Inductive Bible Study
God’s eternal, inerrant Word is your guidebook for all of life. Inductive study, a method that brings you directly to the Word of God apart from someone else’s understanding or interpretation of the text involves three skills: observation, interpretation and application.
Observation – discover what it says
1. Begin with Prayer. Prayer is often the missing element in Bible study. Apart from the work of the work of the Holy Spirit, that’s all it will be – a method.
2. Ask the “5 W’s and an H” – As you study any passage of Scripture, train yourself to constantly ask: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? These questions are the building blocks of precise observation, which is essential for accurate interpretation.
3. Mark key words and phrases. A key word is one that is essential to the text. Key words and phrases are repeated in order to convey the author’s point or purpose for writing. For example, notice that some form of the word suffering is used three times in 1 Peter 5.
4. Make Lists. Making lists can be one of the most enlightening things you can do as you study. Lists reveal truths and highlights important concepts. 1 Peter 5:2-3; for example, contains a simple list regarding the role of the elder. It is also helpful to make a list of what you learn about each key word or person you mark.
5. Watch for contrasts and comparisons. Contrasts and comparisons use highly descriptive language to make it easier to remember what you’ve learned. For example, Peter compares the devil to a roaring lion in verse 8. Peter also contrasts God’s attitude toward the proud and the humble.
6. Note expressions of time. The relationship of events in time often sheds light on the true meaning of the text. Marking or highlighting them will help you see the sequence or timing of events and lead to accurate interpretation of Scripture.
7. Geographic Locations. Often, it’s helpful to mark or highlight geographical locations, which tell you where an event takes place.
8. Mark terms of conclusion. Words such as “therefore,” “thus,” and “for this reason” indicate that a conclusion or summary is being made. You may want to underline them in the text.
9. Identify chapter themes. The theme of a chapter will center on the main person, event, teaching, or subject of that section of Scripture. Themes are often revealed by reviewing the key words and lists you developed. Try to express the theme as briefly as possible, using words found in the text.
Interpretation – discover what it means
While observation leads to an accurate understanding of what the Word of God says, interpretation goes a step further and helps you understand what it means.
1. Remember that context rules. If you lay the solid foundation of observation, you will be prepared to consider each verse in the light of the surrounding verses, the book in which it is found, and the entire Word of God. As you study, ask yourself: is my interpretation of this passage of Scripture consistent with the theme, purpose, and structure of the book in which it is found? Is it consistent with other Scripture about the same subject? Am I considering the historic and cultural context? Never take Scripture out context to make it say what you want it to say. Discover what the author is saying; don’t add to his meaning.
2. Always see the full counsel of the Word of God. When you know God’s Word thoroughly, you will be able to discern whether a teaching is biblical or not. Saturate yourself in the Word of God; it is your safeguard against wrong doctrine.
3. Remember that Scripture will never contradict Scripture. Remember, all Scripture is inspired by God. Therefore, Scripture will never contradict itself. Sometimes, however, you may find it difficult to reconcile two seemingly contradictory truths taught in Scripture, such as sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. Don’t take a teaching to an extreme that God doesn’t. Simply humble your heart in faith and believe what God says, even if you can’t fully understand or reconcile it at the moment.
4. Don’t base your convictions on an obscure passage of Scripture. An obscure passage is one in which the meaning is unclear or not easily understood. Because these passages are difficult to understand even when proper principles of interpretation are used, they should not be used as a basis for establishing doctrine.
5. Interpret Scripture literally. God spoke to us that we might know the truth. Therefore, take the Word of God at face value – in its natural, normal sense. Look first for the clear teaching of Scripture, not a hidden meaning. Understand and recognize figures of speech and interpret them accordingly.
Consider what is being said in the light of its literary style. For example, you will find more similes and metaphors in poetical and prophetic literature than in historical or biographical books. Interpret portions of Scripture according to their literary style.
Some examples of literary styles in the Bible are: Historical – Acts, Exodus; Prophetic – Revelation, Isaiah; Biographical – Luke; Didactic (teaching) – Romans; Poetic – Psalms; Epistle (letter) – 2 Timothy; Proverbial – Proverbs.
6. Look for the single meaning of the passage. Always try to understand what the author had in mind when you interpret a portion of the Bible. Don’t twist verses to support a meaning that is not clearly taught. Unless the author of a particular book indicates that there is another meaning to what he says, let the passage speak for itself.
Application – discover how it works
The first step in application is to find out what the Word of God says on any particular subject through accurate observation and correct interpretation of the text. Once you understand what the Word of God teaches, you are then obligate before God to accept that truth and to live by it.
Scripture will always teach what is right, show us where we are wrong, how to correct, and train us in right living; so that we are complete, fully equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17.