I did an inductive Bible study of Exodus 32-34, looking especially at the role of Moses as intercessor between God and His people. Being an intercessor myself, I was curious what Moses could teach us today about intercession. Following are just a few of the takeaways I learned from studying this passage:
In the previous lesson on Psalm 46, we looked at the structure of Interrogation. Now let’s look at another structure in this psalm: Contrast.
You may remember looking at Contrast in an earlier lesson. Feel free to review that here, if you’d like a refresher: Ever Notice All the Opposites in the Bible?
In our study of Interrogation in Psalm 46, we noticed that the author describes many problems and shows how God is the solution. You can see the structure of Contrast (opposites) overlapping with those Problems/Solutions. The peace we find in the presence of God is a direct Contrast to all the problems in the world.
In this lesson, we are going to continue learning Psalm 46 through Inductive Bible Study. If you are just joining, you may first want to read Bible Meditation on Psalm 46: Preparing for Inductive Bible Study.
One of the major structures of Inductive Bible Study is called “Interrogation.” This can come in the form of “Question-Answer” or “Problem-Solution.”
When Interrogation appears in a Bible passage, you will notice the author devotes part of the passage to raising a Question, and then he offers an Answer. Or the author might point out a Problem and then offer a Solution.
In some of our future lessons posted here at Adventures with God, we are going to do some deep diving into Psalm 46 using tools of Inductive Bible Study.
A great way to start would be to spend a week reading and meditating on Psalm 46. If you are familiar with lectio divina, you can start with that kind of Bible meditation. (You might find my article, Lectio Divina for Christian Writers a helpful starting place.)
Or simply sit in the presence of the Holy Spirit and invite Him to lead you as you move through Psalm 46.
This lesson is part of a series of Inductive Bible Study lessons that I publish here on the blog every Friday. If this is your first time visiting this series, I recommend that you start with the first lesson: Inductive Bible Study: An Overview.
Learning Observation and Inference
Now that you have had some practice making detailed observations, let’s add “Inference” to the process.
If you’ll recall, in Inductive Bible Study, first we make Detailed Observations about what we actually see in the text. We don’t bring in any outside theology or modern-day perspectives. We simply look at what the biblical text tells us in its original setting.
Once we’ve made Detailed Observations, then we want to add Inferences. This is how we get our Interpretation of the biblical text.
If you are just joining in with this post, I invite you to visit “part 1” of this lesson and complete those exercises first. Then come on back here to complete part 2.
In part 1, we practiced making observations from Matthew 4:17-22. After making observations, we want to start making inferences based on those observations.
One of my favorite parts of the Inductive Bible Study process is the Detailed Observation. This is the “step” that comes after the Survey. Remember, the Survey is the first “step” where you take an overview of the Bible passage you are studying. The Detailed Observation is the “deep dive” where you look at a few verses close up. The Survey helps you decide which verses you want to examine more closely.
Before going further with this lesson, you may want to review and refresh with the following overview of the whole process: Inductive Bible Study: An Overview.
If you are ready to move into the Detailed Observation “step,” we’re going to look at some examples of Detailed Observation in a passage from Matthew. Detailed Observation has two parts – Observation and Inference. In this lesson, we are simply going to look at Observation.
My examples will be drawn from the RSV translation of the Bible. You are welcome to use a different Bible translation, but I recommend one that closely follows the original language, i.e., not paraphrased. The NIV tends to work really well for Inductive Bible Study, as do the RSV and NRSV. Try to use a version that isn’t marked with paragraph headings, if you can. In Inductive Bible Study, you just want to look closely at the text itself, without a publisher’s influences.
Go ahead and turn in your Bible to Matthew 4:17-22. Before you begin to read the passage, take some time and pray, asking the Holy Spirit to open your heart to hear His Word. Then go ahead and read the passage several times. Don’t think about your knowledge of the story. Just look at the words that are on the page, and read the text on its own terms. Listen, really listen to what the text is saying.
Types of Observations (To Name Just a Few)
For Detailed Observation, you want to examine the text close-up from various angles. For example:
- Which specific words jump out at you?
- What sequences do you observe, where one thing follows after another?
- Do you see any comparisons, contrasts, cause and effect, or repetition of terms? What are they?
- What imagery or symbolism is used?
- What are the actions, and who is doing the actions? Who is receiving the actions?
- How does this passage connect to the one before it and the one after it?
- What is the setting? How is it described?
- Do certain words refer to other words or phrases? What are they? How do they connect?
- What are the verbs?
- What is emphasized?
- What is significant by its absence?
Those are just some of the many questions you can ask about a text to help with your observations. It may seem awkward at first, but the more you practice detailed observation, the more natural it will become.
Remember – you’re not “adding to” or bringing in your own understanding. You’re simply observing what is in the text.
