As a pastor/teacher one of the sad things for me is the sheer lack of biblical literacy in today’s Church. In fact, it would be true to say that this even persists among those that have grown up in Christian homes, become Christians at a young age, have attended services for a number of years, have been educated in Bible Colleges, who preach and even carry senior leadership positions in congregations of vast influence. This is made worse by the fact that the Word of God, particularly in its preached form, is the primary means by which a person is saved and sanctified. Therefore, this short help is not given as a way to discourage the use of books and video curriculum in our home groups, or to produce preachers and teachers that sound like me, but that the Word of God may prevail; for, as the Pentecostal pioneer Smith Wigglesworth prophesied,: “when the Word of God was wedded to the Spirit of God we would see the greatest revival that the world has ever known”.
Coupled with prayer, when approaching the Bible, these 6 questions must be asked:
Q1. What does it say? Here you are looking at taking a text and placing it into your own words. You must stay as close as you can to the original meaning. Please remember the text can be as long or as short as you want. Normally though, the longer the text the more difficult it can become.
Q2. What does it mean? Since there is no truth outside of context, here you are required to look at the immediate and general context. If this is unfruitful, or if it is a particularly difficult or controversial text, you must go further afield, beginning nearest the text and working outward (ie. immediate context, general context, book, all books by this author, all books of this genre, the testament and the whole Bible). Please remember that the Bible often presents truth in tension and therefore we are not permitted to hold firm to the texts that validate our opinion and ignore the ones that don’t. We hold these together in paradoxical tension.
For Further Study: Here you might want to consult concordances or notes (found in Study Bibles), Commentaries, Topical Bibles, Bible Dictionaries, systematic theology, looking at words in the original language or sermons from reputable sources.
Q3. What might be the objections? Since Christianity is a reasonable faith it is able to stand up against doubts and objections. Identify some of these and then try and answer them; this is invaluable for preaching and teaching but particularly for mission.
For Further Study: Whilst all that is needed can be found within the Scriptures, added to the above resources a beginners guide to apologetics might be useful. These books basically answer difficult questions on topics and texts. I would also add, for the more seasoned theologians, a perusal of atheistic literature and the rebuttal from Christian apologists. I normally ask myself how would this sound to Joe average in the pub, a theologically astute convert of the contrary opinion and the highly educated and biblically literate sceptic. Note to reader: these are not real people but personifying them can be extremely helpful.
Q4. What does it teach about God? Scripture is the self-revelation of God and therefore teaches explicitly and implicitly about Him. This does not mean that we see what is not there, like reading New Testament theology into Old Testament texts, but it means that even though it might not teach about God per se, the text might illustrate Him. So, David’s victory over Goliath is not about Christ but could serve as an illustration, in the same way that Samson’s sacrifice helps illustrate Christ’s. Also the “us” used in Genesis 1:26 cannot be the Trinity (in its original use) because the author and his audience knew nothing of the Trinity nor is this mentioned by any of the New Testament authors. Nonetheless, in light of the whole counsel of God it serves as a good illustration even though it is not straight from the text and therefore would not be neither authoritative nor convincing to an informed non-Trinitarian.
If this is done within preaching, the audience must be made aware of this fact or they will either see your preaching as non-biblical, as it places your imagination over the text, or identify you as someone of great mystical power who is able to see what nobody else (including any of the biblical authors) can see. The early Church had a name for this, Gnosticism; which was a great heresy. We, however, can only reinterpret texts or add additional meaning if another biblical author does so. For an example compare Genesis 19:1-29 and Ezekiel 16:49-50.
Q5. What does it teach about man? Since the Bible has been given to man by God we can find within its pages man’s origin, man’s destiny and what God requires of man.
Q6. What are the implications? We are called to be doers of the Word and not just hearers and therefore, in light of your findings, what are the implications or practical applications in your personal life, family, work or Church? What might help here is what preachers in the Black Preaching tradition call “experiential exegesis.” The process in which we find out the meaning of the text is called exegesis. However, if we place ourselves in the text and look through the eyes of the characters and record how they might feel, or if we take a concrete situation like a person suffering from terminal cancer or a Church suffering from the loss of a key leader, how would they experience the text and how can the Good News of text address their situation. This is “experiential exegesis” and is a useful process in allowing God to speak from the text.
[One paradigm that you might find helpful is the one found in 2 Timothy 3:16 – seeing what truth the passage might “teach,” or how it might “rebuke,” “correct,” and/or “train in righteousness.” It would also be helpful here to pray through the text. The reason this is not included in my exsample is because this was added at a later date.]
Here is an example:
Q.1 What does it say? “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” 1 John 1:7c NKJV
It says that sin can be washed away by Jesus who is God’s Son.
