The Method That Guides Our Bible Study


The Seven Tru316 Bible Study Steps in Action

Let’s see how these Seven Steps look in action in the passage of Ephesians 5:15-6:9.

Step 1. Think again about what the Bible says. Suppose a Bible study group wanted to study the relationship between a Christian husband and a Christian wife. They assumed that Ephesians 5:22-25 was a passage that addressed that topic. But they also were willing to set aside their own ideas and see what the Bible had to say for itself in these verses.

They started by assuming that the passage taught that “the husband is head of the house” and that “a wife is supposed to submit to his will.” Happily, they made the effort to follow the Study Steps.

Step 2. Think again about the context. This group was aware that a person might approach a verse having already decided what it is all about, and that if a person wasn’t careful, the rest of the passage around it could be bent so that it lined up with the incorrect ideas the person brought to the passage.

This has happened in Ephesians. Many people have come to the last section of chapter 5 assuming that “this is the longest passage in the Bible about marriage.” They then develop sermons, articles, hymns and recommendations for marriage based on what they wrongly assumed the text was about.

The Bible study group took Step 2 and looked at the context of the verses in chapter 5. They discovered that Paul had divided the second half of Ephesians into six sections and that all the verses in this second half of the book fall into one of these six sections. Since Paul labeled what each section was about, it was easy for the Bible study group to determine the development of his thought.

The Bible study group noted that the verses they wanted to study were located in the fifth section that ran from 5:15-6:9.

They realized they had to take into account the place of verses 22-25 in the whole passage. They also made the surprising discovery that verse 32 says that this passage is not about marriage, but Christ and the church! They wondered if they really should study these verses after all. Finally, they decided to continue.

Step 3. Think again about the content. The Bible study group learned that the verses in the second half of Ephesians 5 are part of Paul’s explanation on “How to behave as Christians who are walking carefully, filled with the Spirit.” Each verse in this passage developed this main idea. They wanted to walk this way too, so their enthusiasm level for study of these verses increased.

They found the four “-ing verbs” (in Greek) in verses 19-21 that describe how to behave when one is filled with the Spirit. They noted that the first and fourth actions cannot be done alone, but are done with other Christians. That was fine. They already were meeting in a group. The four actions were:

– (19a) Speaking to one another with psalms …

– (19b) Singing and making melody …

–  (20) Giving thanks …

–  (21) Being subject to one another …

The list of parallel “-ing” verbs ended with verse 21. At this point they were just one verse away from the first of their target verses. They wanted to dig right in and study verses 22-25 but saved that work until Study Step 5.

Step 4Think again about the key image and/or idea. Often, a reader of a modern language translation assumes that we know all about the meaning of an image or key word used in the Bible. If our translations could exactly replicate the meaning of a word originally used in the Bible, perhaps we could assume that we did understand the meaning of most images right away.

But modern words do not carry the same constellation of meanings as do the biblical Hebrew and Greek words. The word “fire” might have its literal meaning in Greek plus several abstract meanings, while modern English might have a very different set of abstract meanings.

Here is where the Bible study group focused in on the meaning of a key word, “head.” The literal meaning of “a real head” was the first sense to try. But, in Ephesians 5:23, a literal “head” is obviously not the intended meaning. An abstract meaning of “head” must be intended. But what abstract meaning?

The group knew that in dealing with abstractions it is best for them to start with the simplest level of abstraction to see if it fit the passage. Only if it did not would they move on looking for a more abstract meaning of the word “head.” In this case they found no need to look beyond the simplest level of abstraction – that of the unity of a head and torso that make up one body.

Paul used the metaphor of “the head and torso” to represent the unity of Christians, filled with the Spirit, who are united and therefore can practice the distinctly Christian action of 5:21 of “being subject to one another.”

Thus the key image used in the verses in 22-24 is about “unity.” A husband and wife are united as one. Christ and the church are also united as one.

In following these preliminary Bible Study Steps, the place and the meaning of their verses of interest were already partly discovered. A closer inspection of these verses was the next step.

Step 5. Think again about the target verse(s). Finally, the Bible study group concentrated in depth on verses 22-25. It took them discipline to withhold study of these verses until this Step. But now these verses could be studied in context with at least a preliminary understanding of the imagery used in the text. This was the place to study, in-depth, all aspects of a verse. These include word definition, word order, verb usage, and the place of these words in their context.

