One of the greatest tragedies in my Christian formative years, was that I cheerleaded into believing some so-called spiritual facts about God and Christianity that unfortunately had no meaningful foundation in the pages of Biblical text.  The fact that I was an avid Bible reader meant very little, especially since I was using the text to support pet doctrines and as a springboard to get to the higher level of spiritual attainment according to these extra-Biblical concepts.  No doubt, in my reading I learned basic truths of core Christian doctrine but I fell short at connecting the dots, which led to some distorted conclusions.

One of the best things that happened to me is my friend who challenged by exegesis, well actually my eisegesis because I did a pretty good job of reading things into the text that it didn’t say.  He challenged me to provide Scriptural support for the extra-biblical doctrine that I had embraced, which by the way is promoted by very popular teaching today.   In the end, I could not.  But it did open a can of worms and a fresh perspective on Bible study that employed inductive methods and an expository approach to studying that taught me how to follow the flow of thought and connect the dots in a grammatical, historical, literal and canonical way.  No longer was a ripping passages out of context to fit with cherished doctrine but rather learn to read in a way to just let the text say what it says.

This can be tricky though.  Because I still have some old tendencies that I have to be careful not to seep in.  I must know what they are, recognize them and put them in their proper place.  No, I am not an expert nor do I purport to be.  But I am an avid learner who is always asking the question ‘what is this really saying’.  So in that, here are 10 questions that I always ask and thought they might be useful.  I also think that these tend to be interdependent upon each other.  One thing’s for sure, I think all of us can fall prey to some, if not all, of these.

1) Am I considering the context? Context is king and don’t be fooled to thinking otherwise.  Every book in the Bible contains segmented markers called verses and chapters.  While this may make Bible reading easier I think it can promote reading Scripture in a very fragmentary way that, with other factors mentioned below, can facilitate ripping a verse or passage out of its proper context.  I recall listening to a very popular woman preacher on the radio (you all know who she is) and was talking about how we should have joy for every day living.  She used Hebrews 1:9 to support the fact that we are “anointed” and should have joy above our companions.  Sadly, I used to read Scripture in the same way and was chagrined at the peal of applause her “exegesis” received.  This is but one of many examples I can cite that when context is not considered, it makes the text say something it does not.  I also have to consider genre and read according to that genre.  I can’t make narrative read like doctrine, no matter how good it might preach.

2) Am I conducting connection fallacies? This is applying the same connection at all times, such as a word fallacy.  Words do have ascribed meaning, true.  But again, context will determine what the word is also conveying.  An example would be a comparison of Hebrews 4:12 with John 1:1 in defining “word”.  Another example of connection fallacy are the connections that Michael is asking in his Transubstantian post.  This is something I need to understand better.  So I am currently reading Exegetical Fallacies, by D.A. Carson who also talks about grammatical, logical, presuppositional, and historic fallacies as well to understand better pitfalls to avoid.

3) Am I blowing up meaning? Because of the circles I used to travel, it is real easy for me to draw wild allegories,  make connections where connections don’t exist or make my typology walk on all fours, especially when studying the Old Testament.  So I have to consider the plain reading of the text and recognize when allegory is there.  This does get tricky, especially with the Old Testament and gospel narratives.  But here is where I find a few good commentaries come in handy.  In fact, I’d say good commentaries are a pretty essential tool for all Bible study.  They do  help to curb unwarranted enthusiasm that might come thinking I’ve discovered some hidden or esoteric meaning that may be way blown out of proportion, or even meaning that is non-existent.

4) Am I considering the correlation?: The Bible is God’s story concerning Himself, breathed out through the penmenship of 40 different authors over the span of 1,500 years.  Every verse, paragraph, chapter, story, poem, letter, book fits into this story like a puzzle piece.  From Genesis to Revelation His story is about His revelation in Christ and ultimate reign.  So I have to ask how does what I am reading fit in that story?

5) Is my flesh in the way? Flesh is self-focused and looks out for #1.  Flesh asks ‘what’s in it for me?’.  In our individualistic oriented society, the tendency is to always derive meaning from the text that will be beneficial to ourselves.   This is not a bad thing in that God gave His word to us, so that we will know Him and know who we are in Christ, for those that believe.  But I will naturally want to read in a way that will appease me.  I also have to recognize that in passages that challenge what I want, can be dismissed or construed to justify thoughts or behavior I wish to maintain.  I know, because I have tried to justify sinful behavior in the past!  So I have learned to recognize what are my “buttons” that don’t want to comply.  This is why I believe in prayer to foster a surrendered attitude before reading.

