Have you ever been excited to study your Bible, sit down, open it up, and realize you have no idea where to start? I’ve been there more times than I would like to count. I’ve wasted years of potentially fruitful time in God’s Word because I failed to have a plan on how to study it effectively. I learned the Inductive Bible Study Method in Bible college and it changed the game or me.
To know God’s Word takes more intentionality than just opening it up and starting to read from a random place. To study the Word can be intimidating, but I’d make the case that studying and trying to make sense of the Word WITHOUT a plan is MORE intimating!
I say that because, without structure and a method of how to study the Bible, your understanding, interpretation, and application of the text becomes a guessing game that typically leads to a wrong understanding. Basically, your study relies entirely on you.
I’m not saying the Holy Spirit in His kindness can’t give you an accurate understanding of the passage your studying without being educated on how to study the Bible but without a proper framework of how to study you are in danger of coming up with a conclusion that can take you down a road that can bring a lot of confusion about God and His Word. Not to mention, there is the potentiality of teaching other wrongly.
Now, I don’t say that to freak you out or scare you. But I do think it is a very sobering truth. We have a responsibility to handle the Word of God accurately and to teach others correctly. We see all through the Bible and church history the damage that comes when we don’t.
So to accurately understand what we are studying and apply it correctly, we must know how to study the Bible. What is a good structure to understand the Word in its original historical and cultural context? Who is the author’s audience? What is the subject? How does this book fit into the larger message of the Bible as a whole?
An excellent structure for breaking all of that information down is The Inductive Bible Study Method. (Be sure to get your free Inductive Bible Study cheat sheet to use as a daily guide, right here.)
The inductive Bible study method is a structured way to study God’s Word that involves three steps. Observation, interpretation, and application. It uses inductive reasoning, which means it uses observation (specific and detailed information) from the passage we are studying to draw a conclusion based on those observations; this helps draw conclusions based on the text and not ourselves. It guards us against making the text say what we want it to mean.
I would recommend starting with one book of the Bible. If you tend to jump around from verse to verse, it can be hard to get an accurate understanding of the context of what your reading. Picking one book and committing to studying through it solidifies the original meaning and paints a more accurate view of the original intent from the author.
Once you’ve picked the book you want to study through starting from the first verse, take small chunks at a time. You may be amazed at how much information you can learn from just a few verses or short passage of the text. Print out the passage double spaced; this gives you plenty of room for making notes, circling words, writing definitions, and so on.
Read through the text multiple times in multiple translations to get a feel for it. Be sure to read the whole book and the previous and subsequent passages; this gives a good foundation for the context of the passage. An optional step is writing out a paraphrase of the verse or passage in your own words; this helps to create a deeper Cognitive understanding of the text you are preparing to study.
Now that you’ve taken steps to start your study, let’s dive into what the three steps of the Inductive Bible Study method are and how to utilize them.
Observation: What does the text or passage say? In the observation step, you are reading for detail; this leads to an accurate understanding of God’s Word. Utilize the printed-out passage from earlier to make your notes and markings. Be sure to gain knowledge of the historical and cultural context
o Who is the author?
o Who is the author’s audience? Who are the characters in the passage?
o What is the main subject? Why is he writing?
o When and where is the passage written?
o What kind of biblical genre is this? (Historical narrative, Law, Poetry, Wisdom, Prophecy, Gospels, Epistles, or Apocalypse?)
o Identify keywords and phrases: repeated, contrast and comparisons, themes, subjects of text, etc.)
o Create lists: this highlights essential content such as actions, instructions, attributes, etc.
o Cross-reference: Make connections with other parts of Scripture that are similar or contrasted.
o Identify if there quotes from the Old Testament.
o What jumps out at you in this passage?
Interpretation: What does the text or passage mean? This refers to what the author intended to communicate to the original recipients. Interpretation is not asking the question, “what does it mean to me.” Do not read yourself into the text. Refer back to Observation for insight. Interpret Scripture literally as much as possible, then considers the clear and revealed meaning. Be sure to identify the literary style and interpret the meaning in light of it. For example, the psalms are poetry and are filled with poetic languages such as similes and metaphors, while the Gospels or epistles are not. Interpret the text with the literary style in mind.
o Ask questions of the observations you’ve made.
o Define keywords you identified
o CONTEXT, CONTEXT, CONTEXT: Consider the verse in light of the whole passage AND the entire Word of God.
o What does the passage teach me about God? (His character, attributes, concerns, expectations, etc. Consider all three persons of the trinity: Roles)
o What does the passage teach me about people? (Consider sinful condition as well as new nature in Christ: attributes, attitudes, actions mentioned in the text)
o Ask does my interpretation line up with the theme and original intent of the book? Does my interpretation line up with the historical and cultural context?
Application: How does the text or passage work? Application of the passage is only correctly made after the steps of observation and interpretation; this protects us from drawing an application for our lives out of the context of God’s purpose and intent. Application is the drawing out of instruction from God’s Word that transforms us. It is the truth that cannot be ignored and must be lived out once we’ve understood God’s Word.
o What does God want me to know from this passage?
o What did I learn that was new?
o How does God want this passage to shape my life, actions, and attitude?
o Does this passage reveal false beliefs I had about God, His Word, people, or myself?
o What are God’s promises in this passage I need to believe?
o What does God want me to desire or resist?
o Is there something I need to confess and repent of?
o Is there something I can praise and worship God for?
o How does the Gospel inform my life through this passage?
o What tangible action or response can I apply today?
Commentaries are helpful and are incredibly valuable, but that should be the last thing you do. Once you have done the hard work of opening up the passage and asking these questions, digging deep and waiting on the Holy Spirit to lead you in your understanding THEN it is appropriate to seek out commentaries to check your knowledge and find further teaching you may not have seen before.
I gave you a lot of idea and questions to ask during each step of the IBSM process, but the best thing about this method is that you can make it your own. As this method becomes more natural, you will find yourself asking questions you didn’t know to ask and seeing insights you may have never seen before.
I’d like to just briefly mention that with the IBSM you can make your study time as short or long as you’d like.
Ultimately, the Holy Spirit is the One who will increase your knowledge and understanding of the Word, and in this process, you are setting yourself up to have a fantastic foundational comprehension of God’s Word that will bless you and others richly.
Ready to jump into the Inductive Bible Study Method? I have a FREE Inductive Bible Study Resource that you can use as a quick reference as you study daily!