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This updated classic leads the reader through the inductive Bible study process, showing practically how to study the Bible for one's self.
With this tool, Christians can learn to relevantly apply God's Word to their lives as His Spirit leads them personally, rather than as some other leader might direct. Originally published in 1986, Finzel's style remains very accessible—providing practical examples that walk the reader through the steps of ...
This updated classic leads the reader through the inductive Bible study process, showing practically how to study the Bible for one's self.
With this tool, Christians can learn to relevantly apply God's Word to their lives as His Spirit leads them personally, rather than as some other leader might direct. Originally published in 1986, Finzel's style remains very accessible—providing practical examples that walk the reader through the steps of unpacking Scripture, using actual passages to practice.
Free downloadable study guide and activities.
The Bible Gets Personal
Studying the message of the Bible transformed my life back when I was barely out of high school. Having grown up in the '60s, there was a lot that needed to be transformed! I was in college during the height of the protests against American involvement in Vietnam and against authority in general. I was a part of that protest—not just the revolution of idealists against political wrongdoing—but a revolution against all order and authority. In time, I lost the ability to bring order even to my own life. I was lost in the hopelessness of the drug scene and all the disillusionment that went with that time in America's history.
Then something amazing happened around the time of my nineteenth birthday. I met some unusual Christians who told me about Jesus Christ in a way I had never heard and pointed me to the Bible. They had the peace and love in their lives that I was desperately seeking. It came from their personal relationship with Jesus Christ, not from the dry, empty religion I was brought up in. I remember thinking, "Here is someone I can follow—the person of Jesus Christ." People may fail me, but He never will. What happened in my life at that point was a revolution in the deepest sense of the word. These new-found friends gave me a Bible, and as I began to dig and study its pages, my life began to change. It wasn't long before I gave my life to Jesus Christ as my Savior. It was at that point that my love affair with the Bible began as it transformed my life in so many good ways.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! —2 Corinthians 5:17
The Formation and Preservation of Scripture
Of all the books ever written, the Bible is unique. It not only contains miracles, it is itself a miracle. The Bible was authored by God but written through ordinary men.
Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. —2 Peter 1:20–21
A brief look at the formation and preservation of the Bible throughout history reveals the high priority God has placed on ensuring that His revelation reaches men and women from generation to generation.
The Bible is history's greatest writing project. It was written across three continents (Asia, Europe, and Africa), over a span of 1,500 years, by men of various walks of life, kings, fishermen, poets, shepherds, philosophers, peasants, teachers, statesmen, Jews, Gentiles, even a doctor and a tax collector. The Bible is a collection of sixty-six books (not including the Apocrypha) and, despite the tremendous variety of writers and the length of time represented in its pages, one central message permeates its contents: faith in Jesus Christ alone frees us from our sins.
Throughout history there have been those who loved and those who despised the Bible. From the Roman emperor Diocletian, who in A.D. 303 ordered that all Bibles be burned, down through the Middle Ages and into the persecutions of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the Bible has survived. Not only has it survived, it has spread—with portions of it now translated into over 2,224 languages. As the inscription on the monument in Paris to the French Huguenots reads: "Hammer away, ye hostile hands; your hammer breaks; God's anvil stands."
The Bible is still the best-selling book around the world. Men and women from every nation and social background read and study its contents. Why? Because its Author knows the human heart and speaks to the needs of all people everywhere.
Why We Need to Study the Bible
When you take a trip to a place you've never been, you probably refer to a road map to plot a course, get a general sense of the terrain you'll be passing through, and mark your progress along the way. As Christians, we are on a spiritual journey all our lives; we are earthly pilgrims on our way home to heaven. But since we have never been there, we must trust our sense of direction to the map of Scripture. If we let it, the Bible will guide us, redirect us when we get off the course, and lead us safely to our destination.
There are two fundamental truths that need to be understood as a backdrop to Bible study. On the one hand, there is a spiritual dimension to Bible study: our condition and relationship to God. On the other hand is the natural dimension: the educational principles that are employed in studying any piece of literature. Careful Bible study takes both aspects into consideration. Let's elaborate on these two dimensions before we go on.
Understand the natural dimension of Bible study. The Bible is a human book. By that is meant that the Bible must be studied intelligently like any other form of human communication. This workbook is designed to teach you the natural principles of Bible study—natural in the sense that they are human principles for gaining knowledge through study. But a word about spiritual principles must precede that presentation.
