To best interpret the Bible, read sections instead of randomly-selected verses. A chapter (26 verses on average) is a good rule of thumb, but remember that chapter and verse divisions are not inspired and therefore are not always reliable boundary guides. For instance, Matthew 24–25 records a single sermon Jesus preached (the Olivet Discourse) and should be read together.

Find the flow of thought. Look for key facts. Who wrote, when, under what conditions, regarding what theme, for what purpose? Use Rudyard Kipling’s six basic questions to analyze a passage. He wrote in The Elephant’s Child,

I keep six honest serving men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why And When 
And How and Where and Who.1 

Look for key terms. For example, Matthew 6:25–34 repeats the idea of “taking thought” six times (kjv). The section thus relates to worry or anxiety. “Believe” is used 79 times in the 879 verses of the gospel according to John, or about once every eleven verses. If we are going to understand John, we must focus on faith (John 20:31).

Identify the speaker and the audience. The Bible contains many untrue statements—from false prophets, pagan kings, Job’s friends, Roman authorities, Jewish leaders, and even Satan. They are correctly recorded but are not to be followed. If we fail to see who is addressed, we may apply things not intended for us.—Allen Webster

Endnote

1 http://www.kiplingsociety.co.uk/poems_serving.htm.

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