6) Am I bringing my presuppositions into the reading of the text? We all have them and they have been shaped by experience, culture and church (or lack thereof) upbringing.  That means we can bring pre-existent ideas about what we think things are saying into reading that will formulate how we read things.  I can’t remember who said this but I heard a really good truth to live by ‘always read like you haven’t seen it before’.  It’s asking the question with every sitting of what is the text saying not what do I think it says.

7) Am I reading my theological assumptions into the text? I think its funny when I get accused of reading Calvin into things considering I developed a Calvinistic theology before  I even heard anything about Calvin!  Nonetheless, while I do agree with Calvin’s theology, I have to be careful to not read that into the text.

8.) Am I considering alternate theological positions? I have learned the value of considering alternate positions.   After all, I am fallible and capable of getting things wrong.  This was particularly highlighted to me when I took Soteriology through the Theology Program and began to learn about Arminian theology.  It challenged me to consider a different point of view in looking at certain passages and it did cause me to wrestle with some things as well as prompt a desire to learn more about that position.   In the end, I still remain a Calvinist but always need to consider where the other side is coming from.  (I have yet to read completely Olson’s book, Arminian Theology but plan on it).

9) Am I being dismissive of the text? Regardless of how many times I have read a passage, chapter or book there is always something new to learn, some word or nuance that I have not considered before.  I love the way God illuminates His word this way and it also shows me that I can never exhaust learning.  Reading with freshness and inquisitiveness will also challenge me to wrestle with passages that may disrupt previously held thinking.  In short, it is about having intellectual honesty with the text and acknowledge what it is saying, or at least ask I am looking at this right?  This will often cause a great bit of wrestling but that’s ok.  It is indeed hard to confess that you were wrong about something but I have had to do this quite a bit.  I have learned it is well worth putting your foot in your mouth than keeping your hand on your hip.

10) Am I prayerfully allowing the text to leap in my heart and change my life? I had the immense privilege to take Bible Study Methods and Hermeneutics with Dr. Howard Hendricks (known by all DTSers as “Prof”).  One of his sayings that has made an indelible impression on my heart is ‘the Bible wasn’t written to satisfy your cureousity, it was meant to change your life’.  God’s plan is to reconcile His creation to Himself, to change us from being an enemy of God to being a friend of God, from being a servant of sin to a servant of righteousness, from considering the cross foolishness to the cross necessary.  Jesus did not hang on the cross so we can spout intellectual superiority but live out humble submission to Him, to hopefully say as Paul in Philippians 3:7-11, to consider all else worthless compared to the surpassing value of knowing Him, being found in His righteousness to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.  This is indeed a picture of a changed life and is the ultimate goal of Bible study.

So these are my questions I ask myself.  I hope they are helpful.  Or you may disagree and that’s ok too.

Addendum: Here some basic books that I recommend on the topic

Howard Hendricks, Living by the Book

Tim Lahaye, How to Study the Bible for Yourself

Roy Zuck, Basic Bible Interpretation

    85 replies to "Ten Questions I Always Ask Myself When Reading the Bible"

    • Kara Kittle

      The point of the post was to present how you study the Bible. I get that. But in your post replies you seem very quick to make sure we know exactly where indeed you learn your Bible from. And this is in more than one thread. We are not replying so much to your original blog, which if you read my response I said nothing against.

      Go back to #15 and tell me where I disrespected you. We get the understanding that you are presenting to us your own personal Bible study habits and how it works….for you. But you are quite dismissive when it comes to other people’s experiences. No one here thinks your seminary training is wrong. I never said it was. But when I present to you words from a website that I did not create, you get defensive. So tell me, are you more defensive of Calvinism, or Christianity?

      If you are defending Calvinism to a higher degree then you should accept you will be challenged in that. I don’t challenge you, I don’t challenge any person who seeks to be a Christian who is seeking how to be the best Christian they can be. What I do challenge is this, if you want us to accept Calvinism, then you have to prove it is correct on every level from every teacher and from every facet.

      You implied to me that I must not study on my own, that I need teachers to explain to me. And I respond, how do you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that those teachers teaching you are correct?

    • Kara Kittle

      Actually JM abandoned the prosperity doctrine. She saw the error of that way. Her accounts and books have constantly been opened for review. And she is considered above reproach in her accounting and handling of money.

