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One Interpretation, Many Applications April 23, 2016

Posted by TJ Friend in General Principles.
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One of the criticisms of the Bible is that everyone interprets it differently. This a legitimate concern. There are many people that come to different ideas on what parts of the Bible are actually teaching. Some people base their interpretations based on only one or two verses completely overlooking the literary context these verses came from. Picking out isolated verses to prove a point is called “proof-texting”. The problem with proof-texting is that it starts with the individual (their views, beliefs, experiences, etc.) and imposes those ideas onto the text. If you take verses out of their context you can find justification for almost anything you want. People have used the Bible to condone slavery, racism, the Crusades, polygamy, homosexuality, and numerous cults. The teachings on baptisms for the dead and the high status of the Pope both come from Biblical passages. There have been many things that people have wrongly believed simply because they had a misunderstanding of what the Bible actually taught.

The Church today is fractured and schizophrenic in its beliefs. We have hundreds of denominations in the US today. Most of these came about because of differences of opinions on doctrine and practice. We have some churches that put a big emphasis on the role of the Holy Spirit, while others see the gifts of miracles and prophecy finished with the completion of the Bible. Some people believe it is a sin to read any other translation other than the KJV. Some churches don’t allow women teachers. Some believe if you are not a Calvinist you are not a Christian. Some of these differences are a matter of tradition, but for the most part we simply disagree on what the Bible teaches.

Some people think the Bible is like an artistic painting or piece of modern art, that you look at and interpret based on how you feel. This is exemplified in the question a lot Bible study groups ask: “What does this passage mean to you?”This version of Bible study a lot of times ends up as just a pooling of ignorance. People say whatever comes to their mind, whether or not it is relevant or even accurate. Studying the Bible takes time and effort. Most people tend to give up too quickly. They think that a cursory reading of the text is sufficient.

In case you were wondering, studying and understanding the Bible is difficult and takes time. It was written in an ancient language (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek). It was written thousands of years in the past in a culture that we are unfamiliar with. It was originally written for a specific audience, and because of this there were things the authors didn’t say because they didn’t have to. Their audience was already familiar with the culture and language. It is our job as faithful readers to attempt to understand what the author’s of the Bible were trying to say to their original audience. Only after we understand what it meant to those people can we make application to our lives today.

People say that since there are so many different views on what the Bible says, we can’t know what the Bible actually teaches. If we have such a diverse range of interpretations, even in the Church and among scholars, how can we know which one is correct? This is the whole reason why we have exegesis and hermeneutics. Even though it is difficult to get at what the author’s original intent was, this should be our goal.

The people who wrote the Bible, had a specific purpose for writing what they did. They had a distinct and deliberate message they were trying to convey to their audience. This is what we should be trying to uncover. This becomes even more important when we realize that these people were inspired by God.The Holy Spirit led these writers to convey a message. This wasn’t some symbolic or hidden message He was trying to convey. God had a specific message He wanted the people to understand and He gave it in a way that the people could comprehend. The more we can put ourselves in the shoes (or sandals) of the audience to which the Bible was originally written, the better we will be able to interpret the message to them. Once we understand what God was trying to say to them, we can make application to our modern context.

No one is perfect in their interpretation. Because of our distance from the original readers, there will inevitably be things we will not be 100% sure about. But, there are also things that the Bible is so clear on that we should be unified in our theology. The way I think about it is that there are two categories of the things the Bible teaches. There are essentials and non-essentials. The essentials include things like the basic Gospel message (Jesus died for our sins, was buried and resurrected), Jesus’ divinity, the trinity, the idea that Christ is coming again, etc. The non-essentials are things like style of worship, speaking in tongues, tattoos, eating pork, issues surrounding the second-coming/end times, etc. Basically, the things that you must believe in order to be saved are essentials, and those things not affecting salvation are non-essentials.

Past interpretations

We are not the first generation to read the Bible. Many people in different cultures and contexts had to make sense of what the Bible was saying for them. This is what is so great about the Bible. Its message transcends time and culture. Throughout history people have had to do the same thing we do today – read the Bible, attempt to understand its original meaning and then apply it to their lives.

I do want to make mention of some alternate interpretive methods, particularly the Jewish interpretation. One of their methods is known as PaRDeS. It is basically an acronym for Pashat, Remez, Drash and Sod. The four levels of interpretation. The Pashat is the “simple” interpretation which is essentially what I have been referring to, getting at the meaning of the author. The other three are increasingly deeper levels of meaning that attempt to find hidden meanings that can be found in the patterns of words and letters of texts. These interpretations range from symbolic (reading an idea like circumcision into a text that doesn’t explicitly talk about it but may have verbal parallels to other passages that do mention circumcision) to more hidden interpretations. These hidden interpretations often would rely on numbers. By assigning numerical values to numbers and words they would make comparisons to other words or phrases with the same numerical value. In this way, they would connect passages together that otherwise wouldn’t be connected. One thing they did believe though was that the simple meaning was the baseline, and so none of the other levels could contradict it.

