Interpret before applying!
We’ve all done it. Read a verse and then jumped over to how it applies to our lives. Forgetting to lay the foundation by asking “What do I see?” (observation) and then, “What does that verse mean?” (interpretation). Instead, we often go straight for the gold—“How does this help my dilemma?” (application).
Does it matter what order we do it—whether we start with observation or start with interpretation? Or maybe begin with application and then move into interpretation? Or maybe we start with all three questions at the same time. Can we still end up with the same understanding of Scripture, no matter which order we ask these foundational questions?
Take building a house for example. Does it matter if we begin with laying the framework before the concrete foundation? Or can we assemble the roof prior to framing the walls? Or can we do all three at the same time? Does the order in which we construct a house matter?
Yes! Of course order matters. Just like order matters in how we approach Bible study. It would be foolish to read a passage and then create an application without first observing important clues and then interpreting the meaning of the passage.
Take Matthew 5:29, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away! It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into hell.” If I jumped straight to application, I wouldn’t be able to write this blog post because my eye would be in the garbage. So yes, order of Bible study does matter!
Let’s tackle this verse in proper order. First, I observed the context of this verse falls within Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. It is part of a series of lessons. And a careful investigation of 5:28 reveals Jesus is addressing matters of the heart. This helps us understand Jesus isn’t advocating self-mutilation by tearing out our eyes. Instead, Jesus cares about whether we’re serious about rooting out sinful behaviors, such as lust, which originate from a sinful heart. So rather than jumping from reading to application, commit to a systematic approach: Observation “What do I see?”, Interpretation “What does it mean?”, and then Application “How does it work?”
Scripture and/or notes quoted by permission. Quotations designated (NET) are from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://bible.org All rights reserved.