Dig Deep into God's Word

Dig Deep into God's Word

The power of inductive Bible study for your group
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Example:

In Philemon, the writer indentifies himself as Paul (Philemon 1). Timothy is also mentioned as a secondary author. We're able to determine that Paul is writing from prison (vv. 1, 9). Because he calls himself "a prisoner of Christ Jesus" instead of a prisoner of Rome or some other city-state, we can deduce that he is in prison for his work in spreading the Gospel.

Paul shows hints of great humility. He has some kind of authority, but chooses not to use it and instead indentifies himself simply as an old man (vv. 8-9).

We can also gather that Paul plans to be out of prison by requesting the preparation of a guest room (v. 22).

2. Identify the audience. After your small group establishes authorship, the next step is audience. You want to know as much as possible about who the text is for. This will help you understand the author's purpose in writing. Furthermore, applying the text to everyday life is much easier when you know enough about the audience to put yourself in their shoes.

  • Search the text for any indication of who the audience is.
    - Is it established near the beginning?
    - Does the author refer to a single person or a group of people?
  • If the audience isn't specifically mentioned, what can you learn about the audience based on context?
    - Is it a historical recounting?
    - Is it a story to illustrate a point?
    - What does this tell you about the audience?
  • Search for anything distinctive about the audience:
    - Does it say where they are?
    - Is their past mentioned?
    - Can you gather anything about their personality?

Example:

Like most letters in the Bible, the audience for Philemon is also the name of the book. Philemon (a person) is the chief recipient of this letter, but it is also addressed to Apphia, Archippus, and to "the church that meets in your home."

We can learn quite a bit about Philemon from the text. Because the church met in his home, it is logical to assume he was fairly hospitable. The fondness of Paul's words in verses 4-7 show us that Paul and Philemon had an especially good relationship.

In verse 1, Paul calls Philemon a "fellow worker." This sentiment is echoed in verse 17 with "partner" and, therefore, Philemon was probably invested in the same work as Paul—the spreading of the gospel.

Lastly, we know that Philemon owes Paul his "very self" (v. 19). Because Paul's life and Philemon's life are both rooted in Christ, it is possible that this could mean Paul is the reason Philemon came to faith in Christ.

3. Identify other important characters. The Bible tells stories through people. This often goes further than just the author and audience. To get a clear picture of what's going on, your small group needs to identify any other important characters in the text.

  • Indentify all the characters in the book or section of Scripture.
    - How many are there? How many times are they mentioned?
    - How important are they? Are they a chief part of the narrative?
    - Who seems to stand out above other characters?
  • Determine how they're related to the author and audience.
  • Search for anything distinctive about the other characters:
    - Does it say where they are?
    - Is their past mentioned?
    - Can you gather anything about their personality?

Example:

In the case of Philemon, the letter focuses heavily on a slave named Onesimus (v. 16). In verse 11, Paul notes that Onesimus used to be useless to Philemon, and in verse 15 we learn that Onesimus was separated from Philemon. These observations, coupled with the fact that he is being sent back, tell us that Onesimus is probably Philemon's runaway slave.

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