Sometimes it helps to write, “I observe that … ” each time you make an observation. That helps you keep yourself out of it and stay focused on the text itself. (As you get used to the process, you won’t have to write that, but it’s a helpful way to start.)
At this point, you are only making observations. You are not trying to look at what they mean. That comes later. Simply observe and report what you observe.
Before you look at my examples below, see if you can come up with 10 simple observations from this text (Matthew 4:17-22). Make a list of what you observe, including the verse(s) and observation.
Here are some of the observations I came up with by closely observing Matthew 4:17-22:
Verses 17-18: I observe that Jesus preaching is followed directly by Jesus gathering fishermen.
Verses 17-20: I observe that the description of the fishermen with their nets comes directly after Jesus’ words about the kingdom of God being at hand.
Verses 17-19: I observe that Jesus’ invitation for the fishermen to follow Him comes directly after His preaching and His words about repentance and the kingdom of God.
Verse 20: I observe that the word “immediately” gives a sense of either urgency or not lingering or hesitating. (This word is repeated in the next paragraph, verse 22, under similar circumstances.)
Verses 19-20: I observe that the author emphasizes the role of nets for the fishermen. (This imagery is carried over into verse 21 as well.)
Verses 19-20: I observe that the author contrasts the casting of nets and the leaving of nets.
Verses 17-20: I observe that the author gives two different sentences of Jesus’ words, and each is followed by a demonstrated response to these words.
Verses 19-20: I observe that the author sets up an “if-then” connection and two-way dynamic: “Follow me, and I will make.” If you follow, [then] I will make. The offer is conditional (if-then), and the possible response requires a two-way exchange: the brothers can follow Him, and then He will make them fishers of men. The response becomes actual in verse 20, but it is preceded by the conditional.
Verse 17: I observe that the content of Jesus’ preaching highlighted in this narrative is repentance and the kingdom of heaven. The content of Jesus’ preaching sounds similar to what John the Baptist was preaching (in the RSV, the words of Matthew 4:17 are identical to Matthew 3:2). And this paragraph follows right after a reference to John the Baptist (verse 12).
Verse 17: I observe that Jesus specifically refers to the “kingdom of heaven.” Not an earthly kingdom. Not a hypothetical kingdom. Not the “kingdom of God.” But specifically the “kingdom of heaven.”
Those are just a few of the many observations we can make about Matthew 4:17-22. If yours don’t match mine, that is okay. There are so many more and different observations you can make. But hopefully those examples will give you some ideas of what’s possible through Detailed Observation.
If you’d like, keep going and make more observations. Keep your list for next week’s lesson, when we will learn to ask questions about our observations that will bring us deeper into this passage.
Till then, God bless your time in His Word.
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In this Inductive Bible Study exercise, I invite you to read one of my favorite passages of scripture – a double story of Jesus healing people.
Let’s take a look at Mark 5:21-43.
Go ahead and read through the passage prayerfully several times. It’s a great story to read and spend time with. Don’t rush through your reading. Take your time and meditate on the passage. Invite the Holy Spirit to bring this passage alive for you.
After you’ve finished reading the passage several times, I’d like to briefly introduce the rhetorical structure known as “intercalation.” This is where the author inserts one story in the middle of another story.
In this passage from Mark 5:21-43, you can see intercalation. The author (Mark) begins and ends this passage with the story about Jairus’s daughter. In the middle, he inserts the story about the woman who is bleeding. The story of Jairus’s daughter surrounds the bleeding woman’s story. That is an example of intercalation.
Intercalation is used to show comparisons and to highlight and strengthen those comparisons. Spend some time prayerfully looking at what the author might be comparing between the two stories. Why do you think those comparisons are so important for understanding Jesus as our healer?
May God bless your time in His Word.
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In addition to the major structures we want to identify through Inductive Bible Study, we will also come across minor rhetorical structures. A minor structure works in relationship with a major structure. It’s a deliberate way the author shapes the text for a particular purpose.
“Inclusio” – Bracketing a Passage
One such minor rhetorical structure is called “Inclusio.” This is when a passage opens and closes with an identical (or nearly identical) text. This repetition serves as a bracket around the passage. Look at the structure inside those brackets (is it Contrast, Climax, Causation, etc.?), and you will see what structure the bracket is supporting, highlighting, setting apart.
While you probably won’t find “Inclusio” as often as the major structures, it’s important to mark this bracketing effect when you see it. The author did this deliberately, and there is something he wants to emphasize in between the brackets. Identifying the “Inclusio” when you see it will help you zero in on the passage in between the brackets.
Examples of “Inclusio”
Let’s look at a few examples of “Inclusio” (these examples are from the NIV translation):
Psalm 118 verses 1 and 29 repeat: “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.”
Psalm 150 verses 1 and 6 repeat: “Praise the LORD.”
