The inductive method has been a prominent method of Bible study for centuries, in which the Bible is used as the primary source of study to learn about God and His Word. As opposed to “deductive” Bible study (starting with an idea and proving it or not), an inductive approach to the Word of God starts with open observations and allows Scripture to interpret Scripture. It is an investigative approach to the Bible in which we study chapter-by-chapter and verse-by-verse using the following three steps:
Observation: What does the passage say?
Observation is starting point and the foundation for accurate interpretation and correct application of Bible passages. This crucial step cannot be missed or rushed. It involves reading and re-reading the passage until comprehension is reached.
Start with prayer
The Holy Spirit guides us into all truth and gives us deeper understanding as we study God’s Word, so we must begin with prayer.
As we study any passage of Scripture, we interrogate the text by constantly asking: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? These questions are essential for accurate observation, which in turn are essential for accurate interpretation and application. Asking these questions leads to comprehension of the text.
Mark repeated key words and phrases
A key word is one that is vital to the text. Key words and phrases are often repeated in order to communicate the author’s intended purpose. Marking the text is a way for us to slow down for comprehension. The markings serve as a visual cue to help us discover more quickly what themes are repeated in the text and therefore what the main message is. Key words can be marked using symbols, colors, or a combination of both.
Interpretation: What does the passage mean?
More importantly than knowing what the text says, we want to know what it means. Interpretation goes a step further than observation and helps us understand the passage at a deeper level. In this step we look to other places in the Bible to help us understand the text. This is called cross-referencing. Since the Bible was ultimately penned by one author, the Holy Spirit, we gain deeper understanding and insight as we study what the whole counsel of God’s Word has to say about a certain topic. The following guidelines help with accurate interpretation:
Context is crucial
Far too often, Scripture is taken out of context and twisted to say what we want it to say. Paying attention to the context will eliminate this problem. Interpreting Scripture in context means considering each verse in the light of the surrounding verses, the book in which it is found, and the entire Word of God. As we study, we ask ourselves if our interpretation of the passage of Scripture is consistent with the theme, purpose, and structure of the book in which it is found, other Scripture about the same subject, and the whole counsel of God’s Word. Taking into account the historical and cultural context is also important. The author had an intended meaning in mind when he wrote, and it is our job to discover what that meaning is.
Seek the full counsel of the Word of God
Along with understanding verses in their context comes seeking the full counsel of God’s Word. We cannot take isolated passages and build a doctrine, we must seek to learn what the whole Bible says about a particular topic.
Scripture will never contradict Scripture (even when it appears to)
The best interpretation of Scripture is Scripture. Remember, all Scripture is inspired by God, therefore Scripture will never contradict itself. In those instances where it is difficult to reconcile two seemingly contradictory truths taught in Scripture, we must simply humble ourselves in faith and believe what God says, even if we can’t fully understand or reconcile it at the moment.
Interpret Scripture literally
The Bible does not have secret, hidden meaning. God spoke to us that we might know truth. Therefore, look first for the clear teaching of Scripture and interpret the Word of God in its natural, normal sense. Simply let the passage speak for itself.
Application: How does the passage apply to me?
The primary reason we study Scripture is to know God better. His Word reveals His character and His ways and this is always our chief goal in reading and studying the Bible. Secondly, we want the Scriptures to renew our minds and transform us. In fact, we are responsible before God to live out the truth we know. The application stage of inductive Bible study is the step that most of us prefer, but without careful observation and interpretation, we can come to incorrect application. However, having observed and interpreted the text accurately, we are able to begin to apply it to our lives. The Word of God has one interpretation, but many applications as the Holy Spirit applies truth specifically and individually.
Note: Some of the above descriptions were adapted from Precept Ministries International
Inductive Bible Study Method Explained on Video
(Note: Disregard the loud crash near the end of the video, It was just a box of pencil crayons falling off the shelf. Not sure why! 🙂 )