There are five theological disciplines, and a good study Bible helps you with all of them — especially the first.
Exegesis draws the meaning out of a text (that’s good!), and “eisegesis” reads a meaning into a text (that’s bad!). In other words, exegesis interprets a text by analyzing what the author intended to communicate. Exegesis is simply careful reading. The text means what the text’s author meant. Exegetes are concerned primarily with interpreting a text; that is, discovering what the author meant. What does this involve?
- Genre. Establish rules for interpreting a passage’s style of literature.
- Textual Criticism. Establish the original wording.
- Translation. Translate the Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek text, and compare other translations.
- Greek Grammar. Understand how sentences communicate with words, phrases, and clauses.
- Argument Diagram. Trace the logical argument by arcing, bracketing, or phrasing.
- Historical-Cultural Context. Understand the situation in which the author composed the literature and any historical-cultural details that the author mentions or probably assumes.
- Literary Context. Understand the role a passage plays in its whole book.
- Word Studies. Unpack key words, phrases, and concepts.
A good study Bible takes all of this into account and highlights what is most significant for understanding books of the Bible and particular passages. The introductions to each book of the Bible explain the broad literary context and relevant historical-cultural context, and the study notes explain individual parts in that larger context.
When the text is the Bible, we must never stop with exegesis: We must also do theology — biblical, historical, systematic, and practical theology.
2. Biblical Theology.
Make organic connections with the whole canon on its own terms, across the storyline of the Bible, especially regarding how the Old and New Testaments integrate and climax in Christ. (I try to show how Harry Potter illustrates biblical theology in the four-minute video below.) This is a main distinctive of the NIV Zondervan Study Bible.
3. Historical Theology.
Survey and evaluate how significant exegetes and theologians have understood the Bible and theology.
4. Systematic Theology.
Discern how a passage theologically coheres with the whole Bible. This is a major strength of the ESV Study Bible.
5. Practical Theology.
Apply the text to yourself, the church, and the world.
Quality study Bibles are one of the most helpful all-around tools you can use to better understand and apply the Bible. So by all means use them (responsibly) as you focus primarily on the God-breathed text.