. The Power of Naming the Bible Study Practices You Do Naturally

The Power of Naming the Bible Study Practices You Do Naturally

Most of the skills involved in good Bible reading are things people do intuitively anyway. So why bother reading a Bible study magazine or purchasing Bible software—plus all the resources (commentaries, books, hermeneutics manuals) that make that software worth having?

Because, ironically, we are blind to things we do intuitively. It’s by acknowledging, describing, and finally naming our reading practices that we grow in our ability to read the Bible (or any book).

Love of Scripture is what will make you willing to do this kind of hard work.

Micro-level labels for Bible study

There, I just did it. I relied on your intuitive ability to read. In that phrase “love of Scripture,” who’s doing the loving? Scripture or you? Clearly, you are. Scripture doesn’t love; it’s the thing loved. It is the object of the love. So “Love of Scripture,” in this case, is formally called an “objective genitive.”

Any time you read a genitive (an “of” construction like “slice of cheese” or “man of honor”) you intuitively grasp a genitival relationship. But knowing the right label for it helps you see it with greater clarity and distinctness.

When your intuition gets stuck, grammatical (and other) labels are perhaps even more helpful. Take the genitive in Mark 1:15 (ESV), where Jesus says:

The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.

What is the relationship between kingdom and God? There are two major possibilities. Either 1) God owns this kingdom or 2) this is a reference to God’s rule: he “kingdoms”; he reigns. The common label for the first is “possessive”; for the latter it’s “subjective,” because “God” becomes the subject who “reigns.” Figuring out what Jesus meant includes assigning the proper labels to this grammatical construction. There isn’t always one right answer, but this labeling practice helps you rule out wrong answers—and it helps you slow down your Bible study by forcing you to ask questions you might rush past otherwise.

Macro-level labels for Bible study

When you zoom out to a more general level of Bible interpretation, labels are still a big help. In our free Bible study training course, we used three labels to describe the broad stages of Bible study:

  1. Observation
  2. Interpretation
  3. Application

That free training, what we call the 10-Day Bible Study Challenge, leads users through each of these steps. Sign up with the link below and you’ll receive daily emails taking you through a basic but rigorous Bible study approach. By labeling what you’re doing as Observation, Interpretation, and Application, not only will you gain a clearer picture of the passage you’re studying, you’ll gain a clearer picture of Bible study itself. Sign up below, or learn more about the free training.

mark ward


Mark L. Ward, Jr. received his PhD from Bob Jones University in 2012; he now serves the church as a Logos Pro. He is the author of multiple high school Bible textbooks, including Biblical Worldview: Creation, Fall, Redemption.


A version of this article originally appeared in the May–June 2016 issue of Bible Study Magazine. Learn more about subscribing to BSM.

Written by
Mark Ward

Christian, husband, father, writer, ultimate frisbee player when possible.

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    • Hi, Bob.

      Our email system was down briefly today. It looks like you attempted to register for the course during that time. Try registering again and let me know if you experience any further problems. Sorry for the inconvenience!



  • So what’s your preference regarding the example you posted, Mark? Is the relationship of the words in the phrase “kingdom of God” possessive or subjective? (I’m guessing you’ll lean towards the second.)

    • I’m going with the subjective genitive, yes. I confess to a less than complete canvassing of the commentaries, however. I’d be real interested to see the arguments of someone who disagrees.

      • Thanks. Interesting distinction. I haven’t chased this through in sufficient detail either, but I did find an interesting note on Mark 1:14 in The NET Bible (2005), where a few manuscripts have “the gospel of the kingdom of God” (rather than “the gospel of God”):

        The genitive in the phrase τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τοῦ θεοῦ (to euangelion tou theou, “the gospel of God”) could be translated as either a subjective genitive (“the gospel which God brings”) or an objective genitive (“the gospel about God”). Either is grammatically possible. This is possibly an instance of a plenary genitive (see ExSyn 119–21; M. Zerwick, “Biblical Greek”, §§36–39). If so, an interplay between the two concepts is intended: The gospel which God brings is in fact the gospel about himself.

        (They have essentially the same note on Rom 1:1.)

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Written by Mark Ward