"Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman who needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth."
RDTW written, pub. &
© 1985, 1998
Emil B. Swift
Starting the Tutorial
AMP Full Outline
Where To Go From Here
As you become familiar with these steps to "rightly dividing the Word", understand that in actual usage you will vary the degree and depth to which you use the steps of this study method; you may look at a verse (possibly even while sitting in a Sunday School class or at friend's house) and go through the steps in a flash, mentally. But most importantly, once learned, you won't skip any of the important steps resulting in inaccurate conclusions. Once you learn this method you may do each step in a flash or in great depth -- but your interpretation and understanding of Scripture will have depth, power and accuracy like never before.
STEP 1: OBSERVATION
The main point of Step 3 (Evaluation & Application) is for you to determine -- from the results of Step 2, Interpretation -- which of the truths you've discovered in a Scripture passage are local and limited, and which are timeless and therefore to be applied in your life or Word. The main point of Observation is for the Bible student to become saturated with the elements of a passage so that he is conscious of (1) their existence and (2) their need of explanation.
FIRST: FIND OUT WHAT THE BOOK IS ABOUT
- Decide what kind of book it is (i.e. history, drama, poetry, epistle, prophecy, apocalypse, judiciary, homiletics, etc.)
- In a single sentence, state what the whole book is about. The reader who says, "I know what it's about" but can't put it into words probably doesn't know what it says.
- Discover the book's sections or major divisions. Then, write them down in your personal Bible study notebook (your Journal).
SECOND: OBSERVING THE ELEMENTS OF THE BOOK AS A WHOLE
Remember: You have to do this step only once per book! (It's worth the effort!) Then you'll have your notes to refer to for years to come when studying other passages selected from that same book.
- Find the author's important words and figure out how the author is using them.
- Mark the most important sentences in the book and figure out what propositions they contain (if it's a teaching) or what plot transitions they show (if it's narrative.)
- Reconstruct the author's basic argument or plot by connecting together the sentences in (2).
- Respond to one or more of the following as they apply:
- What is the main question the Biblical author tries to answer?
- What is the main problem the Biblical author tries to solve?
- What is the main impact the Biblical author tries to achieve?
THIRD -- OBSERVING THE ELEMENTS OF A SELECTED PASSAGE
There are two characteristics which are evident in the skilled Bible student:
awareness and thoroughness
"I have six faithful serving men,
Who taught me all I know.
Their names are What and Where and When,
And How and Why and Who."
-- adapted from Rudyard Kipling's The Elephant Child
The following four steps will lay the groundwork for your observations. Do them before you begin to write down your observations!
- Examine each word in your passage and decide:
- Look to see how each term is related to the others in the phrase, the sentence, and the paragraph.
- Determine how the literary form affects the passage (such as its being Hebrew poetry, argument, etc.
- Consider the impact of the atmosphere on what the passage is saying.
NOW -- having laid the groundwork for accurate observations, write down your observations on the left column of your worksheet.
STEP 2: INTERPRETATION
The main point of Interpretation is for you to "recreate" or "reanimate" the Scriptures by recapturing the attitudes and emotions of the original authors/characters through use of imagination and empathy; then to expound those Scriptures in such a way as to cause the written word to become the Living Word.
FIRST: ASKING THE INTERPRETIVE QUESTIONS
Concerning each of the observations you have listed from the previous section, ask these three questions out loud, writing down those answers which are significant. In other words, sometimes asking question #2 will hit "pay dirt" while #3 and #1 don't "pan out". Write out meaningful questions -- don't just fill the page with handwriting.
- What does this mean?
- Why is this said here?
- What does this imply?
SECOND: ANSWERING THE INTERPRETIVE QUESTIONS
Where does the Bible student turn for the answers? Below are seven common sources used in answering interpretive questions. When answering your own questions, consider which of the seven sources you have used in reaching your answer. If you use a source that is not listed, write it down alongside your answers for future reference.
- Prayer and Meditation (the Holy Spirit as Teacher)
- Common Sense (not looking for the peculiar or magical explanation)
- Experience (since Biblical truths correspond to life and observing life opens a greater understanding of Biblical truth.)
- Context (since any single passage studied is part of a larger whole, the larger perspective must be considered to help explain the smaller part. [See Chart, Circle of Contexts.] This is where parallel Scriptures should be read and weighed.)
