We’ve all been there, sitting in a home group Bible study, or in a Sunday School class. The Bible is read and then the group leader says “what do you think that means?” Then (after the dead silence of a certain amount of time) someone pipes up and has something to say…
What happens next is the most important thing. What usually happens (at least what I’ve seen) is the teacher usually says “okay… anyone else” or maybe “good answer…” no matter what is said. YIKES!
If we believe that a verse of scripture can mean one thing for this person and mean another thing for someone else, then there is no point in learning how to interpret the Bible because we can then make it say whatever we want.
On the other hand, if the Bible was written by real people (and it was) to real people (which is also true) then there was a REAL and objective meaning to the text.
So, we must believe that the Bible means something, not just what “it means to me” but what it actually means. At the same time, though it was written to specific people at an actual historical time, the principles behind the text are still applicable to us today, but the meaning of the text does not change.
Hermeneutics is an attempt at objectively revealing the meaning of the Bible. You can then take that meaning and apply it to your life.
This brings me to 4 important words encapsulating 2 basic concepts that need to be thought through before any Bible study is attempted, so there they are…
There are 2 kinds of study, INDUCTIVE and DEDUCTIVE.
INDUCTIVE = moving from the specifics to the general
DEDUCTIVE = moving from the general to the specific
Proper Biblical Hermeneutics deals first in INDUCTIVE Bible study. It looks at the biblical data, the actual words, clauses, sentences, verses, etc… and then draws conclusions.
DEDUCTIVE Bible study starts with the conclusion and then tries to find the verses that support the conclusion (very bad).
We do this all the time. Any time someone asks me “what do you believe about _________ ” then fill in the blank: security of the believer, limited atonement, the rapture, the intermediate state, life after death, etc…
Any question like this is an invitation to DEDUCTIVE Bible study and it is the ideal set-up to “theologize” and distort God’s word.
The proper answer to a question like that is either “well let me read you this scripture and let’s see what it says” OR “what scripture are you thinking of?”
I usually opt for the 2nd question because I find it’s more helpful to begin where the student is and work from there. If I simply tell you what I believe (even if I’ve done the study before) that doesn’t help you, and it sets me up as the “expert” who holds all truth and that’s just not the case, the Bible holds the truth.
This is also called “proof texting,” which is taking an existing belief or doctrine and then finding verses that seem to prove it. But by not starting with an INDUCTIVE study you can’t know if the verse just used to prove the conclusion is really a support for such a dogma.
In other words, don’t believe any doctrine that you were not convinced of by the teaching of the actual words of the Bible. You should never believe something on philosophical grounds and then seek to prove it, there’s just too much room for error in that kind of method.
So the 2 concepts are INDUCTIVE & DEDUCTIVE. The former starts with the specific and moves to the general, the latter starts with the general and moves to the specific.
You may have heard of EXEGESIS & EISEGESIS. These are closely related topics.
EXEGESIS = drawing out of the text what it means
EISEGESIS = reading into the text something you bring to it
You want to do the first, and never do the second.
INDUCTIVE Bible study represents good EXEGESIS
DEDUCTIVE Bible study CAN represent EISEGESIS
So is DEDUCTIVE Bible study ever helpful? ABSOLUTELY! You just never want to start there.
We use INDUCTIVE EXEGESIS to determine what the Bible says. That is to say, we start with the particulars of a given Biblical text and we uncover the general principle.
THEN we take that general principle and we DEDUCTIVEly apply that general principle to a specific situation (such as our life, a friend’s situation, or a church dilemma).
INDUCTIVE Bible study –> General Principle –> DEDUCTIVE application.
That’s how it works. In the coming weeks & months I will be covering the general principles of Hermeneutics. By the end, I will have outlined the basic rules for interpreting the Bible, and covered all the major figures of speech that we find in the Bible.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Remember, you want to do INDUCTIVE EXEGESIS to get to the meaning of the text, it’s not what it means to you, but what you believe it means, has meant, and will always mean.