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General biblical studies applies a variety of interrelated disciplines to our study of Scripture in order to arrive at the meaning of a passage in its original context. It covers the content and background of Scripture with the goal of arriving at the sound interpretation. Biblical studies highlights the importance of background material, such as the history, literary genre, language, composition, authorship, and context surrounding a particular portion of the Bible. It includes matters related to textual studies and canonicity. Additionally, it involves the study of the cultural situation of the text, which may lend themselves to a better understanding of the author’s own cultural influences and practices.


While hermeneutics involves exegetical theology, systematic theology, redemptive history, and historical theology, biblical studies is the foundation to exegetical theology. To arrive at a well-informed understanding of the meaning of any given text of Scripture, pertinent grammatical, historical, literary, and cultural background material needs to be considered.

Biblical studies involves an etymological study of the language in which the Bible was inspired (i.e., Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic). While acknowledging that each text of Scripture determines the meaning of the words of the text, the linguistic background of particular words often informs final conclusions about their meaning in context.

Biblical studies also involves the study of the geopolitical, geographical, cultic, and agricultural background in which any given part of Scripture was written. At times, the use of extrabiblical literature can help illuminate our study of the Old and New Testaments. In many places in Scripture, some knowledge of the historical, cultural, or cultic setting of events is required to rightly know the original meaning. For instance, the more we know about the various gods of Egypt, the better equipped we will be to understand how each of the plagues corresponded to the roles of these gods and thus how the plagues demonstrated the power of the God of Israel over these other supposed deities. In order to understand Isaiah’s overarching message, it is important to know the historical background of the reigns of the four kings under whom the prophet ministered. Familiarity with the rabbinical teaching of the Talmud helps us better understand what Jesus was correcting in the Sermon on the Mount. Likewise, to grasp the cultural context of the seven churches of Asia Minor (Rev. 2–3), we need to understand particular cultural and symbolic references. To this end, biblical studies sometimes involves a working knowledge of ancient Near Eastern literature, works from the intertestamental period, the Septuagint, the Apocryphal books, early Jewish historiography, and writings from the period of Second Temple Judaism.

In addition to considering external literature and resources, biblical studies involves a careful consideration of the canonical context of a passage. The student must consider any given passage in its immediate canonical context—whether the Pentateuch, historical books, Wisdom Literature, prophetic literature, gospel narratives, the Epistles, or the book of Revelation. Identifying the specific literary genre in which God gives His special revelation also belongs to biblical studies. We can only draw conclusions about Scripture after we have understood the literary genre in which each passage is set—whether historical narrative, poetry, didactic, parabolic, sermonic, autobiographical, or apocalyptic.

Since biblical studies involve the canonical context of a passage, it also involves textual and canonical scholarship. Among the most important subjects in the study of Scripture is the transmission of the text of Scripture. Such issues as textual criticism, source criticism, and higher criticism belong to biblical studies. Canonical studies also include a consideration of methodological approaches to the reception of the biblical canon and the search for the original meaning of the text, such as the historical-critical model, the Roman Catholic model, the historically determined model, and the self-authenticating model.


We fail in our duty to study God’s Word not so much because it is difficult to understand, not so much because it is dull and boring, but because it is work.

If the Bible is the Word of God, we need to know the words that the Apostles actually wrote. The science of textual criticism is the means by which we discover the original text. Employing this science, we see that the vast majority of these differences are insignificant, consisting of such things as easily recognized spelling errors, words appearing in different order (word order is not as significant in Greek as it is in English), and so on. Of the more significant differences, none of them affect any significant Christian doctrine. But there are notable differences that remain, and they are generally noted in any good English translation of the Bible.

Ligonier Ministries

"The Preservation of Scripture

Tabletalk magazine