Studying the Bible can be intimidating. Not only is it by far the largest book most people pick up, but it was originally communicated to people who lived between 2,000 and 7,000 years ago (give or take a grand). Though I love to use outside resources, devotions, and study guides, it’s nice to have a simple tool to help you plunge into its depths wherever you are. These three questions are a great guide for exactly that type of study.
1. What is this talking about? This question seeks a very simple answer. What is the LITERAL meaning of what you just read? This is important because if we are not careful, we have the tendency to skip over words, phrases or concepts that are confusing. Nailing down what the text is literally (not metaphorically… that’s later) talking about helps force you to clarify those elements. For example, Proverbs 20:10 talks about the practice of cheating people in the marketplace by using a weight on a scale that says one pound one but is not to give people less of an item (like grain) than they paid for. It talks about a lot more too, but that is its basic, literal meaning.
2. What is this REALLY talking about? This question goes the next step from the literal meaning to explore what the passage is implying or suggesting through metaphor or other comparisons. In this case, Proverbs 20:10 is clearly talking about being honest and fair in your dealings with everyone.
3. What does this say about me? Now we personalize the study by asking what it is that God might be saying to me. This is the moment that we try and see ourself in the Bible. We are part of its story and should seek to read it as if it is about us. Proverbs 20:10 might be talking about how I am fair with some people and unfair with others, or it might be confirming to me that the inequality I experience is, in fact, wrong.
That is it. Though it is simple, answering those questions can take as much time as someone has, and when you begin to process long pieces of scripture or figurative bits, it can turn into an epic adventure all its own.
Jeremy Steele has been working in youth ministry for the past fifteen years and now serves as the Next Generation Minister at Christ United Methodist Church in Mobile, AL. He writes for Group Magazine, RETHINK Church and various publications and organizations. You can find a link to all the places he contributes on his website at JeremyWords.com.