Our last two articles (Series Introduction: New Testament Genres, Methods of Studying the Bible Part 2: New Testament Genres) introduced the Bible as a collection of 66 books, covered the two covenants of the Bible, analyzed the formation and foundation of the two covenants as well as the genres included in them, and provided extra resources for diligent reading. This post will close our new series on methods for studying the Bible and provide effective Bible study tools with a free guide as a resource to help outline any given passage of Scripture.
Recap: Old Testament Genres
The Old Testament genres included the law, narratives, wisdom and poetry, and prophetic literature. Some of the books included in these genres were written by authors such as Moses and Malachi and spanned over a 1,000 years. Without the Old Testament, we would have no way of understanding the New Testament as the Old Testament provides the framework on biblical history, theology, and morality.
This genre makes up the first five books of the Bible and is the legal code for Israel, ordained by God. The laws mentioned in these genres are tied to the Mosaic Covenant, or the conditional covenant. The principles interwoven in these laws were meant to reveal our guilt and debt before God.
Simply put, the narrative genre is story (or documentary). Books such as Genesis, Exodus, Judges, Ruth, etc. document historical segments in time and illustrate how God interacted with mankind before Jesus came to Earth. This genre contains three elements: setting, plot, and character. Setting is usually communicated first and establishes where the story occurs both historically and geographically. Characters are the humans involved in the story and God since the Bible is collectively His Word. Human characters are the people God uses to demonstrate a Biblical truth. Plot consists of the driving action that moves the biblical story from its beginning to its end.
Wisdom and Poetry
The books within the wisdom and poetry genres (with the exception of Job) were written during the same timeframe of Israelite history and display wisdom from Israel's greatest kings: David and his son, Solomon. Wisdom books like Ecclesiastes and Proverbs deal with deep truths and illustrate how to live life successfully while on Earth. The poetic books such as Psalms and Song of Solomon have different functions. For instance, Psalms details worship and praise, exemplifying the full spectrum of human emotion while Song of Solomon deals with marriage, sex, and love.
Prophetic literature such as Ezekiel and Isaiah always include segments of narrative where Israel's history is recorded since this is vital to understand a particular prophet's role and commission. Symbolism is often used extensively to illustrate God's character, purpose, and plan as well as judgment.
Recap: New Testament Genres
The New Testament is comprised of 27 books written by apostles and disciples and focus on the New Covenant through the eternal atonement of Jesus' sacrifice. These books span 50 years between AD 45 and AD 95. We mentioned previously that one common observational mistake with studying the New Testament was invalidating the Old Testament and wanted to reemphasize the commonality of this mistake and how grave it can be. The New Testament remains consist with the Old but focuses more on different attributes of God and highlights the eternal covenant since Jesus paid the price for sin. The Law such as the Ten Commandments is now written on the hearts and minds of every human (Romans 2:15) and still reveals our guilt before God.
The Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) display the eternal good news of salvation and records Christ's birth, ministry, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. These are not to be confused with biographies but to be understood as a collection of records of Christ's ministry to differing audiences.
Written between AD 60-62, this genre continues from Luke's gospel account in narrative form and serves as the record of the Holy Spirit's ministry after Christ's ascension into Heaven. Many books also compiled during this time were some of Paul's epistles.
This genre forms the majority of the New Testament and is a collection of 21 letters. These letters are the easiest to approach due to their straight-forward nature. The main goal of epistles is to illustrate the importance of the Gospel, recognition and repentance of sin, and focusing on eternity.
Revelation is unique in its own right as it is, like Job, a combination of multiple genres and sits apart on its own. Some parts of Revelation are epistles written to different churches, other parts are narrative, while other parts are prophetic and detail events yet to come. We mentioned previously that one key to understanding this book is to remember to not overanalyze the symbols and forget the bigger picture of Jesus and the trinity's plan of redemption and restoration. This is equally important when studying this book in segments or as a whole for differing Bible studies.
Now that we've recapped the above genres, we can discuss a method of studying scripture that involves outlining in segments called observation, interpretation, correlation, and application. Each of these are used to dissect passages of Scripture while connecting them to the big picture of the Bible: God's plan of redemption.
Observing Scripture is done similar to an investigation. Key details and differences are noted, but the scene is not altered and changed. It is examined "as is." The best way to observe these similarities and differences is by using multiple translations. For instance, you would use both a formal translation (KJV, NKJV, NASB, ESV, or CSB) with a functional translation (NIV, NLT, or NCV). Then, document at least two similarities and differences within a passage. Moving forward, basic elements of a story are examined (main characters, plot, and story structure such as introduction, inciting incident, rising action, falling action, and resolution are noted). Key questions (who, what, when, where, why, and how) are then used to further examine a given passage.
Interpretation deals with three main clauses: summarization, identification, and further checking of information. In the summarization portion, the author's main point is explained. Passages of Scripture consist of action and dialogue, showing and telling its audience something. Identification further elaborates summarization by drawing a principle from a passage of Scripture. While checking information, other sources such as Bible dictionaries or scholarly books can demonstrate and explain points in Scripture.
Correlation deconstructs a scene within any given passage of Scripture and analyzes the information gathered in the interpretation phase. Key questions such as how the selected passage of scripture fits within the larger metanarrative of the Bible, how the principle fits with the rest of Scripture, and how the passage reflects the person and work of Jesus are all examined here.
Application is the final step of analyzing Scripture. It consists of four questions: duty, character, goals, and discernment. These four questions are used to examine how a passage of Scripture can be applied.
Duty: call to action and obedience. What is the meaning of the passage and what is it asking or demanding? What are actions and practices that need implemented or avoided?
Character: the kind of person you should become. The work of Christ is acknowledged in the life of the believer. How can your character be molded to be more like Christ?
Goals: what causes can be pursued. What drives you? What are desires that determine direction?
Discernment: developing the ability to see things through God's eyes. Culture is surveyed and truth is separated from error.
Below is the free guide outline of the Bible study of Acts 9:36-43 that allows you to implement what you read in this article and start practicing the effective Bible study tools learned.
Studying the Bible and being molded to be more like Christ can only be done through conversion and understanding the Gospel. Jesus died for you as a one time atonement for all past, present, and future sins. We cannot merit heaven on our own and our own works are worthless when held up to the Cross. We have been crucified with Christ and it is Him who lives within us. If you have further questions regarding salvation or want to speak to someone, don't hesitate to reach out to the team at Blissful Faith. Our contact information is listed on our Contact page below.