1. My own experience:
    • By the time I went to college, I had been in church 3 times a week since age 6.
    • But I had almost no answer to why I believed the Bible was true, nor did I know how to interpret the Scriptures beyond the simple Bible stories I had learned in Sunday school.
  2. While in college I began attending a small, new congregation on the outskirts of Houston.
  3. A mentor and teacher:
    • The preacher for this small congregation almost immediately started taking me home for lunch each Sunday afternoon – the sure way to a single college student’s heart.
    • The brother, James Wilson, then began to teach me Christian apologetics, and also modeled how to study the Bible using the method I will briefly present here. Essentially, he challenged me to become a detective discovering “the rest of the story.”
  4. I have always viewed that time as God specifically at work redirecting my life!


  1. The entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation is one single story and must always be handled that way.
    • And as with any great story, true or fictional, every part of the book has to be understood in light of its connection to the whole, and where it fits in.
    • Further, no part of the book is superfluous, a detour, or unimportant to the whole story.
  2. Perhaps many have not viewed the Bible this way since it is made up of portions written by different writers over some 1,500+ years, and who used several different literary styles (history, poetry, biography, letter, etc.). But it is just one story!
  3. Three key “big picture” or “macro” pieces to this Bible story:
    • Getting to know the story itself – from God creating all things including man in Genesis… to the final conflict with evil, the Final Judgment, and Eternity in Revelation.
    • Knowing the library of writings and how they are arranged:
      • Old Testament: 5 books of Moses, 12 books of history, 5 books of poetry and wisdom, 5 larger prophets, 12 smaller prophets – 39 total.
      • New Testament: 4 Gospels, 1 book of history, 13 letters of Paul, 8 general letters, 1 book of prophecy – 27 total.
      • These many books are not in chronological order from beginning to end, but rather in order only within their group.
      • Note that we commonly use the word “book” to refer to each individual writing in the Bible; but we recognize that technically many are not books in the modern sense. Nevertheless, it is a convenient and long established custom to speak of them in this way.
    • Having a clear grasp of the history going on in the entire Bible
      • Being able to identify what is happening historically.
      • Seeing this history divided into three periods: Patriarchs, Mosaic, and Christian.
      • Where each book or writing fits within that history.


      1. Where does the book fit within the whole story and history?
      2. What literary genre or type of writing is the book?

      At this point we are beginning to move from the “macro” to the “micro” view of the text!

      1. How is the book organized – general outline or arrangement?
      2. If we are studying only a section of the book (chapter, paragraph, verse, etc.), where is our section located within the book?
      3. Reading the entire book, preferably several times, gives a sense of the author’s main purpose along with how he has arranged his writing for achieving his goal.


      1. Rudyard Kipling (journalist and author) wrote a children’s short story in his 1902 Just So Stories for Little Children entitled “The Elephant’s Child.” In it was this poem:

      I keep six honest serving-men
      (They taught me all I knew);
      Their names are What and Why and When
      And How and Where and Who.
      I send them over land and sea,
      I send them east and west;
      But after they have worked for me,
      I give them all a rest.

      I let them rest from nine till five,
      For I am busy then,
      As well as breakfast, lunch, and tea,
      For they are hungry men.
      But different folk have different views;
      I know a person small
      She keeps ten million serving-men,
      Who get no rest at all!
      She sends ’em abroad on her own affairs,
      From the second she opens her eyes
      One million Hows, Two million Wheres,
      And seven million Whys!

      1. This poem not only described his own journalistic approach in the first stanza, but his daughter’s insatiable desire to know in the second.
      2. Kipling’s “servants” are key questions that need to be answered to more fully understand something. And to them I add two more: How Much and Wherefore?
      3. Having gotten the “big picture,” these are now the questions we want to answer as we begin to examine our specific Bible passage. The kind of questions we have might be:
        1. WHO – the author, recipients, key characters
        2. WHAT – subject being discussed, problem needing solved, event taking place
        3. WHEN – historical timeframe, what happens before and after, past, present or future
        4. WHERE – is this taking place, where is the author, where are recipients
        5. WHY – is this written if to someone, or what is author seeking to accomplish
        6. HOW – is the author achieving his goal, or how is he communicating
        7. HOW MUCH (or MANY) – are numbers or amounts involved that are significant
        8. WHEREFORE – what is the ultimate purpose, intended meaning, or application.
      4. Now comes the examination of the smallest components of our text. Examples:
        1. Key words and unusual words
        2. Expressions and figures of speech
        3. References
        4. Concepts or doctrines
        5. Practices
        6. Manner or style of the writing
        7. Commands, corrections, encouragements, instructions
      5. When at last we have done our due diligence in discovering both the big picture and the specifics of the passage, we determine the intended meaning for the original audience.


      1. I almost always use a notepad to write down in some detail many of the above “discoveries” about my text or subject.
      2. I also use a good Bible dictionary, and reference works giving book outlines and historical background information.
      3. I assemble all the appropriate parts starting with the big picture and moving down to the specific passage I am studying, trying to observe or note as I go how any parts of the bigger picture affects the understanding of the specific passage.
      4. After writing out the application to the original recipients, I can now craft a (hopefully) interesting narrative of this research so I see and can communicate how it all fits together, both with the story of the passage as well as being part of the big story.
      5. Only as my last task do I then seek to make application of the passage to our present situation or need.


      1. Our series of articles on David and Goliath demonstrates this type of in-depth background research to fully explore the Biblical text of I Samuel 17.
      2. The same is true of our Mini-Biography series of lesser-known Bible characters.