In our last study we saw that some of the subjective methods of Bible study include spiritual sense, common sense, and human experience. This is where many Christians stop in their study of God’s Word and one of the reasons we find so many different interpretations of the same verses within the Church. Subjective study methods are those that are based on or influenced by an individual’s personal feelings and opinions. Objective Bible study methods, on the other hand, are not based on personal feelings or opinions in considering the facts before them. Rightly dividing the Word of Truth combines both subjective and objective study methods to be sure our feelings and opinions are based on the Truth. Objective study methods are honestly more time consuming and more difficult than subjective methods – but the results are definitely worth it.
We’ve looked at the importance of defining terms, so let me add a couple of thoughts about that aspect of interpreting Scripture. The Holy Spirit inspired the human authors of the Bible to use specific Hebrew and Greek words to communicate meaning. In order to understand that meaning, we need to understand the meaning of the individual words and their usage in Scripture. Words have a root meaning and it’s helpful to understand the root meaning and how it was used and understood by ancient people. Good Bible dictionaries and lexicons are helpful in understanding the roots of words used in the Bible.
I’ve often heard that English is a difficult second language for many people around the world to learn because the same word can mean different things depending on usage. For instance, the word cool. “It is a cool day.” “He is such a cool guy.” “What you did was not cool, dude.” “Cool it, man! That’s not cool.” Someone who’s mother tongue is a language other than English might find it strange that we use the word “cool” in so many different ways. In order for them to understand the meaning of the word cool, they have to learn about usage in the English language.
Hebrew and Greek are more exact languages than English in many ways. For instance, the word love. Hebrew and Greek each have several words that are translated by the English word “love”. The love may be that of a parent for a child, child for a parent, husband for a wife, person for a pet, brother for a brother, friend for a friend, God for people, people for God. Knowing which Hebrew or Greek word the human author of Scripture used in a verse helps us understand the true meaning and purpose.
Integrating and Summarizing Answers
Once you’ve answered your questions, you need to integrate the answers to arrive at the main message of the Scripture you’re studying. That main message is the meaning the Holy Spirit purposed when He inspired the writing of what you are reading. If you’ve done a good job of rightly dividing the Word of Truth, you’re ready to prepare your interpretation for the next step. Even as you’ve written your observations, questions, and answers, I suggest you write a summary statement about what you conclude from integrating your answers. A good way to do that is present it as a research paper you might give to a professor for a grade. Include a title and simple outline. You might also include a premise and conclusion to the outline. Remember, this is just for you – for now. The purpose of integrating and summarizing your hard work of rightly dividing the Word of Truth is to see what you discovered and prepare you for the next step. Other ways to integrate and summarize your interpretation are paraphrase and essay. Those might even fit your thought process better than a research paper. Your essay could include the process you followed to get to the interpretation.
Be careful when integrating and summarizing answers not to fall into common traps that some interpreters fall into. Every denominational group has a different way of interpreting some portions of the Bible. Remember, Jesus prayed to His Father for unity among His disciples. The Holy Spirit speaks what He hears from Christ. God’s Message to His children is not many messages – it’s one message – if it’s “rightly divided”. That means some of the different denominational interpretations are not correct. We want our interpretation to be right, so we work hard to rightly divide the Word of Truth.
In the next part of our study, we’ll look at evaluation and application.
Also, we invite you to read our companion apologetics study – Can I Trust the Bible?
In Christ’s Love and Grace,
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”