ANALYTICAL BIBLE STUDIES

© Rosemary Bardsley 2005, 2014

Different levels of analytical study
When we study the Bible analytically, we are finding out its meaning by analysing a book, or passage or word into its various components or structural elements, we are looking at its content and seeing how each part of that content relates to the other parts. This analysis can range from a general over-all analysis of a book to a detailed word by word analysis looking at the grammatical form of each significant word.

We might study a book so deeply and in such detailed analysis that it takes a whole term or semester or year; or we might study just one word in all of its Biblical meanings, for just one study, or two or a dozen. The Bible is so rich and limitless in its meaning and its message that there is always more depth of meaning to discover by careful and prayerful analysis.

Questions to ask
When we open the Bible we need to be true to its eternal purpose and its eternal message. We are not at liberty to import our own meaning and impose that meaning on the text. The Bible is not a source from which we validate our own ideas, but rather God’s truth that always stands in judgment upon our own ideas. We must therefore ask important and relevant questions to unearth that eternal, authoritative divine truth. These questions include:

What kind of literature is it?
Who wrote it?
To whom was it written? [Believers? Unbelievers?]
When was it written?
What were the circumstances? [Faith, unbelief, lack of assurance, heresy, immorality …???]
Why was it written? [To record, explain, teach, encourage, rebuke, correct false teaching ???]
What was its meaning for the original readers?
What is its relation to the rest of the Bible?

If we are studying a whole book we need to add:

What are the obvious divisions of the book?
What are the sub-divisions within each division?
How do each division and sub-division relate to each other?
How does the writer progress from one to the next?

To honour the eternal and contemporary relevance of the Bible, we also need to ask:

How does the eternal truth contained in this book, passage, or word relate to the church and the individual Christian today?
What contemporary errors or understanding are confronted by this book, etc?
What contemporary corporate or personal sin/s are rebuked by this book, etc?
What response [believing the truth, repenting of wrong beliefs or wrong behaviour] is the challenge of this book, etc?

Preparing an analytical study
If we planned to do a series of Bible studies on the Letter to the Ephesians our preparation procedure would contain the following:

[1] We would check out the background information, and find that Paul, imprisoned in Rome about AD60, wrote this letter to the Christians at Ephesus in the area now called Turkey. If we are really diligent we will look up a Bible dictionary on Ephesus and Ephesians, and find out what scholars have found out about the situation of both the city and the church. We would also go to the passages in Acts where Paul’s previous contact with these Christians is recorded, and to his letters to Timothy, who was pastor there, because these letters throw light on the situation in the church. We might also read the message of the risen Lord Jesus to the church at Ephesus, recorded in Revelation. All of this would give us a fuller understanding of why Paul wrote what he wrote, and enable us to more accurately lead our study group to a valid understanding of what God is saying to his people in this letter. An understanding of the dangers and weaknesses of the church at Ephesus will help us to relate its powerful message to both doctrinal weaknesses/fallacies and lifestyle errors (sins) in Christians individually and corporately today.

[2] We would read the letter through two or three times and identify the major divisions. We would find that there are two main divisions: (a) chapters 1 to 3, in which Paul gives teaching about the truth of the gospel, and (b) chapters 4 to 6, in which Paul gives instructions about how believers in Christ should live and not live.

[3] We would then read the letter again to identify the sub-divisions within these divisions. This would result in something like:

The truth of the gospel:
Our salvation in Christ [1:3-14]
Paul’s first prayer for the Ephesians [1:15-32]
New life by God’s grace [2:1-10]
Jew and Gentile: the one people of God [2:12-22]
God’s eternal plan – the church [3:1-13]
Paul’s second prayer [3:14-21]

Life implications of the gospel:
Living in the unity of the body [4:1-16]
Living out our knowledge of Christ [4:17-5:14]
Living under the control of the Holy Spirit [5:15-6:9]
Living with the protection of God’s armour [6:10-20]

[4] We would then analyse each sub-division in further detail. The detail of preparation here would depend on how deep we wanted our study to go. Looking at the first sub-division of Ephesians, ‘Our salvation in Christ’, our outline would include a number of points. When you prepare the study, you would either directly teach these points, or, depending on the make up of the group, get the group to identify each point. [In the example below suggested discussion questions are given. These could either be part of the teaching or actually used as questions for the group to discuss. The answers of each question are in the verses being discussed.]