There are some dangers in these types of interpretive methods. I think a lot of people see the Bible as this mysterious book with all kinds of hidden meanings that once uncovered will unlock some secret message in the text. I’ve noticed this a lot when it comes to word studies. Because most people are unfamiliar with Greek and Hebrew, they think that they can uncover vast meanings hidden in the definitions of certain words. This is not the purpose of word studies. While it is true you can get a more nuanced understanding of a passage by looking both at the grammar and the Greek or Hebrew words used, this is different than trying to get a new meaning from a text by searching through a list of definitions for a word. The words themselves only have meaning because of the sentence they are in. A word doesn’t import all its different definitions to each context it is used in. It is constrained to its chosen usage. In the same way sentences or verses are limited to the context of the paragraph to which they are in.

Whether trying to get at a deeper meaning through improper use of word studies or through some sort of numerological code, we end up missing the message of the author. And this is what is important. Whatever other messages we “find” in the text, if we overlook the message of the author they are worthless. In fact, by looking for these other things instead of what the author is trying to tell us, we hinder ourselves from understanding the original message.


I guess what bothers me in all this is that we aren’t satisfied with the simplicity of the Bible. Why do we think that a deeper meaning is somehow more spiritual than the plain meaning of the author? Earlier I mentioned the difficulties in the interpretive process due to time, context and language, but there are also things that are clear. A lot of the message of the Bible translates easily through all cultures and times. The ideas of love, justice, mercy, righteousness, holiness, and humility don’t need much interpretation to understand them properly. We get so caught up in the intricacies of interpretive method, that we forget to actually do what it says. The Bible isn’t just a book of a bunch of theological ideas, it is handbook for how to live. We follow it best, not when we understand it fully, but when we live out the parts we do understand.


Sharing What You Know August 18, 2010

Posted by TJ Friend in Application, General Principles.
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Hello. If you have made it this far, you should have a lot of the tools necessary to understand what the Bible is saying and study it for yourself. The mesage of the Bible is not just for you, though. It is something that needs to be shared with others. If you just keep it to yourself, you are missing the point.

Before Jesus ascended to heaven he left his disciples with some parting words. At the end of Matthew 28 Jesus tells his disciples to “Go and make disciples of all nations…” We are called to be disciple makers. Whatever knowledge or wisdom God gives us is not just for us. We need to share what we are learning with those around us, especially those who are new or young believers. Whenever God reveals something to you, do your best to apply it to your life, but don’t just leave it at that. Share what you have learned with someone else.

Your Uniqueness

You are unique. Not only do you have a unique blend of gifts and talents, but you also have a unique way of understanding the Bible. Even if you don’t have all the skills or tools of a Biblical scholar, you still have a lot to bring to the study of the Bible. In fact sometimes an overly scholarly look at the text can be harmful. It is possible to overanalyze the text and end up missing the point. Sometimes a simple observation or question can bring a text alive. Although it is important to study and try to get at the intended meaning, don’t discount yourself if you don’t have all the tools necessary. God can speak not only to you, but through you!

There is no one person who fully understands the Bible. We all have our own lens with which we view the Bible. We actually need each other so that we can see the different angles. What you gain from your reading of the text may be something that someone else would never see, simply because of how they read the text.

Understanding the Text

There are different ways to learn things. You can hear it, see it or interact with it. Each of these methods will help you to remember what you learn and understand it. The best way to learn something though is to teach someone else. This principle is just as applicable to the Bible. If you share what you are learning it is solidified inside of you and you really learn it. So, not only does it help out the person you are sharing with, but it helps you out as well.


You are awesome.

You can read and understand the text.

Sharing what you know can help others out.

Sharing what you know helps you learn it yourself better.


What is the last thing you learned while reading the Bible? Find someone to share that with.

OICA: Application August 12, 2010

Posted by TJ Friend in Application, General Principles, OICA.
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Hello. It has been awhile, but here we go. This is the last step in the OICA process. Application is extremely important, for what good is it for you to learn things if you never do anything about them. Now, saying this is the final step does not mean that you should wait till the end to apply things to your life. At any point during this process, even if you are simply reading a verse, if you feel like God is speaking to you, then you should try to apply whatever it is to your life. The reason this is the last step is because it is at the end of the process when you should reflect on what you have learned, not at the beginning or middle.

Application is broken into 2 categories: What you should do and what you should believe. Both of these are important. We need to do what God desires, because that will lead to better living and will glorify Him. But, we also need to have right beliefs. There are far too many lies in the world and we need to be saturated with the truth so that we are not deceived. Also, what we believe and think about shapes our values and morals and makes us who we are.

How to Live

The Bible is full of the wisdom of God. Our lives would be radically transformed if we simply did what the Bible said for us to do. We can see what God wants us to do in a few different ways. First, there are commands that are direct and specific for us. It is clear that we should love each other and not kill or steal, because these are explicitly stated in scripture. Some things though are not stated this explicitly. Sometimes we need to follow the example of one of the characters in Scripture. For instance, at the end of 2 Samuel 24, David wants to buy a field from Araunah, so that he may build an altar to sacrifice to the Lord. Araunah wants to give the land to the king, and in reality the king could have simply demanded it and he would have had to give it over. But David says, I will not sacrifice something to the Lord which does not cost me anything. This is not a command, but more of a principle which we can apply in different ways. God doesn’t want us to honor Him solely out of our excess, He wants us to obey even if it stretches us. As you are studying a passage, look for these principles to see if you can actually do something with what you are doing. In the example I just gave, God may want you to set aside some money from your budget and just bless others with it.