Understand the spiritual dimension of Bible study. The Bible is also a spiritual book. It is God's revelation, written under divine inspiration. As such, it must be understood with the Holy Spirit's illumination.
Theology can be practical and it can even be fun! There are three important theological terms to keep in mind whenever discussing the spiritual dimension of Bible study: revelation, inspiration, and illumination. Each of these three terms deals with a different aspect of God's communication to man. This is part of the wonder and marvel of the Christian experience—God wants to talk to us! And this is how He does it through His Word. There is a progression of this communication from God to man.
Revelation deals with the content of the Bible—the message communicated. God spoke His Word through direct revelation to the authors who wrote down the words.
Inspiration is the method of writing—God's means of imparting the biblical record to men. Men wrote down the revelation under the influence of divine inspiration.
Illumination deals with the understanding or meaning of the inspired Word of God. Illumination is where we come in. We study the Bible and learn its meaning as the Holy Spirit teaches us through the words of Scripture. As David prayed in Psalm 119:18 (NASB), "Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Thy law."
One further word is in order as it concerns illumination. Once again we see the miracle of the Bible. Illumination can be further defined as "the ministry of the Holy Spirit which makes clear the truth of the written revelation of the Bible." Unlike all other books, to understand the Bible's meaning you must have special eyes. Jesus taught clearly that His truth was only for a select group:
I praise Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that Thou didst hide these things from the wise and intelligent and didst reveal them to babes. —Matthew 11:25, NASB
Who is this select group? Who are these babes? Men, women, boys, and girls from all classes of people and every generation who come humbly to God as children to receive His truth. God illuminates His revelation through the person of the Holy Spirit to those who come to His Word with the right heart condition.
Take a minute to look up the following verses and think about the attitudes with which you approach the Bible. These Scripture texts reveal some of the heart conditions that are necessary for meaningful Bible study. Look up each verse and briefly summarize the attitude expressed.
Your Turn: Heart Condition in Bible Study
1 Corinthians 2:6–16
Hebrews 11:1–2, 6
* * *
When we study the Bible, we can approach it with childlike trust and dependence (Jesus said in Mark 10:13–15 that this is a necessity), knowing that our Heavenly Father desires to reveal His truths to us.
As we've just seen, the benefits of Bible study can be a major factor in motivation for staying with the task. Over the years, your motivation will determine to a great extent your devotion to the Scriptures. The benefit of reading the Bible, contrasted to the mass of other literature that flows past our eyes, is hard to compare. Perhaps the words of C. I. Scofield, master Bible teacher of the early twentieth century, are most appropriate:
I gave much of my earlier life to the study of Homer and Shakespeare, and while my understanding undoubtedly profited by that study, and I found keen intellectual delight in it, these books held no rebuke for my sins, nor any power to lift me above them, but, when I came to the Bible and received Him, concerning whom, after all, the whole Book is written, I entered into peace, joy, and power. The Bible led me to Jesus and Jesus transformed my life.
The Goal of Bible Study
People study the Bible for all kinds of reasons. When I was a missionary in Europe, my study of Scripture was the fodder for my ministry. Now as the director of a mission agency, it nurtures my soul for my leadership role. As teachings of the Bible change me, I can be an agent of change—since all genuine ministry flows out of what we are and not what we do. But first and foremost, I study the Bible to know God more deeply and then serve Him more genuinely.
Personal Bible study requires effort. Like mining for gold or precious gems, the harder and more thoroughly we dig and sift through the material, the more treasures we find. Just as there is no better way to train for a marathon than to regularly run long distances (in rain as well as sunshine), there is just no substitute for hard work in Bible study. Paul lived out this perspective and encouraged others to be like him. He said, "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize" (1 Cor. 9:24).
Your Turn: Benefits of Personal Bible Study
Before you go on to chapter 2, take some time to look up these passages and jot down the rewards of Bible study that the Bible claims for itself:
Psalm 119:9, 11
2 Timothy 3:16–17
1 John 5:13
What Is Inductive Bible Study?
Imagine waking up in the middle of the night with terrible pains in your abdomen. Earlier that evening, at a friend's home, you had a meal that didn't quite agree with you. You suspect that you have a mild case of food poisoning, but you can't be certain without more facts. The next morning you visit your family doctor and tell her, "Doctor, I'm sure it's food poisoning." The physician, familiar with the process of discovering medical truth, begins to study your case by observing all the characteristics of your body, in light of the symptoms you've described. Only after she has all the facts (blood test, X ray, physical examination) and has carefully studied the results does she draw a conclusion. In this case, she concludes that you have appendicitis, not food poisoning. You need surgery. The doctor used an inductive approach to diagnose your ailment.
