Week 8, Day 4: Understanding Scripture
There are many ways to read, learn, and submit ourselves to Scripture. Today and tomorrow, we will learn two such practices.
The first method is called inductive Bible study. The idea behind inductive Bible study is that we can look at a scriptural text and find life and application in it, even without necessarily knowing all of the historical background and scholarly analysis — though this does not by any means render them unhelpful. There are three steps in inductive Bible reading:
Observation, where we pay attention to the details that are right in front of us;
Interpretation, where we ask, “So what?” and begin to draw connections;
Application, where we seek the significance for our lives and for the way we live.
Let’s walk through this process with a case study; we’ll use Mark 5:1-20. (Sometimes it can be helpful to have a version that you can scribble all over — you can write in your own Bible or you can print out a copy of the passage, which you can look up through any online Bible.)
The first thing to do, before diving into the text, is note the surrounding context. Immediately before today’s passage, in Mark 4:35-40, Jesus has just calmed the storm and the disciples (understandably!) responded with fear and awe (Mark 4:40). They must have been looking forward to being back on dry land!
READ: MARK 5:1-20
Step 1: Observation
Observation is all about naming the facts, asking “Who?”, “When?”, “Where?”, “What?”, “Why?”, and “How?” So, as we look at the passage, we can list:
Who — we name every character that’s mentioned and highlight what we’re told about them: the disciples (v.1), no one (vv.3, 4), Jesus (vv.1, 2, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 17, 18, 19, 20), the man with the evil spirit (vv.2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 13, 15, 16, 18, 19, 20), and the demon Legion (vv.9, 10, 12, 13), the pigs (vv.11, 12, 13), and the people in the surrounding region — pig herders (vv.14, 16), people from the town and countryside (vv.14, 16, 17), those who had seen the miracle (v.16), the demoniac’s family (v.19), and people further afield in the region of the Decapolis (v.20).
When — we note references to time; in this case, we are told all of this took place at night. This is the setting for a horror movie; imagine landing your boat at night, right after the terrifying experience of almost drowning in a storm, only to be greeted by a crazy, naked, shrieking man coming at you from among the tombs!
Where — we identify details of geography and setting: the boat they were in, recently battered by the storm; the region of the Gerasenes, by the lake of Galilee, in the area of the Decapolis, which was Gentile territory; the tombs, the hills, the town, the countryside.
Next, continuing to discern the facts, we ask what happened to whom, why it happened, and how it might have happened. The goal is to list everything we can know from the text.
Step 2: Interpretation
Here we begin to discern the meaning and identify patterns in the text. So, again, looking at Mark 5, how might you break down the structure of the passage? Here are two possibilities:
Encounter and response: Setting (vv.1-5) - Encounter (vv.6-13) - Reaction of townsfolk (vv.14-17) - Reaction of demoniac (vv.18-20).
Healing: Need for healing (vv.1-5) - Experience of healing (vv.6-13) - Reaction to healing (vv.14-17) - Sending of the healed (vv.18-20).
Can you see or discern how these themes form a structure for the passage? Can you see or discern other key themes or other ways of framing the passage?
Step 3: Application
Application is about identifying the significance of the passage for our lives and the way we live. The key question to ask ourselves is how the lessons are relevant to us, moving from the original scriptural context to the contemporary context. We start by asking what questions might have been raised in the original context, and then we ask what questions the passage raises for us and for our society? Some questions that might arise from Mark 5 might include:
Do you believe in demon possession in the 21st century? Is it real? Is it figurative? Are they alive in individuals, in principalities and powers?
Do you believe that individuals can be possessed in such a way that their personality seems to be submerged in a diabolical personality?
How do we make sense of the fact that large numbers of people around the world (and certainly in Jesus’ time) experience the reality of demon possession?
What interaction did the demoniac have with others that caused him to be in chains?
Why did the demoniac call Jesus “the son of the Most High God”? Perhaps it was a power struggle — the name Legion is significant; the Roman legion was the most fearsome military force in the world at the time, a symbol of Gentile oppression. Interestingly, the demons see the spiritual reality that no one else does.
REFLECT & RESPOND
Try practicing inductive Bible study with Mark 6:30-44, the story of the feeding of the five thousand, using the three steps — observe, interpret, and apply. Spend about five minutes on each step (to begin with — you can always spend more time on it!).
Lord, please help me grow in wisdom and discernment as I read, understand, and put into practice your word, so that I might better love you, others, and myself. Amen.
There are three steps
in inductive Bible reading:
observe, interpret, and apply.