The Different Approaches to Studying Scripture
Here are Some Definitions on the various ways we can read and know God's Word, the Bible. Some of these methods of Bible Study are very Biblical, beneficial and good and while others are harmful and lead to false teaching.
Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Acts 17:11
We, at Into Thy Word, are geared toward challenging you to learn how to better understand and study the Bible! We seek to teach people to use logic, induction, reasoning, being sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit along with good inductive and deductive principles by examining the particulars, facts, and essence of a text first before making any conclusions. Thus, we can lead a mature, meaningful, fruitful, character driven life for Christ's glory!
Methods to Understanding Scripture
First is the Deductive Approach: This is the common way of reading the Bible. The reader acts as a detective, which is good at first, as we all need to deduct what the Bible says. This form usually starts with a premise such as a topic or idea and then pulls out the relative ideas. This method can be done with a good heart seeking to start with a subject and then looking for the corresponding Scriptures that are relevant to it. This can be a good tool for topical studies; however, it can also be dangerous, leading to false conclusions because the context is usually abandoned. This deductive method tends to skip the key process that helps organize, in a logical manner, what the text says. Thus, one skips and misses a lot and does not get out of the Bible reading what should be discovered. The danger is that when ideas are pulled out of context, the results are theology, interpretation, and application that may not exist.
Second is the Opinion Approach: This form is the practice of "eisegesis" (see below) that uses the personality of the reader as the template for gathering information from the text. All that is read and studied is compared to his or her experience and education. The reader has the tendency to go to the text with firm, preconceived ideas from what is presumed, what was previously learned, and not caring or too lazy to check out the facts. The pitfall is that even if you are a seminary graduate and an experienced pastor, you can miss a lot and get things wrong.
In the above approaches, the reader plows into the Bible without knowing how to do it. It would be much like someone using a cookbook without an understanding of how to cook or what the measurements and ingredients mean so, the meal will be less desirable than what may have been intended. The Bible reader becomes confused, overwhelmed, and frustrated. Of course, there is always a benefit to just reading the Bible. Our point is, we can do it much better and gain more for our lives as His child.
Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. 2 Corinthians 4:2
Exegetical analysis simply means a serious or critical examination of a text of Scripture for the purpose of explanation (clarification) or interpretation. Thus, we become the redactor of the Bible, as in breaking down its parts, examining and researching them, and then putting them together for our illumination and benefit. Critical means "serious," and redactor means "to draw from." For the authentic Christian, it provides either a framework of God's principles, or it can be a shredder for its critics-as in those who oppose Christ and His principles.
Exegesis or the Deductive Approach to Bible study basically means "to lead out" or "draw out," extracting objectively, in a systematic study, what a text is actually saying to its original intended readers in their language, culture, and setting before we can discover what it means. In practice with the Bible, it is finding the true meaning of the passages of Scripture from word meanings and context. It is a tool and a discipline which enables us to get more out of what we read, so we can see a text in its background and then gain a better grasp of it by knowing the intended meaning, rather than just what we want it to mean. As a tool, it is an examiner and a detective that interviews a passage in a comprehensive, extensive, and serious manner. This enables a better understanding of the Bible that helps draw out more of the meaning for our personal understanding and spiritual growth. In this way, we can better internalize a passage for our personal conviction and explain it better to others, too. In other words, I want to know Him and His Word, what He is saying to me.
A good Christian leader approaches this with reverence and with good reference. A liberal who is callus to God approaches this purely as academic and thus will just tear it down for tear-down purposes only, and not put it back together for His glory. The same mechanic can tear down a car and strip it for parts so it is of no use, or he or she can tear it down to restore it, make it better, and use it. We, of course, do not make the Bible better; rather, we make ourselves better by understanding Him better.
Inductive simply means to use logical induction and reasoning by examining the particulars, facts, and essence of a Bible text first before making any conclusions. Thus, it means to draw out from the Bible with reverence, humility, and without preconceived ideas, agendas, or theological systems.
Thus, inductive Bible Study enhances the exegesis process by enabling us to read the Bible for all its impact, value, and significance. In practice, we first examine the ideas and words of the text; this then leads us to the meanings and interpretations, and then we are led to the conclusions and applications. As we are interviewing a passage, we are also allowing His Word to interview and then intervene in us. Additionally, we are to do this with a sense of worship, prayer, respect, and humility-without our preconceptions or agendas, thus, seeking what God is actually saying before we seek what a passage means. Then, we can apply it to our lives in a more effective and effectual manner. In other words, I want to know Christ and His Word better, to be convicted and impacted so I can line my life up to His.
