Chapter 5 - The Discovery Procedure
What should be your purpose for going directly to the Bible? The
best purpose, of course, is to find out what the Bible says - to discover
the meaning of the biblical text. But many people, when they go to
the Bible, do not find out what the Bible says! They do not get the
meaning out of the text. Instead, they read a meaning into the text.
This is done when a person assumes certain beliefs or views to be true,
then as he goes to the biblical text he goes in order to verify (find support
for) those assumptions, or he interprets the text based on those assumptions.
Reading meaning into the text is especially dangerous because it often
happens without the person being aware he is doing it. When you do
this, you may think you are discovering what the Bible says, whereas you
are merely extending your assumptions.
The idea of discovery, as opposed to extending assumptions, is parallel
to the idea of induction, as opposed to deduction (terms that are more
commonly used in the fields of logic and science). A brief look at
induction and deduction will help explain what we mean by discovery and
Induction Versus Deduction
The terms induction and deduction describe two opposite reasoning processes.
Induction is a process in which a person begins with specific, individual
items (facts, instances, observations, etc.) and puts them together to
form a general principle. First he observes the particulars.
Then, upon thinking how they relate to each other and how they fit together,
he formulates a general principle or law that summarizes all the individual
facts. In induction, thought always moves from the particular to
In deduction, thought moves in the opposite direction, from general
to particular. Deduction is a process in which a person begins with
a general principle and applies it to one or more specific instances.
He assumes, or adopts, the general principle (or law, or premise) and then
infers something about each instance. He does this either by interpreting
each particular instance in light of the general principle, or by predicting
what will be the case in each particular instance based on the general
Examples of Induction and Deduction
Imagine that you are the world's first metallurgist. You are interested
in the physical properties of various kinds of metal. One day you
observe that when copper is heated it expands slightly. This is fact
1. Later you observe that iron also expands when heated. This
is fact 2. Now you begin to wonder if this could also be true of
other metals, so you experiment with magnesium, lead, zinc, barium, nickel,
and vanadium. Your experiments yield the information that each of
these metals also expands when heated. So you now have eight facts
that you can compare. With these eight individual facts in mind you
summarize them and state a general law, "Metals expand when heated." Your
thinking process has moved from the facts to the general law. The
law is based on the individual facts. You have used an inductive
Now you want to apply this new law to other instances. With the
general law in mind you are now able to predict what will happen with other
metals that you have not tested. You can now say, "Metals expand
when heated. Platinum is a metal; thus platinum will expand when
heated." Now your thinking process has moved from the general law
to the individual instance. The inference about platinum is based
on the general law. You have used a deductive reasoning process.
(This last pattern of reasoning is also called a syllogism.)
Here is another example of induction and deduction. Members of
a jury, with open minds, begin by listening to many items of testimony
and evidence. After thinking about how all these individual facts
fit together, the jury infers that the defendant is innocent. This
general conclusion is based on and derived from the particular facts in
the case. However, if the jury began by assuming that the defendant
was guilty, when they heard the testimonies and the evidence they would
apply that premise (that the defendant is guilty) and interpret each individual
item of testimony and evidence in light of that premise. Thus, the
jury would deduce things about each item of evidence based on and derived
from the assumed premise. Obviously, such deductive reasoning would
do a terrible injustice to some evidence by causing them to interpret it
incorrectly. Because a general principle or general viewpoint was
assumed (adopted without an adequate basis for its adoption), the facts
would be obscured and the truth never discovered.
Discovery in Bible study is very similar to induction as described above.
The following diagrams illustrate the extending assumptions approach to
the Bible and the discovery approach to the Bible.
The approach illustrated below is called the extending assumptions approach
because the assumptions that the person has before he goes to the Bible
are (often unconsciously) carried with him to the Bible and applied to
(extended into) the biblical text. As he "reads" the passage with
certain ideas already in mind, he will probably not see all that is there
to see in the passage. Or, he may interpret the text in a way that
appears to support his assumptions. (The process of reading meaning
into the text is also called eisegesis.)
|The Extending Assumptions Approach
|Before Bible Study
||During Bible Study
1. One already has assumptions, generalizations, views, etc.
2. One (often unconsciously) brings these ideas and views to the text.
3. One then interprets the specific statements of the Bible in the light of prior ideas. One reads meaning into the text, or looks for support for prior assumptions.
The person who uses the extending assumptions approach is, to some degree,
blind to what the Bible says. When you look hard for one thing, you
become blind to other things. For example, suppose you are on vacation.
You have been driving for many hours so you are very tired. Because
you are looking so hard for motel signs, many other signs (for food, attractions,
a detour, etc.) simply don't register. In a sense, you have limited
your vision in the hope of finding a certain thing. If you had not
been looking so hard for motel signs, you probably would not have missed
the other signs.
This also happens when we read the Bible. If we are looking hard
for a certain thing (proof for a previously held view), we will probably
not detect much information that we would otherwise see in the text, and
we will tend to interpret the text in light of the previously held view.
This same error often occurs when a person incorrectly uses proof texts.
The text that he cites is supposed to prove his point, whereas in reality
it may be only part of the scriptural evidence that relates to the issue,
or it may be interpreted by him so as to agree with his assumption.