- Other Students of the Bible, young or old, professional or amateur (even alive or dead!) have studied the very same words you are studying, and have sweated through the same problems you are facing. Get their assistance!
- Objective Sources are books which can help define words, explain Hebrew and Greek word usage, give tips for interpreting specialized literary forms, reveal history relating to the culture, times and even the author's viewpoint and clarify alternate readings in the manuscripts.
- The Internet is possibly the most versatile, incredible resource for worldwide ministry the world has even seen. In terms of your study of Scripture, learn to use several search engines -- three excellent ones (at the time I wrote this) are (1) www.google.com/advanced_search?hl=en; (2) http://www.alltheweb.com/advanced?advanced=1&&q=; and (3) http://vivisimo.com/. You can use many different kinds of search terms -- use text references [e.g., 1Cor 5.12 or 1Cor 5:12 or variations], Greek or Hebrew terms [anthropos, koinonia, ruah, etc.], historical references [Pharisees, Moses, John the Revelator, Solomon's Temple. Ark of the Covenant, David's Tabernacle, etc.] Don't forget that anyone can put anything on the Web -- true, false, twisted, misleading. SO if you find something "earth-shatteringly revelatory" on the Web, find a solid confirmation somewhere -- or else hold very, very lightly to your conclusions!
THIRD: INTEGRATING AND SUMMARIZING THE INTERPRETIVE QUESTIONS
Do two or more of the following:
- List the main truths you've discovered from your passage.
- By using a descriptive title or one sentence propositions from each paragraph or passage, show clearly the major themes of a passage.
- By using a descriptive title or one sentence propositions from each paragraph or passage, link them all together to show the flow of his argument in outline, or show the flow of his narrative.
- Design charts for any material that can be visualized in such a fashion.
- Write a paraphrase, drawn from your observations and interpretations.
- Write a concluding essay or sermon on the main purpose and message of a passage.
- Use the supplement on Engaging the Right Side of the Brain. Select and complete one or more exercises at this point.
After doing one or more of the above, write in your journal what you learned from the exercise.
STEP 3: EVALUATION & APPLICATION
Put all of your responses to the following questions in your Journal!
FIRST: Determine the Timeless Elements of a Passage. In terms of Evaluation, there are three main kinds of passage you'll encounter...
- Does the passage contain truths which are restricted by being part of a developing tradition? (i.e. -- Old and New Testament instructions for slave owners.)
- Does the passage refer to certain local situations and practices which are not applicable to today? (i.e. -- Women in Asia Minor and veils.)
- Does the passage contain references to local situations and practices, not contemporary to today, but which are timeless and need to address the life of anybody, anyplace, anytime? (i.e. -- Helping your neighbor get his ox out of a ditch on the Sabbath.)
SECOND: Examine Your Personal Circumstances.
- You must know yourself. What are your strengths? Your weaknesses? Your biases...! (Reflect on The Self-Awareness of the Interpreter.)
- You must relate to specific areas in your life those things that you've read in the word. (See Supplement Life Wheel.)
- You must know your situation. If you are teaching, who are you teaching? If you are counseling, who are you counseling? What are their particular needs?
- You must humbly open your work and conclusions to others to critique. (See the Supplement Others.)
THIRD: Examine the Particular Contemporary Situation.
- Are the non-contemporary situations and practices (see FIRST, "Determine the Timeless Elements of a Passage, #2") like anything in your present experience? If so, how? Is there a clear, scriptural principle in the passage which can properly shed its skin of the old situation and fit into the skin of the new one?
- If you cannot discover a "timeless principle", let it sit awhile; come back in a month, a year, after you meet and share with others or whatever, and reexamine your notes (which is why they need to be legible and complete!) Then try this step over again.
- If you discover a "timeless principle", check your conclusions with other mature Christians in the body of Christ; that's part of the reason why God placed us as members one of another in the church.
In your Journal, write down all the applications you've made in your Bible study notebook.
For if any one be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like a man who views his natural face in a mirror; for he who looks at himself and goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of person he was. But he who looks narrowly into the perfect law of liberty, and perseveres, not becoming a forgetful hearer, but a doer of its work, shall, in so doing, be happy. (Living Oracles version)
The heart of Application must be the doing of the Word and not the "thinking" of the Word! No action, no application!
All your study comes down to this: "Whoever does the will of my Father, shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven..." (Mat. 7.21; my paraphrase)
Go on to the next passage...!