Studying to be Mastered

Posted On March 22, 2017

Fundamental to a proper education is not only teaching students what to think but also how to think. Just such a pedagogy (method of teaching) is utilized by Dr. David Briones, Professor of New Testament, in his biblical studies courses. Dr. Briones desires for his students to not only master God’s Word but, more importantly, to be mastered by God’s Word. To such an end, he teaches his students to focus on three elements that aid us in understanding Scripture: 1) Asking promising questions; 2) making helpful observations; and 3) applying the text. The first two steps serve as a foundation for the third step. For all three steps, it is necessary that we come to Scripture with humility and rely on the person and work of the Holy Spirit in the task of biblical interpretation. As Dr. Briones reminds us regularly, “We desperately need the Spirit to understand and live out the text (John 16:13).”

Asking Promising Questions
Initially, this is one of the most difficult aspects of exegesis, but it is one of the most crucial. To understand what a promising question is, it is helpful to know what an unpromising one looks like. An example would be to ask, “Why does Paul say the Jews are no better off (Rom 3:9a)?” Why is this not a promising question? This is certainly an important point in Paul’s argument (and gospel), yet it is unpromising because the question is readily answerable by the immediate context. The Jews are no better off because Paul has already shown that both Jews and Greeks are under sin (Rom 3:9b; see also 2:17–29). A more promising question in this context is to ask, “What does Jewish unfaithfulness to the law (3:2–3), and Paul’s statements on the law (3:19-20) say about the ultimate purpose of the law?” This allows you to examine other Scripture passages (e.g., Rom 7; Gal 3) and works by biblical commentators to seek and find answers to your question(s). If you cannot find answers in either of those two avenues, it may be an indication that the questions(s) you asked need to be revised.

Making Helpful Observations
Making observations may come more easily than asking questions. As a result, you may have more observations than you do questions. A helpful observation does not merely repeat verses. Rather, it sees a point that is made in the text and fleshes out its implication in the context of the passage. Drawing from above, what might have been an unpromising question may be readily turned into a helpful observation. Thus we could say, “Despite the blessings God showed to the Jews, they are not better off as regards the universality of sin but stand condemned with the rest of mankind (3:9–18).” This simple step will help greatly in grasping the scope of an author’s argument.

Applying the Text
Finding application for the text can be the most difficult step for some people. It is good to remind yourself at this point that you are not simply studying the text, rather this is where the text is studying and mastering you. It is helpful to apply the text in three areas: How does this text help me 1) understand God, 2) myself, and 3) my relationship with God and others. If you put the work in on the first two steps, this part should come naturally.

Studying Scripture can be an arduous task. Yet it is our duty, and one that we should rejoice in doing (Psa 119:16)! We are not alone in this task as we have the Holy Spirit to train us in the Word that He inspired (1 Cor 2:14–16; Jn 14:26; 1 Jn 2:27). We should be confident that God’s Word will accomplish its purpose (Isa 55:11), and in the promise that through beholding Christ in Scripture—by the Spirit—we will become like Him (2 Cor 3:18).

— Nathaniel J. Crofutt is a junior at Reformation Bible College.