Community of Christ

Studying Scriptural Texts

(adapted from Basic Tools for Scriptural Interpretation by Kees Compier)

How can we understand a passage of scripture (also referred to as a text) as we are preparing for a sermon? The term often used for this is “exegesis”—the process of interpreting a text.

Studying the text can present the scriptures as a living voice to the congregation—a voice that speaks from the past, helps us address the present, and invites us to enter the future in faith.

There are many different types of resources to help us go deeper into a particular text or passage of scripture. Some of those include:

  • Various translations of the Bible
  • Commentaries (one-volume and multi-volume)
  • Concordances
  • Bible dictionaries (one-volume and multi-volume)
  • Parallel studies (usually used with the Gospel—the same text from each Gospel is placed in parallel columns)
  • Bible atlas


Here are some simple steps to help you study the Scriptures and make them come alive for your congregation.

  1. Come to your study of the text with an open mind and open heart. Know that God is with you.
  2. Select the text. If you are preparing for a sermon, choose the text(s) suggested in the lectionary.
  3. Define the text. Know where the passage begins and ends. How does the story hang together?
  4. Read the text several times silently and at least once aloud. Read the text in different translations (NRSV, New Jerusalem, NIV, IV, and others). You might also look at the Gospel parallels if the passage is from a Gospel.
  5. Listen, think, feel, imagine, and ask when reading the text. Jot down some of your initial responses.
  6. Check the footnotes in a study Bible for variant readings of the text.
  7. Know the setting of the text. What comes before and after it, and how does this help us understand the intent of the author?
  8. Study the text in a structural way.
    • How does the story develop? What is the plot?
    • Look at the small but important connecting words such as: since, as, for, but, if.
    • Look at the verbs as they describe the action going on, and look at the role speech plays in the text.
    • Be honest with the text; do not read in what is not there.
  9. Study the text in the various contexts.
    • What do we know about the setting in regard to time, place, and circumstances?
    • What type of story or saying is it: wisdom, riddle, prophetic, miracle, parable, healing, song? If it is a parable, what do we know about parables in general that might help us?
    • What theological thinking does the author reflect? For instance, how does the author view miracles, the poor, suffering, eternal life, prayer, or the death of Jesus? (Check a Bible commentary and look up some of the key words in a Bible dictionary.)
    • How does the writer of the story use tradition? Does the author use other biblical traditions?
    • What problems or issues does the text address?
    • What is the aim or purpose of the author? What is the writer trying to say about the issue?
  10. Choose some of the key words; with the help of a concordance trace the use of the word elsewhere in the scriptures. This often helps us better understand the author's perspective.
  11. If you have not already done so, look up all places, people, and words you do not understand. Sometimes the names of people or places have a meaning that relates to the text. (Use a Bible dictionary.)
  12. Locate on a map in a study Bible or Bible atlas any place or geographical area that is mentioned.
  13. Be aware of your own contact with the text. What are your likes and dislikes? Who are your favorite characters in the passage? Be aware that this might influence the way you interpret the text.
  14. Pull all your research together. Ask yourself what the text is saying and doing—doing in the sense of how it is affecting you. In other words, how are faith and action interrelated?