2 Timothy 2:15 “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
“Stop, look and listen” is what we teach children before they cross the road. There is a similar formula that Bible-believing Christians can adopt when reading and studying God’s Word. The formula goes like this, Observe, Interpret, and Apply. The Holy Bible is our primary source, the place we begin, for studying the teachings of Scripture. We must not go to books, videos, tapes, or preachers before opening the Bible for ourselves. For example, if we were going to study the lesser-spotted toad we would have four avenues to the subject:
1) Ask friends what they know about the lesser-spotted toad.
2) Read books about the lesser-spotted toad.
3) Attend a lecture on the lesser-spotted toad.
4) Spend time with the lesser-spotted toad and observe how it lives and functions.
Only the fourth method is truly effective for personal knowledge and edification. In the same way we must use our Bibles to understand who God is, what He has done, what He can do and how He wants us to live. Other ways have their place, but we must first spend time in God’s presence with an open Bible.
In our last lesson we took a panoramic view of Genesis chapters 1 to 11. Now we must get to ground level and begin to study in detail. Before we can do that we must be acquainted with the best method for studying the Scriptures.
Inductive Bible Study
To study inductively means that we must be logical in our approach to the Bible. Many cults and fanciful teachings come from not applying this principle. Just like the ‘Stop, Look, and Listen’ rule, we will be safe if we learn to do three things with regards to the Word of God.
1) Observe. Here we ask ourselves ‘What does this text actually say?’ All Bible students must allow the text to speak for itself. Do not go about reading between the lines. God is an intelligent Being and is able to express His words so that we can understand them.
2) Interpret. What does the passage mean? Good interpretation keeps the text in context. A text out of context is a pretext. This means that to fully understand any given verse we must read what is written before and after it. Biblical interpretation is not like deciphering a secret code, instead it is allowing the text to be firmly installed in your mind (understanding).
3) Apply. A lot of people know a lot about the Bible. God has given the Bible so that it will change hearts and lives. We must apply what we read and study to ourselves. How do you respond to what you read in Scripture? Do you live by what you learn from its pages?
Before we can interpret or apply the text it is important to observe. We need to carefully study so that we can know the truth and have that truth set us free.
How to be Observant
By now we should agree that actually getting down to studying the Bible is very important for a believer, but some read and never learn anything from it. In fact, some don’t even know what they read after they closed their Bibles. As we read and study God’s word we can ask ourselves six questions. In doing so we will ‘observe’ the text.
1) Who? Who does the text speak of?
2) What? What is the text speaking of? What can I learn from it?
3) When? When did these events occur?
4) Where? Where did these events occur?
5) Why? Why was the text written?
6) How? How can I apply its teaching to my life.
Not every verse requires us to ask all these questions, but at least one applies to the text under observation. For example, what question(s) can we apply to the following verses from Genesis?
Genesis 1:1 … “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”
Genesis 2:8 … “And the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden.”
Genesis 3:10 … “I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”
The panoramic view of Genesis chapters 1 to 11 gives us the ‘big picture’, but this is not enough to truly understand Creation. Too many have the ‘big picture’ yet know precious little about Creation, and so they mix it will evolutionary theories. It is vital to get down to ‘the grass roots’ so that we miss nothing from this important study. It takes time, but it will be worth it in the end. Imagine two people ‘seeing’ London for the first time. The first flies over it in ten minutes by aeroplane; the second spends a month exploring every road and street. Which one really saw London? In the same way, only those who take the time to observe can be edified by the Word of God.