Note: This article is excerpted from our resource Bible Study Methods for Groups.
"The Septuagint is paramount in understanding the Hellenized Jewish Diaspora," proclaimed the white-haired lecturer from behind a podium. I looked to my left and right and saw a sleepy glaze cover the members of my small group. I could almost see the unintelligible vocabulary of academia flying over their heads.
Our church had invited a biblical studies professor to come and give a lecture to our congregation. My small group was eager to attend and dig deeper into Scripture. We were hungry for something beyond surface level Bible reading, but unfortunately, we left with a lingering feeling of discouragement.
We are all intelligent people. We are educated and we take studying the Bible seriously. But many of the words coming out of the visiting professor's mouth were shrouded in mystery. He spoke of original Greek and Hebrew words like they were common knowledge. It made us feel like we were incapable of breaching the wall to deeper study. My small group had come and knocked, but despite this professor's best efforts, the door was not opening.
Biblical studies can be overwhelming. Words like exegesis and hermeneutics are tossed into the fray and it can feel like you need a seminary degree just to stay afloat. But luckily, you don't need a Ph.D. in biblical studies to glean meaning and application from Scripture. All you need is a Bible and the willingness to ask the right questions. The trick is to think inductively. If you pay attention to the details—the who, what, when, where, and most importantly, the why—then you have all you need to let the Holy Spirit bring the text to life.
Inductive Bible Study with Your Small Group
One of the best tools for studying Scripture is inductive Bible study. It is the process of interpreting and applying Scripture by focusing only on the details found directly in the text. This is an invaluable exercise for small groups. Since we all approach Scripture from a unique point of view, collaboration allows for more to be seen and shared.
It might be easier to look up a set of verses in a commentary, but discovering the details without these aids allows you to see God's Word through the lens of your own individual perspective.
Step 1: Determine Genre
The Bible is a complicated book. What other book was written by upwards of 40 God-inspired people over the span of more than 1,000 years? It is a true masterpiece. The variety in authorship and time, however, did not lend itself to consistency in genre. It is important to discover the literary genre when interpreting Scripture because it affects our understanding of the author's purposes. The intent of the book of Acts (a historical recounting of events) is very different from the intent of 1 Corinthians (a letter to a specific group of people). It's important for your small group to know what they're dealing with. Several genres are represented in the Bible:
- Law (e.g., Leviticus)
- History (e.g., 1 and 2 Kings)
- Wisdom (e.g., Proverbs)
- Poetry (e.g., Song of Solomon)
- Prophetic (e.g., Isaiah)
- Apocalyptic (e.g., Revelation)
- Gospel Narrative (e.g., Luke)
- Epistle/Letter (e.g., Ephesians)
Philemon, the book I will use as an example, is an epistle or letter. We know that letters are written to specific people for a particular purpose. Now we just need to know that purpose.
Step 2: Get Familiar
In order to really understand a book or section of Scripture, your small group needs to get comfortable with it. The best way to do that is to read it multiple times. Have you ever noticed new aspects of a movie when you watch it the second, third, or fourth time? The same is true for reading scripture.