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Induction… not just for Science Nerds Anymore

microscope sxc hu smallWhen I speak of “Doing Biblical Theology” I intend the use of an arsenal of tools for ascertaining the intended theological message of a biblical unit of literature.

I just wanted to make that clear in case you thought I was attempting to market an improved version of the Dougie. I just watched an instructional youtube video on how to do the Dougie, and, while I imagine it could use some improvement, I will have to leave this in the hands, or slackened joints as the case may be, of those who’ve got moves like Jager.

Anyway, back at the ranch, Biblical Theology is a goal, so doing biblical theology requires:

  1. The right attitude (the attitude of a humble believer… even if said reader has doubts)
  2. The right principles (Historical, Grammatical, Literary Hermeneutics… Long Live HAGALAH!!!)
  3. The right process… Inductive.

While there are various practical ways of implementing the process of inductive study, induction has a fundamental pulse. That Pulse is Observation.

Unlike induction, deduction starts with AXIOMS, simple “true” statements about the way the world works, and builds logically from these. If, and only if, your axioms are true, everything that follows will be true.

It became apparent to several people—Galileo, Bacon, and Tycho Brahe— that the deductive method, while wildly successful in mathematics, does not fit well with “scientific” investigations of nature, though, Lord love him, Aristotle did his best to apply it there. They insisted that it should be the goal of science not the starting place to determine what the “simple true statements about the way the world works” really are.

Hence, the inductive method starts with many observations of nature, with the goal of finding a few powerful statements about how nature works (laws & theories). In the scientific method, observation of nature is the authority. If an idea conflicts with what happens in nature, the idea must be changed or abandoned.[1]

The true soul of science is, thus, observation. That which exists outside the scope of observation must be speculated upon by principles garnered from that which can be observed. One must ask, “What most likely happened when we were not looking to result in what we CAN see?”

Deduction became, then, a kind of nemesis for induction… think Hatfields and the McCoys, Superman & Lex Luther, Charlie Brown & Lucy. Well… maybe not that bad… both are important tools for Sherlock after all.

When used in biblical studies, the inductive method is a process for discovering the truths, not of nature, but of a text. While Inductive Bible Study is based on a careful process of observation, interrogation and investigation, its soul is best depicted, as with the “hard” Sciences, in the observation of the text.

I took private art lessons for many years. My teacher, who was a wonderful artist, would show me different techniques for getting different affects with my mediums, but what she said most often was, “Look carefully.” The manipulation of my implements was not half as difficult as really seeing.

Unfortunately, few possess the skill of observation. Most people have their minds made up about things on some emotional-instinctual level. Facts rarely matter, and people are usually unable to still their minds long enough to really look, to still their presuppositions long enough to really observe.

The skill of induction is rooted in the skill of observing the text in all its details. Questions are a natural part of this process—what, why, when, how, where?—but these must be brought to bear upon a text that has been truly seen, for it has already been subjected to the speculations of many over the years, and it is easy to see in the text what you’ve been told is in the text rather than what is actually there.

Only last week, while preparing my posts on “Foreigner at the Well,” did I realize that Genesis 24:1ff, the Marriage of Rebekah and Isaac, never says the name of the servant who journeys for Abraham… yet, I’ve always read the story (at least 100 times in life) inserting the name Eliezer.

In induction, one does not ignore the work of others, as many falsely assume. Indeed, historical grammatical literary hermeneutics demands that one digest as much as possible about the world of the text as uncovered by others. Good induction does not begin here, however.[2] First one sees with precision. Then he or she questions with diligence based on careful observation. Then, and only then, does one turn to the right sources to get the right answers to my many carefully asked questions.

Among the many things I hope to accomplish in my blog, I intend to unpack in great detail the full processes of Inductive Bible Study, applying it generally to various passages throughout the Scriptures, but applying it to the Gospel of Mark in particular, bit by bit based on a course I have taught for years called, “Meeting the Jesus of Mark: An Introduction to Inductive Study.” I hope you will enjoy it all.



[1] http://www.batesville.k12.in.us/physics/phynet/aboutscience/Inductive.html

[2] Yes, I am aware of the seeming contradiction that this has with the way one engages a text from another language, where translators or language instructors are often necessary intermediaries, but the principle holds in spirit.

[3] Media Pic is from sxc.hu

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