When we see people doing things in the Bible it does not automatically mean that we should do the same things. In fact a lot of things that the Biblical characters do are not for us today. The exception to this is Jesus. Jesus is the standard of how we should live and behave. We should not seek to live the same life as Jesus (collecting 12 disciples, doing miracles, and eventually dying on a cross). That was his mission, not ours. What we should focus on is his lifestyle. Jesus spent his life pouring into others, he spent a lot of time in prayer, he lived with integrity and did not compromise in the face of persecution and he gave glory to God. We can learn a lot simply by looking at the life of Jesus and seeing how we can live like him.

What to Believe

After you read/study a passage there are a few questions you can ask to get you thinking about what to believe. Obviously, not every question will apply to every passage, but every passage will have an answer to one of these questions if you think about it long enough. 1 Timothy 4:12 says that all scripture is useful for equipping and training in righteousness. Don’t give up on a passage if it seems difficult, just bring it to God and ask Him to reveal what you can learn from it?

1. How does this reveal Jesus?

2. What can I learn about God?

3. What does this tell me about humanity?

4. What can I learn about the interaction between God and man?

Write down whatever you learn and meditate on it until it sinks in.


1 Cor 2:16 says that we have the mind of Christ. What does this mean for us? How would our lives be different if we actually believed this?

Correlation July 7, 2010

Posted by TJ Friend in Correlation, OICA.
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Hi everybody. We have finished with Observation and Interpretation and are now moving on to Correlation. Correlation is an important step when you are studying a specific passage of the Bible. This step is where you look at other passages to help get a bigger picture of what is happening in your passage. There are basically two types of passages to consider in this step: parallel passages and quoted passages.

Parallel Passages

There are 66 books in the Bible and over 30 different authors all writing about the same thing. Because of this there is bound to be some overlap in content. Sometimes there are entire sections that are repeated in different places, and other times there are stories or characters that are talked about in other books. One of the best examples of this is in the Gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all wrote about events in the life of Jesus. There is a lot of overlap between these books especially between the first three. When you are reading about an event in Jesus’ life or even one of His sermons or parables it is helpful to look at the same section in the other books. Reading how the other authors dealt with the same story can illuminate the distinct emphasis of the writer of the book you are studying.

Paul wrote a lot of letters to different churches and in the same way, he had similar things to say to some of them. The benefit of the Epistles is that for the most part they have a set structure. You can easily compare the introductory comments between the different letters as well as the prayer that is usually at the beginning of the letters. Paul has certain things to say about different aspects of theology such as salvation, or end times or spiritual gifts, depending on which church he is writing to and what problems they are going through. Comparing these aspects can help you understand what is going on in each church and ultimately understand the letters better.

Quoted Passages

Quoted passages are passages that are quoted either directly or indirectly by other passages. For the most part this is OT verses quoted in the NT, but this can be expanded out to characters being mentioned or stories being referenced. This is the main reason why the OT is so important, because a lot of the NT writings either directly quote the OT or make reference to it in some way or another.

Our Old Testament was the Bible that the New Testament authors had. To help explain what they were writing about they would often quote verses out of the OT. This gave more weight to what they had to say. When a verse from the OT shows up in the NT it is for a reason. It is important to go back and read the original context so that you can see what they were referencing. By understanding what the verse meant in its original context you will gain more insight into your current context.

The NT authors were familiar with the OT and as such, would integrate it into their writings. They often mention OT characters, places and events and assume that the reader is familiar with them. This is why we need to be familiar with the OT. But, even if you are not totally familiar with the OT, you can at least read up on whatever story or passage is referenced in the passage you are studying. For instance, if your passage mentions the creation narrative, then you would want to reread the first few chapters of Genesis. For bigger themes, it might be helpful to have a Bible dictionary, if you don’t have the time to read the entire book of Exodus for instance.

Whatever passage you are studying you should always look for allusions to the OT. The obvious ones are the direct quotations, but there are other things to look for as well. Sometimes verses will be restated in the authors own words or only part of the verse will be quoted. Be on the look out for anything that seems like it might be from the OT. Some of the main themes to look for are Creation, the fall of man, Noah, Abraham’s covenant, deliverance from Egypt, the Law, David’s kingship, and the exile. I would recommend at the very least reading up on these main themes if you are unfamiliar with them.

Whatever you discover from the OT contexts, should not override the context of the passage you are studying. It is only there to add to your understanding of the passage. Do your best to interpret these passages in light of their OT context and then see how the NT author is using them. Usually, the NT author is expounding on the OT idea in some way or another.


The New Testament is extremely important, but unfortunately, some people only use the New Testament and completely overlook the Old Testament. There are even some preachers who only preach from the NT. What are your thoughts on the Old Testament? What can we learn from it?

