Seeking out God’s Message when I read the Bible…
The Bible is the most important book ever written. It claims to be the very words of the almighty, infinite God, given to reveal Himself to humanity. The “living and active” Word of God is able to penetrate the hearts and souls of any and every person. It equips us for every good work. It serves as a standard by which we measure and evaluate every doctrine, practice, tradition, and every other book. History, tradition and the human intellect may help us, but the Bible stands firm as the truth of God. Its teaching is always correct. Its prophecies always come to pass. Its words help us to win the lost and to resist the devil. The Bible is indispensable to our Christian life and ministry.
Since we believe that the Bible was given to us by God for our instruction, we need to approach it carefully and handle it accurately (2Ti 2:15). The divine nature of the Scriptures demands that we read it with the intent of learning from it, rather than making it say what we want to hear. How can we be sure we rightly understand the Word? The inductive Bible study method is designed to help every believer—whether layman or pastor—better understand the teaching of the Word of God. The following pages will introduce this simple and effective method.
INDUCTIVE VS. DEDUCTIVE**
Deduction and induction are two kinds of logic or reasoning. Both deal with the general and the specific. They are both methods of arriving at a conclusion. However, they do so in exactly the opposite manner. Deductive reasoning moves from the general to the specific, and inductive goes from the specific to the general. Both methods are used by Christians to study the Bible, but usually they are not aware of how each method affects their study and conclusions.
The Deductive Approach
Deductive reasoning is used by people in a wide variety of professions. Deduction is a valuable skill, and many books have been written on the subject. The intent of this lesson is not to minimize the validity of deduction, but to suggest that there is a better method to reading the Bible.
- Deductive Reasoning
In general, deductive reasoning moves from the general to the specific. That is, it starts with a known and accepted idea or premise. That pre-existing understanding is then compared to a particular situation, and a conclusion is formed. The basis for this conclusion is the fact that the general idea is true, and that the specific situation resembles it. In other words, the general idea controls, or at least strongly influences the way we look at the particular situation.
For example, since snow-covered steps are usually slippery, we will approach any set of snow covered steps with caution—even if we have never slipped on that particular set of steps. Our general experience with snowy steps leads us to this logical and reasonable conclusion.
Known and Accepted Fact
Leads to . . .
Deduction has a major weakness. If our general understanding is wrong, so will be our conclusion. For example, suppose a Russian hears someone talk about a doctor. In Russia, most doctors are women. Therefore, it would be logical for him to deduce that the doctor is a woman. Often, however, he will be wrong. There are also male doctors in Russia, and in some countries most doctors are men. In this case, the influence of our prior experience can often lead us in the wrong direction. We assume we know the answer, rather than continuing to look for other clues to the correct answer.
The deductive method can be used to study the Bible, but its weakness limits its usefulness. When we study the Bible, it is important to understand what God is saying, rather than to impose our understanding on the text. There are occasions when we cannot understand a difficult verse, and we rely on our general understanding of the Scriptures to deduce what it “probably means.” However, this should be a “last resort.” Our first step should be to pray, meditate on the verse, and continually reread it in order to try to understand what it wants to say. If we quickly “give up” and assume it is “just like the other similar verses,” we may seriously distort the Word of God. For instance, ten of the eleven times the New Testament uses the word “yeast,” it refers to sin. It would therefore be reasonable and logical to assume that the eleventh time (Mt 13:33) also refers to sin. It would, however, be wrong. An examination of the context of Matthew 13:33 shows that in that verse, it refers to the Kingdom of God!
The Inductive Approach
The inductive method is in many ways the opposite of the deductive method. It examines the particulars of a situation, and then attempts to form a general principle from them. It is normally used in those situations where we do not have a general principle that seems to fit, and are therefore unable to use deduction.
Deduction is essentially the process of using our pre-existing knowledge. Induction, by contrast, is about learning. We assume that we do not yet know the answers, and examine the facts closely in order to try to understand what they mean. In this method, the emphasis is on the specific details and facts of the situation.
