When you open the Bible, do you expect the Holy Spirit to speak? His job is to guide us as we read the Word. For many years I struggled to read my Bible and no one ever taught me to invite the Holy Spirit to speak to me while reading Scripture. I once heard a lecture from Dr. Wayne Grudem, author of Systematic Theology, and professor at Phoenix Seminary outlining 6 steps for approaching any passage of Scripture. I have found this filter to be extremely effective in protecting me from misunderstanding and misapplying Scripture and inviting the Holy Spirit to speak to me.
Dr. Grudem taught us this acronym: A Careful Method Reveals Truth Always. Let’s break that down together.
A stands for author.
In my monthly theology seminars with Dr. Joel Mudamalle in preparation to write for Proverbs 31 Ministries, he said something that stuck with me:
The foundational step toward approaching scripture is to recognize that my world view is not the same as the biblical writer’s worldview. So we must read the text in the culture and climate that the original audience heard it and understood it. We must ask ourselves:
What did the text mean first for them?
And secondly therefore what it ought to mean for me….
What is the Biblical author getting at while acknowledging there is a Divine Author behind it?
Careful stands for Context
Imagine I say, “I love you so much! If I can’t see you everyday, I feel like I might die!”
How do these three contexts change the meaning of those sentences?
To my daughter leaving for college- I will miss you.
For my husband in a Valentine’s card- I’m forever committed to you.
To my coworker as a married woman- well, let’s just not even go there.
The words in all 3 scenarios are the exact same, BUT the context drastically changes their purpose and meaning.
Context- also includes culture, religious situation, political situation, who the audience is.
Method is for Meaning
Is it expressive poetry, a doctrinal assertion, a historical fact, a struggle to understand, a story to emphasize a point? Is it a PERSONAL letter, a prophecy to a particular group of people. What is the meaning of the text?
Would you read a Superman comic book and stand on the third box in the top right hand corner and claim this is the complete answer to the meaning of life? A comprehensive and complete definition of justice? So also, not everything we read in the Bible is meant to be molded into a personal promise or a doctrinal hill to die on. For instance, some Psalms are poetic cries for justice. Calling God to rain down judgment on other people isn’t meant to be a model for how we deal with interpersonal relationships.
Reveals is for Rest of the Bible
The Bible includes REVELATION spanning over 6 millennia- what Abraham understood about God was VASTLY different from what Paul understood about God. During the time of the Old Testament patriarchs we see the Bible discuss the existence of many gods, but as the time of the prophets unfolded we see the people of Israel realize there is only one God.
The patriarchs did not understand God’s omnipresence the way Jesus promises it to His disciples.
In the Old Testament we see an understanding of God in light of a retributional theology- the idea that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. But in the New Testament we gain a greater understanding of grace where we begin to see that all people are bad people, but God still does good things for us. (Compare Job vs Revelation).
Truth is for Theology
The Bible is a book about God. Yes, it teaches us fundamental principles about humanity and God’s intended ethos of His creatures, but first and foremost we read the Bible to understand and connect with God.
Not for answers to our prayers or problems- although God will speak to us through His Word. But we primarily read Scripture to have relationship with Him.
Imagine a dating relationship- you go out, spend time in varying situations, you get to understand the person’s heart. If every time you went out on a date the other person only talked about themselves and never asked about you, how long would the relationship last? When we open the Scriptures constantly asking God to listen to our situations and ourselves, we miss the point. Would you date someone like that? Don’t be like that with God. Allow Him to reveal His heart to you in the same way you long to tell Him about the burdens you carry.
Always is for Application
This final step, in which the Holy Spirit speaks something personal for you to believe or to behave, must be filtered through all these lenses. God does not speak anything contrary to His Word- ever. You won’t be the one exception. He is the eternal self-existent one- YAHWEH- the God who creates and enters into relationship with His creation
Here is a quick test: If it’s something true, your application probably is not new.
If you feel like you’ve uncovered something brand new, it’s probably not true.
God has revealed Himself through His Word for millennia. He isn’t holding out on some spiritual secret He hasn’t revealed yet. Yes, you will always learn new things, but chances are someone else, some wise theologian who has devoted his life to the study of the Scriptures, has already discovered those truths in their own study.
One Last Warning
You also need to understand the camps of theology different commentators fall into.
You need to know that certain commentaries have certain aims just like every other author. Commentaries are written with theological bias JUST like any author. They approach the text from their own perspective and perceptions. So studying on our own entails learning about a wide variety of resources and how to appropriately use them. When in doubt about a resource, ask your pastor.
Because I find these filters so helpful, I always include a free resource outlining these interpretive
steps for each of my studies. You can find the Deeper Discoveries Booklet for the Book of Acts here:
Another free resource I highly recommend is The Bible Project. You can get a short recap online wa
lking through these six filters for any book of the Bible.
Have You Heard of Ignite Influence?
Do you desire to become more confident in your reading and teaching of Scripture? I’d challenge you to go to myonlyaim.com, and check out our upcoming Ignite Influence Course starting this fall. I teach each of these hermeneutical principles in greater depth throughout the ten week discipleship community. By the end you’ll be writing your own devotional with guidance from myself and your cohort leader!
Erica Wiggenhorn loves to bring the Truth of Scripture to transform your life. An international speaker and multi-published author, she often claims, “Jesus saved me from my sins but the Bible saved me from myself!”. A die hard dog lover, book devourer, coffee drinker and horribly off-key singer, Erica is the mom of two teens, two dogs, and one horse and married to her favorite husband.