Interpretation: Summary June 9, 2010

Posted by TJ Friend in Interpretaion, OICA.
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Hello, all. For the past few weeks we have been going through the Interpretation step of OICA (Observe, Interpret, Correlate, Apply). Today, I want to finish up Interpretation, by giving you an overview/summary which you can refer to whenever you are studying a text. For the summary of Observation you can see my previous post here.

Interpretation is a more in depth look at the text. It is in this phase that you use whatever reference tools you have and study different aspects of the text. If you have done a thorough job on Observation and put in the time in Interpretation, you should have a good grasp of what the text is saying. Even if you don’t have all the resources to do each of these steps, you can still do a few of them and doing so will get you to the heart of the text. There are 6 steps to Inerpretation.

1. Genre Analysis

We have already spent a lot of time going over the different genres. Figure out which genre/s your passage fits in and use that information to make sure you are interpreting the passage correctly.

2. Word Studies

Find two or three important words and do a short word study on each of them. After each word study answer the question: How does this help me understand my passage better.

3. Historical/Cultural Studies

For this step find two or three cultural issues to study and find out more about them. It is also in this step that you want to research any geographic issues in your text. Again, after each study ask yourself how it relates to your passage.

4. Discourse Analysis

For discourse analysis try and understand the relationships between each of the propositions. If this is not possible, at least break your passage into two or three main ideas and figure out the relationships between these bigger chunks.

5. Contextualization

For this step read the bigger context of your passage in an effort to figure out what is going on both before and after your text. Without spending too much time read and ry to summarize the sections before and after your text. You don’t need to understand them completely, but just enough to see how your passage fits in to the overall picture.

6. Summary

After you have done these steps you should have a good idea of what your passage is saying. Using what you learned in analyzing the discourse write a paragraph summarizing the main ideas and transitions in the passage. This should help bring everything together so that you can write a ONE sentence summary of the passage. Try and make this sentence as short and simple as possible, without leaving any of the big ideas of the text. If you are having trouble with this go back and look over the discourse some more.


Think of a passage that became more alive after you learned something more about it. What did you learn that helped you understand the passage better?

Interpretation: Discourse Analysis – part 2 June 4, 2010

Posted by TJ Friend in Interpretaion, OICA.
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Hello. Today we are continuing our discussion of Discourse Analysis. Last week was all about finding the propositions. This time I want to talk about “determining the relationships”. Every proposition is related to another one is some way or another. Sometimes the relationship is stated, but a lot of times it is not stated. Before we can get into the details of comparing propositions we need to distinguish between “subordinate” and “coordinate” relationships.

Subordinate vs. Coordinate Relationships

Every proposition is related to another one in some way or another. The most basic way they are related is if they are coordinate or subordinate. Coordinating propositions are on the same level grammatically, while a subordinating conjunction is dependent on another proposition for its meaning. Coordinating propositions are related with the words “and” or “or”. Pretty much any other conjunction (but, so, therefore, when, if, etc.) will be for subordinating propositions. If there is no conjunction you will have to look at the logic to decide if its coordinate or subordinate. If I say: I went to the store and went for a bike ride. These are two coordinating conjunctions. Not only is there an “and” in between them, but they are two separate ideas that are not dependent on each other. But, if the sentence is: I went to the store by riding my bike. This is a subordinate relationship. “by riding my bike” does not make sense alone, it needs to have the first part of the sentence there in order for it to make sense.

Clauses can be connected grammatically or logically. Sometimes, you will have a word that shows how the clauses are related. As I mentioned earlier the words “and” or “or” are grammatical clues that help you see that the clauses are related coordinately.  Subordinate clauses are marked with words like: “but”, “until”, “while”, “by”, “so that”, “in order to”, “because”, “as a result”, etc. These words are not absolutes, but just clues to help you see that you are most likely dealing with a subordinate clause. These are the grammatical clues. But, just because there are no connecting words, does not mean that the clauses are not related. Sometimes they are related logically, with no grammatical clues at all.

Take for example these two sentences:

Michael Jordan is really good at basketball. He would easily beat me in a one-on-one game.

These two sentences are related, but there is no conjunction between them. They could simply be coordinate clauses with no dependent relationship, but the second clause could also be subordinate. If you think about it, you could actually make one big sentence out of these two little ones, and put the word “therefore” in between them. Or you could start the first sentence with the word “because”. Either way the relationship would be more clear with a connecting word. But as they stand you can still see the logical relationship between them. “Because” MJ is so good at basketball, he would win in a game of one-on-one.

It is important to look for these logical relationships, because often there will be no words to help determine the relationship.

Coordinating Relationships

Once you decide if you are dealing with subordinate or coordinate clauses then you can see what type of relationship you are dealing with. Subordinate relationships are far more common and a little more difficult so we will start with the easier coordinating relationships. There are three types of coordinating relationships: Series (S), Progression (P) and Alternative (A). Each category has a letter or symbol which is used to abbreviate it. When you are actually doing Discourse Analysis you can just use the abbreviations.

Series (S) – 2 ideas that are related in a general way. I ate a sandwich and drank a glass of milk.

