I caught up with Rev. Andrew Foster to ask some simple—but I trust, helpful—questions on Bible Study. Editor.
Why is it important to study diligently the use of Bible words?
Words are the building blocks of intelligible communication and knowledge. Necessarily, they must have clear and precise meaning. We can never clearly understand the word of God as a whole without paying attention to the component words.
Diligence is demanded because each word of the sacred page is verbally inspired. They are no ordinary words, and they form no ordinary book, because they are the very words of God. Therefore, there are profound ramifications to our attitude toward the words of Scripture. By these words the Spirit of God works to regenerate sinners (1Peter 1:23), saints are sanctified (John 15:4), and equipped for spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6: 17), and the disobedient are condemned (John 5:45-46). God Himself demonstrates tremendous care over the words of the Bible. The Divine process of inspiration pays attention to every single letter (2 Timothy 3:15), where the words “holy Scriptures” are literally, “the holy letters.” The Savior spoke of God paying attention to every “jot and tittle” of His word (Matthew 5:18). The “jot” is the smallest Hebrew letter and the “tittle” is just a tiny part of a single letter.
The simple rule that the Scripture interprets itself (2 Peter 1:20) demands that we carefully consider how each word is used in the Biblical context. Language changes over time, even within different cultures using the same base language, but the words of God are fixed in their meaning within their original Biblical context. The Bible student needs to carefully ascertain the meaning of each word when it was given by the Holy Spirit to the Biblical writer in the time period and culture in which it was given. Idioms require particular care as they are often specific to people groups.
Does grammar matter in Bible study?
The rules of grammar are the science that governs the correct use of words. There is a precision to the correct use of language. God is a God of order and this applies to His word. Paying little attention to the grammar of Scripture will at best rob the words of their vitality, power, and clarity. At worst, it will lead into serious error. Sadly, we live in a time when precision in the use of language carries too little importance. All too often this results in erroneous interpretation or much of the Bible being a closed book.
What is meant by looking for the historical context in Bible study?
To consider the context is to take into account the historical background of the speaker, or writer, and identify those to whom he speaks. One example of the importance of this consideration is seen in the differences in worship between the Old and New Testaments and how lessons from the Old Testament are applied to New Testament believers. Identifying the historical context is an important aspect of establishing the correct interpretation of a passage.
What is the difference between discovering the meaning of a Bible passage and making its application, or are they the same?
Interpretation and application are not the same but are closely connected. Correct interpretation must always precede proper application of the truth. Interpretation involves establishing the precise meaning and purpose of a passage. A Biblical example of this process is seen in 1 Peter 1:10-11 where the prophets themselves are said to have inquired precisely what the Spirit meant by His words and when exactly those words would be fulfilled. Application involves making use of the truth of Scripture in our own context or situation. We are encouraged to do this by the Scripture itself. All that has been written in time past has relevant application to saints in the present, for “all these things . . . are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come” (1 Corinthians 10:11).
Scripture prophecy that is yet to be fulfilled also calls us to make application of its truth. When the apostle John stated, “But we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1John 3:2), he proceeded to make the application, “And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure” (1 John 3:3). Only when the truth of Scripture is rightly understood will it lead to personal application.
What Bible software program would you recommend for a beginner in Bible study?
In the final analysis, Bible study requires very few tools: software that provides access to the text of the Authorized Version; some of the classic Bible commentaries like Matthew Henry, John Gill, Albert Barnes, and other reformed writers; The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge and Strong’s dictionaries to give information on the original languages of Scripture are very helpful. Apps like this are commonly available on various platforms and often free of charge, or at very low cost. Expensive software is not a prerequisite! An audio version of the Scripture may be useful too. I use an app that gives me access to the Scripture text and Scourby’s audio version which I find helpful since Bible study always begins with a familiarity with the text of the Bible itself. Ultimately, however, the study of Scripture is a work of the Holy Spirit in the heart. Software or other study aids can never replace the humble devotion that says, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart.”