SDA Sabbath School Lessons
January 20, 1996
#3 Learning to Interpret the Bible Text
Read for this week's study:
Memory text: 2 Timothy 2:15
To know the will of God for their lives and to be equipped for service,
Christians must spend time studying their Bibles. The challenge is to
interpret correctly a text that was written so long ago in the "then
and there" and to see its relevance to the "here and now"
Why Do I Neet to Know How to Study?
Whey you open your Bible, you are immediately struck with the varied styles
in which God's written revelation is presented. There are history lessons
and poetry, laws and psalms, gospels and epistles (letters), direct teaching
and hundreds of illustrations. The Bible comes to us through the various
forms (genres) chosen by the inspired writers to frame God's messages to us.
To understand Scripture, we must spend time sorting out the styles in which
God's counsel to us is presented. For example, we need to know how we can
understand a piece of poetry, a psalm, or a message of praise directed
to God by a writer in antiquity. We need to understand how the
cultural circumstances in which the Bible authors wrote are reflected in the
language and images they used to express God's thoughts. We will be rewarded
as we recognize the relevance for us of truth written so long ago.
Friday Jan. 19: Review and further study.
- Sunday Jan. 14: Learning what the text says. Luke 18:18-27
- Read Luke 18:18-27
and answer the following logical questions:
- What question does the ruler ask?
- What answers does Jesus give?
- What does Jesus mean when He says, "How hard it is for the rich to enter
the Kingdom of god! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye
of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" (Luke 18:24,25, NIV)?
- List three other questions you would like to ask the text for today's
study. Make sure you ask questions about the context and the
content of the passage.
- Monday Jan. 15: The historic setting of a passage. 1 Samuel 8:1-9
- Historical information helps us to understand what the text said to those
who read it. What do you think it would have been like living without a king
in the time of the prophets?
- Tuesday Jan. 16: Learning how to ask the right questions. 1 Corinthians 2:14-3:4
- After reading the text, write out two questions, the answers to which
would help you understand the passage.
- Here are some suggested questions about the passage that, when answered,
will help you to understand it:
- To what four types of people does Paul introduce us in this passage?
- What kind of understanding is "spiritual" understanding?
- Can infants in Christ instantly become spiritual by asking the Spirit
to fill them? What of the "solid" food that is required of
- Can we be spiritually disabled? If so, how?
- Wednesday Jan. 17: Learning to use the immediate context. John 3:1-21
- Using John 3 as the basis for your study today, ask the following
contextual questions about the passage. If you don't know the answers, use
one of your favorite reference tools to help you understand:
- What was the occasion of the study?
- Who was the man coming to Jesus at night? What did he think of Jesus?
What questions did he ask, and why did he want to know the answers? What
were his concerns? What was he failing to recoginize?
- What attitude did Jesus show toward the questioner?
- What are the logical sections in the story?
- What is the main point of the story? (John 3:16). Why is this an answer
to the question of new birth?
- Some principles that help us to understand the "context" of a
Bible passage are as follows:
- Always try to discover what the historical and cultural setting of the
- Learn to think in paragraphs. These are natural units of thought. You
need to understand the context of the paragraph and why this particular thing
is said at this particular time and place.
- See whether the context supports your understanding of the passage.
- Notice the literary style of the passage--poetry, history, psalm, parable,
prophecy, etc. How does this help your understanding of the passage?
- Exercise in context: read Romans 10:4 in various translations. How does
the context (Romans. 9:30-10:10) help us to understand the passage?
- Thursday Jan. 18: Tools for Bible study. 1 Samuel 8:16 & 1 Corinthians 11:29
If you have them available, use a number of translations to compare
important Bible passages, such as
John 3:16, and
and the two texts listed above. We suggest that English readers use the
New International Version (NIV), the Revised Standard Version (RSV),
the King James Version (KJV), and the New King James Version (NKJV) as
examples. Note that the message is clearer in some translations than in
Discuss the relative benefits o fusing a newer translation. Note that
scholarship often has improved over the years and that more modern Bibles
contain more accurate information based on historical and archaelogical
Some rules for selecting a good translation:
- Pick a translation rather than a paraphrase.
- Avoid translations that present a prejudiced viewpoint.
- Try to use a version prepared by a committee.
- Try to use a Bible that involves the latest scholarship.j
- Use a Bible that nurtures your spiritual life.
- How can the cultural issues of the first century (i.e., political groups,
Sabbath laws, rabbinical practices, etc.) influence one's understanding
of a text?
- How does understanding the geography of the Bible times improve our
understanding of a text?
- What was going on in Corinth that caused Paul to write to the church in
this city? What was going on in Rome that led Paul to write the Epistle
to the Romans? How does knowing these things enhance our understanding of
Paul's letters to Corinth and Rome?
- Why do God's messages to first-century Christians have definite
relevance to you?
A contextual approach to Bible passages we are endeavoring to understand
involves: (1) seeking an understanding of the cultural setting in which
the passage was written; (2) considering thelarger context of the passage
within the book in which it occurs; (3) determinig the true meaning of a
passage in its immediate context; (4) learning something of the mood of a
passage or a book. By thinking about the context of a passage under study,
we catch a glimpse of the feelings and motivations of the biblical
authors or characters.
Coded by Dave Albrecht.
Last updated on January 8, 1996.