      True story though about another preacher…CD..:)
      one time I had a fish tank that I needed to clean out so I did. Well after I had cleaned it I turned on the tv and listened to CD. I noticed my little fish sitting in the corner facing the tv and watching him the whole time preach. When he was done my little fish rolled over on it’s back and died. My poor little fish, it watched preaching the whole time it was on. What’s up with that?

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      Kara Kittle: “So tell me, are you more defensive of Calvinism, or Christianity?”

      A little off-topic, but I’ll dive in anyways. 😉

      It’s a false antithesis. Calvinists believe Calvinism is Biblical Christianity. It’s not an Either-Or situation as you would like to believe.

      Here are quotes from Charles Spurgeon attesting to such: ” I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else.”

      “Calvinism did not spring from Calvin. We believe that it sprang from the great Founder of all truth.”

    • John C.T.

      OFF TOPIC ALARM. Before the post gets completely sidetracked, please invite KK to take up this issue on one of the Calvinism threads.

    • John C.T.

      KK, LR did not write in her lede post that one must have teachers, or folow only one. What she wrote is that one should look at other views before one assumes one is correct. What LR wrote is pretty basic stuff, it’s how one is supposed to read all literature that requires interpretation and understanding beyond entertainment. It’s the sort of thing I expected students to do when I graded papers in secular subjects.


    • Kara Kittle

      John CT,
      In my first response, where did I mention it? In fact it was not addressed until #44.

      No where did I imply seminary training was wrong. No where did I imply DTS was wrong. But in #45 was the first mention of Calivism, not be me though.

      I asked how do you know your teachers are teaching you correctly. How difficult is it to answer that? John, you know that you as a teacher are basically told what to teach from the curriculum. Now I will ask this philosophically so no hostile intent can be taken…ok. The question is..

      How do teachers who are supposed to teach by school board mandated curriculum teach something that is against their conscience? Do they teach it without reserve, do they teach it without regard, or do they teach it without respect?

      So I would like to know also, if there are students who are being taught against their conscience, do they have a choice? Are they permitted to question the teacher? Are they permitted to question the material? How does a student approach a teacher who may be very well doing that?

      That is what I was trying to ask Lisa. How does she know the teachers over her are correct, because it is Bible she is learning and places it in a higher position than secular education. Would you teach against your conscience because it is required of you?

      Can this be answered philosophically without thinking I am adding Calvinism into this because I don’t agree with many denominational seminaries. I am not singling them out and have not. So throw that aside because that is something I will ask of all denominations.

    • Leslie

      Personally, I don’t know why/how some are needlessly highjacking the meaning of the original post. To me, it looks ludicrous. Sheer immaturty on the part of the person doing this, and very much needlessly so!

    • Lisa Robinson


      You said:

      “If you are defending Calvinism to a higher degree then you should accept you will be challenged in that. I don’t challenge you, I don’t challenge any person who seeks to be a Christian who is seeking how to be the best Christian they can be. What I do challenge is this, if you want us to accept Calvinism, then you have to prove it is correct on every level from every teacher and from every facet.”

      This comment only demonstrates that you have completely missed the point of the post, which is not to defend Calvinism but rather lay it aside for the sake of greater learning. There is no cause to defend Calvinism in this post because that is not the issue. John is correct, if you wish to wield your continued battle against Calvinism, please do so on a more appropriate thread but not on this one. Your comments are disruptive and future off-topic remarks will be deleted. Thanks.

    • mbaker

      Has anyone here heard of the book, ‘How To Read the Bible For All It’s Worth” by Gordon Fee?

      If so would you recommend it, or not, in connection with this post? A pastor recommended it to a friend, but I know nothing about it.

    • Lisa Robinson

      Mbaker, I have not read that one personally, but Gordon Fee is a great exegete of Scripture, although I don’t always agree with his conclusions. It’s probably worth checking out.

    • mbaker

      Thanks, Lisa. Sometimes with the sheer amount of Christian books out there, it’s hard to know what is worthwhile reading.

      Highly recommend anything by D.A. Carson too, as I notice you did.

      This link below by Bob Dewaay is very similar in vein with your post. He’s another good exegete of the word of God.

    • Stan Hankins

      I am reading the bible thru in 90 days. I started April 1 and am now in Eclesiastes. It has been a blessing. Pulling it all together about once a year is very profitable.

    • Lisa Robinson

      Stan, that’s great and I agree. Although, I will confess I have yet to do the one year plan. This year seems to be the OT year. Between spring, summer and fall classes this year, I would have covered all OT books plus we are doing a journey through the OT at my church, complete with daily on-line devotionals.

