Holy Spirit Interactive
Monday, June 25, 2018
Inside Holy Spirit Interactive

Direct Bible Discovery

Chapter 3 - The Importance of Procedure

Very often the procedure used in solving a problem determines if the answer is correct.

The word "procedure" refers to the way a person goes about doing something, or how one arrives at his goal. Starting with a certain problem, how will you come up with the answer?

Procedure can make all the difference. Yet, people seldom give procedure enough careful attention. The following sections illustrate five facts about procedure that are relevant to Bible study.

Facts about Procedure Illustrated

  1. Procedure Makes the Difference

    Suppose your problem is to find the area of your garden (the number of square feet). You already know that your garden, which is rectangular, measures 30 feet long and 20 feet wide. The procedure you use with these measurements will determine if your answer is correct. If you multiply the length by the width, you will have the correct number of square feet. But if you use a different procedure or operation, such as addition, your answer will be incorrect. Procedure makes the difference.

  2. A Poor Procedure Can Give the Correct Answer

    Suppose your problem is to find out if your team won its last game. One reliable procedure would be to ask the coach. But let's consider another procedure, for the sake of illustrating a very important fact about procedures. Let's suppose that you attempt to find out if your team won by flipping a coin. Obviously, this is a very poor procedure. The procedure is completely unrelated to the problem. Yet, this foolish procedure can give you the correct answer! So this adds something new to our facts about procedure. On the one hand, a poor procedure can, and often does, give an incorrect answer. On the other hand, a poor procedure can give the correct answer.

    Sometimes this is quite misleading. When an individual finds out that his answer is correct, he may feel that his procedure is dependable and will give him the correct answer the next time, too. This can be a dangerous conclusion. A procedure that seems to have proven itself by producing the correct answer in one instance may be unduly trusted in following instances. If there is no opportunity to check the results, the individual may place undue confidence in those answers merely because he feels he has a reliable procedure.

    You cannot evaluate a procedure merely by checking the results that it produces in isolated instances. You must also evaluate procedures in terms of their soundness and relevance to the problem. While it is safe to say that any procedure leading to an incorrect answer is a poor procedure, it is not safe to say that any procedure leading to the correct answer is necessarily a good procedure - because a poor procedure can give the correct answer.

  3. Faulty Assumptions Can Lead You Astray

    Suppose your problem is to find out which of two neighbors likes to tinker with his car. As you observe both neighbors over several months, you notice that Mr. A spends lots of time working on his car. Mr. B never does his own work. He always takes his car to the garage for repairs and maintenance. Your procedure is simply to observe the two men's activities. You conclude that Mr. A likes to tinker with his car, while Mr. B does not. Later, in chatting with these two neighbors, you discover that your answer is incorrect. Mr. A actually hates to work on his car, but he feels he must save all the money he can by doing all his own mechanical work. Mr. B actually loves to tinker with his car, but, because of a busy schedule, feels that he cannot spare the time.

    The second procedure (asking rather than merely observing) has produced a different answer. As in the previous example, the poor procedure could have produced the correct results if the circumstances were different. But this example illustrates a new fact about procedure. The reason the first procedure gave incorrect results is that a faulty assumption was involved. It was assumed that a person who likes a certain activity will spend more time doing it than a person who does not like that activity. If that assumption were correct, then observation would have been a good procedure. But the assumption failed to take the economic factor and the time factor into account, and thus the procedure that depended on that faulty assumption was a poor procedure.

    When working out any procedure, it is extremely important to evaluate your assumptions. We automatically make assumptions in many cases: assumptions about what is average, assumptions about the reasons for certain behaviors, assumptions about a source's trustworthiness, etc. It is a very common mistake to make faulty assumptions, and this often happens because we do not consciously examine our assumptions. Again, procedure can make the difference, and our assumptions (which are employed in our procedures, or on which our procedures are based) can also make the difference.

  4. The Order of the Steps Can Alter the Result

    Suppose your problem is to bake a cake "from scratch." Your procedure is spelled out in the recipe. If you do each step correctly, the result should be edible. If you do one or several steps incorrectly, the result would be less than edible, to say the least.

    While the garden example dealt with a simple, one-step procedure, this example has several steps. When a procedure becomes more complex, the order of the procedure becomes important. An out-of-order procedure, such as baking before mixing, produces a disappointing result. The order of the procedure is important.

  5. A Complete Procedure Is Important

    Suppose again that you are baking a cake and you leave out the flour. Obviously, a complete procedure produces a much more desirable result.

    Here is one final example that combines most of the facts we have noticed about procedure so far. It also points out again that a complete procedure is important. Suppose that your problem is to find out if a certain wooden box with a cover on it has anything in it. Your first method is simply to lift the box. When you lift it, it feels very heavy, so you decide, yes, the box does have something in it. Then you try a second method, removing the cover. When you remove the cover you see nothing, so you decide the box does not have anything in it after all. You notice the box is lead lined, which accounts for its heaviness. Then you try a third method, shaking the box. When you shake the box, you hear something sliding from side to side. You examine the box closely and discover it has a false bottom. When you remove the false bottom you find an envelope containing some important papers, so you finally conclude that the box did have something in it from the start.

    As we think about the three different methods that made up the procedure in this last example, we notice again the five facts about procedure. First, procedure makes the difference. Each time a different method was adopted an answer resulted that was different from the previous answer.

    Second, a poor procedure can give the correct answer. By lifting the box you decided the answer to the problem was yes. (Of course, at that point you thought the box contained something heavy, so although your answer to the problem was correct your mental picture of the contents was very inaccurate.)