The word inductive describes reasoning that proceeds from basic facts to conclusions. We will use the inductive approach to study Scripture. Therefore, we won't state our conclusions about the meaning of a passage or book until carefully examining the facts.
The Three Steps of Inductive Bible Study
The inductive approach involves three steps: observe, interpret, apply. To illustrate how these three steps work together, let's go back to the example of you and the doctor.
When the doctor examined you, she followed certain steps to understand your condition. She first observed everything she could about your symptoms and behavior. She took your temperature, poked at your abdomen, and performed tests. She then interpreted her findings, concluding that you had appendicitis. Finally, she applied her conclusion by prescribing surgery, medication, and rest. These three steps answer the three key questions of Bible study:
The Three Questions of Bible Study
What do I see? (observation)
What does it mean? (interpretation)
How should I respond? (application)
Observation asks, "What do I see?" Observation is simply the gathering of all the facts of who, what, where, and when. Careful examination of the facts is the foundation upon which we build accurate interpretation and application of Scripture. The more time spent looking at the text itself, reading and rereading it, the more fruitful our study will be. Chapters 4 through 6 explain and demonstrate the principles of effective observation, pointing out specifically what questions to ask and what information to look for.
Interpretation asks, "What does it mean?" Drawing conclusions based on your study of the facts is the process of interpretation. During this stage we seek to understand the meaning that the author had in mind when he wrote the text. Chapters 7 and 8 present the fundamental principles for making sound interpretations.
Application asks, "How should I respond?" Application is the goal of Bible study. It is not enough for us to understand (interpret) Scripture; God wants us to be changed by it. The Scriptures were given "for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16–17, NRSV). In this final step of the inductive process, we move from the original context to our contemporary one, seeking to know how our interpretation can affect our attitudes and behavior.
In the first two stages, observation and interpretation, we study the text. In application, the text studies us. Chapters 9 and 10 provide guidelines for applying Scripture to our lives so that we may be more like Christ.
Part 1 of this workbook covers the nuts and bolts of how to study the Bible inductively, with many opportunities for practice. Part 2 takes this information and experience and tailors it to meet various Bible study goals you may have. The same three steps are used, but particular attention is given to how the different types of literature found in the Bible (like poetry, prophecy, and narrative) each require special consideration when studying them. Just as we don't read the newspaper the same way we read a poem, the parables in the Gospels require different considerations than the narrative sections.
You may want to understand the meaning of an entire book of the Bible, do a detailed study of a small portion of Scripture (perhaps a single paragraph of an epistle), or see what the Bible as a whole says concerning a given topic. You use the same method of observation, interpretation, and application for all three of these kinds of studies, while bearing in mind the particular genre or literature type you are studying.
Taking Time to Study Scripture
Perhaps the most common reason Christians have a shallow experience with the Word of God is that they spend too little time in the Bible. The result? A loss of spiritual nourishment. Like altitude sickness from too little oxygen, many of us grow spiritually anemic from lack of sufficient Scripture in our lives. No only are we missing out on our God-intended spiritual nutrients, we are missing great spiritual wealth that our heavenly Father would love to bestow on us. Jim Downing in his excellent book Meditation illustrates with a fable our need to gather up spiritual treasure while we have the opportunity.
An Oriental fable tells of three horsemen who were traveling through the desert at night. Unexpectedly they were confronted by a mysterious person. The stranger told them that they would soon cross the dry bed of a stream.
"When you arrive there," he declared, "get off your horses and fill your pockets and saddlebags from the river bed. At sunrise examine the stones you have picked up. You will be both glad and sorry."
As the man predicted, the travelers came to a dry streambed. In a spirit of adventure they put a few of the many stones they found scattered about into their pockets. At sunrise the next day, they examined the pebbles they picked up. To their great astonishment they found the stones had been transformed into diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and other precious stones. Regarding the statement of the stranger in the desert, they understood what he meant—they were glad for the pebbles they had picked up but sorry they hadn't taken more.
There is no end to the wealth of wisdom in the Bible. Discovering the riches of God's truth throughout our lives is the primary reason for using a book like this. By the time you reach the end, you will know and have practiced the three-step approach of inductive Bible study so that you can use this approach for personal study of any Scripture.
To introduce the inductive method of Bible study, let's begin with a little self-examination.
Excerpted from Unlocking the Scriptures by Hans Finzel. Copyright © 2003 Hans Finzel. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
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