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POST DATE: 2007-05-31
II Timothy 3:16, 17
Learning how to read God's Word well is not easy. It is a challenge. My hope is that as you read on, you will sense some of the importance and value of that challenge. We will be describing a skill called inductive analysis.
Although it may not be easy, it is exciting. It is an adventure, almost like being a detective. Induction is a basic tool in science. The key personal ingredient is humility, the capacity to let what is really there in the text of Scripture be what it is. Are you ready for this challenge?
If so, let me give the three simple steps of inductive analysis: observation, interpretation and application. These terms are really questions: What is there? Why is it there? and So What? If you walk into a room you may observe a chair, discern that it is intended for your pleasure and then you can sit in it. You have gone through the inductive process! It is really a part of life. You observe, perceive meaning and relate to yourself.
Now let us examine how these three steps may work on specific parts of Scripture. First, a simple distinction needs to be made between narrative and teaching materials. Narrative materials tell stories, involve action, reactions and have movement. Didactic or teaching materials are conceptual. They deal with ideas, theses, arguments, analyses and conclusions. One may primarily wish to inform while the other may want to persuade or enlighten.
Let us now look at narrative analysis and examine the inductive process at work. We will use the story of the paralytic (in Mark 2:1-12) as our "specimen" for analysis. (It may be helpful to read our passage at this point.)
In observing this passage we have to see the story as a whole and ask first the simple who, what, when, where, how type questions. As to what is happening, the story is rather complex, having two sub-stories. One is the story of the four men who open the roof of a house in their zeal to get their friend to Jesus who is inside (vs. 4, 5). Their efforts are rewarded: the paralytic is both forgiven and healed (vs. 5, 11, 12). Their "story line" is nothing but positive once they overcame the obstacle of the logistical problem of getting around the crowd and getting their buddy to Jesus. The other story is one of confrontation; it does not seem to be resolved. Jesus' forgiving of the paralytic causes a very negative reaction (v. 7) by the scribes (theologians) and it concerns a key issue: blasphemy. Jesus' question to the scribes followed by the healing is his response to their hostility (vs. 9-11). So just to answer the what question, what is happening, we discover a two track (at least) drama and see Jesus as the central, creative person in the story.
If we look at the who question, we already know much from our previous observations. But, there are other important "who's" in the story. There is the crowd (v. 2) that provides the obstacle and therefore the reason for the strange act of roof-opening; at the end, these folks were all "amazed" as well. Of course, there is Jesus; He is clearly the central person, the hub of the story around whom the others revolve as spokes.
The when and where questions are answered by Mark in verse 1 in rather general terms. The how question is more interesting: How is the paralytic brought to Jesus, how does Jesus deal with the scribes' hostility?
Once we begin to see all this we can look at more parts of the story as a whole. Many stories are replete with contrasts and conflicts. Here surely the two story lines provide a wonderful contrast. The four friends had real, observable faith, "Jesus saw their faith" (v. 5). The scribes were "questioning in their hearts" (v. 6). Here is contrast enough! Interestingly, the contrast revolves around the paralytic and his treatment by Jesus. The four are delighted with their friends treatment (they must surely have been among the amazed in v. 12). The scribes are "matched" for that day, but we are left guessing. It is one thing to be amazed, another to be satisfied for a theologian!
In the drama of a story it is well to check the pulse and here is a story with much intensity. Can we feel the hopes of the four, the shock of the scribes, the wonder of the paralytic as he comes down through the roof and the amazement of the crowd at the conclusion? Here is drama!
Finally in a story we need to see where key things happen and how it fits as a whole. In the first two verses we have the setting with an emphasis on the "packedness" of the crowd. Enter the four with their buddy -and their way of dealing with the problem of the crowd (vs. 3-4). Now the turning point in verse 5. Up to this point Jesus is the goal, now He is the creative Actor whose word of forgiveness sets off the following chain of events. The issue is: how can you do this (v. 6, 7)? Jesus' response brings the story to its climax: the paralytic rose and walked out (v. 12). Setting, movement to Jesus, decisive action by Jesus, conflict, and resolution of conflict: that is what we can observe as the story's structure.
Now we can interpret. To do so we need to learn to ask some key why's and to look for some key meanings. A warning needs to be mentioned: Some why's can be resolved while others will remain guesswork. We should always look to the text here as well and be free to confess when we are guessing -but even guessing can be important too. We need also note that some why's are observations; for example, why did the four lower the paralytic through the roof? The answer is simply in the text: it was too crowded (v. 4).
