In last Sunday's sermon, I talked about the importance of good Bible study methods, particularly when it comes to interpreting difficult passages like Titus 2:1-10. For those who expressed interest in having these principles written down, I've included them below.
Bible study methods – or hermeneutics – is the set of guidelines that help us get from the ancient text of the Bible to how it can be applied to our lives. When we faithfully follow good hermeneutical principles, it helps us to not only understand what the Bible says but also how it should impact our lives. Good hermeneutics also provides protection against the sort of grievous interpretive errors that have often lead to damaged lives and the rejection of the gospel message by those outside the church.
Many years ago, I learned a four-step method of studying the Bible that has served me well, and which I believe anyone can do, regardless of their level of Biblical knowledge.
The four steps are observation, interpretation, principlization, and application.
Observation is the place where all good Bible study should start. In this first step, we ask ourselves, "What does the text say?" Observation is all about trying to get your mind around the meaning of the words and sentence structure. You might find it helpful to do a sentence diagram of the passage or look up any words you don't know in a dictionary (theological dictionaries can also be helpful for understanding when and how certain words are used differently in Scripture). Blueletterbible.org is a free online tool that some people find helpful in this stage of study.
The second step, interpretation, is about asking the question, "What does the text mean?" In particular, the goal of interpretation is to try to understand how the original audience (the people to whom the passage was originally written) would have heard the message. A few more good interpretive questions to ask:
The third step, and the one most often overlooked, is principlization. Before jumping to application, it's important to ask, "What is the persevering principle that under-girds this text? What is the timeless and transferable truth?" Many Bible texts contain examples that are bound by the time, location, and culture to which they were written. Without the key step of drawing out the principles presented, it's easy to mistakenly apply ancient cultural norms rather than timeless Biblical truth.
Finally, once the interpretive work has been done and principles have been identified, it's time for application. Application asks the question, "How should I then live?" The earlier steps have shown how the principle was to be applied to the original audience; the final step of Bible study is determining how the principles taught by the Scriptures can be lived out my modern readers.
Theologians sometimes talk about the "perspicuity of Scripture," meaning that the Bible is clear and understandable to the average person. I believe this is true. AND I believe that the Bible is most clear and understandable when we're willing to do the work to understand it rightly using good hermeneutical principles.