Introduction to inductive Bible study
Learning to read and study Scripture is an important part of the Christian life. And while pastors and teachers are wonderful, individual Christians should also be able to pick up any passage and read it with basic understanding and application. How do you do that? Inductive Bible study is one reliable way.
Okay, so what is inductive Bible study, exactly? The inductive method is an investigative way of studying Scripture that can be used by both new and seasoned students alike. It’s a powerful tool for those who want to learn how to study Scripture well.
When applied properly, the inductive method will provide a better overall understanding of a passage—what it says, what it meant to its original audience, and what it means today.
Anyone can use the inductive Bible study method by following three simple steps:
1. Observation: what does the text say?
This phase isn’t about interpretation. It’s about observing exactly what the text is saying. Pretend you’re an investigator and you’re just gathering the facts. Ask yourself the five W’s and H:
As you do, make note of:
- Words repeated multiple times in a passage
- Anything that can be put into a list
- Words that indicate a change in topic or time
- Words that contrast one thing against another
- Words that indicate cause and effect
It’s critical at this stage not to add anything to the text or take anything away. Avoid the temptation to try to make the text “mean” anything just yet. Observe what’s there, and document it.
Write it all down (you can take notes directly in Logos), and once you feel like you have a good idea of what’s happening in the text, it’s time to move on to the next step: interpretation.
- Logos blog: 5 Basic Bible Study Techniques You Should Never Ignore
- Logos blog: How to Study a Psalm: Essential Steps for Starting Right
- Logos blog: How to Identify a Passage’s Repeated Words in Seconds
- Crossway: 10 Tips for Getting Started with Inductive Bible Study
- The Gospel Coalition blog: Inductive Bible Study Is Not Just for Adults
- Navigators Website: Inductive Bible Study
Books to get you study started with studying inductively
The inductive Bible study method is a time-tested way for the layperson to approach studying Scripture. The following books are a great place to learn more about this simple methodology:
The Layman’s Bible Study Notebook: An Inductive Bible Study by Irving L. Jensen
Study the New Testament at your own pace in workable units of material that follow the inductive method of study.
Inductive Bible Study: A Comprehensive Guide to the Practices of Hermeneutics by David R. Bauer and Robert A. Trania
This guide provokes you to read the Bible honestly—to let it surprise, challenge, and correct you as you apply the many steps of interpretation. By using the tools included in Inductive Bible Study, you’ll approach Bible study with more depth and understanding.
Inductive Bible Study: Observation, Interpretation, and Application Through the Lenses of History, Literature, and Theology by Richard Alan Fuhr
This book walks through each of the three steps of the inductive method paying particular attention to historical, literary, and theological elements that come into play at each stage.
2. Interpretation: what does the text mean?
The observation phase was all about observing what the text says, but the interpretation phase is the next step. And it’s in this phase we start to look at what the text means.
Your job at this stage is to discover what the author is trying to communicate. And to do this, you need to look at the context (Logos Bible Software can be a great help with this). Here are a few questions you can ask:
- What is the cultural and/or historical context of this passage?
- What else do I know about the book, author, and broader context of the passage?
- What other Scripture passages might help me better interpret this one?
- Have I overlooked anything or made any assumptions?
- What is the clearest meaning of this text?
There are a few essential rules to remember when attempting to interpret a passage:
- Don’t “twist” Scripture—meaning, don’t manipulate the text to get it to say something you’d like for it to say. This is a dishonest way to interpret the text.
- Look for the plainest interpretation first. Believe that the text means what it says. Sometimes there will be figurative language and confusing imagery, but don’t start by looking for hidden meaning. Start with the obvious.
- Scripture interprets Scripture. Allow the Bible to help you understand other passages of the Bible. Where similar words are used, explore the context of each of those instances.
- Avoid basing important doctrines on obscure passages.
- Connect each passage back to the gospel and the broader message of the Bible.
Make sure you spend a good chunk of time with this phase. Ask yourself all of the important questions above, and answer them as honestly as you are able. Once you think you’ve done all you can here, it’s time to move on to the final phase: application.
- Logos blog: How to Know that You Know the Bible
- Precept Ministries International: Interpret Scripture Accurately
With Logos Fundamentals, you’ll find the truth for yourself—no matter what questions arise as you study the Word.
3. Application: what does this text mean for me?
Now that we’ve observed and interpreted what the passage has to say, it’s time to talk about what it means for us. How do we apply what we just learned to everyday life?
We don’t study the Bible just to gain knowledge. We study to gain knowledge so we know how to live our lives in light of what we’ve learned.
Go back to your questions from the beginning and ask them again in light of what you’ve learned, and apply it to our context today.
Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?
Based on what you’ve learned, what does this passage mean for you? If you’ve uncovered truth you’ve not known or understood before, what does it mean for your life, priorities, and decisions now that you do understand it?
Honest application of the text requires these kinds of questions and the wrestling of ideas when truth causes conflict. It might be tempting to stop at the interpretation phase, but you’ll be selling yourself and Scripture short if you do.
Take the time to dive into the application step. It’s worth it.
- Logos blog: An Inductive Study of Amos Using Logos
How to do an inductive Bible study using Logos
Now you know the three simple steps to running your own inductive Bible study. Logos can be an incredible resource as you seek to make this a part of your daily routine.
In fact, Logos even has an Inductive Bible Study Workflow built right in to guide you through these steps. You can find the Inductive Bible Study Workflow (with five other Workflows and many other Bible Study tools) in Logos Starter.