The 3 Steps of Inductive Bible Study

1. Observation

This first step asks the question: 

What does the text say?

This may seem pretty straight forward, right? You read the passage and you know what it says. Sure, but it can be deeper than that. Before you you can understand and apply what the Bible says (interpretation & application), you have to fully comprehend what is being said by the biblical writer (observation). This step requires careful reading of the passage you are studying and gathering some additional information besides what’s just in the verses. You’re going to look for things like – 

  • main characters
  • events
  • big or obvious ideas, teachings, phrases, and statements
  • repeated words and phrases
  • key words, subjects, ideas, and themes
  • comparisons (things that are the same)
  • contrasts (things that are different)
  • questions and answers
  • illustrations
  • terms of conclusion
  • conjunctions ( i.e. if/then, both/and, neither/nor, either/or, whether/or, etc.)
  • imagery
  • lists
  • progressions
  • figures of speech
  • atmosphere
  • transition words like therefore, likewise, but, because, in the same way, etc. 

You’re also going to ask these questions – 

  • Who
  • What
  • Where
  • When
  • Why
  • How

At this point, don’t go to commentary yet. You can take notes about what you don’t understand but try and ask as many questions as you can and get your bearings before you move onto extra-biblical resources. Once you get a full sense of what’s going on in the text, you can move on to the next step.

2. Interpretation

The second step asks the question:

What did the author mean?

We want to know what the author meant when they originally wrote the passages we are studying, not try to figure out what it means to our modern minds. We do the work of interpretation by using these tools – 

  • cross references
  • comparing translations
  • concordances
  • paraphrasing
  • commentary

It’s really important that we interpret exegetically and not eisegetically. These are high-falutin sounding seminary words that are really important to know. 

  • Exegesis – studying scripture to discover its original, intended meaning
  • Eisegesis – reading our own personal viewpoints, opinions, and ideas into the text

The truth is, everyone comes to the Bible with their own ideas, preconceptions, baggage, and beliefs. Bible study asks us to check all of that at the door and allow the Bible to tell us what it means on its own terms. You may find that your ideas and worldview align with scripture and that’s great! Or you could find out that what you always thought was right is actually a bit skewed. That’s okay. The Bible is meant to challenge our hearts and minds. It’s meant to make us see God for who He is and ourselves as who we are. 

3. Evaluation & Application

This third and final step is a two-fer. It asks two questions:

  1. What does the text mean today?
  2. How should this change me?

The first question evaluates the text to try and find out how we’re to understand the passage in today’s context. This is so important since we’re reading an ancient text. Not everything is going to translate to our time and place in the way it applied to the people in the Bible. If we skip this question, we could possibly apply the scripture incorrectly. 

One way to evaluate the text is to discover if what you’re reading is a cultural expression or an eternal principle.

Cultural expressions are statements that can be understood only within a certain cultural context

Eternal principles are statements that are principles God uses to govern the world regardless of culture

Here are some examples – 

Cultural expressions:

  • Greet everyone with a holy kiss (Romans 16:16)
  • women must be silent in church (1 Corinthians 14:34-35)
  • stoning adulterers (Deuteronomy 22:22)

Eternal principles:

  • the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17)
  • Love the Lord your God with all your hear, soul and might (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)
  • Paul’s admonitions for righteousness in places like 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22, Colossians 3, Philippians 4:4-9

The work of evaluation might take some doing. You might have to go back and consult commentary, ask more questions, and do some more digging. That’s okay – some passages are simply harder than others. Don’t rush through this step. Once you have a working understanding of how we should understand the verses in our modern context, you can move on to the second question in this step.

The second question is the application question – How should this change me? Based on the work you’ve done to observe, interpret, and evaluate, you need to figure out what it should mean for you and how you live your life. To do this, we need to start with another question –

What does this text say about God?

God has incommunicable attributes (those He shares with no one) and communicable attributes (those He wishes to share with us). Recognizing which attributes are highlighted in the passage you are reading will get you one step closer to application to your life. 

Incommunicable attributes of God include –

  • Infinite – limitless and impossible to measure
  • Omnipotent – all powerful
  • Omnipresent – always everywhere
  • Omniscient – all knowing
  • Sovereign – supreme ruler
  • Transcendent – existing apart from and not subject to the limitations of the material universe
  • Immutable – unchanging over time or unable to be changed
  • Eternal – exists forever; without end or beginning
  • Self-Existent – existing independently of other beings or causes
  • Self-Sufficient – needs no outside help or support
  • Glorious – worthy of fame or admiration

Communicable Attributes of God –

  • Love
  • Mercy
  • Just
  • Good
  • Gracious
  • Righteous
  • Wise
  • Faithful
  • Patient
  • Kind
  • Peace
  • Gentle
  • Joy
  • Long-suffering

Once you figure out what the passage says about God, you can ask 4 application questions based on 1 Timothy 3:16-17

  1. What is this passage teaching me about what is true?
  2. What is this passage revealing to me about my flawed character?
  3. What changes do I need to make in my heart/behavior/life?
  4. How does this instruct me to be more like Jesus?

I do have to say that there will be times when there is no direct application to your life and that is okay. The Bible will always have something to say about God even if direct life application for your life isn’t there. That’s because the Bible is first a book about God and His redemptive work before it is a book about humanity. 

If you want to go deep into inductive Bible study, check out the How to Study Bible Masterclass! I take you deep into these concepts in step-by-step videos you can watch at your own pace. Whether you’re new to the Bible or have read it for years, if you want to dig deep, then this class is for you!

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