Inductive Bible Study and Biblical Exegesis
Inductive Bible Study is an approach to Scripture that uses three primary steps and several study tools to help the reader properly ‘exegete’ a biblical text.
The term ‘exegete’ is taken from Greek, the original language of the New Testament, and simply means “to lead out.” Therefore biblical exegesis is an attempt to “lead out” the best explanation of a text so that we may then apply the truth to our lives.
The Three Steps of Inductive Bible Study:
During the Observation phase, our goal is to become familiar with the characters, details, events, and concepts of the passage. During observation you have the opportunity to whiteboard any questions that come to mind about God’s character or the text.
Tools that may help during Observation:
1. Mark the text- Use coordinated shapes and colors to mark the answers to the questions Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How.
2. Begin to make lists that contain related facts or similar information. (for example: one list for “What God does” and another list containing statements about “Who God is”)
3. Record ANY & ALL questions that come to mind as you brainstorm about the meaning of events, words, or people that might be significant.
During observation you can ask any questions about the text that come to mind. The temptatiom will be to try to answer those questions immediately through brainstorming and relying on what you already know. It is crucial to STOP! here and wait to find the answers to your questions through a cautious and faithful execution of the steps of Interpretation.
Throughout history the Bible has been used to justify homosexuality, slavery, abortion, and legalistic righteousness. For those who genuinely look to the Bible for answers, this poor application of truth is almost always due to a breakdown in the steps of Observation and Interpretation. If we rush through the interpretation process we run the same risk of arriving at false conclusions about God and how to honor him. We also run the risk of missing the main points of the text. If we rely solely on what we already know or have been previously taught, we may miss the Christ-exalting, Messiah-anticipating, and Hope-generating Truths that are waiting to be unlocked.
An attitude shift must take place between the steps of Observation and Interpretation. During Observation you have the freedom to brainstorm questions and challenge things you’ve heard. However, during Interpretation it is important to proceed with caution and exercise discipline to make sure your answers to those questions are biblically based.
Our goal during Interpretation is to “exegete” or “lead out from” the text an accurate explanation of the meaning that can be properly applied to our lives.
Tools to use during Interpretation:
1. Pray- “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.” Eph. 1 :17-19
2. Word Study- Use a language tool to help identify the word in the original language. Several factors may be important including the part of speech, verb form, a more thorough explanation of the definition in context, and appropriate cross-references where the word is used in a similar way. It only takes a couple hours to become familiar with a language tool and how to find nearly everything you need to gain from study of the original language. Follow this link for more information on how to do a word study.
3. Cross Reference- If you are cross-referencing or defining a Word with the language tools, be sure to use the lexicon rather than the bible dictionary. If you are cross-referencing a concept or a phrase, online Bibles often have flexible search tools. If those search tools fail, Google has powerful search options as well. If you purchase one of the Bible Software packages like Logos or Accordance you will have a lot more user friendly resources.
4. Make Lists- During observation you started some lists about the characters, events, and phrases in the passage. Now, through cross-referencing, add to those lists. In most cases, you will want to record everything the Bible says about the particular point of interest. Remember the words of 2 Timothy 2:15, “study” (KJV) “Make every effort” (BSB) “Do your best” (ESV) “Work hard” (NLT)… to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth.”
5. Ask the question, “Why is this passage or story in the Bible?” With God’s help we can faithfully begin to identify the major points of the text that reveal his character and magnify our hope. With every passage or story, look for the connection to the biblical narrative of redemption.
6. Get Help- The road to hiding God’s word in your heart does not begin with commentaries or listening to others’ teaching, but this will be a crucial addition to the interpretation process. Ideally you should use this tool as you are finalizing the conclusions to your questions. This is an important step for several reasons. First, God has called some teachers to set aside massive amounts of time to study his Word and gifted them in the Spirit to be able to communicate Truth clearly. “The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.” (1 Timothy 5:17) Second, this step is a safeguard to help weed out some misguided thoughts. We should use these teachers as a filter for our ideas and the ideas of secular scholarship.
The goal of Application is to creatively answer why and how the truth you found in the passage should change your life. During Interpretation you draw big conclusions about God, his plan, the condition of man, and what God requires of us. Now it is time to put those answers into practice. First by living a life worthy of the gospel. Then by helping others do the same.