Inductive Bible Study

The Restoration Movement has a plea to go back to the Bible. But what does that mean? All Christians claim Bible authority in some way. Everyone has their own proof texts. Yet, there is a problem that can exist with proof texts. The problem has to do with context.

We can easily understand the problem. Politicians and celebrities at times complain that their remarks have been taken out of context. Maybe we have even experienced it ourselves. A sound-byte of words sounds like the person is saying one thing, but when you hear or read the larger context, it means something totally different. The same problem can occur with proof texts.

How did the Restoration Movement propose to overcome this? They after all challenged their own assumptions about many beliefs. What gave them the ability to correct their own approach to the Bible? I think at least two things guided them.

First, they realized the Bible was to be read and interpreted as you would any other book. At first blush, this may sound a little disrespectful. Christians believe the Bible is inspired of God. Shouldn’t it get special treatment? The answer is that God has chosen to communicate in words, sentences, paragraphs, and books just as we would. There are no special rules for inspired writings. We have to ask the same questions as we would of any other text. What genre or kind of writing is this? We have to ask the typical reporter’s questions: who, what, when, where, and why? We must understand what is said in context.

Second, they spoke of inductive Bible study. Both J.S. Lamar in his The Organon of Scripture (1860) and D.R. Dungan in his Hermeneutics: A Text-Book (1888) spoke of inductive Bible study. In fact, the phrase is part of the subtitle of Lamar’s book. In logic, induction means reasoning from the particulars to the general. The inductive method as applied to Bible study means that you gather all the facts in the text before you draw your conclusions. That way you are allowing God to speak in context.

One of the clearest examples of this has been in our approach to becoming a Christian. Many stop at belief. Some may say belief and repentance. The Restoration Movement leaders, however, did an inductive study of the Bible. They gathered all the facts before arriving at a conclusion. When we look at all the conversion accounts in Acts and all that is said in the epistles, we conclude that one needs faith, repentance, confession of Jesus, baptism, and regeneration or new birth (which occurs at baptism when done in faith). The difference in the answer comes from gathering all the evidence.

Note: the books by Lamar and Dungan can be read online at http://www.mun.ca/rels/restmov/.

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