16 May 2012

Inductive Bible Study, Part 3: Seeking the Context

Dear Lissy,
I've begun a series of letters on Bible study to help you recall the process we followed together in high school.  Preparation will help you use the excitement and motivation of starting something new to create an environment where you can easily persevere.  Mastering the content of a new book takes about 90 minutes of purposeful, repeated reading for a 4-6 chapter book.

Context is king in Bible study.  We need to fit each piece into its proper place during our observation of the book so that when we begin to interpret, correlate, and apply we are working from the proper perspective.  Grave doctrinal errors and generally weird ideas are most commonly a result of taking verses and even chapters out of their original, inspired context and shoehorning them into a man-made set of ideas.
9 cute birds. . .NOT a caterpillar!
As a pianist, I take a great deal of time marking my score.  If I'm playing a solo arrangement of a hymn, I need to ensure the melody sings out over the rest of the notes and that the spirit of the hymn is accurately communicated.  When I'm accompanying another instrument or a vocal group, I rarely play the melody, but rather provide entrance points, counter-melodies, and harmony that support and highlight the other musicians. For congregational accompaniment there's a whole set of  techniques to be mastered to support the church as they lift their voices in song.  I'm always playing the same instrument, and I may even be playing the same song, but the context determines how I'll handle it.

Plan to spend four to five 45 minute sessions working on setting the book you've chosen into context.  This is where we start marking up that triple-spaced manuscript, so pull it out, grab your bag full colored pens and pencils, and find a quiet spot.  Begin with prayer, asking God to help you to carefully observe His Word during this time.

Keep track of the symbol/color you use for each of these sessions for future use.  I like to write a key directly onto the top of the manuscript.  Choose whatever color or symbol suits your fancy.  For the sake of ease, I'll be giving my own below.

Day 1-2:  Find God first. Grab a red pencil, and mark every occurrence of God, Jesus, Jesus Christ, Lord, Holy Spirit/Ghost, and all the personal pronouns referring back to them.  Sometimes another word is used that is clearly a reference to a member of the Trinity like Creator or Author.
God:  Red triangle around
Christ:  Red cross drawn through
Lord:  Red crown around
Spirit:  Red cloud bubble around
Now write the words "God", "Christ", and "Spirit" at the top of three different pages in your notebook, and list from your marking above what the text says about each member of the Godhead.  Even though this is an academic exercise, it deeply moves my spirit each time I do it.

Time out for a quick reminder:  We are looking for direct statements of evidence, not circumstantial, or interpreted evidence.  I recently served jury duty, and the judge explained it this way.  If you are sitting in your living room and see a snowmobile zoom past, you can say "A snowmobile drove by my house."  But, if you are in the kitchen making a snack, and only hear the noise and see the tracks left in the snow, "A snowmobile drove by my house" is circumstantial evidence.  We will be interpreting evidence later on in the process, but for right now, only write down direct, stated facts.

Day 3:  Learn about the author.  Every book is verbally inspired by the Spirit of God, but we want to find all of the information the author states about himself in the book.  You won't always get a name, especially in Old Testament books.  Again, this is just collecting direct evidence.  Don't drag out the study Bible and commentaries yet.
Box in blue around anyplace the author directly references his own name or uses a pronoun (I, me, we, us, etc.)
Now list the word "author" at the top of a new piece of paper, and list all of the information he reveals about himself in the book.

Day 4:  Learn about the recipients and other characters in the book.
Highlight any references to the people receiving the book.  Again, look for pronouns like thou, thee, you, ye, etc.  Try to determine if the book was written to a single person (Philemon, 2 Timothy) or to a church, people group, or nation (Colossians, I Peter, Jonah).    The book's placement in the Old or New Testament will dramatically affect how you interpret and apply the information you collect.

Underline references to other individuals in orange.
Once again, write "recipients" at the top of a new page and list everything this book reveals about them.  Do the same for "other individuals" referenced in the book.

Day 5:  Determine the literary genre and highlight any references to cultural, geographical, or historical clues.
The genre will fall into one or more of the following categories:
Historical narrative:  Tells a story
Law:  Records civil or ceremonial laws
Poetry:  Remember, Eastern poetry doesn't rhyme, but it does still use rich imagery and parallelism
Wisdom:  Practical truth for living
Prophecy:  Foretells future events.
Gospel:  Biographical narrative of Christ's life
Epistle:  Letter written to an individual or a group

What is the general attitude of the writer toward the recipients? (Warning, praise, encouragement, etc.)

Underline in green any references to geographical locations, events in history, or cultural practices.  Be sure to mark references to other religions as well.
List information regarding historical, geographical, and cultural references on a new page of your notebook.  It may also help to print out a map and physically mark the cities and countries listed.

At this point, you've invested a lot of work into familiarizing yourself with the book and establishing its context in relation to the whole Bible.  It's time to dig into the chapters next.  I hope this has been rewarding for you even though it is not a devotional practice.  I often get very excited as I start separating out the various components of the book.  Even though I'm not technically interpreting or applying truth at this point, my brain tends to start making connections that are rich in truth.


Inductive Bible Study, Part 1: Preparation
Inductive Bible Study, Part 2: Read
Inductive Bible Study, Part 3: Seeking the Context
Inductive Bible Study, Part 4: Book Summary Key
Inductive Bible Study, Part 5: The Choice
Inductive Bible Study, Part 6a: Chapter Analysis
Inductive Bible Study, Part 6b:  Identifying Key Words
Inductive Bible Study, Part 6C: Finding the 3C's
Inductive Bible Study, Part 6D: It's About Time
Inductive Bible Study, Part 6E: Keep Digging
Inductive Bible Study, Part 6F: Word Studies
Inductive Bible Study, Part 6G: Considering Context
Inductive Bible Study, Part 6H: Application Brings Transformation 
Inductive Bible Study, Part 7: Wrap It Up!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for all the information on inductive bible study. You have written it in an easy to understand manner.