In seeking to understand a passage of scripture we need to be familiar with the 5 levels of Bible Study. These levels are not linear as if you need to start at level 1 and work through to level 5, instead they are like layers of context that all need to be considered in the process.
One way to think of this is as higher magnification on a laboratory microscope. To the naked eye we have the Bible made up of 66 books. When we move to 10x magnification we see that each book is made up of passages and paragraphs. At the 100x we discover each paragraph is made up of sentences. And finally, at 1000x we see the building blocks of all sentences; words. Of course we could drill down further and recognize that the words are made up of letters but for our purpose of studying the Bible that is unnecessary.
It is important to notice that these are not unrelated things at variable size, but related things: The Bible is made up of books which are made up of paragraphs which are made up of sentences which are made up of words. It is thread of relationship that requires us to study at all the levels to make sure we understand what is really being said. When you look at the 5 layers as a whole, or when you look at the image of the top of the page, you get a good feel for the whole of Bible study.
- The Word Level: Here we consider things like word definitions, the language used (and the corresponding rules of grammar), metaphorical language and cultural idiom, not to mention the immediate context of the word, the sentence its found in.
- The Sentence Level: The things of importance at this layer are the basic rules of grammar, function of speech and the relationship between words according to prepositions.
- The Passage Level: At this level we need to look at the thought processes and logical argument as well as consider the main ideas (usually paragraphs are based around a single unifying idea), and how the structure informs meaning.
- The Book Level: Here we consider the main concerns of the author, his purpose for writing, the audience and concerns the book addresses, and the type of literature (genre).
- The Whole Bible Level: This is where we consider the passages relationship to all of Scripture and Jesus as the center of the Bible. We also fit the passage into God’s progressive revelation and see how the truths of this passage grow with more of the story being told.
Notice that many pieces of understanding flow through every level. Imagery applies at the word and sentence level. Cultural and Contextual understanding is necessary at all 5 levels.
The 5 levels, and the corresponding image are not meant to be overwhelming. You can only do one of these at a time, and hopefully you can find the tools and teaching to do so throughout this website. The goal here was just to help you see the big picture of all that goes into studying the Bible. Instead of seeing the task as crushingly large, use these levels to ask what you have yet to consider in studying a passage of the Bible. Don’t know where to begin? I recommend starting at the Paragraph level and working down through sentences to words. After that widen out to the book and Bible layer.
The 5 Levels of Bible Study allow you to see a passage in its parts and in its context. It will help you to value and consider the relationship of what you are studying to the whole of scripture. I encourage you to commit them to memory and learn to ask, “What level have I not considered yet?”