Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Inductive Bible Study

I would have liked to have read this book about four years ago, however, I'm sure four years ago I wouldn't have wanted to read it because it's a textbook. As with most textbooks, the material is a bit dry and dense with lots of definitions and explanations of things.

I learnt about the inductive Bible study method from a visiting missionary awhile back. Since then I have been trying to implement it in the Bible studies I run. I like the method because it is simple and easily repeatable.

There are many variations to the inductive or Swedish method. The process I use moves from observations, to questions, to finding the key sentence to application. Matthias media list similar steps with an extra option of writing down the name of someone you know who you are going to tell about the passage within a week. Desiring God have six questions including Where do we see Jesus in this passage? and Why are these verses in the Bible?

In this textbook they put forward four general phases:

Observation & Asking involves looking at the text as a whole and in smaller units, looking for anything of interest and then asking why the author did what you observed, or asking what the implications are for the literary device or word or story they used.

Answer or Interpreting is working out what questions that were raised are worth answering and working out what the text meant for the original hearers.

Evaluating & Appropration (a mixture of evaluation and application) is working out what the text means for contemporary life.

Correlation is working what you have learnt from a passage or unit back into what you know of the Bible as a whole.

I find that the strength of this method is that it lets the text dictate everything. It is inductive (using the text as evidence to determine the meaning wherever it may lead) as opposed to deductive (starting with presuppositions to determine the meaning of the text). The authors are aware that you can never truly remove your presuppositions but think if you know that and can recognise them when they arrive you can at least deal with them at try and submit them to the text (evidence) at had.

They also note that inductive reason never really gets you absolute certainty as it is based on inferences. This isn't too much of a problem as it means you approach your conclusions with degrees of probability, being humble that you could be wrong. The more textual evidence you have for your conclusions, the more likely you are in being right. The authors are not post-modern, they say: "One can arrive at an interpretation of at least the basic sense of almost all passages with a degree of probability so high that one can talk of virtual certainty" this is because texts do communicate something that is real and understandable. But because this is an inductive method, even the way they go about communicating and defining things is in this spirit, this means they couch everything as a working theory or something that is tentative and provisional, as they may find some more evidence later that will strengthen or weaken what they are saying at this point in time.

I don't think everyone should read this book. There is a lot in here, some of it is quite technical. It would have been very helpful when I was at the start of my theological studies because the book helped explain general trends in Biblical studies. It gives some pros and warnings on the different strands of Biblical criticism and gives some helpful definitions to some terminology you encounter in commentaries and other exegesis notes. (For a past essay I remember having to look up what an inclusio was as I had no idea, this book defines things like that). 

One other thing I found helpful was their approach to Biblical ethics. They state that the Bible “presents ethical obligation in terms of principles (e.g., thankfulness, love) rather than a legal code” and so Biblical ethics is more principle-based rather than legal-based. While I kinda knew this, having them say it this way was helpful. This means that we must always look at the context for any laws laid down as that will give some ideas as to the extent of how that law is applied. Also, in narratives, sometimes there is an ethic or moral principal we can draw from it, but it is not explicitly stated as a law or rule or principal.

On a slightly different strand, I am in the process of making an Inductive Bible Study Android app. In this app I have written some (technical) instructions for the method that I use. In these instructions I have leaned heavily on this book. When the app is released I will probably put those notes on my ampers website, so you don't have to download the app if all you want to do is read the instructions.


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