As a New Year begins, it is common for individuals to utilize the turning over of the calendar as motivation to prioritize an area of one’s life that has perhaps been previously neglected. Within Christianity, the desire to familiarize oneself with the Biblical text on a deeper level is a venture shared by a multitude of people every year. If at the moment that is you, you’ve come to right place! Over the course of the next few paragraphs, we will be exploring how to get the most out of this experience. Shall we begin?
The questions of ‘where to begin’ and ‘how to begin’ often loom heavily over those resolved to dig into Scripture. However, before answering the questions of where and how, one must first correctly answer the question of why; why resolve to know the Holy Bible better? This answer, while simple, is of the utmost importance:
Scripture is authored by God.
As such, to know Scripture better is to better know one’s Creator and Savior.
Or, to quote from the late, great R.C. Sproul, “that’s where the power is!” The Christian develops a desire to read the biblical text because in doing so they become more intimately aware of Who created them, Who saved them, and Who sustains them each day.
As for where one ought to begin his or her quest into Scripture, the answer depends on personal context. However, a safe starting point would be one of the four gospels, followed immediately by the book of Acts. In one of the four Gospel narratives, one will become familiar with the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, and in the narrative of Acts, one will become familiar with the rise of the early Church following Christ’s resurrection.
The ‘how’ is perhaps where most stumble in their quest to better know the message of Scripture. This is where one specific resource proves to be incredibly valuable. Inductive Bible Study, by Dr. David R. Bauer and Robert A. Traina is an invaluable resource to anyone who seeks to better understand the biblical text. For many, the method, or lack thereof, behind reading Scripture has perhaps limited their ability to understand and appreciate the biblical text. Now, Inductive Bible Study is a dense and exhaustive presentation, and is surely not a book suitable for all who are determined to read their Bibles more in 2018. However, some of the key principles of the book can be highlighted briefly as a launch pad into a more intentional exploration of Scripture:
First and foremost, slow down! Take your time when reading the biblical text. One cannot be in a hurry when diving into the Word of God. If your goal is to better understand the message of Scripture, understand that such a discovery will never be made in haste Second, pick only a paragraph at a time to read. Do not to bite off more than you can chew! The Bible is not going anywhere. It will be there when you are done digesting whatever you read in one day. Third, read the text aloud. It is surprising how helpful this will be to one’s understanding of the text. If you are not in a position where you comfortable or able to read the text aloud, the You Version Bible app (available on any smart phone) has a feature where one can listen to any chapter of any book in the Bible for free. With a pair of headphones, one could easily read along as a narrator reads aloud for you. Finally, go through your text twice. After you read it once, read it once more. Now, during all of this initial reading do not take any notes, or make any observations. Simply take in the Word. A mentor of mine has likened such a study of Scripture to the process of steeping tea. You do not want to take the tea bag out of the water too soon. Let the process play out. Do not be in a hurry! After you have read through the text twice, then you can begin the next phase.
Next comes an equally important portion of the Inductive Bible Study method; one must honestly and personally wrestle with the Biblical text. The easiest way in which to do so is to take notes by making three columns on a sheet of paper; Facts – Questions – Possibilities.
Beginning with the first verse in one’s passage and going through to the final verse, carefully place your conclusions into the appropriate column.
Column One – Facts
What are the undeniable truths related to your passage? Who is present? Where are they? When is this happening? What is the topic? What the reader is doing with this column is painting a picture of the setting. By providing context, one can begin to better imagine the biblical text as if they were present in the story.
Column Two – Questions
Inevitably when reading a passage of Scripture there will be unresolved observations. One will wonder why something was said or unsaid, or why something was done a particular way. Questions are a good thing, because it means you are engaged with the text. Do not think that the emergence of questions when reading Scripture is a negative. In fact, one ought to be more concerned if they have no questions at all after reading a passage of Scripture! Write down every questions that arises as you consider the passage of Scripture you are working on.
Column Three – Possibilities
It is important to remember that at this point in the Inductive Bible Study, no ultimate conclusions are being made concerning the biblical passage. You are simply engaging with the text. One’s conclusions only come later. However, for this third column the reader does want to begin to consider possible answers to the questions they previously posed. Try your best to answer your own questions. This need not be definitive, just merely exploratory. Start sentences in column three with words such as “maybe” or “perhaps.” You might even find that in the process of attempting an answer in column three that it leads to another question. No problem! Add it to column two. Remember, we are never in a hurry. After the reader has filled out each column, then and only then does the reader do what they would have previously wanted to do from the very beginning… go find the answer!
After one has spent considerable time reading and engaging with the biblical text, only then do we begin to study what scholars have determined about the text. Remember that theology is simply the study of God. And, to that end, if one has ever had a thought concerning God then they are a theologian! The purpose of the inductive method is for oneself to become involved in the study of Scripture, rather than remaining in the dark or simply learning to regurgitate someone else’s conclusions. With the inductive method, one has his or her own experience engaging with the text prior to uncovering the conclusions made by others. However, with the help of scholarly research backing up the previous work put in by oneself, it is highly likely that the reader will turn around to discover that they have journeyed a rather long way in their quest toward better understanding the Bible. And, once those first few discoveries are made, the results are contagious! Remember as you go to be on the lookout for big themes in your passage(s) that might lead to a general, over-arching understanding of the meaning of Scripture. As you go, these large themes will begin to inform your study.
So, for those of you endeavoring to know your Bibles (and the Author behind them) better in 2018, I salute you and wish the best of luck on inductive journey.