Progression (P) – 2 ideas that are related and are either building toward something or diminishing into something. The boy ran away from home. He stole a gun and held up a bank.

Alternative (A) – 2 ideas showing different possibilities. I could take a nap or I could clean my room.

Subordinate Relationships

Subordinating relationships are adverbial in nature. They tell when, where, why or how something is done. Therefore it is important to distinguish which clause/idea is the main idea and which one is helping to describe it. This is important because sometimes the main idea comes after the clause that is describing it. As you are going through the process of DA try and make a note of what these main ideas are. They will give you insight into what the passage as a whole is about.

Action-Manner (Ac/Mn) – A statement and the statement about how it was accomplished. I got ready for bed, by putting on my p.j.’s and brushing my teeth.

Comparison (Cf) – A statement that describes the main statement with a comparison. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.

Negative-Positive (-/+) – A statements where one is positive and one is negative. You are dead to sin, but alive in Christ.

Idea-Explanation (Id/Ex) – One idea is given and another idea explains it in more detail. It was a great day, the day I was born.

Question-Answer (Q/A) – A question and an answer. What book are you reading? I am reading the Bible.

Ground (G) – A statement that tells why something is. Mary and Joseph to Jesus to Egypt because Herod was trying to kill him.

Inference (the abbreviation for inference is a triangle of dots, just like the shorthand way of writing the word “therefore”) – A conclusion drawn from a statement. My t.v. is broken therefore I will not be watching it.

Action-Result (Ac/Res) – One action happens and another one results from that action (the second action is not planned). She laughed so hard that she snorted.

Action-Purpose (Ac/Pur) – One action that is designed so that another action will happen. I went to the store to buy some shoes.

Conditional (If/Th) – 2 statements where one is the “if” and one is the “then”. Sometimes the words “if” and “then” are not there, but the relationship is still there. If God is for us, who can be against us?

Temporal (T) – A statement that tells when something else is taking place. They went for a run while it was still light out.

Locative (L) – A statement that tells where something else is happening. I want to be where the people are.

Bilateral (Bi) – This is a statement that serves 2 purposes. It supports what comes before it, and what comes after it. Because I am thirsty, I need some water, so that I do not dehydrate.

Concessive (Csv) –  This is something that happens in spite of something else. Even though it was cold, I went for a walk in the park.

Situation – Response (Sit/Res) – A statement in response to an idea. The people shouted “Surprise” and he fainted.

All of these are just guides to help you figure out what the passage is about. There are different options for how two propositions relate to each other. For each set, go through the options and see what makes the most sense with the context. Once you see how the smaller units fit together, put them together into bigger units and compare those bigger units as if they were single propositions. The goal is to get a big picture idea of what the passage is about and to understand how all the smaller units relate together to make up that bigger idea.

There is a lot more to say on this topic, but there are far better resources out there. If you are really interested in Discourse Analysis I would recommend the book “Interpreting the Pauline Epistles” by Thomas Schreiner, which I used in the formation of this present blog post. More importantly though is the website: www.biblearc.com. This site has videos and other tools which are amazing. Not only can you learn all about arcing there, but you can actually do it there as well. I would highly recommend at least checking out the site.


No reflection. Just go check out the site I just mentioned.

Interpretation: Word Studies pt. 2 March 18, 2010

Posted by TJ Friend in Interpretaion, OICA.
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Hello again. In case you missed it here is the  link to Word Studies part one. Today I will be continuing on with my series on OICA. We just finished the “O” section (Observation) and are moving on with Interpretation. Last week we talked a little bit about word studies and how to do them. Today, I want to go over some of the dangers associated with word studies. My goal is not to scare you away from word studies, but to save you from misusing them. Word studies are an integral part of the exegetical process for without understanding the words of the text you can’t understand the text. Because the Bible was not originally written in English there is some work that needs to be done to understand the words the way the original hearers would have understood them. Because we are so far removed from the original cultures of the Bible we need to be careful not to come at word studies too lightly. To even get a general idea of a word its original language takes a lot of work and patience. Also, we are studying words in a limited context. If we truly wanted to understand the words of the Bible we would have to learn the languages and immerse ourselves not only in the text of the Bible, but all the writings in that language. And even if we did this, we would still have a limited understanding of the language, because it would be entirely literature based. In addition to all this, we are not familiar enough with the culture of the Biblical world to be able to put these words into a social context. Doing a word study is like standing in the fog at night and trying to make out a figure a long way off. And that is only when we do them correctly. Do it wrong and its like trying to make out that same figure only being blindfolded.

1. Don’t do word studies in English

I regret even having to put this here, because it seems so obvious, but unfortunately this is not the case. There are people out there, maybe even pastors, who don’t worry about the Greek or Hebrew at all and do word studies simply by looking them up in a regular dictionary (like Webster’s). The whole point of doing a word study is to understand what the word meant to the original hearers. It is a way to bridge the gap between what a word meant in their language and how we have translated in ours. Just looking at the English words and their definitions tells you nothing about the nuances of meanings in the Greek or Hebrew. And, many times one word in English is used to translate many different words in Greek or Hebrew.

