So, here is the procedure so far;
1) Read both alone and together with others (whether in a group or with books).
2) Recognize your own assumptions and presuppositions in reading.
3) Read in multiple translations
Now for the next, and in some ways most important step:
4) Ask questions:
a. All critical techniques have grown out of people asking questions.
What is the literary context of this passage? What comes before and after in the text?
b. What are the actually words used; not the words I think should be used, or the words the preacher sticks in there to make it easier to understand, but the actual words of the text?
c. Why is the story told exactly this way, and not another way?
d. Who are the characters in this story? Or is it poetry and I need to ask why these particular images are use
A Are there stories in other religious traditions that are similar? Or in other places in the bible?
Well, maybe you get the idea. I usually tell my seminary students that if they have no questions about the passage they are preaching on, they should find another passage for the week! This sounds basic, but you would be surprised at how many people leave out the question part. They assume that the text means one thing and one thing only and once they have learned that meaning from an “expert” they have no more need to question.
If you want to know the academic underpinnings for all of this, you should know that I am influenced by Paul Ricoeur. His talks about a cycle of reading: reading “naively,” then doing the work on a text, and reading once again in a fresh way.
Another way to look at the issue of questions, is that questions give the Holy Spirit space to work in you. The overarching question for me is always, What is God trying to say to me in this passage? but I find that out by asking lots of other questions.
And the type of questions that you ask determine the type of resources that you go to in order to find the answer to your questions, as well as the type of critical techniques that you use.
As we will talk about, different forms of biblical criticism grew out of different kinds of questions that people asked about the text.