How to Do Inductive Bible Study #2: Special Observations

December 13, 2011

 With Inductive Bible Study, you simply observe what is there before drawing any conclusions. This is different than other methods of studying the Bible that people use where they go looking for verses that back up what they already believe. So how do you do Inductive Bible Study?

When you are observing anything, you often do two things. First, you use your senses to determine what is happening. In this case, the writers of the Bible have already done that. They have used their senses to record what was happening, where and when it happened and who said what (including God). The second thing you do when you observe is to ask questions: who, what, where, when and how. (Why is also a question, but that doesn’t come in until you are ready to interpret what you’ve found). This is exactly what a scientist does in an experiment. They observe before they interpret.

In the first lesson, we saw how you can use your basic observation skills and the “reporter’s questions” to milk meaning out of the Bible section you are studying. But sometimes, just looking at the words will not give you enough of the meaning to build an interpretation. There are four special observations that also need to be made and in this lesson we’ll go through all four using a parable from Luke chapter 11:5–8:  The parable of the Friend at Night.

 5 Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ 7 And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

From this passage, let’s see the four special observations that we need to make while studying a passage.

1. Contrasts: The easiest way to begin building meaning and interpretation out of any story or teaching is to look at the elements that contrast. There are easy contrasts to spot that use language (eg. “Not this…but that” and “He said…but she said”). However, sometimes the contrasts are not all that easy to spot at first glance. In this passage, there are several contrasts:

  • A friend has come…I have no food
  • Don’t bother me…I can’t get up
  • Lend me three loaves…a friend of mine has come on a journey (a contrast of roles: one supplies food, the other is traveling)
  • My children and I are in bed…you go to him at midnight
  • even though…yet because of the shameless audacity he will get up

The purpose of the contrast is to show the flow of ideas, action, character and plot. If you can spot where there is a contrast, you will know where the critical points of meaning are found.

2. Conflict: Conflict is a contrast where two things are actively ( or in some cases, passively) opposing one another. In this scene, there is the conflict between the friend at the door and the man in the bed. There is the conflict between the friendship and the audacity. There is the conflict between the need to eat and the need to stay in bed and sleep. Conflict often tells us what we are supposed to be watching for. They are like beacons telling us that something needs to be changed, or needs to be addressed, or needs to be heeded.

3. Repetitive Words: Often this is an observation made more easily in a longer passage of Scripture. For instance, it is often necessary when studying an entire book of the Bible inductively to see the key words that flow all through the book. But in this passage, we see a couple of words that repeat. Obviously the word “friend” is mentioned numerous times. When we come back to interpretation keys later in our lessons, we’ll return to this passage and we’ll see the word “friend” is the key to a proper interpretation of this parable. “Bread” is mentioned a couple of times, as is the phrase “get up”. These are also key ideas that will come out in the interpretation.

4. Unusual Concepts: This passage contains a concept which at first glance may not seem obvious. But when you are asking questions of the passage (as we did in lesson #1), you often make observations that raise other questions. For instance, in this passage we read about a man traveling at night. Was this a practice they did a lot in those days? Was it safe to do so? Why did this guy need to be fed in the middle of the night? Asking questions like this will go a long way in solving the meaning of the Scripture you are studying. If you don’t ask those questions, you may find that the Bible is just a collection of sentences that don’t form any real ideas in your mind. Or, you may have wondered why it is significant that they guy can’t get up because of his children. Is he afraid of waking them up? What were the houses like back then? How would the father getting up affect the children? These questions form a great backbone in the future interpretation.


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