An example from my own sermon preparation… Sometimes when I feel like time has been cut short and I need quick inspiration, I skip my own study of the text and jump straight to secondary sources: commentaries, other articles and sermons on the same text, etc. Whenever I do this, I usually find myself reading commentary after commentary, sermon after sermon, looking for a nugget that hits home, something I can build on.
On the other hand, when I devote myself to actually studying the text––putting pen to paper, asking my own questions about what a particular word means or why a certain sentence structure is used––inspiration usually comes pretty quickly.
Then I go to those secondary resources with a purpose: to see if anyone else is seeing what I’m seeing, or can help give me a bit more context to understand it, or can tell me I’m way off. When I go to the commentaries this way, I read sections I would have otherwise glazed past with great enthusiasm and interest. Now I know what I’m looking for help with––not just looking for something.
The Bible is an amazing book. The living word of God. I consistently find that when I approach it that way, I’m awestruck.
Seminary-trained people, this is nothing new for you, right? You heard it time after time: “Do your own work, then go to the commentaries.” But you break the rules sometimes, don’t you? And usually because you’re out of time or energy. And unless you’re very different from me, I think it ends up costing you time or enthusiasm about what you’re preaching. You spend the time you would have spent doing your own study searching for someone else’s brilliant observations. And a lot of times it never becomes your own. You never internalize it. That shows when you try to teach or preach it. At least that’s how it works for me.
Some people struggle with how to go about studying the Bible on their own. I know it was a problem for me in the past. Without question, the most helpful method for me is “Inductive Bible Study” (IBS). If you’ll devote yourself to it, I think this method will blow your Bible reading wide open. Rather than try to explain IBS myself, let me point you to a good introduction someone else has put together, and then recommend a few resources.
IBS — An Overview
That was a nice overview, but don’t stop there. You should really take a look at these below.
Bible Study That Works by David Thompson.
If you’re not looking for academic-level reading, this is where I think you should start. Thompson makes IBS easy to understand and will show you its value. In just over 100 pages, he’ll teach you how to be a much better student of Scripture.
Inductive Bible Study: A Comprehensive Guide to the Practice of Hermeneutics by David Bauer and Robert Traina.
If you’re serious about IBS, this is the ultimate resource. It’s 350 pages, and you better be ready to seriously commit. But if you do, it will change your study. Traina is the grandaddy of IBS and Bauer is his favored son. There’s a lot to learn from them!
This isn’t necessarily Inductive Bible Study, but what I would consider an essential aid if you’re really serious about your study. You’ve got to learn the languages! My greatest moments of awe this week, as I prepared to preach Isaiah 60, came while translating. If you’re not reading the Greek and Hebrew, you’re missing a great depth and richness and nuance that no translation can fully capture. Seriously, consider it.
My own experience: finding a way to do inductive language learning (learning by being immersed in the Scriptures — very small bits at first — rather than starting with lots of memorization and tables) was much more enjoyable and helped me see much more quickly how important it is to know the languages.
For you who aren’t vocational pastors and aren’t seminary-trained: don’t think you can’t learn the languages, too. Elementary-aged children used to learn Greek, Hebrew, and Latin. Some still do. You can do it, too!
If you’re interested and want more resource suggestions, I’d love to talk. If you begin reading and implementing any of these, I’d love to hear about your experience.
All links are affiliate links to Amazon. Feel free to buy or borrow wherever you choose.
- The Inductive Bible Study Method: An Overview (ericgevans.wordpress.com)