The Power of Naming the Bible Study Practices You Do Naturally

Most of the skills involved in good Bible reading are things people do intuitively anyway. So why bother reading a Bible study magazine or purchasing Bible software—plus all the resources (commentaries, books, hermeneutics manuals) that make that software worth having?

Because, ironically, we are blind to things we do intuitively. It’s by acknowledging, describing, and finally naming our reading practices that we grow in our ability to read the Bible (or any book).

Love of Scripture is what will make you willing to do this kind of hard work.

Micro-level labels for Bible study

There, I just did it. I relied on your intuitive ability to read. In that phrase “love of Scripture,” who’s doing the loving? Scripture or you? Clearly, you are. Scripture doesn’t love; it’s the thing loved. It is the object of the love. So “Love of Scripture,” in this case, is formally called an “objective genitive.”

Any time you read a genitive (an “of” construction like “slice of cheese” or “man of honor”) you intuitively grasp a genitival relationship. But knowing the right label for it helps you see it with greater clarity and distinctness.

When your intuition gets stuck, grammatical (and other) labels are perhaps even more helpful. Take the genitive in Mark 1:15 (ESV), where Jesus says:

The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.

What is the relationship between kingdom and God? There are two major possibilities. Either 1) God owns this kingdom or 2) this is a reference to God’s rule: he “kingdoms”; he reigns. The common label for the first is “possessive”; for the latter it’s “subjective,” because “God” becomes the subject who “reigns.” Figuring out what Jesus meant includes assigning the proper labels to this grammatical construction. There isn’t always one right answer, but this labeling practice helps you rule out wrong answers—and it helps you slow down your Bible study by forcing you to ask questions you might rush past otherwise.

Macro-level labels for Bible study

When you zoom out to a more general level of Bible interpretation, labels are still a big help. In our free Bible study training course, we used three labels to describe the broad stages of Bible study:

  1. Observation
  2. Interpretation
  3. Application

That free training, what we call the 10-Day Bible Study Challenge, leads users through each of these steps. Sign up with the link below and you’ll receive daily emails taking you through a basic but rigorous Bible study approach. By labeling what you’re doing as Observation, Interpretation, and Application, not only will you gain a clearer picture of the passage you’re studying, you’ll gain a clearer picture of Bible study itself. Sign up below, or learn more about the free training.

A version of this article originally appeared in the May–June 2016 issue of Bible Study Magazine. Learn more about subscribing to BSM.

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Written by
Mark Ward

Mark Ward (PhD, Bob Jones University) is the editor of Bible Study Magazine and author of its back-page column, “Word Nerd: Language and the Bible.” He is the author of several books and textbooks including Biblical Worldview: Creation, Fall, Redemption (BJU Press, 2016), Basics for a Biblical Worldview (BJU Press, 2021), and Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible (Lexham Press, 2018), which became a Faithlife infotainment documentary. He is also the host of the Bible Study Magazine Podcast and is an active (read: obsessive) YouTuber.

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Written by Mark Ward