“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” 2 Tim 2:15
“God intended to convey some definite truth in each verse of scripture. With every verse of scripture we should ask what was this intended to teach, not what can this be made to teach; and we should not be satisfied until we have settled that. Of course, I admit a verse may have a primary meaning and other more remote meanings. For example, a prophecy may have its primary fulfillment in some personage or event near at hand, e. g., Solomon, and a more remote and complete fulfillment in Christ” – Dr. R. A. TorreyNotice from 2 Tim 2:15 above that “be diligent” is a command, it is not a suggestion. God commands all Christians to be diligent to study the word of God to show themselves approved to God as workmen. Notice that there is a big difference between being justified before God and being approved to God as a workman who is rightly dividing the word of truth. You can be a Christian and go to heaven, but for God to use you well on earth to do his work, you must be approved not as a son or daughter (which we are when we get saved), but we must also be approved by God as workmen. God will not put his lazy uneducated (in the word of God) son or daughter in a job that requires a child who is educated in his word.
If you follow Paul’s train of thought and read down from verse 15 to verses 20 and 21 you see him write there “Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.” 2 Tim 2:15. What is Paul saying? Remember that Paul is talking to Timothy, a Christian. Also remember that Paul has preached elsewhere that salvation is by faith alone, not of our works (Ephesians 2:8). We are justified by faith and all Christians already have the righteousness of Christ (2 Cor. 5:21). But the cleansing that he talks about here is the cleansing by the word of God (John 15:3). Notice that Paul is comparing Christians to the vessels in the large house –the house of God. This is easy to see because Paul says “if anyone cleanses himself… he will be a vessel for honor…” (also see 2 Cor. 4:7; Rom. 9:21-23; 1 Thess. 4:4 ) In God’s house, among God’s children who are saved, going to heaven, will be vessels of gold, silver, wood, earthenware, some to honor and some to honor. Before God, the CEO of a company who is put in charge of many things and the janitor can both be God’s children. I put this in earthly or material terms so that we can see. All Christians are God’s children, but we must cleanse ourselves with the word of God so that we will be a vessel for honor, sanctified by the word of God, useful to the Master (God), prepared for every good work–the works he has prepared for us to work in since the foundation of the earth. (Eph.2:10). This is not the only passage of scriptures that makes this clear. The Bible is clear that we will be rewarded according to our works (Rom. 2:6). We will be given gold medals for what we do. But the caveat is that not all good work is created equal. Your work must be able to withstand the fire. (1 Cor. 3:13). Some people’s good work will burn like chaff because it was chaff. That’s why some will tell Jesus’ that Lord, Lord, didn’t we cast out demons in your name and perform miraculous signs in your name, and he will tell them plainly, depart from me ye workers of iniquity, for I never knew you. Their good works were chaff. So studying God’s word and rightly dividing it has far-reaching ramifications.
The purpose of this step is to find out the exact meaning of each verse. As we continue from the observation step, we stay at the verse level, examining every detail but now focusing on a different question—not what does it say, but what does it mean?
Begin with Prayer – As for every stage of Bible Study, start and continue with prayer as you interpret the text.
Observe with purpose – Continue observation and interrogation of text with observational questions. Observation doesn’t stop with the observation step but continues throughout the Bible study process. In fact, observation, interpretation, and application can happen at the same time.
Word Study: Do word studies to get the exact meaning of the words in the verse that we don’t know. To know what a verse is saying, it is best to know the meaning of all the words used in that verse. For information on how to do a word study, please read the chapter on Word Studies. Note, a word study is not necessary if you already know the meaning of all the words in the verse (in the original languages).
Establish the Context of the passage: Context is the text that comes before and after a passage. When studying the Bible, context is king. Context rules in studying and interpreting scriptures. One of the best ways to establish context is to the passage many times over and then write a passage summary. If you have done the book survey above, then review and write a summary in this step. We highly recommend that you don’t do a passage analysis when you haven’t read the book over several times. You will best achieve this by doing a book survey first. Do your summary in any one of the following two ways.
