Step 1: Investigate
The five Ws are used in all investigative efforts and we use them in Bible study as well. Who?, What?, When?, Where?, and Why? –These are the beginnings to the questions we must ask ourselves when approaching a book or letter in the New Testament (Note: we will first be focusing on the New Testament in this series and may go into specific study techniques for the Old Testament later). The goal of this first step is to get to know as much about the piece of writing as possible.
Who?: Identify the people involved. Who wrote the book and who was it written to? How are the people connected to one another? Most of the time you can find this information clearly stated within the writing itself (e.g., Romans 1:1-7; 1 Corinthians 1:1-2; Galatians 1:1-2; Ephesians 1:1). When reading a gospel we can usually infer the intended audience based on clues given in the text.
What?: Identify what you are reading. This is also called finding the genre. Some examples of genres we find in scripture are letters, gospels, revelation, poetry and history. They are categories or types of writings that have certain characteristics. For instance, a letter usually has a greeting and is addressed to a specific person or group of people. Just like you would read a newspaper differently than you would read a love letter, in scripture we read different genres in different ways. Letters are the most common types of writings found in the New Testament.
When?: Find the date of the writing. The timeframe and details most important are included in the book itself (e.g., when Paul was in prison or on Paul’s second missionary journey). For supplementary information, we are fortunate to have the internet at our fingertips where this information can be found (most conservative scholars agree on the dates of most books) but we can also look in reliable commentaries or Bible dictionaries.
Where?: Find background information about the place the letter was written to or the letter was written from (i.e., what they were known for, significant historical events that happened there). Research places that are mentioned, especially when studying the Gospels or Acts. Other books of the Bible are a good source for information (e.g. Acts 16:11-40 when studying Philippians).
WHY? : We want to spend the most time and effort on this part of the investigation. This is the part where we find the purpose of the book. This is our goal in good exegesis. Why did the author write this, what was he trying to say? What was the original meaning to the original audience?
The next article will focus entirely on the WHY aspect of our investigation process.
By Aimee Lemus