In continuing our look at how to study the Bible, I want to say a number of things about the issue of Presuppositions, one of the things I stated that we need to be aware of whenever we intend to study the word of God.
Like was stated the last time, “Presuppositions are not necessarily a bad thing; in fact, some of the time, our presuppositions are more or less in line with God’s word but some are much less so.
As promised, I want to further explore this concept of “presuppositions” so that we are, hopefully aware of them, and awakened to their impact on our study of the word of God.
What is a Presupposition?
Wikipedia defines it as follows: “a presupposition (or ps) is an implicit assumption about the world or background belief relating to an utterance whose truth is taken for granted in discourse. Examples of presuppositions include:
• Jane no longer writes fiction.
PRESUPPOSITION: Jane once wrote fiction.
• Have you stopped eating meat?
PRESUPPOSITION: you had once eaten meat.
• Have you talked to Hans?
PRESUPPOSITION: Hans exists.
An important fact about presuppositions, which I believe will be very important to our ability to accurately study and understand the scriptures is this:
A presupposition MUST be mutually known or assumed by the speaker and addressee for the utterance to be considered appropriate in context.
Notice that a presupposition must be mutually known or assumed by the speaker (or writer) and the addressee (or reader).
So then, it means that in this case of accurate Bible study, we have a duty, as readers, to first and foremost, seek to understand the “presuppositions of the author of the Scriptures” (God) and be clear about them, before we can say that we understand exactly what God is saying in a particular text of Scripture.
It is remarkable how many people impose their own prior assumptions on the Scriptures and thus make a horrid mess of its interpretation.
For example, let us say you grew up in a home where the father was clearly “in charge” and ruled with a rather heavy hand at times—failing to acknowledge his wife’s feelings in various family situations. Now, years later as an adult, you come to the text, “wives, submit yourselves unto you own husbands…” (Ephesians 5:22ff). Your immediate mental image of “submit yourself” is based upon your early home life. This mental image is a presupposition. Most likely, the given example is not an accurate portrayal of the author’s intended meaning regarding husband/wife interaction.
At this point you must be careful not to read into the text your presupposition of what “subjection” (and the husband’s headship-leadership) should look like. In the case of the text under consideration, the subjection of the woman is clearly voluntary and “as unto the Lord,” with the husband loving and leading his wife in the same manner “as Christ also loved the Church” (Ephesians 5:25, 26). In order to understand God’s true meaning, the biblical words demand our impartial study without presupposition
The thing we must understand about presuppositions is that they affect “our view of anything and everything, whether or not we realize it, or that we are aware of what type of presupposition is affecting us, or even the grammatical form the presupposition takes.
An assumption, will generally remain a necessary assumption whether the utterance is placed in the form of an assertion, denial, or question, and can be associated with a specific lexical item or grammatical feature (presupposition trigger) in the utterance.”
As Christians, there are certain basic presuppositions that we MUST necessarily hold in order to be confident that we are accurately interpreting God’s word.
1. The Bible is God’s word. It does not just contain God’s word (as some people may want us to believe), IT IS GOD’s word – (2Timothy 3:16-17)
2. The Bible is a revelation of Jesus Christ – (Luke 24:27,44; John 5:39)
3. ALL that we need to know about God and about God’s will is either explicitly stated in Scriptures or can be implied from it by good and necessary consequence – (Deuteronomy 32:46-47; Joshua 1:7-8; Psalm 119:9-11; 2Timothy 3:16-17)
4. The Bible is infallible and it is inerrant (it has no errors and it is exempt from errors) – (John 17:17; 1 John 2:21)
5. The Bible is the final authority in ALL matters of faith, life and godliness – (Deuteronomy 32:47; Joshua 1:7-8, Psalm 138:2; Isaiah 8:20, Isaiah 66:2)
6. The Bible is CLEAR, it is not some dark secretive/ mysterious book which can only be understood by a few “in the know” people – (Psalm 36:9; Psalm 119: 9, 11; Psalm 119:104; Psalm 119:130) as the Scriptures clearly show, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do ALL THE WORDS of this law” – Deuteronomy 29:29
When all these are assumed as given, we can then set about the task of seeking to understand EXACTLY what the author intended in any given text, we would be careful NOT TO IMPOSE our own presuppositions on the text; and by so doing, we show ourselves to be “diligent workmen who have no reason to be ashamed because we rightly divide the word of truth” (2Timothy 2:15)
Inductive vs. Deductive Study
There are two broad methods or approaches for reading and studying the Word of God.
The Inductive approach begins with the text itself. It looks carefully at word order, sentence structure, and context to understand clearly what the author was communicating, and then seeks to explain and apply that idea. By its very nature, this approach tends to be more “textual” and tends to deal largely within the realm of “discovery.”
The Deductive approach on the other hand, begins by making an assumption or proposition which is believed to be found in Scripture. It then seeks to undergird that assumption by finding support in various texts of Scripture. By its very nature it tends to be more “topical” and to deal largely in the realm of “proof.” For our purposes, we will be setting forth the inductive approach to Bible study, though admittedly at times there will be an interchange back and forth between the two methods.
4 Important Steps in Inductive Bible Study
Before embarking on any study of the Word of God, it is important to keep the following four steps in mind. Every time we study the Word we want to do these four things
Look at the text, examine, read, ask questions of the text (who, what, where, when, why, how), take notes, and anticipate the questions and objections raised by your target audience. Probe, probe, probe! Compare and contrast! Notice as many facets in the text as possible.
What do these words mean according to their definitions? What did the author mean when he wrote these words? Your goal is to get at the author’s intent or meaning.
How might these words be applied? Of what significance are they? What practical difference does this text make in life? What areas in my own life need to change in order to conform more completely to the meaning of the text?
Closely related to application, proclamation answers the question: “How can I share this teaching?” What are the cultural or societal issues that may be addressed by this text? Who do I know that needs to hear this? How can my family benefit? To do this well, we need to be able to understand both the culture and our audience.
We will continue our study next time, by looking at “WHY ACCURATE INTERPRETATION OF THE SCRIPTURES IS NECESSARY”