The Basics of Bible Study
The Bible was not written to be a complicated book. It is meant to be a basic guidebook written from God to man, to guide man back to God. It is the story of God’s glory. We should address it as such. It is God’s Word, divinely inspired (2 Timothy 3:16-17), and written by men carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). It is not written to confuse us. It is written to help us understand.
There are many methods different people have touted over the years to study the Bible. We want to use the OICA method (Observation, Interpretation, Correlation, Application method) when we are studying the Scriptures. This means in an inductive Bible study, we should be looking into the text to pull out what God wants us to know. To do so, we use a literal, grammatical, historical method of interpreting the Bible.
We want to first Observe the text, what does it actually say? We should always exegete, pull out of the text the meaning; never eisegete, read into the text what we want it to say. As we observe the text, not everyone is going to study the text in the original languages, but there are many good Bible study tools that can be used to help get to the intent of the writer.
When using a literal, grammatical, historical method of observation, we must be diligent in our study. To study the text literally means: we first take the text for what it says. We are not looking for hidden allegorical or symbolic meanings in the words on the page. What does it say? Whether in our language or the original language, what does it say? If it says, one thousand years (Rev. 20:1-6), our first assumption should be that the author meant one thousand years and nothing else.
Grammatical observation means we look at what the text actually says in light of how the grammar is being used.Grammatically, how were the words used in the original language? We must follow the same rules of grammar in our interpretation. So far, this is kind of stating the obvious, as it should be…
Historically, how were the words that the writer used being used in other contexts?
In addition, we may want to dive deeper in our observation of the text. Are there textual variants we can study? Are there specific words we want to study? Why did the authors use the words that they did to express the thoughts they are trying to get across? Remember, the people writing the Bible were being verbally inspired by the Holy Spirit in the text that they were writing and all of what they wrote was God-breathed, the words are important.
After we have thoroughly observed the text, we will then work on our Interpretation of what the text means. I do not care what the text means to you! That is not what we are studying the Bible for… All I care about is, what did the authors mean when they wrote to their audience? What did their audience understand the text to mean? That is the meaning we should be taking out of the text. Again, it is what the Scripture says that should drive how we understand what it means. All the time, it means exactly what it says!
In the Correlation step, we look at what other reliable commentaries and authors say about the text we are studying, we also compare context in this step as well. We read within the grammatical context of the passage. What do the surrounding verses say? What does the chapter say? What about previous and subsequent chapters? What does it say in light of the entire book? Scripture never contradicts Scripture, so how does the passage you are studying mix with the rest of the Bible? Historically, the writers of Scripture lived in a different time, and faced different challenges. So, we must study in the historical context of when the passage was written. Was it a time of war? Peace? Slavery? Conquest? Reform? These things all play into what was written and why. So, when doing an inductive Bible study, we must ask all these questions. If our interpretation says one thing and reliable sources say something different, we need to check our steps and see if we went wrong somewhere. One of my professors once said, “If you think you have discovered something completely new about the Scriptures, check your heresy first.”
Finally, after all the other steps, we can finally look at Application. However, before we can look at how we can apply the principles we find in a passage (secondary application). We must first ask, how would the original audience have applied this to their lives? Not every passage applies to all people in the same way! Some things were written, for instance, specifically to the nation of Israel during a time of exile… It does not apply to you and me, or even to our country at this time in history. It applied to them and only to them. That is the primary application of the passage.
Other things, however, do apply to us today. For example, grace is still grace and sin is still sin. We can still count on our Lord Jesus for salvation and the Holy Spirit to guide us into all the knowledge we need for life and godliness. We are still expected to be holy as He is holy.
I hope this little guide helps you get more out of your study of the Scriptures. More important, I hope it helps you to know God better and love him more.