Inductive Bible Study

How do you study the Bible? Where do you turn when there is something in it that you want to understand? Do you reach for a commentary or do you get out your Bible study tools?

Basically, there are two ways. Deductively, to see what others have to say about what the Bible says. Or Inductively, to see what the Bible has to say for itself. Here, we will take an introductory look at the inductive method of Bible study.

Begin with prayer. Begin by asking The Lord to help you lay aside what you think the Scripture means, and to see it through fresh eyes, without any preconceptions. Some suggestions:

* 2 Cor. 10:5 – That the Lord will destroy speculations and wrong ideas about His Word
* John 16:13 – That the Holy Spirit will guide me in all truth
* Psalm 119:18 – To open my eyes to behold wonderful things from His word

Follow the process:

  1. Observation – Asks “What does it say?”
  2. Interpretation – Asks “What does it mean?”
  3. Application – Asks “What difference does it make?”

OBSERVATION – “What does it say?”

This is not as easy to do as you’d think. Most of us make assumptions about the meaning of what we read and hear. The human tendency seems to be to interpret before actually understanding what is being said. The role of observation is to give the writer/speaker a fair hearing.

One of the goals of observation is to discover the big picture. This in turn, gives us the context for everything that was written. For example, suppose you were to walk into a room and overhear the end of a conversation between friends. You catch, “Sam” and “What a turkey.” Are they talking about……..

a. The county fair and Sam’s prize winning Narraganset?
b. Dinner at Sam’s and the delicious turkey meal eaten there?
c. Getting 3 strikes in a row at Friday night bowling with Sam?
d. That Sam is a dope.

Whether or not you chose the correct answer would depend upon how well you knew Sam and this group’s recent activities. In other words, you would need to know the context in which the statement was being made.

To discover the big picture and determine context, we read with a purpose. As we read, we question what we’re reading. For example:

Who? – Who wrote it? Who is it written to? Who are the major characters? Who else is being discussed? Etc.

What? – What type of literature is it? (Historical? Biographical? Literal? Figurative? Poetry? Prophecy? A teaching? A letter?) What is the author’s purpose in writing? What are the main ideas? What are the author’s circumstances? What are the recipients going through? What questions are they asking? What problems do they have? What outcome is expected? Etc.

Where? – Where are the characters located? Where are they coming from? Where are they going to? Where is the author? Where are the recipients? Etc.

When? – When is it being written? When did events mentioned take place, or have they yet? When do characters speak? When is something supposed to happen? Etc.

Why? – Why is the author writing? Why are these topics being addressed? Why is a particular idea being mentioned? Why are specific characters choosing their particular courses of action? Etc.

How? – How did the situation occur? How do the characters deal with it? How does the author know what he does? How can his solution be accomplished? Etc.

Of course, this is just a sampling of what can be asked. The questions will vary depending upon the actual passage, and some questions don’t have answers. But if you don’t ask, you won’t know!

INTERPRETATION – “What does it mean?”

Once the context and major topics have been determined, it is far easier to interpret them accurately. Based on the principal that the Bible is the best authority on the Bible, objective interpretation assumes that the Bible never contradicts itself. If it appears to, then the interpreter digs deeper. The tools of interpretation include word studies and cross references.

Word studies help us to not assume a word’s meaning. Take for example, the word “love.” Think about how we use it in the English language. I can love God, my country, my husband, my children, baseball, and chocolate cake. One word covers all. From the context, you decide which type of love I’m talking about. The Bible also uses the word “love” (charity) in different contexts. But Greek, in which the New Testament is written, has four distinct words for “love”: agape – unconditional love; philos (also philia or phileo) – love amongst friends; storge – love of family; and eros – physical attraction. So how do we know which “love” is meant in a particular passage of Scripture? By doing a word study.

Cross references use the Bible as it’s own commentary. These tell us what else the Bible has to say on a particular word or topic, and give great insight into defining how a word is used. A good concordance is a useful tool for this.

Once we’ve got all this under our belt, we can take a look at other translations and commentaries. You may even find that, based on your own study, you don’t necessarily agree with them. The important thing is to be able to back up your own interpretation with Scripture, and not what someone else says about Scripture.

APPLICATION – “What difference does it make?”

Application takes the truths seen through observation and interpretation, and does something about them. It seeks to discover how the verse or passage being studied is personally relevant. As Paul puts it:

“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16 – 17

Application then, looks at the Scripture for:

Doctrine – What truth is the Lord trying to teach me here? Is there a principle to be applied to my life?

Reproof – Are there errors in my thoughts, attitudes, motives, or actions that need to be corrected?

Correction – Is there something in my life that I need to repent of? Ask forgiveness for?

Training in righteousness – Are there any commands, promises, warnings, exhortations, or examples for me to heed and follow?

For a more in depth description of how to study your Bible, I would recommend the following:

Basic Bible Interpretation, Roy B. Zuck, Victor Books, Wheaton, IL, 1991
How To Study Your Bible, Kay Arthur, Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, OR, 1994
Understanding and Applying the Bible, J. Robertson McQuilkin, Moody Press, Chicago, 1983
Content copyright 2008 by If you find it anywhere else, it’s been stolen.

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