The COMMA Method
These steps are based on the books Context and Walk in the Bible Savvy series by James L. Nicodem, where you will find many practical tips about how to do each step.
When you’re reading a passage from the Bible, before you can apply that passage to your own life, you need to understand what it meant to its original audience. What was their context? There are at least two contexts that should be considered for every Bible passage.
- Historical setting: Who wrote this book? Who were they writing to? What problem were they addressing in the lives of his readers? When did the action in this book take place? What was going on in the world at the time?
- Literary setting: There are different kinds (or genres) of literature in the Bible, and different rules for interpreting each one.
You can find additional resources for figuring out the historical and literary setting for each book of the Bible at ccclife.org/context.
Next, read the passage and make as many observations about it as you possibly can. Here are four things to keep your eyes open for. If it helps, you can use the acronym TRTS (“treats”) to remember them:
- T: Theme: What word(s) or phrase summarizes what this passage is all about?
- R: Repeating Words or Ideas: What comes up multiple times in the passage?
- T: Truths about God: What does this passage tell you about God (Father, Son, or Spirit) and the nature of humanity?
- S: Something Striking: Anything jump out at you for some other reason?
The next step is to determine the basic message—a timeless characteristic or revelation about God—that God is communicating through this passage. The message should always be reflective of your observations. From your observations, ask, “What message about God to the original readers might carry over to the church today?” Try to sum it up in one, simple sentence.
A tool to help you find the principle behind one of your observations is the acronym SPECS. Ask yourself, do you see in this passage any of the following:
- S: Statements about God
- P: Promises to hope in
- E: Expected response of humans
- C: Common truths between then and now
- S: Summary of a timeless message
At this point, you pause to pray. It is not enough to get something out of the Bible, you actually have to get the Bible into you. There are many ways to do this, but the simplest way to take one line from the passage that struck you as you observed and repeat it several times, either out loud or in your mind.
Talk with God about the message he wants you to get out of this observation. Read it to each other out loud. Practice silence after reflecting on the passage. Ponder the observation from different angles, and listen to see if God’s Spirit brings anything else to mind.
This is where the rubber meets the road. How can you put this principle into practice in your own life? Here are some tips for applying the message of a passage to your life.
- Make it personal and specific.
- Confess inwardly or outwardly to God.
- Write it down.
- Ask the Spirit to impress particular Scripture upon you.
This is a process that you can do on your own, with friends or family, or in a community group. Even if you do this privately, it is even more powerful if you talk with others about what you learned.