Anyone who reads their Bible knows that it can sometimes be difficult to know how to get from “I think I understand what I am reading…” to “I know what God wants me change about how I live/believe because of what I have just read.”
Many people have found the Inductive Bible Study method as a very helpful way to bridge that gap. This method is not new, and it is not complex. In fact, is a simple way for even the least knowledgable student to get the most out of his or her study of the Bible.
The inductive method follows a progression from observing what is in the text all the way through to implementing the application of the text. Each student may vary the structure slightly, but my own is outlined as follows:
The following is a basic outline that anyone can follow to study a passage of Scripture. Please feel free to copy this content and practice the method regularly.
Begin by selecting a passage of Scripture, usually at least a paragraph but not more than a chapter. Read your selection 5-10 times all the way through (I would say that reading it out loud is best). Then, with your Bible open, thoughtfully answer the following questions in the order which they are listed.
May God bless your efforts and the study of His word!
I. OBSERVATION: WHAT DOES IT SAY?
- Setting Questions
Note: Some of these questions can be answered by reading the first chapter of the book where your passage is found. Some of these will best be answered by consulting the book introduction of a Study Bible or basic commentary.
- Who is the author or speaker?
- Why was this book written? What was the occasion of the book?
- What historic events surround this book? What was happening in the world at the time this was written?
- Where was it written? Who were the original recipients? What do we know about them?
- Context Questions
- What literary form is being employed in this passage?
- What is the overall message of this book, and how does this passage fit into that message?
- What precedes this passage? What follows? How does this passage fit the immediate context?
- Structural Questions
- Are there any repeated words? Repeated phrases?
- Does the author make any comparisons? Draw any conclusions?
- Does the author raise any questions? Provide any answers?
- Does the author point out any cause and effect relationships?
- Is there any progression to the passage? In time? Actions? Geography?
- Does the passage have a climax?
- Does the author use any figures of speech?
- Is there a pivotal statement or word?
- What linking words are used? What ideas do they link?
- What verbs are used to describe the action in the passage? What is significant about these verbs?
- Structural Model
Note: Outlining the structure of your passage may be one of the most frustrating aspects of this method. However, most of the frustration arises from the student’s expectations. There is not just one way to outline the passage, so don’t beat yourself up because you don’t feel that you have perfectly outlined the text. The goal is to simply outline the logical flow of thought, which you see from the text itself. For an example of this, see my own Inductive Study of Romans 8:28-31.
II. INTERPRETATION: WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
Note: This section will require careful thought and diligent study. Your approach to interpretation will dramatically affect what you get out of it. Take time to cross reference, think critically, and strive to let the text speak for itself (rather than merely impose onto the text what you already thought before you began your study). The marvelous joy of Bible study is that interpretation will get easier and become more vivid with practice. Dig in, and keep at it!
- Continuity of the Message
- In general, what does the Bible as a whole teach on the subject addressed in this passage?
- Is this passage clear on this subject? Is there another passage that more directly addresses this subject? Are there other passages by this author that address this subject? What do they teach?
- Is this passage intended to teach a truth or simply record an event?
- Context of the Material
- As you review your observations of the context of the passage, how do those observations help interpret this passage? What conclusions can you draw from the passage that are informed by its context?
- Customary Meaning
- In a paragraph or two summarize the teaching of the passage giving the passage it most natural, normal meaning.
- What issues, questions, terms, or teachings in this passage are difficult to understand? Read commentaries to help with these and then summarize your findings.
III. GENERALIZATION: WHAT IS THE BIG IDEA?
Note: This section is designed as a place to bring all of your observations and interpretations together in summary form. Take time to be familiar with all that you have done so far, and this section will be much more fuitful.
- Subject: What is the author talking about?
- Complement: What is the author saying about what he is talking about?
- Generalization: In a sentence, what is the exegetical idea (big idea)?
IV. APPLICATION: WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE? (2 TIM. 3:16-17)
Note: Application can be specific to an individual, but I am calling that kind of application “implementation” in the section below. This section is designed as a more thoughtful generalization of the broad application from what we have learned so far. It is helpful to think about the application especially of the big ideas noted above.
- Teaching: Is there a teaching to here to be learned or followed?
- Rebuke: Does this passage communicate a rebuke to be heard and heeded?
- Correction: Is there a correction to be noted?
- Training: In what way does this passage train us to be righteous?
V. IMPLEMENTATION: WHAT MUST I CHANGE?
Note: Here is where the rubber really meets the road. What specific things is God calling you do change about your beliefs, words, and/or deeds from the basis of what you have learned from the passage? Prayerfully consider and seek to implement the changes God is calling for and working towards in you.
- What must I change about my beliefs?
- What must I change about my speech?
- What must I change about my actions?
I’d be glad to hear about your use of this method. If this has been a help to you, please comment about it below.
Also, share this with others who will benefit from its use.