    Third, faulty assumptions can lead you astray. Here are the faulty assumptions that either did, or could have, led you astray in the above example. (1) If there is something in the box, it will be heavy enough for me to sense its presence by lifting the box. (2) The box itself is fairly light. (3) If anything is in the box, it will be visible when the cover is removed. (4) If anything is in the box, it is loose and will make some noise when the box is shaken. It takes only a moment's thought to realize that any one of these assumptions could prove false with a particular type of box or a particular type of content. The dangerous thing is, however, that we all operate automatically on assumptions, and we must develop the mental discipline of consciously evaluating our assumptions.

    Fourth, although order is not as crucial in this last example as it was in the cake example, often the order of the steps in the procedure can alter the result.

    Fifth, a complete procedure is important. The first two methods in this last example were not sufficient to arrive at a really satisfactory answer. In fact, in some circumstances (for instance, if the envelope had been wedged in place so it could not slide around) all three methods would still have been inadequate. Very often, single operations or single methods alone will be incomplete. A complete procedure will often involve many different types of methods or steps.

Facts About Procedure Applied to Bible Study

How do these facts about procedure relate to personal Bible study?

  1. Procedure Makes the Difference

    Everyone who uses the Bible has a procedure, although some people might not be aware of it, and others might deny it. Remember that the word procedure simply refers to the way you go about getting your answer, and everyone who uses the Bible uses it in some way or another. The way one person uses the Bible might be extremely simple, such as merely reading a passage. But that is still his procedure. Someone else (with or without consciously thinking about his procedure) might simply look up all the cross references given for a particular verse in the margin or at the foot of the page. That is his procedure. Someone else might (with or without consciously thinking about his procedure) simply outline a passage. That is his procedure. Someone might even say, "I have no procedure; I just ask the Holy Spirit to explain the words I read." But since that is the way he uses the Bible, that is his procedure.

    Within each example given at the beginning of this chapter, different answers resulted even though within each case the problem stayed the same. The starting point (the data, or materials, or sources) remained constant, but when different procedures were used, different answers resulted. The same holds true in Bible study. If you have three different people using three different procedures, although they are all looking at the same Bible passage, they could easily arrive at three different answers or interpretations. Part of the reason we have so many different views of the same passage is that we have different procedures including different steps, different rules of interpretation, and different assumptions. Everyone uses a procedure, and different procedures often produce different results.

    Part of our responsibility as students of the Bible is to become aware of our procedure, evaluate it, and make sure we adopt a sound procedure.

  2. A Poor Procedure Can Give the Correct Answer

    Because of the fact that a poor procedure can give the correct answer, it is sometimes difficult to identify a poor procedure. A person who uses the procedure of merely reading the explanatory notes in his annotated Bible may find that his "answer" usually agrees with his pastor's or his Sunday school teacher's answer, causing him to feel that he has come up with the correct answer. He will thus be encouraged to use this procedure again and again. However, this procedure and other similar procedures are very poor, although at times they may give the correct answer.

    Another poor procedure that is commonly used in topical study is the "proof text" method. In this method, a person already has the "answer" in mind, then locates a few verses that appear to support that answer. Of course, this procedure appears to give the correct answer simply because the person looking for proof texts favors those texts that fit his preconceived answer. (We explain the reasons these procedures are poor in the next two chapters.)

  3. Faulty Assumptions Can Lead You Astray

    You may assume, for instance, that the writer of a particular book of the Bible would express his theme by using certain words or phrases repeatedly. Theoretically, this would allow you to find the theme simply by noting what words or phrases appear most often. While this could be the case, it is not safe to assume that this procedure will always lead you to the author's theme. He might express his theme in one way the first time he mentions it, and then when he explains and illustrates it, he might use a different vocabulary.

    Furthermore, is it safe to assume that every book of the Bible has a theme?

    There is another category of assumptions that do not have to do with procedure (such as the procedure of looking for repeated words and phrases). Instead, these assumptions have to do with the actual content and conclusions. For instance, many people assume certain things about the nature of Christ, or about sin, etc. (We discuss this problem with assumptions in the next two chapters.)

  4. The Order of the Steps Can Alter the Result

    Some steps in Bible study procedure are necessary as preparations for other steps. For example, surveying an entire book must be done before an outline can be made. Respacing the text of a particular passage makes other steps that come later, such as questioning the text or paraphrasing the text, much easier. In a topical study, sorting (classifying passages) should precede close scrutiny of the key passages. These and many other aspects of Bible study are best done in a particular sequence. It is important to pay close attention to the order of the steps you use in Bible study. This is why chapters 17 and 18 are laid out as a step-by-step procedure, to help you accomplish each step at the best time in the sequence.

  5. A Complete Procedure Is Important

    Each different step or operation in the overall Bible study procedure makes its own unique contribution. The more complete your procedure, the more confidence you can have in your results. The more steps or operations you omit, the more likely it is that you have not discovered all that you need to know about the passage in order to make a sound interpretation. The procedures in chapters 17 and 18 are designed to be as complete as possible without being unnecessarily repetitious.

    In brief: In personal Bible study you should follow a correct and complete procedure in proper order and consciously beware of misleading assumptions.

Confidence in Your Procedure

We have a reliable Bible. It is the Word of God. But it is not enough merely to have a reliable Bible. If we are to have confidence in the biblical teachings that we believe and in the biblical principles by which we live, we must also have a reliable way of deriving those teachings and principles from the Bible. We must have confidence in our study procedure if we are to have confidence in the results of that procedure.

The person who does not pay close attention to his Bible study procedure has a very flimsy foundation under his own beliefs, and he has no right to recommend those beliefs to anyone else. The apostle Peter spoke of the tragic outcome of holding incorrect beliefs or interpretations when he said that people who distort the Scriptures do so "to their own destruction" (2 Peter 3:16).

Do you have confidence in your present Bible study procedure? Are you willing to evaluate it?

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