Structure tool (Observation): Looking for the structure of a passage can help you to see how to break up a larger passage into smaller, more manageable chunks. Doing this can help you to see how all the parts fit together and what the main point or thrust of the passage is. Other tools like the repetition tool, linking words tool and time words tool are helpful for working out structure.
Genre tool (Context): Working out if a passage is a historical account, poetry, apocalyptic, an epistle or historical narrative can shape the meaning of a passage and therefore the application we draw from it. When you’re not sure of the genre, try to draw out unchanging truths about God. If a passage is factual – remember that it actually happened! If a passage is written in picture language – don’t make predictions/be careful of how literally you take it!
Context Tool (Context): Looking at the historical (the situation of the author and their original audience) and the literary (the verses immediately before and after) context of a verse can help to come to a correct understanding/ meaning of the verse.
Author’s Purpose tool (Meaning): Look for purpose statements, detail or lack of detail and common themes at the beginning and ending of a book. This helps work out why the author wrote what he did. The author’s purpose can then be used as a measuring stick to check if our understanding of a part of the book fits with the author’s purpose for the whole book. If it doesn’t we may need to change our understanding to fit with the author’s!
Translations Tool (Observation): There are literal translations of the Bible, ‘readable’ translations and many others in between. For a close study of the Bible it is good practice to consult different translations. Biblegateway.com is a good resource.
Descriptive/Prescriptive Tool (Application): There is a danger in mistaking something that the Bible describes for something that it prescribes. The Context Tool and the Author’s Purpose Tool can help us work out the difference between description/ prescription and how we should apply what we learn to our lives.
Repetition tool (Observation): Highlight repeated words/phrases in the passage. Use one colour for each repetition. These repeated words/phrases reveal themes or basic meanings.
Quotation/allusion tool (Observation): Looking at a quote’s original context can help to understand the point the new author is making. Seeing if the new author has used the quote differently to the original author can also help to understand meaning.
Timeline tool (Context): Thinking about where the passage fits into the big Bible story is helpful for thinking about what the original audience would have known and experienced. This can help us to understand the meaning and application of the passage.
Summary tool (Meaning): Using your observations and the meanings you’ve found in the passage, form a sentence to help capture the essence or main idea of the passage. This helps to crystallize what you’ve learnt and makes it easier to remember and meditate on it. It is also helpful for thinking about application.
Parallels Tool (Observation): Certain literature in the Bible uses a type of rhyming called parallelism. There is simple parallelism – lines within verses are repeated; antithetical parallelism – the second half of a verse carries the opposite meaning to the first; chiastic parallelism – the second half of the verse/section says the same as the first half but flips the word order around. There’s usually a centre in chiastic parallelism. The repetition, opposites and emphasis in parallelism can help us work out the meaning of a section.
Tone & Feel Tool (Observation): This tool encourages us to look not just at what an author has said but how they have said it. By paying attention to the words and any picture language like similes and metaphors we get a sense of the emotion behind the message. A helpful question to think of when using this tool is: What backing track would I use for this passage? It is, however, important to note that Tone & Feel is a support tool only. In other words, the tone and feel must support the meaning of a passage and not be used as an excuse to share what you feel the passage is saying.
Who Am I Tool (Application): The point of this tool is to work out which character (if any) we are supposed to identify with, in a given passage. Characters are role models (both positive and negative) for us. Old Testament characters, in particular, are often pictures of Jesus. As such we should be careful about rushing to put ourselves into the picture (especially to identify ourselves as the hero in the text). The timeline tool is useful in helping us work out how to apply the Who Am I tool.