Probing The Mind of God: An Inductive Method of Bible Study
A step-by-step Method of Bible Study
For Students of the English or Greek New Testament
There are two main divisions in the process of Bible study: (1) observation, (2) and interpretation. Every serious student of the Bible should seek to sharpen his/her powers of observation. When we study a Scripture text, we should be sure to observe everything in the text. Some observations are read directly, and some are inferred, because information is given both explicitly and implicitly. That which the biblical text necessarily implies, and we infer, is just as much a part of the text as that which is expressed directly.
In math and science, we acknowledge the importance of being thorough and precise with observations. If while seeking to find the sum of (or sum-up) a set of numbers, we do not observe one or more of the numbers, we will arrive at a wrong sum (or interpretation). For example, if in summing up 1+2+4+3+1 we overlook the last 1 in the series and come up with ten as a sum, our sum is wrong; the truth is that the sum is eleven. Equally, if we leave out part of the information in a biblical text as we seek to interpret (or sum-up) what the Bible teaches, we will come up with a deficient interpretation (or sum). If in adding the above series of numbers (1+2+4+3+1) we add in another 2 and come up with thirteen as a sum, our sum is wrong; the truth is that the sum is eleven. If a medical scientist (physician) seeking to diagnose a person’s physical health fails to observe or leaves off data, the diagnosis might be fatally flawed. If the physician adds data not observed, the diagnosis might also be fatally flawed. Equally, if we add anything from any other source (e.g., our human situation, our personal history, our feelings, etc.) as we interpret (or sum-up) what the Bible teaches, we will come up with a wrong interpretation (or sum).
Observation involves finding statements, analyzing them, and recording the information discovered. We must be sure to record everything in a text being probed and nothing that is not in that text. Martin Luther compared observation in Bible study to gathering apples from a tree. The picker first shakes the entire tree and lets the ripest apples fall (studies the entire document as a unit). Then he climbs the tree and shakes every limb (considers every section of the book in its relationship to other sections and to the whole). Next he shakes every branch (studies paragraph by paragraph). Then finally he lifts the leaves and looks for apples that might remain (examine key words and grammar).
Observation in biblical exegesis begins with looking at the document as a whole. We then, in descending order, consider sections, paragraphs, sentences, and words. Through these processes, we ultimately analyze historical background, book context, immediate context, relationships between and within sentences, word meaning, and significant grammatical denotations. “Apple-picking” observation takes time and hard work; yet, the valuable fruit is worth it all.
Likewise, the prospector who digs for gold does not mind the hard work and the time involved because the gold he finds is worth it. When we study the Bible, we are looking for something more valuable than gold; we are probing the mind of God–searching for divine instruction for faith and life. Probing observation is hard work, but the exciting and empowering truth we discover gives abundant life and saves the soul (John. 10:10; James 1:21). We all possess the tools needed for digging these golden nuggets of truth: the Bible, the eyes, the mind, a pencil, and some paper–or their modern counterparts.
Biblical interpretation involves careful consideration of evidence. First, we must classify the information discovered. Also, we must consider the relationships between units of information and their relationship to their contexts–what major concept(s) the information supports and how it relates to the overall argument (i.e., fits into the situation and its proposed solution). In inductive study, we must reason logically upon our specific information and arrive at a generalization, one that the specific evidence forces upon us. We draw general conclusions on the basis of all of our relevant particular evidence, but only after carefully and logically reasoning upon it.
The steps of inductive Bible study are scientific in their order of procedure. They may be summarized as follows. (1) Observe the text. (2) Record findings. (3) Classify findings. (4) Interpret findings. (5) Check your conclusions, comparing them with clear statements and obvious truths of the Bible. (6) Compare your findings with the findings of others. (7) Add any additional evidence gleaned from others and reinterpret the evidence. (8) Have others to examine your findings and see if they draw the same conclusion that you drew. This should result in direct, independent, and objective Bible study.
The following steps come together into a complete methodology. These steps are sequential and should be followed in the order given. Any step omitted will render the observation process less adequate and the interpretative process less trustworthy. Although each step is considered a method of Bible study in itself, neither step is enough alone. However, you will profit greatly from each step.
This method of study is controlled by three obvious assumptions. 1) You cannot be a Bible scholar without first being a Bible reader. 2) You cannot know what the Bible means until you first know what it says. 3) You cannot know how the Bible applies until you first know what it means.