Friends! I’m so sorry this post has been so long in coming! My computer broke over a month ago just as we were heading into my sister’s wedding, which was followed by a camping/road trip through our state, and then the start of our homeschool year. I got my computer back from the repair shop last week so I’m finally here ready to post. I still have more literature types to cover but because those posts take longer for me to write, I am going to mix things up a bit and start telling you about the steps of the inductive method before finishing up with some of the other types of literature found in the Bible.
To start, let’s briefly review an inductive vs. deductive approach (read the full post here):
In the inductive approach: Your conclusions evolve out of what you have observed, seeking to lay aside preconceived ideas. This approach seeks to let scripture speak for itself, and it studies the Scriptures in context.
In the deductive approach: One comes to the text with a thesis and then seeks out passages to support the thesis. One is dictating to the Scriptures rather than letting the Scriptures speak. One has already, to a certain extent, drawn conclusions before reading the whole text of Scripture in context.
The three steps of inductive Bible study are:
1. OBSERVATION: What does the text say?
2. INTERPRETATION (exegesis): What did the text mean when it was written? (Meaning to the original readers or hearers.)
3. APPLICATION (hermeneutics): How does the truth of this passage/book apply to the 21st century?
These steps need to be done in order. Observation is the foundation and should be done first, followed by interpretation and ending with application. Thorough observation leads to good interpretation and good interpretation leads into life changing application— which is one of the main goals of Bible study!… To know God and to be transformed by Him working in our life— which happens as we study the Word.
This post will explain the first step— observation. Observation is simply looking at what the text says. Observation is not determining what the text means but simply looking for the facts without interpreting them.
There are two parts of observation— noticing and examining. Reading through a text you notice things, for example that a word is repeated. Then you continue to examine that repeated word and ask further questions like “How often is this word repeated?”, “How is this word used?”, “In what context is it used?” Examining will help you to thoroughly observe and analyze the text.
Observation takes time. You have to look, then look some more, and look again. Reading a passage for the first time you will notice a few things. When you read it a second time you will see more. In order to do good observation you need to LOOK until looking becomes seeing.
Some aids/tips for observation (summarized from Methodical Bible Study by Robert Traina.)
- Look both at the overall picture— observing the whole of a book, and in detail at the particulars of the book.
- Try circling major observations— like a verse that seems to summarize the main idea of the book. (I will give you ideas of other things to observe and mark in your Bible, in a printable below.)
- Discipline yourself to see how many different observations you can make on a given passage. Learn to spend hours in the process of observation. In my School of Biblical Studies, the staff would read a book up to 50 times during the observation phase— to really take in both the big picture and all of the details. They would spend hours, days, even weeks observing a book they were going to teach.
- As you look at what IS in the text, think also about what “should” be found there but is not, or think about which words are not used versus what is said. “An observer will have his eyes open to notice anything which according to received theories ought not to happen, for these are the facts which serve as clues to new discoveries.” For example, Joseph’s gracious attitude toward his scheming brothers in Genesis 37-50 seems opposite of what one would expect. In Psalm 23 the Psalmist says “The Lord is MY shepherd, I shall not want.” He does not say the Lord is A Shepherd, I shall not want.”
- Compare and contrast various passages or books (like Kings with Chronicles, parallel Gospel accounts found in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.)
- Compare and contrast different translations and their different choice of words.
- Make rough maps of the geography you’re reading about— this can be really helpful in books like Acts as you read about Paul’s missionary journeys. This is how authors of Bible dictionaries and such piece together Paul’s missionary journies— by reading through Acts and Paul’s books and observing where he was when and with whom.
- In observing biographical material, note the characteristics of the men involved, their concept of and attitude toward God, their actions, reactions, and motives. (This is the basis of doing a character study.)
- Look for the concepts of God, Christ, man, sin, and redemption since these represent the primary themes of the Bible.
- To summarize, observation calls for awareness and thoroughness. Be attentive to each term, and note carefully the relations and interrelations between terms. Observe what type of literature you are looking at (poetry? historical narrative? prophets? etc.), as well as the atmosphere or mood. Some books will have a combination of moods or there might be a change of mood which occurs throughout a book. Observe whether the passage can be characterized by despair, thanksgiving, awe, urgency, joy, humility, tenderness, etc.
It takes time to train your brain to really observe what is in a passage. Don’t stress about seeing everything at once. Try observing one thing, such as repeated words. When you feel like you’ve done a thorough job of that, read back through observing something else like contrasts. Pretty soon you’ll be able to observe many things in one reading.
How to record your observations: Use colored pencils to mark your observations in your Bible as you read through it. See mine below:
If you look at the picture of my observations above, you’ll see that the repeated word “water” is colored in blue, the contrast (often made obvious by the word “but”) is marked with an orange X, a connective (so that) is noted with two green vertical lines surrounding it, a repeated phrase “water that I will give” is underlined in black, a key phrase “eternal life” is highlighted in pink, and so forth. You’ll want to come up with your own symbols and colors for your own study.
Here is a list of things you can look for/observe. You can print this out and come up with color coded symbols for each item. Use it as a key as you read through your Bible so you know what to look for and how to mark or color code it. Pretty soon you’ll have your color codes memorized so you’ll be able to recognize key observations that you’ve color coded in your Bible with a quick glance.
In the next post I will share one other tool that is helpful in the observation phase before moving on to the second step— interpretation.