Some digging showed them that verse 22 was subordinate to verse 21 since it had no verb. Instead, there was a gap where the verb should be. According to Greek grammar, the previous verb should drop into the gap to complete the sentence. Thus, the verb in verse 21 dropped down into the gap in verse 22. The action in verse 22 then was “being subject to one another” in marriage!

Verse 22 was not about marriage but was one practical example of the redefined reciprocal verb introduced by Paul in verse 21. Verse 22 was not a new main point in the passage but only a sub-point to the key idea in verse 21.

They also discovered that verses 22-24 were but one illustrative subpoint in the passage that illustrated how the new verb in verse 21 can be practiced. Five more subpoints exemplified this verb in the following verses and verse 25 belonged to the second point.

Notice how the inclusion of Study Step 1 kept the interpreters of this passage from going astray, perhaps giving priority to some verses over others, and overlooking some (like 5:32) altogether.

Step 6. Think again about the points of application. The Bible is God’s Word to us. In it, God communicates to us things to know, understand and to put into practice. In the case of Ephesians 5:22-24, Paul used the reciprocal relationship of a mutually submitting Christian wife and husband to illustrate the practice of reciprocal submission between believers to one another. Thus, an obvious point of application for verses 22-24 was that Spirit-filled wives and husbands in Christ can model Christian reciprocating submission.

Paul used not only the metaphor of those united in Christian marriage, but he also used the metaphor of the unity of Christ and the church. Thus, a second point of application was that Christ and Christians are models of reciprocal submitting.

In the last part of Ephesians 5:23, Paul reached his main point: Christ’s self-submission in the reciprocal relationship, “himself savior of the body.” Thus, as Christ practiced self-sacrificing submission so Christians should practice it too.

The Bible study group decided that husbands should humbly step down from any sort of lordly pedestal they may have improperly taken for themselves in their relationship with their wives. This would include the concept of “headship,” which is a made up word for a non-biblical and anti-Christian idea.

Husbands should humble themselves to their proper station, that of being co-regents over creation with their own wives, and even further, to the point of intentionally submitting themselves to their wives in an ongoing way. In this reciprocal relationship wives should join their husbands in humbly submitting themselves to their husbands.

The Bible study group felt they had made a major discovery in their study. It meant that they would change the way they related to each other. They felt good about this because they could sense that true love was the underpinning of this kind of living.

Step 7. Think again about what the Bible does not say. In 1974, at The International Congress on World Evangelization held in Lausanne Switzerland, Francis Schaeffer warned the more than 4,000 Christians present to beware of the two dragons that attack our faith. One was distrust of the Bible, which is the inerrant, inspired Word of God. The other was misuse of the Bible, contorting and abusing the Word of God in such a way as to promote false doctrine. We must say what we believe and say what we do not believe. This is the thinking that is behind the seventh Study Step. Sadly, it is not often practiced in Bible study.

If any Bible study is to result in a fresh understanding of a Bible passage, false doctrines or erroneous ideas previously attributed to the passage need to be identified, labeled, rejected and corrected.

In the case of verses 22-24, which illustrate how to practice the new Christian verb coined by Paul in verse 21, the Bible study group decided that Paul is not dealing with the subject of “obedience” in any way (as in a wife to her husband, or the church to Christ). Questions of “how to obey” were irrelevant and incorrect because the subject was on mutual submission.

Moreover, they saw the passage had nothing to do with issues of hierarchy. Verse 23 is not about how Christ is Lord of the church, which submits to his Lordship. Retroactively, this idea would make it appear that the words in verses 22 and 24 are about wives submitting to their lordly husbands because they exercise “headship.” The idea of these verses was instead how Christ submitted himself – his part of the mutually submissive relationship in one body, which is composed of himself and the church.

The Bible study group decided to reject these erroneous ideas in personal practice and to see if they could be cleansed from all forms of teaching in their church. Any further practice built on these unbiblical (even anti-biblical) concepts needed to be stopped, and corrected, as well.

Final thoughts

Making no distinction among Christians was a key doctrine for Paul, and should be for us today. In 1 Corinthians 12:12-13, Paul wrote:

12The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

These words echoed his earlier words in Galatians 3:26-29. All believers, whether born Jewish or not, became one in Christ Jesus. Every believer became an heir with Abraham who received the promises. Both men and women believers become “sons” of God:

“You are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were united with Christ in baptism have been clothed with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Gal 3:26-29)

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