Brief Overview of How to Probe the Mind of God

Outline of the Method: An Inductive Method of Bible Study (Discovery Learning in the Bible)

In order to study the Bible with complete and precise understanding of its meaning, one must engage in the following five activities: (1) Put the text being studied into its proper context. (2) Learn the complete and precise meanings of sentence elements and key words in the text. (3) Learn the revealing significance of the grammar of words and sentences. (4) Considering the information discovered through the preceding activities, determine the author’s intended meaning. (5) Determine which principles have continuity or transfer through a process of contextualization and apply them to particular situations in current cultures and situations.
Step 1 – Pray for God’s help in your study.
Step 2 – Read the entire document (i.e., book) over several times.
Step 3 – Perform a historical analysis of the book in which your passage is found, and write your own introduction to the book.
1) Gather information about the writer.
a. Who wrote the book?
b. What were the circumstances of the writer?
c. Where was the writer?
d. What can you know about the character of the writer?
2) Gather information about the recipients of the writing–its first readers.
a. To whom was the book written?
b. What were the circumstances of the recipients?
c. Where were the recipients?
d. What can you know about the character of the recipients?
3) Gather information about the date of the writing of the book. This will require that you consult a book on introduction or an introduction to the book as found in a commentary. However, often much can be found concerning the time by looking closely at the book with this question in mind.
4) Gather information concerning the occasion of the writing of the book. The occasion is what was going on that caused the writer to decide to write the book.
5) Gather information concerning the purpose for writing the book. Sometimes this will be explicitly stated in the book (e.g., 1 John 1:3, 4; 2:1″: 5:13). However, usually this will be implied by the content of the book (e.g. Ephesians).
Step 4 – Perform a structural analysis of the book and write an outline of it.
1) Write a one sentence general summary of each paragraph in the book.
2) Group these summaries according to the idea they each support.
3) Write a one sentence summary of each group of paragraph summaries—sectional summary.
4) Write a one-sentence summary of all of the sectional summaries–a proposed statement of the theme of the book.
Step 5 – Perform a syntactical analysis–a grammatical diagram of each sentence in the paragraph being studied.
1) Pick out the subject, verb, and complement (direct object and subject complement). When this is written out, it will form the kernel sentence.
2) Break the remainder of the sentence down into meaningful parts–words, phrases, and clauses.
3) Write the modifying word, phrase, or clause under the part of the kernel or other modifier that it tells something about.
Step 6 – Perform a semantic analysis of the key words in the sentence–seek to establish the complete and precise meaning of each word.
1) Perform a study of lexicons.
a. Establish the Greek word in the text by using a Greek-English Interlinear New Testament.
b. Establish the lexical form of the word by using an Analytical Greek Lexicon.
c. Establish the semantic field (general meaning) and the semantic context (specific meaning of the word in your text) by using a standard Greek-English Lexicon (e.g., BAGD).
2) Study the usage of the key words–an independent study of word meaning.
a. Discover the passages where the word is used by consulting a Greek Concordance.
b. Study each passage where the word is used and make notes of your observations in each passage. There are internal helps that help one to discover meaning of words in a text.
(1) The writer’s own definitions or explanations given in the text
(2) Parallelisms
(3) Words that are opposites that are stated in the text
(4) What the word is associated with in the text
(5) The subject and verb in the sentence
(6) Parallel passages
(7) Appositives and genitive phrases
c. Draw a conclusion concerning the meaning of the word and write it out–even if it takes a paragraph.
Step 7 – Perform a grammatical analysis–study of case, voice, tense, mood, number, etc.
1) Get the analysis of the word that is given in the Analytical Lexicon.
2) Consult handbooks, charts, etc. to learn the significance of all of this.
Step 8 – Put all of this information together and interpret the passage. Draw only such conclusion as is supported by the evidence provided by the total context of the passage. Let your information force a conclusion upon you. Don’t let your previous conclusions manipulate the evidence and cause you to misinterpret.
Step 9 – Determine the significance of your interpretation or its application through the process of contextualization. To do this you must determine if a principle was culture specific and temporary or is universal and permanent.
Reading a document over several times, at one sitting if possible, gives a sense of what it is about–the key words and ideas. When you write a historical analysis, you write your own introduction to a biblical document. By writing a structural analysis, you create your own outline of the document. Through writing a syntactical analysis, you rewrite a text in a diagrammatic form which reveals the main proposition of each statement and additional subordinate propositions denoted by the modifiers. Through writing a semantic analysis, in addition to acquiring data which reveal the precise nuances of meaning intended in particular texts, you discover colorful and exciting word pictures. When you perform a grammatical analysis, you discover great truths which expand and enhance your understanding and make your translation much more revealing than standard English translations.

© 2004, Dr. Wm. T. (Bill) Lambert
Professor Emeritus – NT Literature and Interpretation
College of Bible and Religion
Harding University

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