2. Don’t add extra meanings into a text

A lot of words in Greek and Hebrew are versatile in their functions. One word can mean many different things depending on the context. Sometimes these meanings overlap, but often they do not. When studying a word, you will come across different definitions. You can’t simply cram all these definitions into one context and make some sort of super word. Pick out the best definition for your context and leave the rest for their contexts. Sometimes people will see a Greek word and assume it must have all sorts of hidden deeper meanings. Whatever definition you get for a word must be limited by the context. Take the word “anxious” for instance. In the Greek this word can have either a negative or positive connotation. Usually, it is negative and warned against, (as in stressing out about something) but not always. This word can also be translated as concerned for, or caring about. If you tried to put both of those definitions together into one text it would be confusing at best and heresy at worst.

3. Don’t use etymology for your definition

Etymology is the study of words and where they came from. This is a two-part caution: 1. Don’t try and break a word into its parts and derive your defintion from that and 2. Don’t look at what words come from your word as part of your definition.

First #1 – A lot of words come from other words. There is a root word and then with the addition of prefixes or suffixes you can get other words. We see this even in English. A place where you dorm is called a “dormitory”. A place where you labor is a “laboratory”. And a place where you burst forth like lava from a volcano is a lavatory. (Actually this word comes from the root “lavar” – to wash) The important thing to see is that even if words are related you can not mix and match their definitions. Each word needs to be analyzed uniquely.

Second #2 – If your word is the root of other words, don’t input their definitions back into the definition of your word. The classic example of this is the word dunamis. This is the word for power. It is translated basically as “ability”. Our word dynamite comes from this Greek word. Because of this, some people will say that dunamis is “explosive power”. Was the Biblical author thinking about dynamite when he used this word? Probably not, since dynamite is a relatively new invention.

4. Do the work yourself

if you want to know what a word means, research it yourself. In case you missed it you can check out how to do this in my previous blog. First off, you can only get better at word studies by practice and so you should try to do as many as possible. Part of the joy of doing word studies is the stuff you learn as you are doing it. Getting there is half the fun. But, more importantly, we are dealing with the Bible, and we need to take it seriously. It is unwise to base your theology or beliefs on someone else’s work. This can lead to some serious errors. This is especially relevant if you are planning on teaching or preaching. It is fine to verify your findings with others to make sure you are on the right track, but you are doing yourself and others a disservice if you do not put in the work for yourself, but simply try and find someone else’s definition for your word.

A note of hope

Word studies can actually be fun and enlightening. You can learn things about a text that you would not be able to learn without doing a word study. Although, there are some things to watch out for, if you are truly seeking to understand a text and willing to put in the work, you will most likely be fine. It is important to remember that word studies are just a small part of the process and should ultimately lead you toward a better understanding of your passage.


Think of a time when you were  in a service where a ptreacher brought out the nuances of a word in Greek or Hebrew? How did this help your understanding of the passage?

Interpretation: Word Studies pt. 1 March 11, 2010

Posted by TJ Friend in Interpretaion, OICA.
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Hello, again. We have just finished up the Observation section of OICA. Now it is time to move on to Interpretation. In observation the goal is to get a basic idea of the passage. In interpretation we move into figuring out what the passage actually means. Just like in the observation stage there are a few steps to Interpretation. This is the stage where you do more studying and researching different aspects in order to come to a better understanding of what the passage is saying. Today we will be talking about doing word studies.This is one of the big parts of interpretation.

Pick a word

Before you can do a word study, you need a word to study. It would take too much time to do a word study on every word in your passage. It is better to narrow it down to two or three key words. If a word is repeated in the passage it is probably important. Also, look for words that are central to the meaning of the text or words that are unclear. Look for the main action words or nouns that seem to stand out. Some words will be more helpful to understanding the passage than others, and the more word studies you do the easier it will be to pick out the key words.

An overview of the process

Words are defined by their uses. A word in one context can mean something different in another context. The word “run” for instance can refer to a person running or a machine functioning. It can be a river flowing and can even be used idiomatically as a synonym for doing things (running around, running errands). For the most part if you know the context it is easy to tell the specific definition of the word. Basically, what I am saying is that words have more than one meaning depending on how they are used. If you look up a word in the dictionary you will most likely come across multiple definitions for the word. Even if you are reading a book and come across a word you don’t know, if you understand the context of the sentence, you can pick out the correct definition out of the dictionary when you look it up. When I come across a sentence like “The man left his car running in the parking lot” I would not think the car grew legs and was running around in circles.

To understand what a word means you need to look at the different contexts the word is used in and separate it into its different definitions. This same concept applies to word studies in the Bible. The more times the word is used in the Bible the more thorough the word study can be. To do a word study you need to get a large sampling of the verses the word occurs in, study them and categorize them into their separate definitions. Once you have a good idea of what the word means overall, then you can narrow it down to the specific context you are studying. Do not do a word study apart from the verse/passage you are studying. If you don’t have a specific context for the word, you cannot come up with a specific defintion for that word.