– Paraphrase the passage: Rephrase the chapter in your own words. The best way to do this is to imagine reading the passage to someone else in your own words, not the authors. Paraphrase is so important because it aids both in memory and recall—because we think by association and also because we think with our words. As such it helps in our meditation.
– Outline the passage. This would work only when your passage is a chapter or a paragraph. You really can’t outline a verse. If your passage is a chapter, use the paragraph divisions for your outline and give catching titles that summarize the content of each paragraph.
Dr. R. A Torrey says this about context.
“Many verses, if they stand alone, might be capable of several interpretations. But when the context is considered, all the interpretations except one are seen to be impossible.”
Cross Referencing or correlation.
When we do cross-referencing, we compare scripture with scripture. Scripture is the best interpreter of scripture. Cross-referencing is the examination of parallel passages that treat the same subject as the passage we are seeking to interpret. For example, we can study other verses that give another account of the same event, or we can study passages that are evidently intended as a commentary on the passage in hand. If we have done appropriate word studies, established context and yet, a clear interpretation doesn’t stand out from several possibilities, then there is always a passage somewhere else in the Bible that will settle this question. Scripture interprets scripture.
How do you do cross-referencing?
1) From Inside to Outside.
– You first look for cross-references within the same chapter.
– Then you look within the same book.
– Next you look within other books by the same author.
– After that you look for cross-references in the same testament.
– Finally you look for cross-references in the other testament (the rest of the Bible).
You will realize that as you do cross referencing that not all of them are going to be matches.
Pure cross-references: Some will be almost exactly the same wording as the verse you are interpreting. Those are called pure cross-references or parallel cross-references.
Story cross-references: These are narratives in other parts of the Bible that illustrate the truth of the verse that you are interpreting. It’s also called illustrative cross-references.
Contrasting Cross-References: In this type, the cross-reference says something opposite to what the verse you want to interpret says. This can shed more light on your verse.
Employ the Principles of interpretation. The First six principles are spelled by the acrostic LIGHTS. LIGHTS stands for Literal Interpretation, Illumination by the Holy Spirit, Grammatical Principles, Historical Context, Teaching Ministry, and Scriptural Harmony.
From this mnemonic,
Literal Principle: “When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense.” This a very important rule to keep at the back of your mind as you seek to answer the question, what does it mean? You will encounter figurative speech used in the Bible but the majority of the text will mean exactly what it says.
So we need to target the most literal meaning.
Illumination by the Holy Spirit: We depend on the Holy Spirit’s help as we seek interpretation from Him.
Grammatical Principle: We need to study the grammar of the sentence as we interpret the sentence. This often throws light on the meaning.
Historical Context: We not only need to consider the textual context discussed above, but we need to consider the historical context.
Teaching Ministry: We need to get the help of others’ in the church who are gifted teachers. Bible commentators and translators of different versions of the Bible fall under this category as well as other Bible experts. So consult different translations to see how they have rendered that sentence. It often resolves a lot of problems. After you have finished your interpretation, it is wise to consult a trusted Bible commentary to compare our conclusions with those of others.
Scriptural harmony: Remember that scripture cannot contradict scripture.
For more principles of interpretation, read our Chapter on Principles of Bible Interpretation.
Analyze and Interrogate Each Verse.
When we get the meaning of the verse, we don’t end there. We need to analyze and interrogate the each verse again. For one last time, examine each verse carefully and in detail so as to identify the lessons.
Look steadfastly at the verse and ask yourself “What does this verse teach?” What information does it carry? Then start writing down: This verse teaches
Initially, you may see a couple of things the verse teaches. But as you look over and over again, the teachings will begin to multiply. “You will wonder how one verse could teach so much, and you will have an ever-growing sense of the divine Author of the Book”