Many of us have a prefered way we study the bible. Others aren’t too sure of how to study the bible apart from reading a section or chapter and praying that God would show us more of Himself through it.
Today I’d like to share with you a method which will take you longer than the average, but the amount you get out of it is worth the time (and effort). It’s called the Inductive Bible Study method because it asks you to discover and use the text to draw conclusions from — not to find scripture to confirm your theories.
Why study the bible this way?
We have been gifted with God’s words as well as a vast array of versions and mediums to choose from to pick up and read at any time we choose. People have fought and died for these words to available in a language we understand while others are still praying for a translation in their mother tongue.
The bible gives us knowledge of who our Heavenly Father is, why and how we can have a relationship with Him and how to live a more Christ-like life. God sent His son to show us a physical form of Himself and die for our sins so there would no longer be a barrier between us to enable all of us to be full of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit helps us to understand what’s written in the bible, applying it to our lives to transform us. To understand God’s word better – we have to take the time to study all of it.
Pray – asking the Holy Spirit to see the scriptures through His eyes and to lay down our preconceived ideas.
We have to remember that each book/ letter of the bible was written by a person to usually a group of people who were from a different time and culture to us.
Read the introduction – many bibles have an introduction to each book. Or you can find in various bible websites background to each book easily. I like to use Biblegateway.com or the Bible Project to give me a brief overview of the history and culture to help me get started.
Get the Big Picture
Set aside time to read, out loud, the whole book through in one sitting. (Give yourself five minutes per chapter). I would suggest starting with one of the New Testament letters, which are shorter and more comfortable to get used to using this type of method).
The reason to read it as a whole in one go is to see the big picture, how the whole book is connected, flows from one section to the next. You’ll be amazed at how familiar verses suddenly take on more meaning when you read them in the original context. Plus a letter is usually always read from start to finish – why should we treat Paul’s letters any differently.
You may find yourself stopping to think or write something down during this first reading – don’t. The purpose is to get an overview of the whole forest, not stop to look at one tree.
Step two – Observation
To look at what the text is actually saying. To see it in the original context to the first hearers of the letter/ book. There are many layers to this section.
Take your time to answer these questions:
Who was it written by and where are they while writing?
Who was it written to – the audience, and where are they?
When is it written – what’s the time period, do you know what else happened around that time?
Now go back and re-read, this time looking for:
What is the writer talking about – look for repeated words or ideas, themes, warnings, commands, emotions, directions …?
Does the writer say why they are writing about this? What is the writer asking of the readers?
Look for contrasts, comparisons, cause and effects, expressions of time, are lists used, is God / Father / Jesus / or Holy Spirit used more than others…?
Using colour to help you visually see what you are observing. For each type of question or word… use a different colour of pencil to circle/ underline/ strikethrough the word so you can then see easily over the whole page where and how often those words/ thoughts occur.
It’s good to work out a system you can use consistently (with other books too)
E.g. Blue: A blue square around the author, underline with blue, the reader or key people mentioned…
I use yellow for God, Jesus, Holy Spirit but square, circle, full colour in, underline…
Red could be for command verbs, e.g. Be, Do, Don’t, Stand…
Its easier to jot down some ideas on a separate piece of paper that you notice while working on 1 question or repeated word/ phrase at a time – this will help you keep track of what you are trying to observe.
All these observations will give you insight into the emotion of the writer and reader, the key themes addressed and the response of the readers.
Go through the text as many times as you can each time looking for a different kind of word or phrase.
Step 3 – Interpretation
This is where we start to answer the question – what does the text mean. NOT for ourselves just yet, but for the original reader.
Ask the Holy Spirit for help to understand your observations – all of our interpretations come out of what we’ve observed.
The quality of your interpretations is directly linked to the quality of your observations.
Ask yourself “why” questions. Why did the author use that particular word or phrase? What issue or circumstance was the author addressing and why? What kind of people were the readers? Educated, farmers, slaves, religious leaders, Jews, foreigners, non-jews…?
What did the letter mean to the readers? Continue to ask the Holy Spirit to help you understand what it meant to those original readers.
Write down your thoughts and interpretations beside particular verses so you can continue to refer back to them.
Step 4 – Application
Now you can prayerfully ask yourself – in light of what I’ve observed and understood it to mean for the original reader, what does it mean to me personally? What can I take literally, what do I need to convert into my situation? “Holy Spirit, what are you highlighting from this scripture that you want me to work on/ change in my life so I can be more Christ-like?”
Remember – part of the main reason we study scripture is to see transformation happen in our own lives. Transformation is only going to happen if we apply these new revelations and truths we’ve found while studying to our own lives.
Are there any lies in my belief system that has been highlighted by the truths I’ve found in these verses?
How are my responses, emotions, attitudes in response to what I’ve read?
What new aspects of God’s nature and character have I discovered? Do I need to change my thinking to line up with who God is?
What about my identity, what I believe about myself – are there any contradictions to what scripture says that I need to repent and change how I view myself and how God views me?
It’s a great idea to take time to journal with God and Holy Spirit all these questions and responses and what things you are going to do differently in light of what you’ve learned and understood. Perhaps share these with a close friend or someone you are accountable to, to help you continue to walk these out in your life.
End with – Praise and Thanksgiving
Praise God for who He is. Thank Him for what you’ve learned in these passages. For the gifts and freedom we have to study God’s word.
Perhaps turn some of the verses that have stood out to you into prayers of declaration of who God is…
There is a lot more we could add to using the Inductive Study Method. Here are a few more parts you could add to your study:
- Find a verse which sums up the whole theme/ message of the book/ letter. (This is called a Key verse).
- Meditate on this key verse, memorise it, carry it round in your mind and spirit until it’s part of your heart.
- Most bibles now have divided up books into helpful sections with titles. Do you agree with there they have split up the areas? Divide up the book/ letter into your own sections and give them titles using only the words used in the text.
- Create a one-page overview of the book. Take the sections and titles you have created to draw out a table of the whole book. Make the sizes of the sections equal to the number of verses in that section. E.g. if it’s only ten verses and another section has twenty verses. Then the latter section should be double the size of the former.
- The Bible Project has done overviews of I think almost every book in the bible. Watch the video and pause it at the end to see how they have created their overview of the book.
- Perhaps you could do all of this with a small group, bring your overviews and share your insights and applications with one another.
- I would also love to hear your thoughts and findings using this Inductive Bible Study Method. Please share in the comments section of this blog, or start a new discussion on the Forums page.