      Mbaker, I scanned through that article. It looks like a keeper. Thanks. And I don’t know about recommending D.A. Carson. I have recently started engaging with his work and it is great but can be a tad much, even for me. The books I mentioned in the addendum were actually written for the lay person in mind. The Lahaye book is one I give out to folks just starting out with serious Bible study. It does a good job at a general overview of what the Bible is, how its put together and an explanation of the different genres and all they fit together. Hendricks book is just plain fun. He has some really neat exercises at the end of each section where you can dig in for yourself.

    • C Michael Patton

      Holy cow! Leave for a bit and look what happens.

      Have not had a chance to read through all the posts, but I can tell that this may need some moderating. Please keep things on track. Lisa, is at liberty with her posts to direct them how she will, but go out of your way to be respectful.

      Arguing a point is fine, but there is also a fine line between this and being argumentative. Being argumentative is a sinful waste of time and completely unproductive. In all things, let us be good stewards.

      With that, please continue…

    • cheryl u

      Not trying to change the subject CMP, but how is the tornado situation?

    • ScottL

      Lisa –

      I apologise if I sidetracked the post with my persistent posts. Do forgive my arrogance and hard-headedness.

      Leslie (is this Leslie from Theologica?) –

      To answer your question – If I may ask you, from where do we get the idea that we are to partcipate in certain things that Jesus partcipates in? Thanks!

      I recognise that Paul emphasised some 150+ times that we are in Christ, united to Him. So it starts there, since we have a Christ-centred faith and gospel. We are completely in Him. But then I look practically at everything Christ did and walked out and see that the NT calls us to every single thing as well. We are to die as He did. We are to be resurrected as He did. We are to love as He did. We are to reign with Him. We are to be a royal priesthood serving under our great high priest. We are to crush the enemy under our feet by God’s power just as Christ did (Rom 16:20). We are to enter the Sabbath rest of the Son of God. We are to serve/wash feet in the manner of the Son. Etc.

    • C Michael Patton

      I’m alive and well. No damage.

    • Leslie

      Happy for you and your family!

    • Leslie

      Yes, ScottL, this is TheoLes!

      Yes, we are called to imitate Jesus for sure, but is that similar to “participation”? Personally, I don’t think so!

    • Lisa Robinson

      Scott, no worries. I kind of instigated it anyway. BUT, with that said, I do side with Leslie on the topic. Actually, I think it would make for a great discussion topic on Theologica, doncha think?

    • Phil McCheddar

      I have read “How To Read the Bible For All It’s Worth” by Gordon Fee and I rate it enormously highly. It explains how to interpret the various styles of literature in the Bible according to whether it is narrative, poetry, prophecy, apocalyptic, or epistle, etc. The book’s best feature is that it contains numerous examples of analysing specific verses so that you can see in practice how to apply the principles which Lisa listed in her lead post. For example, “Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise” (Ecc.7:16) would have a very different meaning depending on whether it comes from a book of Wisdom literature or an apostolic epistle!

    • ScottL

      Lisa and Leslie –

      I don’t try and distinguish between participate and imitate. Actually, I would say that, because we are in Christ, in union with Him, as Paul so faithfully expounds in his letters, then we are participants with Him. We are joined with Him in covenant. Of course we, then, participate with Him. We are one with Him. Yes, it is true this unity has an ‘already, not yet’ aspect to it. But we now participate with Him. And maybe it is through our union with Christ and participation with Him that we are able to walk this out and imitate Him. Participation is the truth of our standing. Imitation is the fruit of that standing.

      I do love 2 Pet 1:3-4 (NIV) – 3 His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

      I’m not trying to go all weird in some manifest son’s theology. I just know that the body of Christ is united to Christ, joined to Him in covenant. Covenant partners share in all things, and Peter says we even share and participate in the divine nature. Again, I’m not trying to go all super-spiritual and weird. This has to be practical. But I don’t think we can get around it. We are in union with Him, covenant partners with Him. It is true we e only taste of it now, but the full reality will come one day. I believe this is new covenant teaching par excellence.

      As for a Theologica topic, I am not sure. I am not inspired to start a topic here. 🙂 Maybe Leslie or you could. 🙂

    • mbaker

      Thanks for the heads up, Phil. I may check that one out myself. Someone else mentioned it on another blog also, so it’s good to know Gordon Fee is a reliable source.

    • JIm

      Good Job Lisa
      More people need to learn how to study, I am presently teaching a Sunday school class on how to study your Bible, one of the first things we went through was a study of Herminutics.
      Many Christians do not know what they believe and believe wrongly because they do not open the Bible for themselves, they rely soley on their Pastor, author or radio preacher. Those things are good, but we need to be like the Bereans, in Acts. Dont for get the personal application after the interpretation.

