In our last study, we looked at the importance of hearing from the Holy Spirit through the process of observing and interpreting the Scripture He Inspired. Our work as interpreters of God’s Word (rightly dividing) is to discover what the Holy Spirit is saying, not what we want a passage of Scripture to say. That’s the difference between inductive and deductive study techniques. Inductive study begins with specifics and moves to the larger perspective, while deductive study begins with the larger perspective and moved to specifics. If we start with a general premise and try to prove that premise through specifics we discover, that is deductive study. If we start with specifics and allow those specifics to add with other specifics until we see the the larger perspective, the general premise will reveal itself from the specifics.
Another way of looking at the process is that inductive study is bottom-up, while deductive study is top-down. Deductive study moves from theory to hypothesis to observation to confirmation. Inductive study moves from observation to pattern to tentative hypothesis to conclusion and application. In inductive study we don’t make an interpretation until we finish the process of observation. We also shared about not reading commentaries with other people’s interpretations until we finish our own. It’s important that we hear from the Holy Spirit first. He will always guide us into all Truth.
“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority,but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.” John 16:12-15
We also looked at the importance of defining terms. Having the wrong understanding of a word or phrase can lead to the wrong interpretation of an entire passage of Scripture. That’s where good dictionaries and lexicons guide us to the true understanding of a word’s meaning. Understanding how the grammar of Hebrew and Greek affects definition within particular usage is also important to understand. Many good books about grammatical rules for the languages are available to study in English.
Step One of Interpretation
Ask questions. Interpretive questions come from your observations. If you are thorough in observing everything in a portion of Scripture, then lots of important questions will arise. The process of asking questions from your observations will sometimes send you back to the Word to observe again, which can lead to more discoveries.
Think of the Bible as God’s Letter of Love and Self-Revelation. He makes it clear from the beginning to the end of the Bible that He loves people. He Created them, Redeems them, and Protects them for eternity. How would you read a letter from someone you loved deeply and wanted to know more intimately? Would you read it casually and quickly and toss it to the side? Of course not. You would pour over every word, not wanting to miss any deeper meaning that might be in it. You would read it again and again, thinking how wonderful it was that the one you loved so deeply would share their deepest emotions with you. You would probably have many questions to ask this special person in your life and would ask them in a response letter, looking forward to receiving their answers. It’s the same with God’s Word, except at a much higher and more important level.
Your questions for interpretation of passages of Scripture begin with what makes up a sentence (components of a passage – terms, forms, structure, atmosphere) and move to understanding the meaning of the passage. From a journalistic perspective, it’s the old “who, what, where, how, and why” questions. Who’ involved? What are they saying? Where did they say it? How did they say it? Why did they say it. Have you ever noticed that some reporters give you more and better information from covering the same story that many other reporters also covered? They all covered the same story, but usually one reporter’s story stands out as being thorough and complete. We want to be that kind of reporter in our study of God’s Word – thorough and accurate.
In the next part of our study, we’ll look at the second step of interpretation – finding answers and reasons for the questions we’ve asked.
Also, read the companion apologetics study – Can I Trust the Bible?
In Christ’s Love and Grace,
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”