|HOW TO PREPARE: HINTS
We realize that some of the worksheet questions can be a little complex. While the preparation worksheet for the Workshop small groups does not vary with the genre of the text you are studying, the Workshops themselves focus on particular genres (and particular books as representative of its genre). We have prepared these hints on questions 1, 2, and 4 in order to help you. Again, if you haven't visited our How to Prepare page or our Worksheet FAQ, you might want to start there.
1. How has the author organized the text? Answer this question in two ways: 1) show the author’s structure with sections and verse references, and 2) explain how you arrived at this structure.
Remember, structure is a way of talking about how a passage in the Bible is organized. Important for finding the structure is the text type, a slightly different idea from genres. Both text types and genres are categories of literature and even use some of the same words (e.g., narrative), so it can be a little confusing. Genres are a bigger category and take in to account things like content, place in history, form of literature, and rhetorical purpose. Text types, however, refer only to the form of the text.
|Discourse (or speeches): This text type is most common in the speeches within narrative books or the Epistles (which were most likely preached material). It is a single person speaking and tends to have a logical flow to it. As such, to find the structure in discourse, you want to trace the logic or reasoning of the passage. You might try grammatical analysis (such as identifying the verbs or noting how some clauses and ideas are subordinated to other more dominant ideas), or tracing the flow of ideas (sometimes called arcing). Key words and transitional words are also very important. And as with every text type, you will want pay special attention to repetitions.
Narrative (or stories): This text type is found mostly in the Old Testament Narratives, some of the Prophets, and the Gospels and Acts. The structures in narratives tend to revolve around things like plot (or story arc), characters, or other literary devices (e.g., time of day, change of location). Perhaps the most important literary feature is plot, which has a distinctive shape: 1) setting (including introduction of characters, time, location), 2) conflict (or rising action, an inciting incident that demands a correction or solution), 3) climax (the turning point of the story, the point at which the resolution is set in motion and becomes necessary or inevitable), 4) resolution (the actual playing out of the solution in the conflict), and 5) new setting (or stasis, having shifted because of the plot arc, that paves the way for the next plot arc).
Poetry: This text type is found throughout the Bible, but primarily in Wisdom Literature, Prophetic Literature, and Apocalyptic Literature. The key to finding structure in poetry is understanding how the stanzas work. Many English translations break poems into stanzas, usually with vertical spaces between the lines. However, the editors are not always right! You might try finding how the stanzas separate by noticing repetitions, changes in imagery, changes in voice/point of view/person (e.g., first person, second person, third person), changes in the type of parallelism (i.e., how the lines relate to each other in the pairs or triplets of lines), or other literary devices (e.g., alphabetical).
|2. How is the meaning of your text informed by its context? Answer this question using 1) the immediate context (the closest passages on both sides of your text), 2) the context of the whole book, and 3) the historical context.
For each genre, the best way of finding immediate context (i.e. literary context) and the context of the whole book is to read the whole book over and over again. Get a feel for the major themes and arguments of the whole book. Get a feel for the story arcs and arguments in the major sections. But mostly, just keep reading!
For historical context, it might be good to consider the following:
|Old Testament Narrative: Old Testament Narratives, for the most part, are moments in the history of Israel. The book you are studying will be the best source of particular historical contexts. But finding references from other books throughout the Old Testament covering or addressing the same period in history might also be helpful (e.g., in the Prophetic or Psalms). For example, some of the Psalms give a particular historical context. So, when studying the story of David in 1 and 2 Samuel, you might actually be able to look at poetry he was writing at the time. Additionally, it can be very helpful to look at the previous period in history and note what problems it has. For example, 1 Samuel is, in part, the story of how Israel got a human king. Looking at the previous period in Israel’s history at the end of Judges helps put the transition from judges to kings in perspective.
Wisdom Literature: The Wisdom books are, for the most part, somewhat separate from historical context. Song of Songs and Job, for example, do not really give us any clues as to their place in Israel’s history. There are some good clues in Proverbs, but it is less clear that the historical context has a role to play in the book. Some of the Psalms can be tied to historical situations in other books, but certainly not all of them can. So, ask yourself what you can learn from the Scriptures about the historical context, but be very slow and measured to rest your interpretations on it.
Prophetic and Apocalyptic Literature: The Prophetic and Apocalyptic books of the Old Testament are, for the most part, tied into Israel’s history in the Old Testament Narrative books. As such, you might be able to find helpful references to particular people, prophets and kings of Israel and Judah, in especially 1 and 2 Kings. It might be very helpful to look at the reign of a particular monarch and get a sense of what problems Israel and Judah are facing to understand the agenda of the prophets in the Prophetic books. Remember, the first fulfillments of prophesies are almost always in the history of Israel and Judah themselves.
Epistles: The best source of the historical context of the Epistles is generally the Epistle itself. Look at the beginning of the letter and the end of the letter for clues about particular the setting in history. Look throughout the letter for references to named people or locations. In the Pauline Epistles especially, look at the specifics concerning opponent or false teaches. Ask yourself: ‘What is going on in the city/region of the recipient?’ Also look in related texts. For example, if you are studying 2 Corinthians, 1 Corinthians might give you some good clues. If you are reading 2 Timothy, both 1 Timothy and Ephesians might provide some help. And finally, the Acts of the Apostles is a very helpful resource. Look for corresponding references to places and people mentioned in Acts. This historical data is rarely going to be the key to reading a passage, but it almost always helps put the situation of the letter in context.
Gospels: The Gospels are slightly more complicated because we know very little about the authors (remember that the Gospels are technically anonymous, though the traditions are very old and likely authentic) or, more importantly, we only have speculation as to where they were written and to whom. It is quite likely, in fact, that the Gospels were meant to be distributed widely throughout the ancient Mediterranean and so should not be tied to the particular situation of a particular church in a particular place. Finally, to be clear, this hint is entirely in reference to the historical context of the Gospels. Issues concerning that field of Biblical Studies called historical Jesus as well as the cultural context of the ancient Mediterranean are still very much relevant and should be reconstructed from the Gospels themselves.
|4. What are a few ways that your text relates to or anticipates the gospel (i.e., the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ)? How would you incorporate one of these connections into your sermon?