Before we go pond-jumping, I need to tell you what we’ll be doing once we hit frog territory. They are the steps of inductive study.
I have to tell you that the steps really aren’t steps. “Step” implies that when the first is completed, you move on to the next, and only then can you go to the third. That’s not exactly the way inductive steps work. Inductive steps may overlap. They may not occur in the expected order, and it may be that the third happens spontaneously, or only after a lot of prayer and discipline.
The three steps are observation, interpretation and application.
When you are in observation phase, you are laying on your belly at the frog pond – taking in all the context that you can. Your goal is to find out what the author is saying. You’d look at his pond – where he was when he wrote, where his recipients were, what were their issues, and most importantly, determine what made the author sit down to write. What made him sit down on this day to write to these people? Something must have happened, and if we can determine what that something was, it will greatly aid in our understanding of context. In fact, that is context.
The next step is interpretation and when you’re interpreting, you’re figuring out what the author meant when he said what he said. I’m sure you’ve heard people ask you what your interpretation of this scripture is, or chastise your thinking, saying, “that’s just your interpretation.” The fact of the matter is, there is one interpretation for scripture, and it’s the one that the author intended, the one that the recipients understood.
“I really appreciated all the work you’ve done for me lately and to show my thankfulness, I’d like to take you to Subway for lunch tomorrow.” If I said that to you, you would immediately understand (or correctly interpret) my meaning. You know what work I’m talking about. You probably can guess which Subway location I’ll take you to, and you understand that I’m talking about lunch tomorrow. Interpretation answers the question: what did the author mean? I meant lunch tomorrow at Subway for you – not lunch everyday wherever you want it for you and all your friends.
Unlike interpretation, where there is one right answer, in application there are as many right answers as there are studiers. That’s because application is the heart of the matter – the reason behind studying the Word in the first place. During the application step, we decide how our lives will change as a result of studying this scripture. My assumption is that those who are interested in studying are those who understand that the Word of God is the standard by which we govern our lives. I also assume that we’re poeple who understand that if we see things in our lives that contradict scripture, it’s our lives that need to change, not scripture. So once we see what scripture is saying and understand what it means, we then apply it to our lives by changing in some area. This may happen instantaneously for some people. It may be the most arduous of work for others. But wheter you find it easy or torture, it is the point of Bible study and must not be ignored.
The reason that you’ll not hear me recommend a devotional book is that generally they skip observation and interpretation to hustle on in to application. They challenge you to apply scripture that you may not fully understand, and the result of that is frog-killing; taking the frog from his context and applying him somewhere he doesn’t belong (like the desert). In order to properly apply scripture, the author’s intent must be understood – just like you need to understand my intent to take advantage of the free lunch.
I promise that we’re going to get into actually doing inductive study – next post! I’ll give you more details about the three steps of inductive as we use them. I’m so excited to get started! I’m excited for you and the journey that you are beginning – because I was where you are now. And looking back, I realize that nothing has had as big an impact on my life as learning to study has.