E - Examine Scripture

When it comes to reading the Bible (Scripture), we like to think of the acronym R.E.A.P. As we spend time in Scripture, we will "REAP" a harvest.  Read, Examine, Apply, Pray.

This post is the second in this series… E is for Examine.  Go back and see the Read post here.

The purpose of examining Scripture is to determine the original meaning and intent of the author.  To be clear, it’s not what we or others 'think' it means.  It’s not how it applies in our context (this will come later).  It’s not what it means to me vs. what it means to someone else.  We’re pursuing the original intent/meaning of the author; the original message that God led the author to write down.

In order to do this we should methodically look deeply at the text, examining what is actually being said, before we get to the stage of applying its message in our own lives.  Consider the following...

Choose a Bible version to use for Bible Study.

The version you choose to use for Bible study may or may not be the same version you typically read from.  You might choose a more readable contemporary English version for your devotional Bible reading, but when you are doing deeper Bible Study, you may want to consider a translation that is more of a word for word translation.  This translation may not be as flowing and poetic, but it will help you get closer to the original text.  Need some help on choosing?

Spend significant time doing observation.  

Recognizing the presence of the following will help you drill down into the author’s original intended meaning. (The following list has been adapted from “Living by the Book, by Howard Hendricks.)

  • Recognize when...
    • Things that are emphasized
    • Things that are Repeated
    • Things that are Related
    • Things that are compared - Alike or Unalike
  • Look for…
    • Cause and Effect
    • Climax
    • Comparison
    • Explanation
    • Transition words
    • Description
    • Introduction or Summary
    • Pivot
    • Time References - before, after, during
    • Proportion
    • Purpose
    • Question and Answer
    • Quotations of other passages
    • Commands and Admonitions
    • Promises

Ask Context Questions.

  • When, where, why, by whom and for whom was the book written? Learn about the times. Learn about the geography. Learn about the purpose.  Learn about the author.  Learn about the recipients.  
  • What is the historical context.  What was happening at the time?
  • What is the immediate context of this verse or passage?  What verses and themes surround this verse or passage in this book of the Bible?
  • What is the big picture of the book in which this passage was written?
  • What literary genre is being used? Apocalyptic? Poetry? Parable? Narrative?  Wisdom? Other?

Consider doing ‘Word Studies’ for key terms.

When you see theologically loaded terms, key terms, words you don’t fully understand, or maybe repeated words, consider doing a 'word study' using a concordance.  Here’s a pretty good video on doing word studies.  Princess Bride reference anyone?

Read what others have said about this passage.

Only do this after you have spent quality time doing the above.  Read from a trusted commentary.

Basic Tips for getting started...
  • Pray before and throughout your studying. 
  • Journal.  Record your observations.
  • Purchase a set of highlighters and maybe colored pens or pencils.  Consider marking up the text itself.  Consider highlighting, underlining, double underlining, circling, drawing arrows, etc. Use different colors for different types of observations, repeated words, etc.  
  • Consider using external sources.  Having a trusted Exhausted Concordance, Bible Dictionary, Bible Atlas, and a Commentary will be very helpful.
  • If you are just getting started, get help from someone who has some experience. 
  • Join a Bible Study and do this with others.

For further reading, consider Living by the Book by Howard Hendricks.  There is also a companion work book.
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Rob Thompson