Almost every day, in the heat of the North Carolinian summer, my brother, sister, and I spent countless hours in and out of our neighborhood’s pool. The pool was our Disney World. And naively, we felt as if we owned the place. But nothing hurt our pride more than observing the bigger kids in the deep end of the pool. We watched from the shallow end while they played sharks and minnows, our hearts sinking in the desire to be included. As much as we hated to admit it, the deep end scared us.
As we look across the proverbial “pool” of women in our church, we also can get jealous of those that wade into the deep end of Bible study. Maybe they are the first to answer questions in small group, or they seem to quote Scripture with as much ease as breathing. We can find ourselves discouraged and ashamed, asking the question, “How do I grow in my time with the Lord?” If you have ever asked that question, you are not alone. Be encouraged; we are all on a journey to know and love God with the whole of our being.
Though we may feel like we are furiously treading water at first, over time we will learn to swim. An important step in these “swim lessons” is exegesis. Exegesis is a process that exists to determine the context and the author’s intended meaning of a particular passage. Exegesis is extracting what is in the Bible without inserting what we believe is or should be there.
Ready for the deep end? Here are some tips to consider as you tip-toe into the deep waters of exegesis. As you begin to dive into these questions, do not forget that learning to swim in the deep takes both time and practice. Give yourself grace as you learn to study the Bible. Trust in God’s ability to grow your understanding. Scripture will always accomplish what God pleases (Isaiah 55:11).
Tips for Exegetical Study
1. Context Matters
Accurate exegesis is all about context. Quite literally, studying the context of a passage helps us not to take a particular verse or passage out of context. As we begin to understand the context of a passage, we begin to uncover the true, intended meaning of the biblical author.
When you are determining the context of a passage, consider these questions:
- What is happening before and after this chapter or verse? Consider reading the passages surrounding the passage you are studying. What greater understanding do these passages provide?
- What is the central message/goal of the book of the Bible you are reading? Who wrote the book? Why did they write it? Study Bibles are great tools for discovering this necessary background information.
- Where does this book fall in the scope of redemptive history? To better understand redemption history, we recommend that you check out our Bible Handbook or the Story of Redemption series.
- Why does the culture of the author/audience matter for this passage?
2. Ask Questions about the Text
Another key lesson to learn as you are learning to swim in waters of exegesis is this: it is okay (and good!) to ask questions about the text you are reading. Asking questions of Scripture does not mean that you are doubting or even attempting to refute the Bible. Asking questions of the text simply means that you are diving deeper into ideas, concepts, and themes that you have never noticed or studied before. Asking questions about Scripture leads to deeper study and therefore a deeper knowledge and love of God.
If you are not sure where to start with asking questions about the text, here are a few examples to help you begin:
- What repetitive words/phrases do you see in the passage? Why do you think they are repeated?
- Do you see any transition words in the passage? What is the significance of these words?
- What words are confusing? What do these words mean in the context of the passage?
- What other passages of Scripture illuminate this passage? (Find cross-references by looking at the footnotes or using a study Bible.)
As you search for answers, do not be discouraged if you still find yourself confused after further research. Bring these questions to a trusted Christian friend, mentor, or pastor in your church. You may even wrestle with some of these questions throughout the course of your life. We are never meant to have all the answers, and often, the more we read of Scripture the less we realize we know. And that is okay. Our God is vast in power and His understanding is infinite (Psalm 147:5). Our lack of knowledge leads us to depend upon the One who knows all.
3. Come to a Conclusion with Care
Exegetically interpreting a passage allows us to correctly apply the text to our lives today. It is so easy to jump to a conclusion as soon as we finish reading, but conclusions made too early are often inaccurate or incomplete. Determining the context of the text and asking good questions helps us to draw conclusions from the author’s intended meaning.
Consider these questions as you come to your conclusion:
- What does this passage teach you about God and His Character?
- What does this passage say about the state of mankind or about sin?
- How does this passage point to Christ?
- How is the Holy Spirit convicting you in this passage? Is there anything you need to repent of?
- How can you apply this passage to your life today?
May our prayers echo that of the psalmist of Psalm 119:18, “Open my eyes so that I may contemplate wondrous things from your instruction.” If you find yourself in the shallow end of Bible study today, take heart. Just as Olympic swimmers do not become elite overnight, the depth of your Bible study will deepen gradually over time with practice and dedication. All of the sudden, through the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, you will begin to make connections and see Scripture as you never have before. Where you were once treading water, you will begin to swim.