Verse 3: every believer has already been blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing that heaven has for us. [Discussion questions: If this is the case, is it right to look beyond Christ for spiritual blessings? Does ‘spiritual’ blessings’ include material prosperity? If these blessings are ‘in Christ’ is it possible for us to lose them?]

Verse 4: chosen in Christ to be holy and blameless in God’s sight. [Discussion questions: When did this ‘choosing’ take place? What is the result of this choosing? Does ‘holy and blameless in his sight’ refer to something we are in ourselves or something we are ‘in Christ’?]

Verse 4-5: predestined to be adopted as God’s sons. [Discussion questions: What motivated God to predestine us to be adopted as his son’s? (There are three answers in verses 4-5). How does this happen? What sections of this verse speak of God’s initiative in salvation?]

Verse 6: God’s grace. [Discussion questions: How does this verse describe God’s grace? What is the significance of ‘freely given’? How does this verse describe Jesus?]

Verse 7-8redemption and forgiveness in Christ. [Discussion questions: How does this redemption and forgiveness become ours (two answers in this verse)? What does ‘through his blood’ mean? How is God’s grace described?]

Verse 9-10: God has made his will known to us. [Discussion questions: what is the mystery of God’s will described in these verses? In and through whom is this will of God put into effect? Why was it once a ‘mystery, and how has it now been made known?]

Verse 11-12: chosen in Christ. [Discussion questions: what five words refer to God’s sovereign decision in saving us? What is the intended result of God’s plan to save us?]

Verse 13-14: included in Christ and sealed with the Holy Spirit. [Discussion questions: at what point is a person included in Christ and sealed with the Holy Spirit? In what way does the Holy Spirit assure Christians of their salvation? What is the ultimate effect of our salvation and our assurance?]

While we were preparing the above we would look to see if there is anything particularly emphasised in this passage, or any key words and concepts; if a Biblical character is mentioned, we would find out about that character, or get the group to proffer information about that character. In this particular passage we would notice that there are at least four concepts that are referred to repeatedly in these few verses. These repetitions focus on: [1] God’s will/purpose, [2] God’s grace, [3] the ‘in Christ’ concept, and [4] the praise of God’s glory and grace.

Because the Bible is not ‘just another text book’ from which we increase our intellectual knowledge, but the living word of the living God, it is necessary also for the Bible Study to make real life application of the truths of God that have been taught in the passage. From Ephesians 1:3-14 the following valid life applications can be made: that the believer has full assurance of full salvation – our salvation is sure because it is by God’s will, by God’s grace, totally in Christ, and guaranteed by the Holy Spirit. Those who are uncertain of their salvation are encouraged. Those who have been trusting to any degree in their own merit are corrected and taught to trust in Christ alone. Those who have been seeking for spiritual blessing in addition to Christ are also corrected. Each of these, if they accept the truth of this passage, is challenged to accept that truth, for it is that truth of the salvation God gives us in Christ which results in praise to God, according to this passage.

Depending on the group we are leading, we might also compare this passage with other passages in Scripture, and/or, if the group is doing a really in-depth study, compare significant words or concepts with the same words/concepts in other parts of Scripture. If there were any controversial points we would cross reference these points with other scriptures to throw enlightenment on the difficult issue.

When presenting a Bible-study, life-applications are made through-out the study, and at the end. Life applications are not only what we must do, but equally, how the truth should affect our minds – in terms of faith and faith content. For example, if the study is about ‘Jesus is the Lord’ this will have application not only to how we choose to live, but also how we choose to think – it will not only apply to the wrongness of committing a sin, but also to our confidence that, for example, prayer is a rational thing to engage in.