Finding the verses

This is where a concorance comes in play. If you have a Strong’s or Young’s concordance it is pretty easy to look it up. Make sure whatever concordance you have that you have a version of the Bible that matches it. If you have a Strong’s then you should have a King James Version of the Bible. It is important to find the exact word used in the passage. Once you find the word in the concordance you can see all the other references to that English word. But, you don’t want the definition of the English word (if that’s all you want you can just look it up in a regular dictionary). What we are looking for is the Greek or Hebrew understanding of the word. To do that you need to differentiate between all the different Greek/Hebrew words that may be translated by the one English word in your passage. The numbers next to each reference are the different Greek/Hebrew words that have been translated by the specific English word. Once you find the word in your verse, you can simply look at the number next to it and then find all the other verses that have the same number. These numbers refer to the Greek/Hebrew words in the back of the concordance.

One important thing to differentiate is the Greek words vs. the Hebrew words. Basically, the words in the OT are in Hebrew, while those in the NT are in Greek. When doing a word study, make sure you do not cross over from OT to NT or vice versa. If your word is in the NT then to find it in the back of the concordance you need to look in the Greek section.

Make a list of all the verses that have your word (the one keyed to the same number in the concordance). If the list is too long you can just look at the occurances within the same genre. If that is still too long, you can look at those which are found in the same book. Do not limit yourself too much though, because it is hard to get a good definition with a smaller sampling of words.

Study the verses

Once you have a good list of the verses your word occurs in you can begin to study them. Make sure you not only read each verse, but the surrounding context to get an idea of what it is saying. Spend some time with each occurance making observations. If you are studying a verb, look at who is doing the action. See what or who is the normal recipient of the action. Is it past, present or future? Is the word usually combined with a specific adjective or noun? If it is an adjective or adverb look for the different words it modifies. Look for any patterns between the verses you can find.Take special note of the first occurance of a word and the frequency of its uses. Is this word used mostly in narratives? Or is it used primarily in the Psalms? If possible physically count how many times it is used overall and how many times it is used in the book of the passage you are studying in comparison to the book it is most often found in. What you want to see is if your passage falls in line with the majority use of the word or if it is a more rare definition.

Categorize the verses

As you are studying the different verses you will begin to see similarities between them. Here is where you want to separate the word into its different definitions. Organize your findings into a few distinct definitions. Each definition should be distinct in some way from the others. Try and make these definitions as short and simple as possible.

Contextualize your findings

Once you have discovered the different possible definitions you should be able to see which one fits with the passage you are studying. Using what you have learned about the word, apply this to your passage. How does this information help you understand the passage better? What new insight does it bring?


The best way to reflect on this is to do it and see what results you get. But I will leave you with a question. I was thinking about babies and mothers. Before a baby can talk it can only cry. How is it that the mother can understand what a baby needs simply by hearing them cry? How can we apply the metaphor of a mother being able to differentiate between her baby’s cries to word studies?

There is a lot more that I need to say on this topic. Stay tuned for part 2 when we get into the errors to avoid when doing word studies.

Observation: Summary February 24, 2010

Posted by TJ Friend in Observation, OICA.
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Hello again. In studying a passage of scripture, observation is the first and most important step. There is so much you can learn about a passage simply by looking at it and making observations. I have already talked about a lot of the things to look for when observing a text, but today I want to bring everything together in a summary of the observation step. I want this post to be a guide to the overall process of observation. Because a lot of these things are in earlier posts I am not going to go into detail about them here.

1. Set the boundaries of your passage

The first step to studying a passage of scripture is defining your pericope. (The pericope is the section of text that contains at least one general unit of thought, such as a paragraph or a chapter). Make sure your passage is long enough that you can get the idea of the text.

2. Read the passage

You should read through the passage at least once (preferably multiple times) to get a general feel for the passage. Don’t try and analyze it or make notes/questions, just read it.

3. Observe the facts

After you have read the passage a few times, go back and read through more carefully looking to discover what is going on. Go through the five “w”‘s.

Who are the characters?

What is going on in the passage?

Where is this taking place?

Why are they doing or saying these things?

When is this happening?

4. Observe the words

Read the passage again looking for the “key words” and “transitional words”. Make note of any words that are repeated or compared/contrasted. Look for the transitions in the text that may help see the flow of the passage. If you see any patterns make note of them. If it helps, make charts or tables to help analyze the words.

5. Observe the genre

What genre are you reading? Are there multiple genres at work? How can the specific characteristics of the genre help you interpret the passage?

6. Observe the historical/cultural issues

Read through the passage looking for things that relate to the history and culture of that time. I made a fairly large list in my previous post, but to summarize: look at the people, professions, objects, rituals, customs, buildings and geography mentioned in the passage. List anything that is different today then back then.

7. Observe the tone

How do you feel when you read this? What do you think the author is feeling as he is writing this? Is it happy or sad? Is it upset or concerned? How can this help us understand the text?

8. Observe the context

Look at what comes before and after your passage. Does the surrounding context shed light on your passage. How does your passage fit into the overall flow of the book.

9. Dissect the passage

Read through the passage taking a specific look at the transitional words and try to establish natural breaks in the text. Remember in the originals the verse, chapter, and paragraph breaks were not there. If it was up to you, where would you put the paragraph breaks. Can you break your passage into smaller units. Where are the logical breaks in the text? Look at these smaller sections and see how they relate to one another.