The Inductive approach looks at the whole text, in its context, and pulls out facts, interprets them, and then applies them. The only pitfall with this method is if we do not investigate word meanings or genres, we may miss crucial items or get things wrong. However, the Inductive approach is still the best as long as the exegete is honest to the text and comparisons to other passages.
Combining the Inductive and Exegetical (the Into Thy word method) is simply using the best of both approaches to enhance our ability to study, know, and practice His Word. The idea of exegetical analysis is addition and complementing, to add what is missing from most Inductive approaches so to synergize our leaning and teaching.
Besides asking key inductive questions, we can also act as a detective; we can look for the word meanings, cultural considerations, and use tools such as concordances, Bible Dictionaries, and Lexicons to bring out deeper, more insightful meanings. Then, we match up the passage with what we are studying and other Scriptures that are relevant to it. This can be a good tool for expository, exegetical, and topical studies.
Hermeneutics simply means the application of reason in how to interpret the actual, intended meaning of a passage. Then, the principles of exegesis are put into practice, using the science and art of understanding to interpret the Bible for Christ's glory and not ours. In this way, we gain not just what it said then, but what the passage means for us today. Thus, we come to His Word, seek what it actually means, and then transcribe His timeless principles for today.
Criticism simply means "analysis," as in to investigate something, such as a passage, in order to form an opinion and then use it for didactic (educational) purposes. It can be positive and helpful or it can negative and arrogant, like any criticism. There are three major categories of Criticism: first, there is Higher Criticism which is considered "scholarly;" it investigates the origins, aspects, authorship, languages, date, compositions, and literary structure and meanings, which is good to do with the right motives and intent. This is what pastors, commentary writers, and Bible expositors do. The second is Lower Criticism. This is mainly the study of manuscript evidences to determine wording, grammar, and structure; this is what the Bible translators do. By the way only ½% of the New Testament is in any serious dispute-mostly over grammar and spelling, and none affects any doctrine or meaning! The third type of Criticism is called Form Criticism. This is analyzing the literary forms, which is very good; however, another aspect of this form of critique is what liberal scholars use to look for the origins of legend and myth in the Scriptures. Most of this is reading into it the commentator's ideas and theories, unsubstantiated by fact or sound reason. This is the bad version that many confuse for all the views of Criticism.
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15
Eisegesis or Isogesis simply means "to lead in" or "reading into the Scriptures" as in to introduce into the text one's own presuppositions, ideas, and thoughts while ignoring what is actually there in order to satisfy one's own agendas and opinions. In practice, this is using our personal interpretation, agenda, or presupposition, inserting or expressing our own ideas and bias, seeking what we want it to mean rather than the actual, intended meaning of the passage. This ignores the language, context, and culture, leading us to incorrect conclusions, inconsistent understandings, and also leads to heresies and false teachings. This method enables us to read into a text what is not there and draw out what God is not saying. Isogesis causes us to think this way: In other words, don't confuse me with the facts; I have already made up my mind, I want to think my way and or lead my life my way, not His Way.
We never ever want to do eisegesis to God's most precious Word; that would be heinous at best and blasphemous at worst! The improper use of exegetical methodologies will skew our understanding of God and His precepts, leading us to an improper life and false teachings. One should always seek the meaning from the actual, original languages (and/or use multiple Bible translations and compare to other passages; do some research), and context, and also what it meant to the intended audience; then, compare it to other passages to find the authentic meaning. This is proper exegesis. Never seek a meaning from modern vernaculars, theological agendas, or hearsays¾because you will skew the intent that God has for us ¾that is, reading into the text what God is not saying to us!
Check out Acts 17:11; 2 Corinthians 4:2; and 2 Timothy 2:15, and see how God wants us to study His Word!
However, no matter how good the tools we use are, we have to be aware that they can be limiting and even dangerous (can lead to liberalism through higher criticism that is devoid of Christ and Fruit). It can also lead to false conclusions if the human authors got it wrong or had biases. This deductive exegetical method helps you with a process so you can organize what the text says in a logical manner and then outline it and use it for teaching and sermons.
The basic plan is that you interview the Bible; use tools and ask it questions to get to know the account, just as an investigator or a reporter or a researcher does. At the same time, remember reverence; the Whom you are interviewing is God's Most Holy Word in His Holy presence with His Holy Spirit!
© 1985, 1989, 1998, 2006 R. J. Krejcir Ph.D. Into Thy Word Ministries www.intothyword.org