The Priscilla Principle
Steps to Effective Bible Study
Defined and Explained
Copyright 2014 Tricia Johnson
The Priscilla Principle
All Rights Reserved
This seems obvious. Of course one will read the text! But, I have to include this as a step of Bible study because I have seen many people skip the reading of the text and go right into interpretation. I’ve also heard preachers skip the reading of the Word and go right into preaching! Yikes!
Reading the text sets the tone for your study. When studying alone, I sometimes read the text silently, then I read it again, aloud. I just simply read the text as my starting point. If I don't comprehend, I read it again. If it seems incomplete, I read the verses or chapter before and after to get the full context.
For this reason, I generally like to study through a book of the Bible, rather than do topical studies. Topical studies aren't bad, but they actually take more time and effort since the references might hop around and context has to be established for each one. When topical studies are done without establishing context for each passage used, it easily, and quite quickly, leads to misinterpretation. Misinterpretation is a very small step away from false teaching.
Back to point: Read the text. Do not skip this step. Read it once, read it aloud, read it again, read it 10 times. The importance of reading the text cannot be emphasized enough. If all you do in a single study session is read the text 10 times, it is truly enough to get started.
When our son was deployed to Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom, we cherished each and every one of his letters. Life in our house would literally stop as we all gathered to read his latest letter. We wanted to read every word, try to figure out how he felt, piece together where he was and look for signs of hope and comfort.
When the rest of the family would scatter back to whatever they were doing after I read the letter, I would sit down and pour over every detail of each letter. I would notice if his handwriting seemed rushed, if he had put a hidden message in there just for me, etc. I scoured over every detail, down to the last dotted I or crossed T.
Just as I would not let one tiny fraction of his letters past my observations, so I am inclined to read God’s Word. I want to know every single thing God has told us in His Word. If someone had read my son’s letters to me, I would still want to read them myself and see each word with my own eyes.
This is why I take my Bible to church; I want to see with my own eyes what the pastor is preaching.
Read the text. Read every detail. Then read it again.
Observe what the text says. Practice simple observation, like a scientist observing the behavior of wildlife.
Observe without speculation. Don't make speculations about what you are reading, just observe what it says.
Write down what you observe. It might be as simple as stating a destination, or naming a person in a greeting. It doesn't matter how trivial it may seem to you, it's still God's Word and has all the power as the rest of His Word. So, write it down.
Thinking that part of the Word is less significant than another part is speculation, and speculation on the Word has no place in real Bible study.
The importance of observation without speculation cannot be emphasized enough. Everyone comes to the Scriptures with preconceived ideas of what a certain passage means or says. Clear observation can cut through those ideas, leaving just the facts.
An example of this is Mary Magdalene. For years, I was under the impression that she was a prostitute. I’d heard preachers (not my husband) say that she was and they seemed to speak with authority. One day I looked it up. I was very surprised to learn that there is no Biblical evidence that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute at all!
I did learn, however that seven devils went out of her at one point (Luke 8:2), she was at the cross with Jesus’ mother (John 19:25), she was the first to see Jesus alive after He rose from the dead, and was the first person to tell the good news of His resurrection to others (John 20:16), and there are more references to her. Read Matthew 27:56, 61; 28:1, Mark 15:40, 47; 16:1-19; Luke 24:10, and John 20:1-18 and observe.
She was not a prostitute.
The Bible does not say she was a prostitute.
To say she was a prostitute is to speculate on things the Bible does not say.
Some simple observation questions that can help you focus are:
Who wrote this passage/book?
When was this written?
Where is the author at the time of writing?
Are they male or female?
To whom did they address their writing?
Who is talking?
What event is being recorded?
Is this event recorded elsewhere in Scripture?
Who else recorded this event?
What other book is it recorded in?
Add your own questions to this list.
There is no wrong or out of place question.
The interpretation part of Bible study is more involved than reading and making observations. But, there are steps you can take that will boost your confidence in interpretation.
I'll outline these steps in their simplistic form here. Following these steps will lead to proper interpretation. This list is not comprehensive, however, but is a good start.
