Inductive Bible Study is one of many ways to study scripture. I love it because it allows me to focus on what the text says, not what I think it says, what I want it to say, or what I have been taught. Because I am depending on the biblical text (and the Holy Spirit), I have no choice but to press deeper and pay much closer attention, take time and really listen to the text. It’s not a quick process – something my microwave generation has come to expect. That’s also why I like it. Inductive Bible Study forces me to slow down and be fully present with the Bible. Who couldn’t benefit from that?
In this article, I’m going to give an overview of Inductive Bible Study. In future articles, I will explore different parts of the process. I will also work through some examples from scripture, so you can practice along with me. I am still learning this process just as you are. I believe I will always be learning. That’s what Inductive Bible Study is about. Just showing up and prayerfully spending the time with the Holy Spirit in the biblical text. No matter what comes of the process, it always draws me closer to God and helps me be more aware of who He is. I hope you will enjoy the process as much as I do.
Four Major Steps
Inductive Bible Study takes you through four major steps, and each of those steps can be explored in depth. Right now, we will just do an overview of the major steps: Survey, Interpretation, Evaluation, Application.
This is where you take a birds eye view of whatever scripture passage you want to look at. Maybe you are looking at a few paragraphs, a larger segment, a whole section that includes several chapters, or perhaps an entire book.
Whatever block of scripture you choose, the Survey is where you look at how those pieces are put together in a broad way. How did the author structure that section, and why? What is the impact of that structure?
In future articles, I will go over the different kinds of structures more in depth. To give you an idea of a few structures, you might find that the biblical author wove the passage together through a series of contrasts, perhaps with a major turning point. Or maybe the author used cause and effect to get the message across. Perhaps the section is built on a series of steps leading to a climactic moment, the same way a story is told.
As you notice some of the structures in a Bible passage, you will learn how to ask questions that will help you understand the passage better. I’ll get into these questions down the road. For now, just know that part of the Inductive Bible Study process is learning how to ask the right questions about the passage.
In the Survey, you also look for how the “building blocks” fit together as main units and sub-units. You look at the genre and the atmosphere as well. The Survey helps you get a big picture idea of what is going on in the passage, so you can then dive in for a closer look at a key section. The Survey helps you pinpoint key verses, and shows you why they are significant in that passage.
The Interpretation process is where you move in for a close-up look. You will study and reflect on a very small portion of scripture (perhaps a paragraph that you have identified through your Survey). You will examine that piece of scripture from every angle. Then you will take a wider-angle view and see how that smaller text relates to the passage that surrounds it – what comes before it and what comes after it.
You can do these steps successfully in English, using a good translation (and perhaps comparing it to a few others). But if you are willing to explore some words in Hebrew or Greek, you will get an even more in-depth look. You don’t need formal training in Hebrew or Greek to explore a few key words. There are enough online “helps” to guide you.
The key to Interpretation is to listen to what the biblical text is saying. You make close-up observations based on what you actually see in the text. Then you make inferences based on what you have observed.
The inferences should be so evident from the text that anyone who looks at your observations could agree with your inferences. In other words, you take your inferences straight from the text, not from any prior experiences or learning. You will be amazed at how your inferences reinforce what you have already learned about the Bible. This builds faith.
To interpret scripture effectively, you will need to listen to what the biblical text says to its original audience. You will make observations within that original context. Then you will make inferences (general truth statements) based on your observations within that original context.
When you can uncover those truths from the original context, then you can effectively apply those truths to your current context.
To validate the inferences and truth statements you have discovered during the interpretation process, you will need to use Evaluation as your next step. This is how you decide whether your observations and inferences line up with the Bible as a whole. How do your inferences relate with the rest of the book you are studying? With the Old and New Testaments? What are some specific passages from other parts of the Bible that confirm what you have discovered? Do you need to make any adjustments to your truth statements so they line up with the rest of the Bible? If you are studying an Old Testament passage, Evaluation will help you look at those truth statements in the light of Christ.
After you have studied your truth statements in light of the biblical canon as a whole, now it is time to apply those truth statements to your current life context. Through the process of Application, you can effectively see how the Bible passage applies to your life, family, church, community, and in the world today. Because you have taken the time to go through each of these Inductive Bible Study steps, you will be able to see a very solid and clear connection between the Bible passage you have studied and your current life situation.
It is very tempting to simply look at a Bible passage and guess how it applies to the current setting. It is also tempting to make the passage fit the current situation, taking it out of context. Inductive Bible Study helps you to minimize those temptations. Through this process, you surrender to the Holy Spirit and allow Him to shed light on the text as you study it. You invite Him to guide you through each step of the process. He will use this process to form you spiritually. It takes time, but it is well worth the effort. You will grow in your relationship with God, and that is worth all the time in the world.
Just the Beginning
I will continue to add more articles, walking through the process of Inductive Bible Study. It is an amazing journey, one that I hope I will always continue. Feel free to bookmark and visit this link to see what new Inductive Bible Study articles I have added.
I would love to write about aspects of Inductive Bible Study that are most relevant to you. You are welcome to contact me with questions that might be answered here on my blog.
If you would like to go deeper in your learning and practice of Inductive Bible Study, these are two books I recommend:
Bible Study that Works (David L. Thompson) – a simplified version with just the basics.
Inductive Bible Study: A Comprehensive Guide to the Practice of Hermeneutics (David R. Bauer and Robert A. Traina) – the full meal deal.
Explore more Inductive Bible Study lessons.