Identifying key words can inform your understanding of the author’s motivation and message.

Look for patterns in the use of certain words and phrases. Are they frequently repeated? Do they have a certain connotation? Is the author trying to tell us something by his choice of these words?

For example, in John’s gospel ‘the world’ is always a bad place; 'light' is always positive; 'darkness' is always negative; 'signs' are miracles; and ‘the Jews’ are typically Jewish leaders opposed to Jesus.

In John’s epistles take note of words like ‘love’ and ‘children.’


The first stage in serious Bible study is to consider the larger context within which a passage is found.

Unless we can grasp the whole before attempting to dissect the parts, interpretation is doomed from the start.

Statements simply have no meaning apart from their context.

...In Scripture the context provides the situation behind the text. In fact, there is no meaning apart from context, only several possible meanings.

Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral (2006), 36-37.