studying God's Word: Analysing a Passage

This is the second post looking at some of the detail of studying God’s Word edited by John B Job. The original post is here, and the first more detailed post is here.

This chapter is written by Jean Rutherford who, early in the chapter writes:

It is our minds, as well as spirit and will, which are needed in analysis of any Biblical passage. Lack of spiritual life leads to dry academic discussion; lack of mental discipline and hard thinking leads to ‘beautiful thoughts’ floating in a void and to an unbalanced view of God’s truth; lack of will makes the whole operation sterile, since the object of Bible study is to help us to discern God’s will and His purpose for us, and then to obey Him.

Jean then describes a series of processes or tools to understand a given passage:

1. Initial assessment

Read the passage slowly and carefully several times, and preferably in different versions to grasp the main theme. This is best done by taking notes with pencil and paper (or computer).

At the same time, determine the genre of the passage. This may differ to the genre of the book and will inform the detailed analysis to come.

2.Detailed study

Once the initial readings and assessments have been made, we can proceed to a more detailed analysis. This encompasses:

a. Main theme

Formulate a single sentence that summaries the theme of the passage.

b. Principal divisions

aka.paragraphs. a paragraph is a unit of thought, and can contain sub-divisions. This can flow from the outlining if the passage being studied has been analysed at the book level previously.

These are the links between paragraphs that help to see the relationship and development of ideas across paragraphs and passages.

d. Illustrations

Use of imagery such as parables to convey ideas.

e. Repetition

Of words, thoughts, ideas. Can be in poetry (such as parallelism in Hebrew poetry) or the repetition of ideas for reinforcement or building the image or argument. Jesus’ words “truly, truly” fall into this category, as does the same narrative across different gospel accounts.

f. Key words

Can relate to the theme. These can act like summaries of the main ideas presented in the passage.

g. Characters

The naming of characters, and where else they appear can shed light on the passage. Equally the character’s name can indicate their God-given destiny.

h. Questions

Questions can be either those the passage touches on, or questions the passage raises in our minds. I would think that observations, questions or comments on culture, theology, the text or possible application are all welcome.

i. Cross-references

Other passages or verses that shed light on parts of this passage, or have light shed on them by the passage under consideration.

j. Literary features

Our analysis of the passage needs to not focus simply on what is said, but how it is said. Can include aspects of word order (presumably in the original languages), rhythm, figures of speech and imagery.

Clearly not all passages will contain every quality listed above. Once this is done we should try to formulate a sentence that summarises the passage.

These questions of analysis are not exhaustive, but should provide significant scope to grasp the original meaning and intent of the passage under consideration.