5. Techniques of the Scripture Search
One of the primary purposes of Christian teaching at any level and any place is to enable students to become independent investigators of the Word of God. Too much Bible knowledge in evangelical churches today is secondhand. It stems from listening to pastors and teachers but rarely if ever from analyzing the Word of God inductively.
One of the ways to teach inductive Bible study is by means of a method called “Scripture search.” This methodology enables students to learn how to use their Bibles by using them in class under the guidance of a teacher who is himself an independent investigator of God’s truth.
Scripture search may employ several approaches such as the springboard (analyzing subject matter from a textual point of view); deductive (developing a systematic theology on the basis of various passages); or inductive (analyzing the particulars of a given passage of Scripture leading to the forming of a conclusion). Few Bible scholars would question that the inductive approach is the best technique in leading students to learn bow to use the Bible for themselves.
Inductive Bible study assumes that any person who can read and is reasonably intelligent will be able to grasp the content and meaning of Scripture. The meaning will in turn lead him to the knowledge of how God expects him to think and live. Scripture itself asserts that on the basis of one’s own Bible study he may discern God’s truth. The Christians at Berea illustrated this principle and were commended by the Apostle Paul for examining “the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17: 11 ).
Inductive study differs from the deductive method by not prejudging the meaning and application of any particular passage. Correct theology becomes the result, not the presupposition, of the inquiry. Instead of dividing the Bible into verses, the study proceeds book by book as the Bible was written.
It is important to note that in using the Scripture search, both medium and message are important. We want to communicate the subject matter in a given lesson. However, we also want to demonstrate how the same approach to Bible study can be applied to other subject matter in another time and place. In studying a lesson on John 15, the student should learn not only the scriptural teaching about the vine and the branches, but also how to apply the approaches used in that class to a study of John 16, Acts 21, or any other passage of Scripture.
Values of Scripture Search
In addition to seeing the biblical text and hearing it read, students should enter into a firsthand investigation of the meaning as well as the words of the Bible. Since a good Scripture search also incorporates the methodology of discussion, people tend to share meanings. They measure each other’s understanding not by what the teacher says but by what they are finding in the Word of God itself. Educators generally agree that students learn better when they discover truth for themselves rather than having it prechewed by someone else.
The writer of the Book of Hebrews reacted negatively to the maturity level of his readers. At a time when they should have been instructors of others, they were still needing explanation of the most elementary truths of God. In Sunday Schools all across the world, we are perpetuating this problem rather than solving it. Students are not learning how to study the Bible because their teachers often do not know how to study the Bible.
Through the application of the careful use of Scripture search methodology, teacher and student will learn together how to come directly to the fountain of God’s truth for necessary living water. This can happen not only in the classroom group setting, but also in private and individual patterns of Bible study.
For some years my wife has taught a ladies Bible study class on Thursday afternoons. Frequently the class is attended by women who are unsaved but who display a genuine interest in knowing what the Word of God has to say. On one occasion as they were working through Mark, one of the unsaved women interrupted by pointing to a certain verse in the passage and exclaiming, “If this verse means what I think it means, I’m not a Christian.” The piercing truth of the Word had done its work. None of the other ladies had attempted overt evangelism but had allowed the Word of God to speak for itself. This is precisely the approach we should be taking in Scripture search.
Problems in Scripture Search
There may be fewer inherent weaknesses in Scripture search than in methodology which depends more upon the activity of teachers or students. This teaching method tends to be more Bible-centered and less man-centered. Nevertheless there are some dangerous pitfalls to be avoided when using the Scripture search.
One of the most common problems is closed-mindedness. We have a tendency to come to a given passage of Scripture with the assumption that we already know what it says. Our study becomes nothing more than a superficial review of preconceived ideas. Because genuine inductive Bible study tends to destroy mistaken notions, it can appear dangerous to the outward harmony of the group. Having taken offense at a particular biblical viewpoint agreed on by the majority of the class, some people may be sufficiently disturbed that they will not return to your class or church.
Another hang-up facing us in this approach to teaching is the temptation to minimize the necessity of preparation. If the leader’s structured questions are not thoughtful, the group might be hindered in getting the spiritual meaning and relevant application of the passage. By the same token, the questions themselves may be prejudicial, precluding any genuine understanding of what the passage really says.
All of the problems of the discussion method apply to Scripture search with an even greater impact. For example, a dominant group member currently riding a theological hobbyhorse may distort the group’s understanding of a scriptural point. The skillful teacher must ward off any efforts to do so. Furthermore, the sharing of life experiences by the group’s more vocal members may become a threat rather than an encouragement to the timid members of the group. Honest group induction can degenerate into an occasion for exhibiting spiritual trophies. Also, the encouragement of freedom and spontaneity should not lead to excessive levity or lack of reverence for God’s holy Word.
Principles for Effective Scripture Search
Essential to all inductive Bible study is an understanding of the three crucial questions which must be answered about any passage of Scripture we approach:
1. What does it say?
2. What does it mean?
3. What does it have to do with me?
Answering these questions for each passage (chapter paragraph, verse, or word) can be facilitated by observing the following guidelines:
As the teacher you must be sufficiently familiar with the material to steer the discussion. Your response to the passage will affect the dynamics of the discussion and may lead (or mislead) group members to conclusions.
Make sure that the answers to the questions always center in Scripture. Inductive Bible study is not a sharing of opinions by members of the group. It is not a pooling of theological ignorance. Every suggestion of meaning must be subjected to the searchlight of God’s Word as the Holy Spirit leads us into truth.
Try to keep the group small enough to be flexible for discussion and interaction. Arrange the chairs in a circle so that the concept of sharing is reflected even in the physical arrangement of the room.
Stay away from reference works including marginal notes. The suggestions of the commentators may come later, but now use your own initiative and thoughts under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Remember that Christ promised, “He will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13).
Make sure that the three questions of inductive Bible study are approached in the right order. Groups will sometimes want to dash right on to the application stage before the factual data of the text has been established. In order to avoid this problem, the teacher must frequently (at least in the early usages of this method) clarify the observation-interpretation-application procedure.
Avoid becoming too goal oriented. All good teaching proceeds on the basis of clear and specific objectives, but in this kind of methodology there must be sufficient room for flexibility so that the group itself does the work. They find the facts. They determine the meaning. And they discuss how this portion of God’s Word has significance for them in their pressure-cooker world.
Certainly there is direction from the teacher, particularly with respect to keeping the group in the text. But Scripture search methodology exhibits a genuine dependence on the working of the Holy Spirit in the group and an expectation that honest commitment to His leading and to the text itself will lead to truth.
When approaching a passage which is not in some sequence of study, sketch the context first so that the group may determine the situation in which these words were spoken or written. It is essential that the sketch not contain interpretive overtones or the basic inductive technique will be corrupted. For example, think of a lesson on John 11 which you intend to teach using Scripture search methodology. If the class has not been studying the Gospel of John, you may need to introduce the procedure by saying, “In our passage Jesus is confronted with the death of a close friend. This incident happened late in His ministry, when the animosity of the Jews was already at a high pitch.” You would not say, “This chapter teaches us that every Christian will experience bodily resurrection because of the power and promise of Christ.” The passage may well teach that, but this methodology puts the privilege of that discovery upon the class.
Teachers willing to use Scripture search will soon discover a vibrancy and vitality unmatched by most other methods.