What a delight it would be if we could communicate with God face to face as did Adam, Eve, Moses, or the Apostle John on Patmos Island! After such an unforgettable experience, I’m sure we would be busy giving interviews and telling our friends again and again what God looks like! It would be thrilling to be swept away in space and time and become one of Jesus’ disciples.
Bad news—there’s no such thing as a time traveling capsule to carry us back to those times. Good news—we have something that can still carry us there where we can meet God Himself and those who lived in Bible times, even if it’s not face-to-face.
Did you know that it takes about a week to read the Bible through: 52 hours and 20 minutes for the Old Testament, 18 hours and 20 minutes for the New Testament? That is 70 hours and 40 minutes.1 But how can we convert our Bible reading into an exciting trip?
There are different approaches to Bible study. A variety of methods is good because all of us are different. Through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, each of us should choose what is the most appealing and works best for ourselves.
One of the most fascinating methods for me is inductive Bible study. I think of it like this:
Imagine running out of water in the desert. Your throat aches, your lips are parched, your whole being cries out for water. Then you see a lush green oasis in the distance. You run eagerly to the well and drink deeply of the cool water. Similarly, the three stages of inductive Bible study—observation, interpretation, and application—give you the rope, bucket, and cup you need to drink in the Word of Life.
“All over the field of revelation are scattered glad springs of heavenly truth, of peace and joy. These glad springs of truth are within the reach of every seeker. The words of inspiration, pondered in the heart, will be as living streams flowing from the river of the water of life. . . . Whenever we study the Bible with a prayerful heart, the Holy Spirit is near to open to us the meaning of the words we read.” 2
INDUCTIVE BIBLE STUDY
The inductive method of searching Scripture means in-depth study of a specific Bible passage. It is especially good when you are dealing with a story, or part of a story, which has a complete thought. It is good both for personal devotions and small groups.
To maximize the benefits of inductive Bible study, you need the guidance of the Holy Spirit and ample time to thoroughly investigate the passage. This may mean extending your study over several days. With a small group, the leader should do her homework before the meeting and then lead a group discussion through the stages. It is also an excellent preparation for sermons.
Inductive Bible study includes three stages:
Observation deals with the facts of a story. The main observation questions:
Why do we ask these questions? Imagine arriving at a train station and realizing something happened just before our arrival. We see a crowd gathered around a policeman, a man in handcuffs, a crying woman, and some upside down boxes. What kind of questions would you ask to find out what happened? Probably something like this: What has happened here? Who are that man and woman? Who are all these people standing around? Why is the woman crying? What has the man done?
Studying a Bible text is similar. We arrive on the story after the action has happened. We have to ask questions to gather information.4 Some answers are obvious from the text, while others are more hidden.
Look at Mark 2:1-12, where Jesus healed a paralytic. To answer the question “Where?” you may want to know more about Capernaum—its location, history, and any events connected with Jesus in this town. You might also ask other questions: In whose house did the action take place? How did typical houses (and roofs) look at that time? How many people could a normal house accommodate? What kind of people might have been in the crowd? Who were the scribes?
Obviously, to answer these questions we need to go to the library or the Internet. It takes extra time, but the trip can be thrilling!
Interpretation is the second stage. Here we investigate key phrases and words which help us to discover the author’s meaning. We have to pull the facts together to compose a big picture and answer a different set of questions:
- What did the passage mean for the people to whom it was written?
- What is the main idea of the passage and key phrases?
- Why did this specific occurrence happen as it did?
This part of our “trip” is real discovery. We explore customs, traditions, idioms, and expressions of that time. We will use commentaries, dictionaries, writings of Ellen White, and different translations as our modes of transportation. But what a reward! The real meaning of the passage, often hidden from busy tourists, will be our carefully excavated pearl.
The interpretation stage is key to understanding the Bible. It helps us draw accurate conclusions and avoid reading our own ideas into the passage.
Back in the story about the paralytic we can ask: Why did Jesus make it backwards—first forgiveness of sins and then healing? What ceremony was required for forgiveness of sin back then? What did it mean for Jesus to have neglected the traditional sacrifice?
Application is when we ask:
- What does it mean for me today?
- How can I apply the lessons from the passage to my life?
- What kind of conclusions or directions does it have for me?
- Does it call me to make some change in my life?
- Does it point to some examples I can follow or to some promises I can rely on?