I’ve been in many small group Bible studies over the years, and quite a few seem to follow this mode of discussion:
- Read a few verses selected seemingly at random.
- Go around the circle and ask each person the question, “So what does this verse mean to you?”
- Go home.
Nothing wrong with steps 3-5, but those first couple can be problematic. In fact it can be at best misleading, at worst heresy, when you go around the circle and ask, “What does this verse mean to you?” To be honest, it doesn’t really matter what the verse means to me or to you. It matters what the verse meant to the person who wrote it and the people it was originally written for.
Contrary to Christian-pop cultural opinion, there are not multiple right interpretations of a passage. There is one correct interpretation. Think of it this way. Let’s say you wrote a love note to a certain someone you had a crush on. Most of us did that when we were kids. When you wrote the words in that note, you had one meaning in mind. Would it be right for someone else to come along and claim that your words mean something totally different, just because, “That’s what it means to me”? No way! You wrote them. They mean what you meant them to say, and nothing else. There is only one correct interpretation or meaning.
Now, to be fair, some passages of Scripture are not completely clear as to what the one correct interpretation is, and the guys who wrote it are, well, not around anymore to ask. There may be a few different possible interpretations, but in most cases one stands out among the rest as the most plausible. Whether it’s an implausible, possible, or highly plausible interpretation isn’t decided based on what it means to me, or what I think it should say in light of my modern cultural values, but rather what the broader meaning of the surrounding context is, and how it fits into the even larger message of the whole Bible. This is why selecting random verses can be troublesome, and why it’s always important to read a verse in context.
So what should you ask your group? Well, after discussing the meaning of the passage and attempting to discover what the author meant to say, then ask the question of each person: “What does this mean for you?” That is an altogether different question. The Bible means what it means, but it applies to each one of us in a way that fits exactly into our unique lives. One of the very best questions to discuss as a group is how to apply the verse or passage you’re studying to each person’s own life.
What are some life-changing questions or discussions you’ve had in your group?