper symbolic meaning.

Finally, we ask, “So what?” What does this ancient passage now say to us today and how can we apply it? The Bible transforms us as we read, believe, and practice it. It really makes a difference in our lives and shapes us into the image of Christ. God’s Word, practiced in our lives, will bear fruit.

Now it is time to put all these interpretation principles to work. But, there is no perfect way to do this. You should approach Bible interpretation simply. Develop your own system of Bible study. But, keep it simple. If you create a system so detailed and so complicated that you cannot explain it easily to another then your approach will likely fall into disuse. It will be too cumbersome to use.

I have recently discovered the blog work of Peter Krol. He writes his blog at where he helps others learn to study and interpret the Bible. He uses a simply approach I can recommend to you. He has devised a three-part method: OIA. This acronym stands for:

  1. Observation – What does it say?
  2. Interpretation – What does it mean?
  3. Application – How do I need to change?

I think anyone can approach their Bible study with this method. I also think moms and dads can help their children and teens use this same approach. This can be adapted to Sunday School classes and small groups. Children’s leaders and student leaders can train their classes in this approach. Learn more about OIA here.

A PDF of this post is available here. You are free to print and share it if you will keep the credit line on the document and promise not to sell it. You are free to print the tree diagram to use in helping your small group learn interpretation skills. If you do, please let us know. We want to serve you and your leadership needs as you lead your small group.

Scripture: Read Deuteronomy 17:14-20. Read what Moses said Israel’s future king should do with God’s law. How might this text apply to believers today?

Dig Deeper: Visit and learn more about the OIA method and other resources available there.

(This document was first posted at The 1-Minute Sunday School Trainer by Walter Norvell. This blog ministry seeks to equip Sunday School and small group leaders for the exciting ministry of helping people engage God’s Word.)

Published: Sep 20, 2016


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