How To Study The Bible: Three Worlds & The Text

How To Study The Bible: Three Worlds & The Text

Posted on January 28, 2020

BY JESSICA SHERRILL, GRACE ATTENDER

Studying the Bible. The task seems monumental, unobtainable, just by the size of it alone. The history, the culture, the poetry and stories, those names- it’s a bit overwhelming. It is so easy to gloss over passages, chapters and even entire books, and get to the end and wonder how you got there, not retaining anything. And how do we apply it accurately to daily life? Sure we read it, pick out some verses and stories, but how do we study it?
 
Last July, Grace started the series BYOB- Bring Your Own Bible. Barry opened the series, with a simplified structure, but an in-depth way to approach studying the Bible - the Three Worlds of the Text. Let’s take a look by what he means with ‘the three worlds.’

1. The World Behind the Text

This gives us the historical backdrop of what we are reading. It tells us who the author is and who the passage is written to, including the culture and what life was like at the time.

2. The World of the Text

This includes the literary features: poetry, imagery, repetition and contrast, highlighting the relationship from one passage to the others around it and the connection from one book to another. 

3. The World in Front of the Text

This is our world, more specifically your world. When you study the world in front of the text, you bring your perspective and world views to the Bible and it comes alive; it begins to speak to you.
 
Barry gives an example of applying the three worlds of the text to the passage in Matthew 5:38-42 (NIV):
 
 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
 
The World Behind this Text: This passage is referencing Old Testament law (eye for eye/tooth for tooth), which in essence is the idea that the punishment fits the crime. But Jesus is telling the people to go beyond what is fair and required by the law, to carry that injustice themselves (turn the other check/give your coat/go two miles). 
 
The World of this Text: This passage is from a much larger sermon that emphasized the new way of living that Jesus was asking of people of the time. There is much repetition of ‘You have heard….but I tell you….’ Jesus takes the Old Testament law and pushes beyond the limits and into radical self-giving love. Read beyond in verses 43-44, where Jesus tells us that not only should we not hate our enemies, but we should love them.
 
The World in Front of the Text: Here’s where it gets interactive. Remember, this is your world, the experiences, perspectives and emotions you bring with you. So how does this passage connect with you? What injustice(s) have you faced? And how are you pushing through, ‘turning the other cheek,’ as previously discussed in the first ‘two worlds,’ to live in the radical self-giving love Jesus has called us to?
 
The simplicity of the three world structure simplifies the process of studying the Bible. Utilize other tools available to you – a cross reference Bible, which connects scripture for you. There are a variety of commentaries to read. Buy a study Bible or a notebook and pens and highlighters. What is important is that you are able to go beyond to get to the point of application. That you get to the world in front of the text and meet the Holy Spirit where He intercedes and speaks to you, where you are challenged and live life differently and you are able to see and value the Bible for the living book that it is.