10. Summarize the passage

Try and come up with a short one sentence summary of your passage. This summary should be simple enough to state the main idea of the passage, but complex enough to incorporate the ideas of the smaller sections of your passage.

11. Additional questions/thoughts

Write down any additional questions you may have about the passage. Is there anything that seems weird or anything you didn’t understand? What words would you want to study further? What Cultural/historical issues would be helpful to know more about?Is there anything interesting that you noticed as you were reading?

Going through this process will give you a pretty good idea of what a passage is about. It does take time though to get the full benefits. Don’t rush through this step. Not every passage will enable you to go through all 11 of these steps, so don’t worry if there are some questions you can’t answer. The goal is to understand the passage as a whole. Don’t get so caught up in the details that you miss the big picture.


The only way to truly understand these concepts is to apply them. Find a passage that interests you and go through these steps. Give yourself no less then one hour to go through this process. If you finish early, go back through and read the passage again looking for more stuff. Make sure you are writing down everything you are observing.

Words: They are Important February 3, 2010

Posted by TJ Friend in Observation, OICA.
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Hello again. Today I would like to talk about words. As you can tell from the title, they are important. Because the Bible, like most other books, is made up of words, we should spend time talking about them. Up to this point I have been talking about the importance of reading paragraphs and large units of text in order to study the Bible. Now, I want dive into more of the specifics of what to look for when you are studying that paragraph/section. Sometimes you need to study the small details in order to understand the bigger picture. Our goal though is not to stop at the small details, but to use the information we gain from them to get to the big idea of the passage. In my previous post I talked about OICA as a method for exegesetical study. I would like to use this post to begin a section on the “O” part of that, or observation. Observation is all about asking questions and noticing things. The first thing I look for in a passage is the word usage. You can learn a lot about the flow of the passage and what it is about just by looking at the words. I am dividing this post into two types of words. As you read you will want to find the “key” words and the “transitional” words. Noting these two things will be invaluable in understanding the text.

Key Words

Key words are words that the author is trying to emphasize. These are usually repeated or play a big part in your pericope. One key word in 1 Cor. 13 is “love”. Seeing these repeated words can help tie passages together. The end of 1 Cor. 12 (27-31) talks about Spiritual gifts. Verse 27 mentions the “body”. Although this word is only used once in this passage it is a key word because it sets the analogy that the whole paragraph centers around. And it helps tie the passage together with the previous section (12-26) where the word “body” is used many times. After analyzing the connection between these two sections you can see that the author is first of all describing the relationship between the body and its parts and then using that as an example of how the different gifts work together in the Church. Finding these key words can be helpful for finding the main themes in an entire book also. Even a brief reading of Proverbs will show that there is a contrast between the wise man and the foolish man.

Transitional Words

Key words will help you see what a passage is about, but key words will help you see how the thought progresses. Transitional words are the signals and signs throughout a passage that show you how it is organized and where it is going. Transitional words are the connecting words between clauses, sentences and even paragraphs. We need to define a few words here:

Clause – a single thought with a subject and a verbal idea (usually these also have a direct object)

Independent Clause – a clause that can stand on its own as a complete thought ex. The boy went to the store.

Dependent Clause – a clause that explains an independent clause (can not stand on its own as a complete thought) ex. after he ate breakfast

Sentence – the combination of all clauses that make up one complete thought ex. The boy went to the store after he ate breakfast.

Conjuction – a word or phrase that connects clauses together ex. and, but, or, yet, therefore, now, then, in order that, so that, because

Dependent clauses are important because these are the transitions in the sentences. There are two types of conjuctions: conjuctions that combine two independent clauses and conjuctions that combine a dependent clause to its independent clause. Whenever you find a dependent clause look for its relationship to the independent clause. How does it help explain the main clause? These conjuctions are the words you want to look for as transitional words. There are more, but these will give you a good idea of what they look like and how they function. We will get into basic diagramming in a later post, but for now, just find the conjuctions that seem the most important. When these words are at the beginning of a sentence or paragraph they show the transition from the previous idea.

Coming back to 1 Cor. 13, the last verse is “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” There are two transitional words in this verse: “and now” and “but”. The word “and” between hope and love is a conjuction, but it doesn’t combine clauses. The “and now” is a summary clause that helps us see the point the author was going for, namely that love is eternal and is the greatest thing you can aspire to. The word “but” in the verse shows the comparison between the two clauses. There may be 3 things that remain, but they are not all equal. Love is the greatest out of the three.


In this initial observation stage there are many things to look for. Looking at both the key words and the transitional words will help you, not only get to the meaning of the text, but also see how it ties in to the surrounding context. As you look for key words, keep an eye out in the surrounding contexts to see if you can tie them together through repetition of those words. As you look for transitional words look for the comparisons between independent clauses first and then see if there are any dependent clauses that seem important to the flow of the text.


Gal. 5:22-26 is about living in the Spirit. How does the transitional word help us tie this passage back to the previous paragraph? Looking at the key words where would you say this entire section begins? (which verse?) Just from that information, initially what do you think this passage is about?