Matthew Harmon has a helpful article with help for Bible interpretation and application. Beginning with Jesus’ explanation of the two greatest commandments to love God and love neighbor (Matt 22:37-39), Harmon then uses these two commands to shape his advice for both interpretation and application.
Harmon gives four interpretation questions to ask of any Bible passage:
- What do I learn about God?
- What do I learn about people?
- What do I learn about relating to God?
- What do I learn about relating to others?
Then he gives four application questions:
- What does God want me to understand/think?
- What does God want me to believe?
- What does God want me to desire?
- What does God want me to do?
Unfortunately, in the realm of interpretation, I find Harmon’s list a bit reductionist. Though they are great questions that certainly come from the two great commandments, they may in fact lead you to read such questions back into the text and thus miss the author’s main point. You might end up with a list of glorious theological truths that are sub-points alongside the main thing the author intends to communicate. So as you interpret, don’t neglect the structure and train of thought so you can arrive at the author’s true main point (which may or may not be easily categorized into one of the two great commandments).
But in the realm of application, this categorization works marvelously. Since the two great commandments summarize all the obedience God wants from his people, these categories fit more naturally here. And Harmon does a great job showing that “application” has to do with much more than simply “doing” (though, of course, it includes “doing” as the fourth question).
Harmon’s four questions put in different words the model we propose here of head, heart, and hands. Those questions could gain a dimension by considering the two great commands (which we call the two “directions” for application). Thus, we can ask not only “What does God want me to understand/think?” but also “How can I help others to understand/think this truth as well?” And so on, into the application matrix.
So if you’d like a more visual approach, check out our application matrix. If you’d benefit more from a list of questions, Harmon’s article does a nice job explaining them.