The Inductive Method
Lead to . . .
When we use the inductive method to study the Bible, we come to the Scripture as learners. We acknowledge to God and to ourselves that we do not yet know all the answers. Our purpose is to gain understanding. We come with a commitment to carefully examine the text, and allow the Lord to speak to us through it. The deductive method usually leads to a quick answer—the inductive method leads to spiritual growth.
A Better Method…
The inductive method is superior to the deductive method because it makes the Scriptures the authority, rather than our understanding. It is also better because it matches the process of understanding and applying biblical principles to our lives. As we study the Bible, we look at how God dealt with people in a particular situation, at a particular time, and in a particular culture. Our task is to take these facts and to form from them a biblical principle. We then translate that principle into our equivalent situation so that we can correctly apply it to our lives.
The process of the inductive Bible study method is therefore:
- Observation of the facts in the Scriptural context.
- Interpretation to find the principle that the passage teaches.
- Application of the principle to equivalent situations in our lives.
STEPS OF INDUCTIVE BIBLE STUDY
The three steps of the inductive Bible study method are each important. They build progressively on each other to lead us from the Bible text to a correct application to our lives. Essentially, the three steps ask three different questions about the text.
- What does it say? [Observation]
- What does it mean? [Interpretation]
- What should I do? [Application]
Notice the logical progression through the three steps, beginning with the Bible text and ending with application to our Christian life. If the steps are not completed in the proper order, the result is flawed.
What does it say?
What does it mean?
What should I do?
Facts -> Principle -> Task
Observation – What Does It Say?
The first step of the inductive method is observation. It is also the most important step—in the same way a solid foundation is critical to the construction of a house. At this stage, we observe the text, looking for every detail we can find in it, and recording our observations. The key to this step is to ask an endless series of questions such as “Who?, What?, Why?, Where?, When?, etc.” These questions help us focus on what the Bible says, rather than bringing our ideas to it. We also look closely at the context of the verse, paragraph, chapter, and book to discover and understand the situation in which it was written. At this stage, it is very important not to interpret or apply the text. We must discover all the information first—in the next step (interpretation) we will look at what it means.
Interpretation – What Does It Mean?
The process of interpretation has two parts. The first part is to determine what the passage was intended to say to the original audience. The second part is to formulate the message of the passage as a biblical principle that can be applied to other similar situations. This is an important stage, requiring prayer and thoughtfulness, and time of listening to the Holy Spirit.
At this point, we need to compare our understanding of the original situation with the facts that we unearthed in the observation stage. Any facts that we have missed earlier will hinder our work here. Now is also the time to compare this text with other similar passages to see if they can help us understand it—being careful that they do not distort the facts of the text we are studying. If the meaning of the passage is still unclear, it might be necessary to return to the observation stage and keep digging for more information.
Application – What Should I Do?
The final stage of the inductive method is application. At this point, we take the result of the interpretation stage and decide how the principle might apply in our situation. Since we have carefully looked at the original context, and know the details of it, we can look for similar contexts in our day.
The difficulty of this stage is to determine what situation today is really comparable to the original situation. If our situation is truly the same as a biblical passage, then we can assume that the Lord expects us to apply the message to ourselves. In that case, the important task is to state specifically and clearly “what we should do.”
My suggestion is that you find a regular time or pattern to your reading. That will help in your ability to remain consistent. Start each time with a quick prayer, asking God to give you understanding and to help you follow His leading. I have also found it very meaningful to have a notebook with me so that I can write down a verse or two that stand out as I read and some observations or notes on how that could apply to my life now. The depth of thinking when I take a few minutes to reflect like that really helps me to grow.
If you are looking for a Bible reading plan, either for the whole Bible or for the New Testament, please jot a note to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will make sure you get one.
Happy New Year and Happy READING!
**Adapted from: Manual One Lesson 1: Introduction to the Inductive Bible Study Method
Jan 2000 The Alliance for Saturation Church Planting – Omega Course