"Now these were more noble-minded..., for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11).

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Select an answer (or answers) to a question and click "How did I do?" when your test is ready to be graded.

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How do we study the Bible?


Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.

How do we study the Bible? - Lesson 3: Understanding Scripture through context

Have you ever read a passage in the Bible and asked “What does this word mean?” or “Who is this written to?” or even “What message is being conveyed?” The answer to all of these questions can be determined through the context of the passage being read. The context of a word, phrase or passage is established by the surrounding words and phrases. These surrounding words, or groups of words will provide God’s interpretation of scriptures (2 Peter 1:19-21). Words studied within their proper context will provide the reader with the pure word of God.

For example, read the scripture found in Genesis 6:14. Who is talking? Who is listening? The answer can be found in Genesis 6:13. In this context, God is giving instructions to Noah.

Another aspect of context is the use of language. Language in this sense is not referring to a dialect or tongue, but to the technical aspects of language, mainly literal language and figurative language. Literal language uses words in a way that allows the words themselves to maintain their defined meaning. Thus, when reading a scripture which falls under the literal context, the reader should understand that the scripture means exactly what it says.

Most examples of literal language within the Bible can be found within texts that address predominantly historical accounts or the deliverance of laws and commandments. Historical accounts include: the birth of Christ (Matthew chapters 1 and 2), creation (Genesis chapters 1 and 2) and the journeys of Paul (the book of Acts). Examples of passages concerning laws or commandments are The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapters 5-7 and the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:1-17. Books with primarily literal language can be found in both the Old Testament (Genesis - Job, Daniel & Jonah), and in the New Testament (Matthew-Jude).

Figurative language, on the other hand, occurs when the speaker or writer uses words in a way which strays from their original definition in order to convey a concept or message through colorful or descriptive language, such as analogies, metaphors, similes, and hyperbole.

Figurative language can be determined through context and is generally found in the Bible’s books of poetry and prophecy (Psalms - Ezekiel, Hosea - Obadiah, Micah - Malachi, and Revelation). Figurative language can also be found within literal texts when the speaker is trying to express a point or lesson to others.

Below is a list of common types of figurative language used in the Scriptures. Click on each one to see a definition and an example of that type.

  1. John 2:1 reads, “On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.” This is an example of what kind of language?
  2. A.Sarcasm
  3. Matthew 19:23-24 reads, “And Jesus said to His disciples, ‘Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’” Is this an example of figurative language?
  4. True
  5. Give an example of sarcasm in the Scriptures.
  6. A.1 Kings 18:27
    B.Galatians 3:1
    C.Exodus 20:13
    D.Joshua 24:15
  7. Which of the following is NOT a rhetorical question?
  8. A.Romans 6:1
    B.1 Corinthians 11:22
    C.2 Corinthians 6:14-16
    D.Acts 2:37
  9. Matthew 23:24 reads, "You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!" Is this an example of hyperbole?
  10. True
  11. Which is an example of a parable?
  12. A.1 Samuel 17 (David and Goliath)
    B.Luke 15:3-7
    C.1 Kings 17:8-16
    D.Matthew 3:13-17
  13. Ephesians 5:23-27 is an example of what?
  14. A.Parable
    C.Literal language
  15. Acts 20:12 reads, "And they brought the young man alive, and were not a little comforted" (KJV). Is this an example of an understatement?
  16. True
  17. Which of the following is an example of a metaphor?
  18. A.Galatians 6:1
    B.John 19:1
    C.John 14:6
    D.Genesis 1:1
  19. Which of the following is NOT an analogy?
  20. A.1 Corinthians 3:12-13
    B.James 1:23-25
    C.Matthew 18:2-3
    D.Hebrews 11:6

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