2. Grammar is important. Pay attention to grammar.
3. Use a Bible dictionary, not a regular dictionary, when looking up words.
4. Learn to use a concordance.
5. Learn to use a lexicon.
6. Take your time; interpretation can't be rushed.
Something that really helps with interpretation is remembering that the Bible is not a dictionary or encyclopedia, but a narrative. It is the story of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Just as we would not take someone’s letter and take a paragraph here or there without considering the person’s location, relationship to us, reason for writing, etc., we should not approach the Bible as though each book and/or verse stands alone.
The prayer aspect of Bible study can't be overlooked. I know some people use application as the next step, and don’t list prayer as a step of Bible study at all. I find application too diverse to use as a step in Bible study. We simply can't apply the Bible to someone's life, not even our own; that is the work of the Holy Spirit.
Prayer is very personal and private. The Bible gives some clear guidelines and marvelous examples of prayer that we can learn. John 17 is the best prayer.
Once I study a passage of Scripture, prayer is forthcoming. Prayer is a natural outcome of Bible study; this is no mystery. My prayer is first and foremost gratitude. I'm very genuinely thankful for the opportunity to study, for what I am able to learn, that I can access the Most High God without a barrier or earthly mediator.
What comes after gratitude is usually meditation on the passage I've studied. For me, this is not done in a quiet room with no interruptions. I am the mom of eight kids; there is no such reality for me. My meditation comes throughout the day.....in the shower....or while cooking....while folding laundry ....while driving.....while going about my life and raising my kids.
I also pray from a list, which changes daily depending on needs.
The private aspect of prayer seems lost to some degree due to social media. Resist the urge to advertise your prayer life in any way. Closet prayers are instructed, as we see in Matthew 6:6, “But when you pray, enter into your closet , and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father in secret: and your Father which sees in secret will reward you openly.” That’s pretty clear instruction from the Savior, Himself! Don’t let social media lure you into thinking otherwise.
Today, more than ever before, the average person in the pew has unlimited access to very high quality study tools for their Bible study. The internet offers a plethora of information, including detailed lexicon and concordance information. The average person, male or female, young or old, can access these study tools and enhance their learning of the Scriptures every single day.
In-depth Bible study is not just for pastors and missionaries. It is for everyone at all times. Never let someone intimidate you about Bible study by suggesting they know more because of a degree or higher education. The exact same Holy Spirit indwells each and every believer. No one has more of the Holy Spirit than another person; no one has more access to understanding than anyone else.
Never, ever hesitate to question someone who is teaching the Scriptures. God has given us all a personal responsibility to make sure what we are taught, and what is taught in our churches, is Truth. Question your pastor. Question the youth leader. Question every Bible teacher you come across. If they balk at your questions, they are responding unbiblically. If they assert their opinion about the Scriptures, they are not a humble teacher. A Bible teacher worthy of their calling will not only welcome questions, but invite them, and be ready with an answer to any question they are asked.
You can do this. Over time, in-depth Bible study will develop discernment in you, which will enable you to spot false teaching, teachers who try to intimidate and those who would attempt to teach His Word by spouting their opinions rather than the Truth within the pages of His Word. It will also help you recognize Truth.
Philippians 1:9 tells us that Paul prayed for the Philippians’ “love to abound more and more in knowledge and in all discernment.” He went on, in verses 10 – 11 to expound further. Read it and see. God did not encourage us to deeper study without His Spirit, the all-powerful Spirit of All-Mighty God, to guide us. Study with confidence. Dig deep with passion.
If you have access to Bible study software, get it and don’t be intimidated by it on any level. My personal favorite is Logos and I have found it to be very user friendly. Software is pretty much all the same, so once you learn one program, you can figure out any program easily.
I encourage you to take no one’s word for what the Bible says; look it up for yourself. Take God’s Word for what He says, not what someone else says about His Word.
When I talk about study tools, I am not talking about commentaries. Commentaries are not Bible studies. Commentaries are simply another person’s thoughts on the Bible. They are another person’s study. I know some people who heavily rely on commentaries for Bible study, and even use them as teaching tools. This is a mistake. While some commentaries might come in handy at some point just to see how someone else reached a conclusion about a certain passage of Scripture, they are not to be relied on as a viable Bible study tool. A commentary is another person’s opinion.
You would be better off just reading the Scriptures with no study tools whatsoever than to rely on a commentary for Bible study.
Let nothing come between you and your Savior as you study His Word.
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