Previously in our “How to Study the Bible” posts, we have looked at the five types of Bible study. Today we want to explore six predominant ways you can engage the Biblical text.
The most simple form of engaging the text is to read it. It is important that you read the Word on a constant basis [link to how to read] and there are a variety of ways you can do it. Consistently reading through the Word will help you to not only know the overall context of Scripture, but it will actually deepen your Bible study of particular passages.
For many Christians, their only engagement with Scripture is to read it. Again, while it is important to read the Word, you need greater depth than a mere surface reading. If I compared the Word of God to the ocean, reading the Bible would be similar to standing on top of a boat looking into the water. There are things I can see and there is a level of depth that is uncovered, but it is a surface perspective compared to the other forms of engagement.
Psalm 119.11 says “I have hidden Your word in my heart that I might not sin against You.” The word “hidden” has also been translated as “treasured” or “stored up.” The Psalmist declares that one of the weapons we have to fight against sin is to hide, store, and treasure Scripture within our lives.
If we memorize Scripture it is always available and ready at a moment’s notice. If temptation hits you, you may not have a Bible handy to seek wisdom, but if you have stored up Scripture in your heart, you can easily recall it and battle using the “sword of the Spirit” (see Ephesians 6.17). Psalm 119.9 asks “How can a young man keep his way pure?” The answer the Psalmist gives is: “By guarding [obeying, living, protecting] it according to your word.”
It is imperative that we keep the Word of God in our hearts and minds all throughout the day—and one of the best ways to do that is to purposely spend time memorizing Scripture.
Let me clarify up front: we are not talking about New Age, mystical, or pagan meditation. Meditation is the idea of dwelling upon and rolling a passage around in your mind. It is a purposeful pondering upon the truths of God’s Word.
The idea of meditating on God’s Word is used throughout the Bible. Specifically, Psalm 119, which is focused on Scripture, uses the word “meditate” five times. It says we are to meditate upon God’s precepts (119.15, 78), His wonderful works (119.27), His statutes (119.48), and His Word (119.148). It is useful to point out that God’s precepts, statutes, and word all relate and refer to Scripture.
To meditate upon something is like a cow chewing the cud. When a cow eats it goes through a process by which it swallows the food and then regurgitates it so it can continue chewing on it. When we “chew” upon God’s Word we want to constantly dwell upon it, bringing it back to our mind to think through, memorize, and allow the Spirit to reveal greater depths of wisdom and understanding.
4. Inductive Bible Study
Another way you can engage the text is through inductive study. It can be argued that all study should be inductive, since the opposite is to reason the text deductively (through your own reasoning, understanding, or personal framework). When we approach Scripture it must be inductive: reasoning which proceeds from basic facts to conclusion. Observation, asking questions, determining context, and allowing the text to speak for itself is critical for inductive study.
Kay Arthur (Precept Ministries) has popularized this way of study in her “How to Study the Bible” book which uses the inductive method. We have been teaching Saturation Bible Study which relies heavily on the inductive approach.
Exegesis is probably best understood as the critical interpretation of a text. In many ways it is an expansion or deepening of the inductive method. Most often Inductive Bible Study uses English as the basis of the study, whereas an exegetical study will consult original languages, grammar, and the like for a greater understanding of the text.
In many respects, Saturation is a combination of the other five. During Saturation you are dwelling and thinking (meditating) upon a particular text, because you spend a lot of time going over the passage you find yourself memorizing it, inductive and exegetical study are both used to gain understanding of what the passage says.
If reading the Bible is like standing on top of a boat looking into the water, than Inductive Bible Study would be similar to using a snorkel in the water. With a snorkel and face mask you can see greater depths and insights of the ocean because you are actually in the water. You can even dive down to explore (though you do need to come back up for air). Exegesis is akin to putting on diving equipment and plunging beneath the waves to discover even more than you can with a snorkel. It is similar to snorkeling but provides greater opportunity for discovery in the depths. Saturation, in this cheesy illustration, would be to grow gills and live in the ocean. While using the other methods, Saturation is a constant living within the Word of God.
Click to learn learn more about Saturation Bible Study.