You want to study the Bible but you’re not sure where, or how, to begin. You’re concerned that it might be a complicated process. How can you best understand what the Bible says and how to apply it to your life?
Bible Gateway interviewed Dr. David Bauer about his book (together with the late Dr. Robert Traina), Inductive Bible Study: A Comprehensive Guide to the Practice of Hermeneutics (Baker Academic, 2011) (Inductive Bible Study website) (@OfficialSeedbed).
In his foreword to the book, Eugene Peterson credits Dr. Traina for profoundly changing Dr. Peterson’s perception of the Bible: from something to be merely used to a book that is a conversation of voices. Tell us about Dr. Traina’s personal view of the Bible.
Dr. Bauer: Dr. Traina was strongly committed to the supreme authority of the Bible. This conviction was the basis for his commitment to an inductive study of the Bible; for inductive Bible study is an intentional attempt to allow the Bible to speak on its own terms over against our tendency to read our own biases and assumptions into the text.
Why do you think Dr. Traina’s original book, Methodical Bible Study, was so popular?
Dr. Bauer: It set forth a method for the study of the Bible that was effective in drawing out the meaning of the Bible; and this method was not limited to those with technical expertise but could be employed by anyone.
How does Inductive Bible Study expand on Methodical Bible Study?
Dr. Bauer: Inductive Bible Study relates the inductive approach to contemporary issues in hermeneutics (the science of deriving meaning from the Bible) and describes the theoretical foundation for inductive Bible study; Methodical Bible Study contained no such discussion. In addition, the latter book provides an explicit step-by-step process for the study of the Bible over against the more topical treatment of the various aspects of inductive Bible study that characterized Methodical Bible Study. Finally, Inductive Bible Study employs a consistent example throughout, using 2 Timothy 3:1.
What does ‘induction’ mean in the study of the Bible? How does one study the Bible inductively?
Dr. Bauer: We take “induction” to be synonymous with “evidential,” and “deduction” with “presuppositional.” An inductive approach seeks to allow the evidence in and surrounding the biblical text to determine our understanding of its meaning, over against reading our assumptions or presuppositions into the text. This “inductive attitude” leads to an inductive process, which facilitates hearing the Bible on its own terms.
Are you suggesting a person should read the Bible like a detective approaches a case?
Dr. Bauer: In a sense, yes. At the center of induction is the movement from evidence to inferences, or conclusions. Evidence does function similarly to clues.
What role do commentaries, dictionaries, and other biblical reference material have when studying the Bible inductively?
Dr. Bauer: The use of these secondary sources is essential in inductive Bible study. Inductive Bible study insists that one should begin with the study of the text itself rather than books about the text; but after the phase of first-hand study these resources should be consulted for information on historical background, history of interpretation, etc.
Is there a danger for individuals in drawing inferences from the premises in Bible passages?
Dr. Bauer: The process of drawing inferences from premises stands at the center of all interpretation. Everybody does it. That’s what interpretation is. The danger is doing it badly or ineffectively. Inductive Bible Study includes a discussion of some of the most frequent errors readers commit in drawing inferences.
Are you concerned that people are reading the Bible more devotionally/emotionally than they are inductively?
Dr. Bauer: I would equate devotional with emotional reading. A devotional reading that seeks spiritual formation or guidance from the Bible involves both the use of the mind and the involvement of the emotions; the Scriptures appeal to the whole person. But reason and emotion are involved in the more “academic” study of the Bible as well.
How should a person who has never studied the Bible inductively, begin? Is there a book of the Bible you’d recommend first?
Dr. Bauer: It would be well to begin with a more “straightforward” book, like Mark or Jonah. I would recommend attempting to apply the principles and processes set forth in Inductive Bible Study; and I would encourage those who do so to feel good about what they’re finding and not to be concerned if they feel they’re not doing it “perfectly.” As Dr. Traina used to say: Inductive Bible study is a quest; no one can say that he or she has arrived. But the more one applies oneself to the inductive study of the Bible the more proficient one will become.
Bio: David R. Bauer (PhD, Union Theological Seminary, Virginia) is Ralph Waldo Beeson Professor of Inductive Biblical Studies and dean of the School of Biblical Interpretation and Proclamation at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He’s the author of several books, including An Annotated Guide to Biblical Resources for Ministry.
Robert A. Traina (1921-2010) was professor of English Bible at The Biblical Seminary in New York and at Asbury Theological Seminary for over 40 years. He received his PhD from Drew University and authored the influential classic Methodical Bible Study.