How Can I Get More Out of my Bible Study: Research for Context

It is significant that Paul proclaimed the whole counsel of God, recognizing that everything written in the past was written to still teach us today (Acts 20:27). This was so that through endurance and encouragement of the Scriptures, we might have hope. He also noted that Israel’s history contains examples that were written as warnings to us. The entirety of the Bible has value for all of us. With careful attention, we can glean important truths from every word it contains.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Ti 2:15). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Have you ever heard of doing research as a part of Bible study? Do you know what it means, and why it is important? As you research particular contexts, your findings will flow into every area of your study. Context refers to circumstances that form the setting for an event, a statement or a written text, by which that event, statement, or text can be rightly understood. Understanding context is important for all kinds of communication. Biblical text is no different. The key to constructive Bible reading and study is context. There’s a lot packed into that little word, context, that we will dissect. You will want to take notes.

tools can help us understand the various contexts of the Bible.

The Bible records the history and theology of God’s people. The meaning of an event or word is affected by its place within the context of a whole culture and way of life. A text needs to be understood not only in its immediate context, but also in its wider context, which is the whole Bible. The events of that history are presented not purely as human activity but also as the activity of God, who is at work in them to save.

This is the point where you will want to gather your resources. In my opinion, a good study Bible is invaluable in Bible study. With a study Bible, you have the biblical text, study notes, a small concordance, and maps at your fingertips. My preference is the ESV Study Bible. Ideally, I would recommend two or more versions of the Bible, a Bible atlas, an illustrated Bible handbook or Bible dictionary, and a good commentary. My two favorite commentaries are ESV Expository Commentary and Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary. In addition, a concordance will have an alphabetical list of words and phrases commonly used in Scripture. A good concordance (such as Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance) will give some context for each occurrence of the words. The resources available to aid your Bible study are plentiful, but I encourage women to be selective because there is a great deal of cost involved. I will share with you that my Bible software has enabled me to use digital resources that can typically be purchased as a package at a lesser rate.

Determine literary context.

When considering literary context, we are considering that any verse is a part of the paragraph which is a part of a chapter, which is part of the section that is a part of book…Ultimately the context is in relation to the entire Bible. A verse should not be disconnected from its surrounding context. Literary context sums up how a biblical passage fits and works. Proper context pulls in and makes use of what is seen and known about not just the specific passage, but the Bible as a whole.

Determine historical context.

When taking into account historical context, we ask ourselves, “When is this text taking place?” We must survey where the text fits in all of history. We explore what else was taking place, what influences were on the writer and those to whom he was writing. Historical context has to do with real historical events, both in the Bible and otherwise recorded, that form the backdrop for the biblical story.

Determine geographical context.

Geographical context assesses terrain, topographic features of the region, weather, and distance for travel. Examine geography enough to determine which routes would be used for travel and what the location was known for. You can gain depth in context from knowing the size and layout of the city. A good Bible Atlas is helpful in understanding geographic context. The reader should ask, What was this location known for? What was the terrain and was it unique in any way? What was the distance from one designated place to another?

Determine cultural context.

The Bible is the written Word of God, but it is also an ancient book about people and cultures very different from us. From geographical and historical context, you can settle cultural context. This includes the original cultural circumstances that gave rise to the book, as well as the cultural norms of the time. We will inevitably come to a text with cultural presuppositions. Therefore, determining the cultural context in which the text was written becomes a helpful measure toward full understanding Bible study. Nevertheless, remember truth remains true regardless of the cultural context. “Culture has to do with attitudes, patterns of behavior, or expressions of a particular society; and these are aspects of the ancient world that have an impact on our understanding of the Bible,” Kostenberger states. A full understanding of cultural context demands that we look at ancient cultures for insight. The reader should look into worship practices, clothing, food, and currency, as the text necessitates. A biblical text cannot mean what it could never have meant for its original readers, what God originally intended it to mean when it was first spoken or written. My suggestion to aid the reader in cultural context is a Bible handbook (such as the Holman Illustrated Bible Handbook or the Baker Illustrated Guide to Everyday Life in Bible Times). 

The day I decided to commit myself to framing my study of Scripture in the context of the biblical world instead of any modern substitute was a day of liberation. – Michael Heiser

Determine theological context.

Theological context is concerned with how a topic fits well with the theological themes of the Bible: In studying the theological context of a passage, two distinct but related activities must be done—analysis of the individual passage and synthesis of that analysis within the entire Bible. Andreas Kostenberger notes, “When we speak about theological context, we are referring to the tapestry of theological themes in the story of the Bible…So we are not just looking for historical facts but also asking questions about what stories, or practices, or institutions tell us about God, or about ourselves as human beings, or the world in which we live. We are asking about the development of those ideas over time, as God revealed truth progressively in the development of the biblical story.” The reader should ponder what the author knew about God and the relationship of his audience to God. Lastly, where does this passage fit into the unfolding story of the Bible?

Read and study the Bible in context to rightly handle Scriptures.

As you move forward in your study, it’s important to keep in mind that each passage of Scripture has its own basic meaning within its context, not multiple possible (and equally valid) meanings. Reading and studying Scripture in context clarifies passages that might have puzzled us otherwise. It can also help you realize the full meaning of a passage and get the most out your Bible Study – We are naturally inclined to read ourselves into any given text, through the lens of personal experience and culture. It is by reading the Bible in context we are less apt to read ourselves into the texts where, instead, a proper perspective is needed to pull intended meanings out of the text. Jesus is the focus of all of the Bible. Using logic as we study helps us grasp the shape of God’s work for us and in us.

In our study efforts, we remain totally dependent on the work of God’s Holy Spirit. We might employ each and every step appropriately but without his leadership, our Bible study will grow stagnant and our attempts will be flawed.

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jn 14:26–27). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.