Section 1.
Text Analysis

They stood at the laboratory table, Harvard freshman Nathaniel Shaler and his professor, who was about to give him his first assignment. It was 1858. The professor was Louis Agassiz, renowned naturalist and opponent of Darwinian views. He opened a specimen jar. A foul odor escaped to worsen the already unpleasant smell of the lab. He removed an odd-looking fish and placed it in the pan.

"You are to examine this fish and record everything you see," Professor Agassiz said, his Swiss accent adding to the aura of academia. Then he warned that the student was, on no account, to talk to anyone about it or read anything about fishes. "When 1 return, I will see what you have observed."

As the professor left, the student looked around the otherwise empty lab, placed his paper and pen on the table, and took a tentative look at the smelly fish. He recorded a few observations, then a dozen, finally twenty. Though always within call, Professor Agassiz concerned himself with Nathaniel no further that day, nor the next, nor for a week.

Finally, on the seventh day, he returned for a report, sitting down on the end of the table, puffing his cigar. "Well?" he asked. After an hour's report on the fish from the eager student, he turned to leave again, saying, "That's not right."

Mr. Shaler threw himself into the task anew, discarding his old notes. After another week of ten-hour days, he was able to give a report that satisfied his professor. Next Agassiz placed a half peck of bones before him and said, "See what you can do with these."

What was the point of it all? Observation. Louis Agassiz later said, when asked about his distinguished career as a naturalist, that his greatest contribution was to teach students to observe, to look and really see what was there.

Inductive and Deductive Thinking

The emphasis on a careful analysis of the available information is critical to the scientific method. Whatever the area of study, it is vital to let the data speak for itself. This approach is inductive, examining the particulars in order to come to conclusions about what you see there and what it means. Deductive thinking, on the other hand, begins with assertions of truth and moves to the particulars that might express such truths.

In this first section of our study, we will emphasize the importance of a careful analysis of the text of Scripture for expository sermon preparation. This is the best way to study the biblical text if the preacher is to let the text speak through the sermon. We will discover the structure of the text, note important details in it, and raise questions about what we want to learn further.

De´ fin-i´ tion: Deduction and Induction

De´ fin-i´ tion: Deduction and Induction

Deduction: Act or process of reasoning from the general to the particular, or from the universal to the individual, or, specifically, from given premises to their necessary conclusions.


premise: All gray squirrels climb trees.

premise: This animal is a gray squirrel.

conclusion: This animal climbs trees.


Induction: Act or process of reasoning from a part to a whole, from particulars to generals, or from the individual to the universal.


observed: Seventy-five gray squirrels are climbing trees.

conclusion: All gray squirrels climb trees.


One of the mental tendencies of preachers is a fondness for deductive thinking. We tend to think more in terms of general truths than particular situations. We look at the particulars in our world in terms of what we already think we know. As a result we may approach our biblical study with a head full of preaching ideas looking for a place to touch down. Contrast that with a research scientist who must work inductively. The scientific method requires him to examine every detail before coming to a conclusion about what it means.

As a result of this deductive mind-set, preachers may not be as observant as they need to be of the particular factors that affect their preaching. One set of factors affecting our preaching is the complex world of the biblical text. It is too easy to glance casually at the surface appearance of the passage and make a quick evaluation based on our own ideas.

Another set of factors important for the preacher has to do with the life particulars of the people we address. Here is human nature on parade. But rather than carefully examining what we see, we may tend to respond deductively and make judgments too quickly, presenting our pat answers before hearing the questions being raised.