Bible Study – 22 May

“What does it all mean?”

Many people think “studying the Bible” is difficult. So far we have looked at three ways in which studying the Bible is easy:

  • Lectio Divina – divine reading, reading the text slowly and repeatedly to discern what God may or may not be wanting to share with us.
  • Spot the difference – finding a Bible that speaks your language. Not all translations are the same, which Bible translation is most helpful to you?
  • People of God – finding yourself in the Bible. Reading a Bible story and using your imagination to ‘be present’ in the story – like you were there.

Today we’re looking at a more academic approach, and trying to find the many different meanings in the same text.

Critical thinking

This is a good technique for the academic and logical thinkers among us. The Bible, as we’ve discussed, is not one book but instead a collection of books. This may lead you to ask the following questions:

  • Author: Who wrote the bit I’m reading? Why did they write it? What were they trying to say?
  • Style: Is there something about the way it was written that emphasises parts of it, is there a rhetorical style which changes the way it was read?
  • Language: Do the words mean the same to us that they meant to the author?
  • Editor: Is it still the way it was written, has someone edited the original? Was it edited with the author’s knowledge, or later? Why, and what were they trying achieve? (Clue: not all motives are impure – Biblical editors may have very pure intentions)
  • Canon: Is this a core text in the Bible, or an apocryphal text, who included it and why?
  • Intended audience: Who was it written to, and what did they get from it? Was there something going on locally, or specific to the audience? How will it have been read?
  • Traditional reading: How has this text been understood by the church traditionally?
  • Contemporary reading: What does it say to me today?

These are the tip of the “critical thinking” iceberg. Biblical scholars will investigate these and many more questions. These questions can be asked for theological and faith-filled reasons, and can also be asked from an atheist and “purely scientific” perspective.

Sunday’s Bible Reading: The Acts of the Apostles

Romans 8.12–17

So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh – for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ – if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

Discussion exercise:

  1. Who wrote the letter to the Romans?
  2. Who was it written to?
  3. When was it written?
  4. What language was it written in?
  5. Plain reading: what does the letter say?
  6. Reading it as though you were in Rome at the time: what does it say?
  7. Reading it today: what does it say?

Where do you find more answers to your questions?

Published books by trusted Biblical scholars. Tom Wright was the Bishop of Durham, and has written many books on Paul’s letters. He writes academic books under the name N.T. Wright. He writes popular books as Tom Wright. Dr Paula Gooder is a Reader and theologian who writes accessible and well researched books, and has written about Paul from a female perspective – which is helpful given the way Paul’s words are selectively used.


This is the fourth session on “how to study the Bible”. What have you learned? Are you applying this in your own life? Do you pray and read the Bible more often as a result of these sessions?