Q2. What does it mean? Well, it appears to mean that the Christian can be free of all sin, and so I have heard it preached, but when we begin to look at the immediate context we find that in the next verse it says “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us”. So I begin to look at the general context and I read everything before or after it that seems to relate. Here is an outline I got online.
- Introduction: The Reality of the Incarnation (1:1-4)
- The Christian Life as Fellowship with the Father and the Son (1:5;2:28)
- Ethical Tests of Fellowship (1:5;2:11)
- Two Digressions (2:12-17)
- Christological Test of Fellowship (2:18-28)
- The Christian Life as Divine Sonship (2:29;4:6)
- Christological Tests of Sonship (4:1-6)
- The Christian Life as an Integration of the Ethical and the Christological (4:7;5:12)
- The Christological Test (5:6-12)
- Conclusion: Great Christian Certainties (5:13-21)
From this I notice that everything seems to relate to the topic. Gladly this is not always the case (for example, if you were looking at creation you would only need to look at Genesis 1-3), so I read the book and I see that it is written so that people might test their faith and be sure that it is genuine – this seems to concur with the introduction in my study bible. I can therefore conclude that Christ frees us from the penalty of sin but the power of sin will not be fully broken until we die or He returns.
Further Study: I identify the topics within my text. This relates to sin, salvation, the Gospel, the cross and sanctification. I then read the other passages in my topical Bible and confirm my findings through a systematic theology, sermons from reputable preachers and my commentaries.
Q3. What might be the objections?
- As a Free Methodist you may have been taught doctrines like sinlessness, entire sanctification and Christian perfection. So, how do you reconcile them here?
- Biblically speaking, we must wed together the Christian perfection teaching with the fallenness of man. This means we arrive at a position that shows Christ has purchased entire sanctification and we must strive for Christian perfection, but in a fallen world, and wrestling with a fallen nature, this will not be a reality.
- Does this kind of teaching not produce legalism?
- In some groups guilt and condemnation are the order of the day but the Gospel is based upon a new heart and a new Spirit in a new community saturated with God’s grace. Gospel holiness, therefore, moves from “have to” to “want to.”
- How can Christ be a real man with real blood if it has the power to do this?
- Christ was like us in every way, yet without sin. His blood was human but was taken by God as the payment for our sin and the absorption of His wrath.
*Of course we could look at countless questions here, like how can someone know if they’re cleansed from all sin, is it not proud to be assured etc, but these are just examples.
Q4. What does it teach about God? It teaches that God has the power to forgive all sins.
Q5. What does it teach about man? Well, since the verse is followed by a verse that says “iif we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us”, it shows us that man has a problem with sin and that the blood of Jesus is the answer. This problem not only separates us from God but from one another so the text is preceded by a verse that says “if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another.” This shows that Christ’s sacrifice helps overcome not only the sins we have committed, or the sins that we are capable of, but also the sins that have been committed against us. In short, man is riddled with sin and the potentiality of sin, which ruptures His relationship with God, with others and, if we read it in light of the whole Bible, with creation and with ourselves (Genesis 3).
Q6. What are the implications? There are many so I will just give a few:
- Man is sinful and prone to sinfulness and, therefore, we must be wise when dealing with others and with ourselves. Do not be fooled into thinking that you are not capable of great evil; ALWAYS put safeguards in place.
- Since Christ dealt with “all sin,” which includes the sins that have been committed against you, this means that you can move on from bad experiences and not let them dictate who you are or how you feel. The universality of sin helps show that, in some ways, you have to bear some responsibility too. I was always told that, when conducting marriage counselling, to remember that regardless of the issue and whilst it may be disproportionate in its effect, both parties contribute to a breakdown in marriage even if one person is guiltier than another.
- As an agent for Christ I am compelled to raise my concerns against injustice within the workplace. I know that this might require me to be covert and blow the whistle on illegal and immoral practices, but if Christ cleanses from sin am I not to do my part in eradicating it in my life, family, workplace and world?
While so much more could be said, these 6 questions should be able to help guide your sermon preparation, your home groups or your personal devotions. I have found they have been able to transform my life and I pray that they would do the same for you.
[postscript] I would like to add that one resource I have found helpful is www.freebiblecommentary.org – it’s a little dated but it contains PDF, audio and 30 minute video commentaries through much of the bible and has been personally invaluable for me.
 Romans 10:14-17, 2 Timothy 3:16 (most people were illiterate so Paul’s charge to Timothy and this verse come before a passage on preaching 2 Timothy 4:1-2).
 Prophesied in 1947.
 Therefore, if you are speaking to an atheist or non-Trinitarian who has been trained in reading the bible look at other texts but use this as an illustration or they could easily pick your argument apart.
 The text also deals with Christ’s Sonship but I do not have the time to deal with this.
 For sermon preparation I would add illustrations or examples to each of these questions.