This article is part of the How to Study the Bible with Jen Wilkin series.
Study the Bible with Process
How should we build our understanding of Scripture? By what orderly process? A good literacy-builder honors the learning process by moving through three distinct stages of understanding: comprehension, interpretation, and application. Each of the three stages seeks to answer a specific question about the text.
- Comprehension asks, “What does it say?”
- Interpretation asks, “What does it mean?”
- Application asks, “How should it change me?”
The comprehension stage is probably the most neglected and misunderstood by students of the Bible, mainly because we assume that reading a text and absorbing a sense of its message equates to comprehending it. Because of this misconception, we will take our time discussing what comprehension is and how it is reached. If you have read other books about Bible study, you may have heard the first step in the learning process termed as “observation” rather than “comprehension.” I believe comprehension better captures what we want to accomplish. Observation can be subjective—it can connote a casual perusal, in which I pull out details or thoughts that seem significant to me as I read. Comprehension, on the other hand, is more objective. It seeks purposefully to discover what the original author intended me to notice or ask.
Asking ourselves “What does it say?” is hard work, and it requires us to slow down when we read.
Remember the reading comprehension section on the SAT? Remember those long reading passages followed by questions to test your knowledge of what you had just read? The objective of those questions was to force you to read for detail. This is exactly how we should begin our study of a text. Asking ourselves “What does it say?” is hard work, and it requires us to slow down when we read. A person who comprehends the account of the six days of creation in Genesis 1 can tell you specifically what happened on each day. This first step of comprehending what the text says moves us toward being able to interpret and apply the story of creation to our lives.
Don’t defer to the experts! Put away your study Bible, commentaries, etc., and answer the following questions:
- What attributes of God am I seeing in the text?
- What words do I need to look up in the dictionary? (Even ones you’re overly familiar with.)
- What are the transition words showing shifts in thinking?
- What questions do I have? (Note them, but don’t run to find the answer.)
- Is there a verse I want to read in another translation to bring clarity?
This article is adapted from Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds by Jen Wilkin.
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After establishing what the text says and what the text means, we are finally in a position to ask how it should impact us.