      2 Timothy 2:15

    • rayner markley

      Thank you for this discussion, Lisa. Even though many of your questions seem to me to be related, it’s worthwhile to spell them out, as you have done. I do have a concern though. When you say ‘Ten questions I always ask myself when reading the Bible,’ it’s not clear for what purpose you are reading the Bible. Most of your points are appropriate for Bible study but not necessarily so for devotional reading. If devotional reading is done to turn our thoughts to God, to feed our spirit, to prepare us for prayer, etc., we shouldn’t have to analyze culture and context and semantics. Those considerations, so essential in Bible study, just get in the way for devotions. Other writings, which are more straightforward, may be more useful than Scripture for that purpose. To some degree, your points one thru nine act against point number ten. Maybe, in fact, the Bible isn’t the best choice for devotional reading.

    • Lisa Robinson

      Aggh, I just typed out a comment and lost it.

      Sorry, Rayner but I’d have to disagree. If you consider my list, #10 is the eventual goal and #1-9 take you there. Sure, if you stop and #9, you would have analyzed without any real devotional aspect. But the goals is not for us to be intellectually smarter but commitingly deeper. So if after you’ve asked the questions, and just stop, reflect and let the reality of what you just studied seep into your heart, be still and surrender, allowing the truths of what God is communicating through His word to speak to your heart, you’d be amazed at the heightened devotion asking these questions bring. Or at least that has been my experience.

      Even in greek, we are encouraged to do this. In fact, the summer reading plan from my greek prof includes doing devotionals through John in the greek NT. Devotion is about worship and what better impetus, than getting as clear a picture as possible, who God is and what He is communicating. I actually think there is a danger in bifurcating study in the way you suggested.

    • John C.T.

      Just because Jesus is anointed, does not mean we are. Our participation in Christ is of a particular kind and scope, and does not automatically mean that if he is anointed we are.

      An important point about careful interpretation and not overapplying a verse concerns our authority to do things, expect things and teach things. The whole we are anointed with joy thing is unsupported by a proper interpretation of scripture and therefore lacks biblical and thus Spiritual authority. We are not inspired like the Biblical writers to see connections, nor do we have Jesus walking alongside us and teaching us all the connections that are there–as the disciples did. So we are not entitled to get carried away with tenuous connections, even if they comfort us or make us feel good (like quiet times).


    • Lisa Robinson

      Scott, I’m afraid I have to agree with John C.T. I also think this is where question #2 comes in. What does it mean in 2 Peter 1:3 that we participate in His divine nature? It’s the only verse that suggests a participation but when reconciled to other passages of our position “in Christ” does not suggest that we participate in the sense that share a common authority to have meaning apply to Christ, apply to us. Rather, being made alive to God through Christ, regenerated by the Spirit we’ve been given access to God through His divine nature and enjoy the benefits of that reconciliation.

    • rayner markley

      Lisa: ‘I actually think there is a danger in bifurcating study in the way you suggested.’

      My point is that you seem to be thinking of everything in terms of study. I’m talking about something else—not study. Yes, at devotional time all of our previous understanding and study come into play, but we do not keep on studying. We do not turn it into another study session. We let the Spirit speak to us.

    • rayner markley


    • Rayner:

      Can’t God speak while we study? Must we divide between studying for the brain and reading for devotion? Why not study during our devotions? It seems you equal God speaking to a voice and not to His Word as well.

    • rayner markley

      Certainly God can speak and does speak during study. I’m saying that we don’t ALWAYS pick up our Bible and read for the purpose of studying. Maybe we need to define study. Do you say there’s no difference between study and devotion? Or that devotion can come only with study?

    • I am saying that the two categories are not by necessity mutually exclusive. I personally don’t see why we have this artificial divide between studying and devotional time. Granted, I may come with a different focus, but I will still dig into God’s sufficient revelation in Scripture. Believing that the Spirit has to speak to us doesn’t necessitate that we check our brains at the door. He gave us minds and it is glorifying to Him when we use them to His glory and praise.

    • […] Ten Questions I Always Ask Myself When Reading the Bible […]

    • rayner markley

      We don’t need to leave our brains behind, while realizing that not everything comes to us via the brain. Although some may like to combine study and devotion, I see a valuable distinction there for practical purposes. Study does not always lead to devotion; it may lead to a dead end. Is there really a danger in dividing the two?

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