The Bible is a big book. Inside its 66 sub-books (Genesis to Revelation), you'll find a variety of literary genres – history, narratives, poetry, proverbs, instruction, and apocalyptic. It might seem overwhelming. Let me offer a little assistance in making a game-plan to study, understand, and apply God's Word to your life.
First, if you do nothing else, just read it. Read it. Read it. Better to read the Bible than not to read it.
Second, if you're in the New Testament, you'll discover 27 sub-books:
- 4 gospel accounts of Jesus' words and life – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John
- 1 history book – Acts
- 21 instructional letters written to churches or individuals
- 1 apocalyptic book with visions of end-times – Revelation
Ok, Now What?
For the 21 instructional letters (Romans through Jude), a simple way to study them is below. After the instructions, I'll add an example from Ephesians 2:11-22, so you can see how I studied it. You'll need a computer to do this. If you've got one, proceed ...
- On your computer, paste your passage into a document, preferably in landscape format. Go ahead and do it now. For example, paste into a document the words of Ephesians 2:11-22. A good site to copy them from is here.
- Hit “return” twice after each sentence. (There are 7 sentences in this passage).
- Move all connecting words to the far left (e.g. For, So then, Therefore, etc.)
- Bold the main subject and main verb of each sentence.
- Tab all clauses under the main subject and verb to create an organized structure. Look for key verbs, repeated words, parallel structure, clauses that begin with same preposition, etc.
- When complete, print it out and use colored pencils to highlight observations, draw arrows back to related thoughts, find comparisons and contrasts, etc.
- Discover the overall “big idea” from this passage that the original audience would have understood – write it out.
My Example of Steps 1-5, Before Printing
How Is This Helpful?
Seeing a passage organized like this helps us spot the intended meaning of both the divine and human author to the original audience. For example, just read aloud the bolded words and you get a pretty good idea of the big idea of this passage.
You'll see interesting contrasts like far off vs. near and at one time vs. now. You'll see peace repeated 4x (I wonder why?). You may even discover allusions to OT verses, construction lingo, and trinitarian formulas (Father, Son and Spirit).
Ok, I won't say any more, or I'll spoil it.
Finally: if ever a passage needed to be read, understood, and applied in our day of racial acrimony, it's this passage. Jesus alone offers the solution to bring people together, by purchasing peace for us, shedding his blood in our place. In Christ, enemies become family, under His banner.