Other why questions do really probe at the meaning of the story; why did Jesus forgive the paralytic (perhaps a bit speculative), and why did He raise the "which is easier" issue in verse 9? What did Jesus mean by this?
Further meaning questions need to be probed. What did Jesus mean when He said "your sins are forgiven" (v. 5)? What is blasphemy and what is at stake here in this conflict? What did Jesus mean to do when He healed the paralytic? What does this story tell us about Jesus?
Do you see what is happening at this level? We need to probe for meaning. We had to begin by seeing what is really going on. Sometimes we also need to remember that one story is the first of a larger whole. This story is part of a series of confrontation scenes that come to a peak in Mark 3:6. The opposition is now resolved to destroy Jesus.
We are ready to apply this text. Application is that creative process in which the ultimate Author of the text uses His Word to help us understand ourselves, His reality and our resources and tasks in His world. This story can spin off insight in many areas. Whom do you identify with? Are you encouraged that the faith of those who bring others to Jesus is not let down? Are you given insight into the importance of forgiveness and your need in this area? Do you see our Lord's sovereign love and power anew? Do you see some of the potential conflict that could go with being really identified with Jesus Christ? Let the creative process have its way with you! Ask the Father to reach into your life by His Spirit. The inductive process is a personal process in its intention.
Now let us shift gears and focus on a teaching or didactic text. Our general approach is clearly similar but we must use different tools because in this sort of material (e.g. Paul's letters) we have concepts not actions. The central point becomes a thesis or concept, not a person and the whole drama of a story is replaced with ideas, meanings and argumentation. Let us take Ephesians 2: 1 -10 for our example. (Again, you may want to read it at this point.)
As observers we will have several things to look for. We should be on the lookout for three things. Since teaching material is conceptual, can we see some clues as to how the ideas relate? Right away I can note that the last three verses in the RSV begin with "that" and "for." As a rule of thumb, "that" gives some sort of aim or goal and "for" tips us off that a reason is following. So, right off I can guess that the main thesis is in the earlier part of the text and that the later part gives supporting ideas. (Please note that many modern translations eliminate the Greek logical connectives because we don't use them as much nowadays. This hurts your reading of teaching material because it conceals the logical structure, which is more explicit in the original text. May I encourage you to use a more literal translation like RSV or the New International Version?)
First we looked for logical connectives. Second we look for key terms. These are those that either are repeated or difficult. In our text we see quickly that some of the key terms are dead, alive, grace, saved, faith, gift, world, and so on. We need to note key words, underline them or whatever to get them to our attention.
Finally in our text we note contrasts. Here is a classic text of contrasts: dead, world, wrath, and sin versus God, grace, saved, and faith. Ultimate issues are at stake here!
Can more structure not be seen? As the contrasts unfold it becomes clear that verses 2 and 3 describe the shape of life from the dead. V. 1 contains both concepts. We can now see that the beginning verse is the thesis statement, vs. 2 and 3 describe the past condition while vs. 4 through 10 fill out the shape of life for those in Christ.
Now to interpret, we must go back and attempt to "unpack" the loaded terms Paul has given us. What is particularly significant here is that the contrast helps to clarify this process? Death sheds light on spiritual life and vice versa. The process of exploring and defining terms can become very exciting.
Paul was writing to a group of Christians, helping them see what they have in Christ. How do we apply this material? The terms are broad and inclusive - can we get practical? Can we use the verses on death to illumine our environment or our own lives? Have you thanked God recently for the grace being described here? What kind of spiritual potential could be ours if we could get a hold of what being seated with Christ means? The process of exploration and application goes on and on. God wants to speak to us!
I have outlined a practical method: induction. It is a natural process and can lead to both individual and group discovery of Scripture. It is a learned skill. The prerequisite is humility before the text. If you begin already "knowing" a lot, you'll probably only see what you "know." that is tragic. God's not speaking then. Be open to the text; invite God's creative process to begin!
A few final notes may help. Keep a notebook with you; study in a Bible you can underline, and use a pencil. Make the process active. Don't rely on commentaries and if you use them, use more than one. Using only one can lead to dependence and kill the creative process.
Reading the Word of God can be a wonderful, creative adventure. The key ingredient is humility, adequate tools and openness to the word of God's Spirit in our lives. Now the ball is in your court. May we all learn to read slowly - and well.
Following the guidelines given in the talk, the group should do an inductive Bible Study on either Mark 2:1 -12 or Ephesians 2:1-10.