The COMMA Method
How do you move from text to life when reading the Bible? Here is a simple, five step process for doing just that. The five steps in the process form the acronym COMMA.
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. Let me suggest 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 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)?
- S: Something Striking: Anything jump out at you for some other reason?
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. Ponder the observation from different angles, and listen to see if God’s Spirit brings anything else to mind.
The next step is to determine the basic message—a timeless principle—that God is communicating through this passage. To do this, pick just one of your observations—you will probably have a few—and ask, “What message might I draw from this observation?” 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 one of the following:
- S: Sin to confess
- P: Promise to claim
- E: Example to follow
- C: Command to obey
- S: Statement about God
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.
- Write it down.
- Pray for help.
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.