The Inductive Bible Study: A Step-by-Step Guide

Yesterday I posted an introduction to the inductive Bible study method. Today I wanted to examine each of the three steps of this method in depth.

Step One: Observation
The guiding question for this step is What does the text say? You begin the inductive method by diving into the verse or verses you’re studying and making a list of everything you see or wonder about. Here you write down all your questions you might have of the text. Imagine the words of the passage you’re studying are inside a bag. Your job during this stage is to pull each word from the bag, lay it out in front of you, and examine each in detail.

Ask Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How?  Try to determine the significance of words like and, but, so, therefore, because, so that, while, and as.  How does the first part of the verse relate to the second part of the verse?  Why does the verse start with the word and?  Why did the writer say ____ instead of ____?  Who is the “you” in this verse?  Who is the “he”? What in the world does that word mean?

And don’t shy away from any questions whose answers may seem obvious to you. By merely writing down the question, you’re causing yourself to slow down and consider that particular point more in depth. You might surprise yourself at all you’re able to learn from an “obvious” question.

Watch a walk through of the first step below:

Once you have a list of questions, it’s time to move on to step number two.

Step Two: Interpretation
Our guiding question for the second step is What does the text mean?  During the first step, we pretty much ignored context. During this second step, however, we pull in the surrounding verses, the previous and following chapters, the rest of the book, and even our knowledge of the wider Bible, and we work to answer the questions we made during step one in order to get at the intended meaning of the text. If we wrote down any statements during step one, we push into them to take away all we can. Use a dictionary to help you define unfamiliar (or even more familiar) words. Use a Bible commentary or other resources to help you nail down your questions.

Watch a walk through of the second step below:

When you’re satisfied with the answers you’ve found for your questions, you’re ready for step three.

Step Three: Application
James warns us that we are to be doers of the word and not hearers only (James 1:22). Thus the point of Bible study is to live out the truths that you mine from God’s word. The point is not to stockpile your brain with pretty thoughts and ideas. Live it, or it ain’t real!  The guiding question for this last stage of the inductive Bible study method is How can I apply the text to my life?

Once you arrive at this stage, the goal is to write down one or two things that you can take from all you’ve studied and put those things into practice. It will prove most helpful to you if the applications you make meet three criteria: that they be measurable, attainable, and timely.

Your application is measurable if it is very clear whether or not you’ve accomplished your goal. For example, it’s not as helpful to say, “I want to pray more.” What’s more? How will you know if you’ve accomplished your goal? Instead, say something like, “This week, I want to pray three times before I go to bed.” That way, at the end of the week, you can look back and count the times you prayed before you went to bed and know whether or not you completed your goal.

Your application is attainable if it is a goal that you are reasonably capable of carrying out. Don’t say that this week I’m going to run 100 miles a day. You won’t do it and will feel miserable for failing to meet your goal. Say that you’re going to walk 10 blocks this afternoon. Start small. God will grow you.

Finally, your application will be most helpful to you if it is timely. Instead of me saying I hope to love my wife better, I should plan something specific that I’m going to do for her this Saturday. Putting a time frame on your goal helps you to be more faithful in carrying it out.

Watch a walk through of the third step below:

As a word of personal testimony, I have reaped so much benefit from using the inductive Bible study method over these past few months.  I think this tool helps me focus my otherwise scatterbrained… um… brain.  Forcing myself to write out the questions I have for a particular text and then answering them is a very helpful way for me to keep myself on task while studying the Bible and for me to track my progress.

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you (James 4:8).  Grace and peace to you as you study your Bible.


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