PRINCIPLES AND METHODS
Inductive Bible study progresses with a plan.
What do we do with all the data we have gathered? We must have a plan for anything we wish to do, and certainly for something as important as studying God's Word.
1) Our plan must include a way of sorting out all the data we have gathered. First of all, we must acquire the habit of making lists. Listing the data helps us to discover if we neglected to take into account all the data. Listing forces us to spend some time with each fact. Lists help us to acquire a perspective on the sometimes very complex body of data.
By perspective I mean that, with a properly written list, we can see which data is more important or relevant to the issue at hand. We will find that as we study an issue, we will be on the lookout for specific information, and it will sometimes pop up from the background in a list. Also, a proper perspective includes the ability to notice common threads that tie many verses together.
2) This leads us to another very important concept: synthesis. Synthesis is a word used to describe the process of combining similar things that complete or reinforce an idea, of which each bit of data is a part.
When we see what many different verses have in common and are able to combine them into one group and give that group a label, we are synthesizing these verses. For example, a synthesis of a simple compact list of verses, such as Galatians 5:19-23, would give us the following result: the combination of verses 19-21 with the title: An Inventory of an Unsaved Person's Life and the combination of verses 22 and 23 with the title, An Inventory of a Saved Person's Life.
We can also try to synthesize an extended passage, like one or two chapters. Let us take John 7 and part of John 8 as an illustration. First we observe the following. In verse 5 Jesus' brothers made their own assessment or judgment of Him. In verse 12 the people in general judged Jesus. In verse 15 it was the Jews' turn to judge Him. And in verse 50 a fourth assessment is given by Nicodemus. We could give John 7 the following label: "mankind tries to judge God." Incidentally, notice in this case how significant verse 24 is.
Now that mankind has had its day, it is God's turn to judge. And so we are not surprised that a synthesis of Chapter 8 results in: "God judges man." Notice the following thread that ties the verses of Chapter 8 together. In verse 6 Jesus is acting just like God, who also used His finger to give the law, as we read in Exodus 31:18. In verse 12 Jesus describes Himself as the Light of the world. We know from John 3:19 that one of the functions of light is to expose men's sin. In addition, verses 17 and 18 concerning the testimony of two men is a reference to judgment rendered upon a sinner and is taken from Deuteronomy 19:15. In the case of John 8 the two witnesses are God the Father and God the Son. Therefore we have synthesized a rather large passage in the Bible and our result has been two groups of verses which complement each other.
Synthesis has two important advantages. First, through synthesis we find the common denominator among many different verses, and therefore gain an insight into how to understand more obscure verses within the same passage. Second, synthesis aids our memory. The labels we put on groups of verses help us to keep their content and location in the Bible in our minds.
We must be careful not to misunderstand what synthesis has provided. We are not making an interpretation about the verses but simply attempting to gather things together that have something in common. We must not attach too much significance to the description we place upon the group of things we put together. Synthesis is only a method we use to help us manage a large body of data by combining and labeling some of that data.
Incidentally, synthesis is an excellent exercise in helping us to understand some of the big truths in the Bible. For example, we might try to take a passage of scripture, a chapter, a psalm; or, when we are really good at it, a whole book, and write out the main point in one sentence. Finding the common denominator among a large amount of verses is very hard to do and forces us to see the forest as well as the trees. It keeps us honest, since we will not so easily go off on some tangent that is not really related to the passage at hand. Some people like to synthesize data by outlining the passage first. From this they can then set down in one clear sentence exactly the intent of the whole.
3) A plan or a program helps to direct our thoughts. If we deliberately plan to accumulate data related to one idea, we can work more efficiently as we discard unrelated data. Like questions, a plan helps to motivate us, to keep us plugging away at our study, since progress is taking shape before us. The plan we use is a challenge to us. We are driven to accomplish our goal ... "I will get the main idea of Romans Chapter 8."
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