3 Steps to Understanding Unfamiliar Scripture Passages

It’s always a delight to read over a favorite passage of Scripture. Familiar words and phrases unfold, conjuring the sense of wonder we felt upon our first understanding. Unfamiliar passages can present more of a challenge, though. Personally, I would love to have the same familiarity with the whole Bible that I have with my favorite passages, like Philippians 2 and Psalm 51. That’s possible only through focused study.

Thankfully, the Faithlife Study Bible (FSB) puts a modern English translation—the Lexham English Bible (LEB)—and three layers of study notes on your mobile device, so you can study from wherever your life takes you. When you do carve out a few minutes to spend in study, use this simple three-step process to get the most out of your Bible.

Observe | what does it say?

Pick a passage; it doesn’t matter which one. The FSB uses headings to point out natural breaks in the text—use these as markers if you like. John is a great place to start if you’re new to faith.

Begin by reading the passage and identifying the type of literature: is it a story (narrative), an open letter (epistle), a poem, or something else? At first, don’t concern yourself with detailed analysis of what the passage might mean; focus instead on what it says. Stick to the facts of who, what, when, where, why, and how. Figure out who is writing, and to whom. Identify any recurring terms. If a word is used over and over in a passage, it’s probably an important theme. If you’re a note-taker like me, write down what you find and what you’ve been unable to find.

Unanswered questions are okay. Make note of them, and dig for answers in the next phase. Above all, don’t rush yourself here. Good Bible study remains unhurried.

Interpret | what does it mean?

Read the passage itself in the observe phase; in the intepret phase, read what others have written about the passage, searching for answers to the questions you’ve found. This is where the FSB really shines. Rich multimedia bring the Scriptures to life, study notes offer clarity, and infographics put everything in a larger context.

Spend a little time reading cross-references. A cross-reference is another passage of Scripture that refers to the same subject. The FSB points out cross-references with parentheses and the phrase “see also.” Cross-references are the first place to go with your unanswered questions from the “observe” phase.

This is also the time to consult other translations. The LEB is a good one, but sometimes it can be illuminating to reference a less literal, more colorful paraphrase, like The Message.

Do your best not to leave the interpret phase with unanswered questions.

Apply | why does it matter?

After reading the passage and understanding what it says, studying other resources, and interpreting what it means, the time will come to put those lessons to use. Application is sometimes forgotten because it cannot really be done from the couch with a cup of coffee. To apply Scripture is to carry discovered truth into every facet of your life.

Not only does Scripture show us God’s heart; it shows us our own more clearly. James 1:23 compares Scripture to a mirror because it gives us a better understanding of ourselves. Look for ways that God’s thinking differs from your own, and then align your thoughts to his. I expect that, like me, you’ll find plenty of examples. After all . . . Isaiah 55:8.

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Serious Bible study is easier with serious Bible study software. The Faithlife Study Bible is a great place to start, but if you’d like to study in greater detail, Logos is for you. Its powerful, intuitive tools and vast libraries are the perfect way to expand your understanding of the Scriptures. Visit logos.com to learn more.

Written by
Ray Deck III

Born in WV, Ray escaped to North Carolina at a young age. He came to Logos after an 8 year stint at a faith-based nonprofit in New York. When he is not assembling sequences of words, he’s probably running, surfing or shooting skeet, but you should probably go look for him. He has a terrible sense of direction and is probably lost.

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Written by Ray Deck III
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