In either case, the assumption is the basis for the selection of the verse
or for the interpretation of the verse, and the verse is then cited to
prove the conclusion (which is the same as or similar to the assumption).
This is a pure case of circular reasoning, also called begging the question.
This deductive reasoning process often happens without the person being
aware that he is using a deductive process, or that he is violating the
text by reading meaning into it rather than allowing the text to give out
its own inherent meaning.
Making unfounded assumptions is so widespread that it appears to be
an automatic human tendency. The New Testament records several cases
in which individuals or groups made such assumptions (Luke 2:42-44; 3:23;
Acts 2:15; 7:22-25; 14:19-20; 16:27; 21:27-29).
In the discovery approach the person recognizes that he has views, beliefs,
and prejudices, but he also realizes that he cannot force these ideas on
the Bible. So when he goes to the Bible, he is very careful to temporarily
set aside his assumptions to be evaluated later.
|The Discovery Approach
|Before Bible Study
||During Bible Study
1. One is open-minded and recognizes one's own preconceived views.
2. One consciously refrains from forcing one's views on the text.
3. One gets the meaning from the text. One lets the specific statements of the Bible speak for themselves, and then puts these facts together to form conclusions.
Of course, no one can completely set aside all of his assumptions.
In the first place, there are certain unconscious assumptions everyone
must make (about the reliability of his senses and his reasoning processes)
just to be able to read and think. In the second place, even those
conscious assumptions about specific doctrines or certain passages can
never be completely dismissed. No one can be totally objective. Yet,
the goal is to become as objective as possible.
Thus, during Bible study the person using the discovery approach very
carefully and objectively examines the specific statements of the text.
He then thinks about how they relate to each other and how they fit together
and he formulates his conclusions on the basis of the text, rather than
interpreting the text in light of his assumptions. (We discuss the
various rules and principles that should be used in the actual interpretation
of the text in chapters 10 through 13.)
By using an inductive process he discovers the real meaning of the text.
He lets the Bible speak for itself. He gets the meaning out of the
text rather than reading a meaning into the text. (This process of
getting the meaning out of the text is also known as exegesis.) Then,
and only then, can he evaluate his prior assumptions.
Even such a "sacred" thing as a doctrinal statement must not be imposed
on the Bible. After all, a doctrinal statement or church creed (no
matter how historic) is a human product. No doctrinal statement is
inspired. Only the Bible is inspired. It may be that your doctrinal
statement is, in fact, correct. If it is correct, you have nothing
to lose and everything to gain by temporarily setting it aside while you
let the Bible speak for itself. When you have formulated your conclusions
through a discovery process, you will then learn that your findings do
support your doctrinal statement. Thus, you have gained valid support
for your doctrinal statement. However, if your doctrinal statement
is incorrect, you will not find that out if you use an extending-assumptions
approach, because the conclusions in such a process will automatically
appear to support the doctrinal statement that was assumed. The biblical
evidence will be selectively chosen, and/or passages will be interpreted
in light of the assumed doctrinal statement. The only way to find
out if your doctrinal statement is correct is to use the discovery approach.
The discovery (inductive) process requires an open mind. It is
unfortunate, however, that the term "open-minded" is often misused and
often misunderstood. On the one hand, some people think that being
open-minded is the worst thing in the world because they think that an
open-minded person is either gullible or wishy-washy and without any convictions.
On the other hand, other people think that being open-minded is the best
thing in the world because they are against prejudice, bigotry, and intolerance.
However, both viewpoints are overreactions. The best condition is
when a person is open-minded until he has objectively examined all the
relevant facts and has reflectively considered various possible ways to
put those facts together to form a conclusion. If he has been open-minded
in his research and reasoning, then he has every right to firmly hold his
conclusions as definite convictions. Problems arise (1) when a person
starts the process with a closed mind and thus never really examines the
facts or the alternate ways of putting the facts together, or (2) when
a person ends the process with an open mind when the facts call for a definite
conclusion. Having a closed mind is not a problem in itself.
The problem is in having a closed mind too soon in the process. Similarly,
having an open mind is not a problem in itself. The problem is in
retaining an open mind when the facts and the possible alternatives have
demanded a conclusion (and often, a personal commitment).
Just as any jury with a closed mind never really sees the evidence as
it is, and thus seldom arrives at the truth, so a Bible student who begins
with a closed mind never really sees the biblical text as it is, and thus
seldom arrives at the true teachings and principles of the Bible.
We must constantly beware of extending our unfounded assumptions.
We must constantly examine the biblical text with an open mind to discover
The Bereans: A Good Example Again
After Paul preached to these Jews, they were "examining the Scriptures
daily, to see whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11). They were
not gullible, for they did not blindly accept Paul's message. Nor
were they close-minded, for they gave Paul's message a fair hearing.
Then they went to the Scriptures to objectively examine the statements
of the Scriptures without imposing their own prior viewpoint or Paul's
new viewpoint on them. They let the Scriptures speak for themselves.
They discovered what the Scriptures said. Then many of them evaluated
Paul's conclusion as the correct one, for they too believed (v. 12).
In a nutshell: Go directly to the biblical text with an open mind
and let it speak for itself so you can discover its true meaning.
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