How to Read John

Part 1: John 1–12


Planting a garden requires the right tools. And so does interpreting the Bible. But instead of shovels, rakes, and weeders, we use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application. 

The book of John is a collection of Jesus's miraculous signs that point to His identity as the Messiah. This video from The Bible Project provides an overview of the book. The goal of this post is not to replace your personal study of the Bible. Rather, it is to help you navigate the book of John, discover what it teaches, dive into how it fits into the rest of the Bible, and look at how it applies to your life. Use the questions below as a guide as you watch this first video about John 1–12.




Observation asks the basic question: who, what, where, and when. It examines the book at a surface level—the characters, events, themes, culture, and genre. Observations may seem obvious at first, but they open the door to the meaning of any part of the Bible. Be careful to not jump ahead to interpreting the observations, or assigning them meaning. Just list them. 

Example: The true light was in the world, but the world did not know Him.


Observe: As you watched the video, what observations did you make about John 1–12? (Consider the major characters, plot points, locations, cities, landmarks, time period, background information, cultural aspects, genre, themes, and actions of the characters.)
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Where an observation determines what the book says, interpretation takes the next step to find out what the book means. We’ve asked what the book says about God and humanity, and now we ask what that means. Look at the themes and ask what they mean as well.

Example: (Observation) The true light was in the world, but the world did not know Him. (Interpretation) Even though Israel had been awaiting their Messiah for many years, they did not recognize Him when He finally came.


Interpret: What is significant about each of the observations you made above? What is the main message of John 1–12? (Think about what this book teaches about God and humanity and what that teaching means, as well as the meaning of the themes.)
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Contextualization looks at how the book fits into the story of the Bible. It connects the themes that pop up throughout the story of Scripture and sees how the book fits into the biblical narrative. 

Example: God promised to send a Messiah to rescue His people. Israel waited through many years and generations for their Messiah. Prophecies foretell of the coming King. God sends His own Son, Jesus, into the world to save His people from their sins. Jesus makes claims and does miraculous signs. Jesus causes controversy and division. The very people who are waiting for Him do not recognize Him. Jesus is crucified, paying for the sins of mankind. Jesus rises from the dead. Jesus promises to return. Many people still misunderstand who Jesus is. 


Contextualize: What themes does John 1–12 seem to establish? What themes would you say have potential to carry forward into other books of the Bible? What themes connect back to Genesis?
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Application asks, “So what?” It considers how the meaning of this book applies to our day-to-day lives. The point of reading Scripture isn’t to become puffed up with knowledge, but to be transformed. Ask God to show you how you can specifically put the truths from this book into practice. Brainstorm ways you can live out what you learned throughout your day.

Example: When mankind fell into sin in Genesis 3, God promised to send a Messiah. Ironically, when Jesus appeared, few recognized Him! With controversial signs and claims, people were divided over His identity. Like the people in the book of John, I must also do something with Jesus’ identity—either believing Him to be the Messiah and Son of God, or rejecting His teaching. With the upside-down nature of Jesus’s Kingdom, it is easy to miss Him or stumble over His message. I need help to see Jesus for who He is and to identify Him as the Messiah and Savior. I can ask God for eyes to see Jesus for who He is and ears to hear His message.


Apply: How does the truth from this section of John affect you and your relationship with God and others? What are some specific actions you could take to live out the truths found in chapters 1–12 this week?
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As you finish this first section on John, thank God for how He’s speaking to you so far. Ask Him to continue to teach you as you dive into the next part of John.


 
Part 2: John 13–21


The previous section of this post focused on John 1–12. This final session covers the second half of John, chapters 13–21. As with the last section, the goal of this post is to help you navigate John, see what it teaches us and how it fits into the rest of the Bible, and, finally, to apply it to our lives. 




Now that you have an overview of the second half of John in mind, you can apply what you know to interpret specific passages in John. Read John 14. Utilize observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application to dissect the meaning of this passage. Use the ideas from the videos to inform your answers to the following questions about John 14.  


John 14:1-31 (ESV)

I Am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life

1 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.2In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.4And you know the way to where I am going.”5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”6Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.7 If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.”9Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?10Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.11Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.

12“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

Jesus Promises the Holy Spirit

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever,17even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

18“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?”23Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.24Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.

25“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you.26But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.29And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe.30I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me,31but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



Remember that observation asks the basic who, what, where, and when questions. It examines the passage at a surface level—the characters, events, themes, culture, and genre. 

Observe: As you read the passage, what observations did you make about John 14? (Consider the major characters, plot points, locations, cities, landmarks, time period, background information, cultural aspects, genre, themes, and actions of the characters. Also, take note of any information offered in the video.)
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We've asked what these verses say about God and humanity, and now we ask what that means. Look at the themes and ask what they mean as well.


Interpret: What is significant about each of the observations you made above? What do they mean? What is the main message of John 14? How does it connect with the main message of John? (Think about what this book teaches about God and humanity and what that teaching means, as well as the meaning of the themes. Consider insights from the video as well.)
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Contextualization looks at how the passage fits into the rest of the book and into the story of the Bible. It connects the themes that pop up throughout the story of Scripture and sees how the book fits into the biblical narrative. 


Contextualize: What themes does John 14 seem to establish? How do those themes connect with the rest of the book of John? What themes would you say have potential to carry forward into other books of the Bible?
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Application considers how the meaning of this passage applies to our day-to-day lives. Ask God to show you how you can specifically put the truths from this book into practice. Brainstorm ways you can live out what you learned throughout your day.


Apply: How does the truth from this passage affect you and your relationship with God and others? What are some practical ways you can live out the truths found in these verses this week?
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The last step in reading the Bible helps wrap everything up. We take the time to summarize the main message and implications of the book. As you summarize what you learned, it solidifies what God taught you through this video. 


Share: Now that you’ve spent time learning about John, how would you explain the main points of this book to a friend? If you were going to explain what you learned to a friend, what would you say? What would you be sure to include? Why?
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Reading the Bible doesn’t have to be like weeding a garden. You can find great joy in learning about God through His Word. Read through John this week. As you study, use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application as a guide. Take the next step and put what you learn into practice.



To learn more about The Bible Project, click here.