The segment clearly opens with an introduction of Jesus beginning to teach in parables (Mark 4:1-2), and the segment closes with a recap that Jesus taught (perhaps continued to speak?) in parables (Mark 4:33-34). This bracketing stands out distinctly – it’s like listening to a newscast with its intro, telling of the story and the recap of the story – and it seems to bring the reader from the previous segment into this one. The bracketing pulls the reader through from one parable to the next, and on to the recap before sending the reader on to the next segment.
Keep Looking and Praying
That’s an overview of “Inclusio.” Sometimes you won’t find exact repetition of words, but you will find the concept repeated at the beginning and end of a passage. If you discern that the author is bracketing the passage, look more closely to find out why. What is the message the author is getting across to you through that bracketing?
Remember to pray your way through all of your Inductive Bible Study practices. God will guide you.
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Before we begin looking at a new structure for Inductive Bible Study, I recommend that you read (or re-read) the lesson on Contrasts. That lesson discusses important aspects of looking for major structures. As we proceed, I’ll assume you already have that information. So it’s always good to review before focusing on a new structure.
Turning Point (also known as Cruciality or Pivot)
Now we’re going to talk about a structure called “Turning Point.” It is also sometimes called “Cruciality” or “Pivot.” It’s when the story is moving clearly in one direction, and then the story does an about-face and moves in a different direction.
The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus would be the major example of Turning Point in the Bible. The long-awaited Messiah King dies. Turning point! Didn’t see that one coming. And then … Jesus, who died, is now risen from the dead! Didn’t see that one coming, either. That’s another major Turning Point.
Apart from that pivotal story of Jesus, around which the whole Bible turns, there are other examples of Turning Point in various biblical passages. When you find a major Turning Point that covers a large part of a passage you are studying, you can identify it as a major structure. If you look closely at that Turning Point, it will help you understand better what the author is trying to communicate through the story.
Let’s look at several examples that have stood out for me as Turning Points. Remember to first read the passage all the way through. Then look at the discussion of Turning Point. Then read the passage again, focusing on the Turning Point.
(1) Matthew 27:55-28:20
There is a turning point in this passage in verse 28:6, when the angel notifies the women that Jesus is not in the tomb because He has risen. The material leading up to this turning point focuses on the burial of Jesus, including the care of Joseph (27:57-60) the vigilance of the women (27:61, 28:1), and the suspicions of the chief priests, along with their effort to prevent something from happening (27:62-66).
After the turning point, the material moves in a different direction in reaction to the resurrection event: the women are sent to alert the disciples (27:7-8, 10), on the way they encounter the risen Jesus (27:9), the priests now have to spread misinformation (28:12-15), Jesus has all authority (28:18), and the disciples are commissioned to spread His baptism and teaching (28:19-20).
(2) Genesis 2:4–4:26
This passage includes a turning point at verse 3:6. Until that point, mankind is living as God intended. After that point, they are living in rebellion against God. Everything changes. What follows that turning point is a series of problems in which things unravel: knowledge (3:7), curses (3:14-19), banishment (3:24), enmity, anger, strife, murder, deceit, punishment (4:5-16).
(3) Psalm 118
Verse 19 sets up a clear turning point in the psalm. It is not so much a turning point of realization as of directed action. This is a thanksgiving psalm, in that the psalmist has already made it through the dangerous time on which he reflects. He has already experienced God’s deliverance on some level. But in verse 19, the psalmist sets up and opens a new direction of response. He is no longer looking back on his previous struggles. He is stepping into the new reality that God has made available to him through saving and delivering him (21). And he distinctly invites the reader to come with him and prays on behalf of the reader (25).
This pivot has the effect of transforming the battlefield into the place of God’s presence. It distinctly models the action of thanksgiving and praise called for in the opening and closing inclusio of the psalm (more on “Inclusio” in next week’s lesson). And it picks up the theme of righteousness (15) and invites the reader to consider at a deeper level the relationship between God’s deliverance and righteousness.
Turning Point versus Contrast
Sometimes what looks like a Turning Point is really an example of extreme Contrast. The difference is so marked that it looks like a Turning Point. If you aren’t sure what you are seeing, ask yourself: “Does the story change direction abruptly, and can I identify a verse or or a cluster of several verses that serve as the pivot point?” If so, that may be a structure of Turning Point. If not, it may be extreme Contrast. Either way, remember the point is to be drawn more deeply into God’s Word and spend that time with Him. Whatever structure you see, lift it up before God. Ask Him to show you how the author uses that structure to help communicate the meaning of the text.
Look for Turning Points
As you begin to study the passages God leads you to, see if any of those passages have a distinct Turning Point. Not every passage will have this structure. But when you find it, mark it, and study it. See how God uses that Turning Point to bring you more deeply into His biblical message.
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