Today, as part of an ongoing series of sessions several of the life group leaders (including myself) have been having with one of pastors on improving/learning how to not only study the Bible, but lead others in study, we did an inductive bible study walk-through of part of Matthew 19.
I propose a simple acronym for this process:
P – Pray
Start every study with prayer for God’s blessing on the time you spend in His word.
R – Read
Read the passage (with enough context (may even be extra historical information outside scripture which can be brought to mind) to grasp the scene): any “text without a context is a pretext for a prooftext“. You may be able to break it up into chunks (paragraphs, thoughts, etc), but be sure each chunk you read is complete-enough to move to the next steps.
If you don’t read the whole passage, you’ll be iterating through some of these steps 🙂
O – Observe
This comes in the form of the “Journalist’s Questions”: “Who?” “What?” “Where?” “When?” “How?”
Who is in the passage?
What happened / did they say?
Where did it happen?
When did it happen? (context, context, context!) This includes not only the historical period/timing; not only the chronological timing (events before & after); but also “time words” in the passage itself – words like, “then”, “now”, “after”, “before”.
How did it happen? What were the external, situational circumstances of the passage?
It can be helpful to use color highlighting and/or different fonts to highlight these features of the text as you’re constructing your study.
Here’s an example with when in bold, who italicized, and what in underline:
I – Interpret
This is mostly the final Journalist Question – “why?”
Interpretation “requires a more in-depth examination than the first step. At this step, we want to be careful to find the meaning of the verse in its context”
Be sure to not ask, “what does this mean to me?”
Personalization is the path to heresy. Personalization leads to eisegesis. Eisegesis leads to heterodoxy. Heterodoxy leads to heresy. (Thanks, Yoda!)
Ask instead, “what does this mean?”
This will often as not necessitate exploring not only the immediate context (verses before and after), but also greater context. For example, if you are doing an inductive study through the book of Hebrews, you’re going to need to read most of Exodus & Leviticus to fully grasp the allusions and references made.
Be very aware of the dangers of turning the “Interpret” step into a prooftext!
A – Apply
In other words, “what about what this passage says needs to take effect in my life now?”