Theology Thursday: Inductive Bible Study

In a prior post entitled The Morning Watch, I described devotional bible reading – the daily discipline of meeting with God in His word at the start of the day. It should be every believer’s practice to start each day with some time alone with God, giving the day to Him and hearing from Him.

It’s not a substitute for bible study, however, which is the deeper digging of discovery to learn what God says about us, about Himself, the world, and His eternal plan. It is the basis on which everything else rests! If our doctrine is wrong, so are all the decisions we make and actions we take based on what we believe to be true. We practice what we actually believe. All the rest is just “religious talk!”

Why doesn’t this disk fit? False assumption: It’s supposed to.

The goal of bible study: Discovery

What is the very best form of study for determining what the bible actually says to us and teaches us about God and man? It is called exegesis. The goal of exegesis is discovery, not proof. When we just need to know what the bible says, we use exposition. Exposition of the scriptures is best accomplished in three steps: Observation, Interpretation, and Application. These are the three steps in the “inductive method.”

These three steps are applied a little differently to different types of literature (story forms are handled differently from exhortative forms and poetic forms, for instance), but the three steps are essential to all exegesis of any portion of scripture. The purpose is to discover the intended message and meaning of the author. Not the preacher, not the professor, not the guy on TV. Today I’ll just describe the first of the three steps, Observation.

Observation: What do I see? Observation goes from the general to the specific. Its goal is to investigate the facts in a passage of scripture. I think it’s best done a book at a time, rather than a chapter or a little passage. Observation has three elements: We observe the whole, the parts, and the details.

1. Observe the whole: Get an overview. To do this:

A.) First read the entire book being studied (not the whole bible now, just the particular book of the bible you want to exegete. Read it carefully at least 3 times and then

B.) Second, record your first impressions and major facts:
Who, what, when, where, and why

2. Observe the parts: Find the structure. To do this,
A.) First, make a basic outline of the text.

B.) Second, mark the primary elements of the text. Which verses describe the major facts? Especially the main theme or statement of the book. What appears over and over again in the text? Example: As many times as the phrases “in those days there was no king in Israel” and “everyone did what was right in his own eyes”appear in the book of Judges, it’s easy to get the idea that the main theme of the book is probably something like, “Why Israel Needs a King.”

3. Observe the details: Look at the major facts and answer more detailed questions about them.
A.) Who? – Who are the characters, the author, and the audience?
B.)What? – The key truths or happenings.
C.) Where? – The geography and location of events, characters, author, and audience.
D.) When? – The time of the events and of the author and audience.

Next week we’ll look at the second of the three steps of exegesis, Interpretation. Interpretation is the discovery of the author’s original meaning as he wrote the Scriptures under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Stay tuned!