Studying the Bible Inductively

For a while now, I have been looking for a way to study the Bible with more focus and direction. I wanted a Bible that I could use specifically for my personal study, that I could mark in, color code by topic or theme, and make notes in the margins, but most of all I wanted something that would be a guide on how to study the Bible more effectively and in depth.

Many times in the past, I’ve simply read through the Bible — sometimes reading the whole Bible in a year; other times reading through the passage my pastor went through that week — but in doing so, I wasn’t really immersing myself in the Word. Yes, I was reading, but how much can one gain from reading alone? I wanted to really, truly study God’s Word and make it a part of my life.

A couple of years ago (this page is being written in January 2017), I met weekly with a lady from my church in order to study the Bible together. During that time, one of the Bible Study tools we used was a book on how to study the Bible inductively, so when I decided that I wanted my personal Bible study to be more in depth, I remembered the inductive method and decided to try it again. I searched for a Bible that would include this method of study and decided on The New Inductive Study Bible in the ESV (English Standard Version).

For those who don’t know what the Inductive Study method is, here is a general description as it is described in the front of my study bible:

Make Observations

The first step of the Inductive Study Method is to begin making observations about what you’re reading. Observation leads to an understanding of what the Bible says. Here are some of the guidelines to remember when making observations:

  1. Begin with prayer — Anytime someone wishes to study the Bible in depth, it is always a good idea to start with prayer.
  2. Ask the “5 Ws and an H” — This, of course, is the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How of what you’re reading
  3. Mark Key Words and phrases — Choose a specific way of marking certain words or phrases and use the same markings throughout the Bible to see at a glance which books cover that topic
  4. Look for lists — Anytime the passage lists attributes or other information, it is good to make note of these lists. For example, the Fruit of the Spirit and the Armor of God are both lists.
  5. Watch for Contrasts and Comparisons — This is pretty self-explanatory.
  6. Note expressions of time — This would include words like after, then, until, and when.
  7. Identify terms of conclusion — These are words such as therefore, so, for this reason, and finally.
  8. Develop chapter themes — As you’re reading, if you notice certain themes emerging, you can make note of them

Interpretation

After making observations about the text, the next step is Interpretation, which helps you understand what the text means. When attempting to interpret the Bible, there are some very important “rules” to remember. They are:

  • Remember that context rules — this means that you consider each verse in the context of surrounding verses, the book in which it is found, and the entire Word of God. You can’t take one verse and say it means “such and such” without considering what’s around that verse; doing so opens the door to misinterpreting what is being said.
  • Always seek the full counsel of the Word of God — this is similar to the previous point in that it is reiterating the idea of comparing specific texts to what is said in the rest of the Bible. This, of course, can only be done accurately if a person has saturated themselves in the Word of God.
  • Remember that Scripture will never contradict Scripture — The best interpretation of Scripture is Scripture. The Bible contains all the truth ever needed for every situation, so even though it may, at times, seem like some passages are contradictory, if we continue to study the context, we can eventually form conclusions that are no longer contradictory.
  • Don’t base your convictions on an obscure passage of Scripture — A passage is obscure when the meaning is not easily understood. As we study the Bible, we should not form conclusions and convictions that we treat as doctrine unless the passage is clear in its meaning.
  • Interpret Scripture literally — This means looking first for the clear teaching of the passage, not some hidden meaning. This also means taking into consideration the literary style being used in the passage you’re studying. These styles may include Historical, Prophetic, Biographical, Didactic (teaching), Poetic, Epistle (letter), and Proverbial.
  • Look for the single meaning of the passage — When attempting to interpret a portion of the Bible, always try to understand what the author had in mind. Let the passage speak for itself, unless the author specifically indicates that a particular section has another meaning to it.

Application

Once you have Observed the passage and Interpreted the passage, the last step is Application. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” With these verses in mind, we can apply scripture in the following ways:

  • Teaching (doctrine): This is what the Bible says on an particular subject. No matter what the subject is, the teaching found in the Bible is always true. Once you have taken the time to observe and interpret the Bible, you are then obligated to apply it by accepting the truth and altering your life accordingly.
  • Reproof: This is the concept of exposing the areas in your thinking and/or behavior that do not align with God’s Word. The application here is to accept it, agree with God, and change the way you live.
  • Correction: This step is often the most difficult because so many times we can see what is wrong, but we are reluctant to take the necessary steps to change. However, when we apply the correction to how we live our lives, God will work in us for His good pleasure.
  • Training in righteousness: Not only was the Bible given for teaching, reproof, and correction, it was also given as a handbook for living. Reading God’s Word allows God to equip us through teachings, commands, promises, exhortations, warnings, and the lives of the people written about in Scripture.

Some tips on how to apply scripture include:

  1. What does the passage teach?
    1. Is it general or specific?
    2. Does it only apply to specific people? cultural problems of the day? certain times in history?
    3. Has it been superseded by a broader teaching?
  2. Does the section of Scripture expose any error in my beliefs or in my behavior?
    1. Are there commandments that I have not obeyed?
    2. Are there wrong attitudes or motives in my life?
  3. What is God’s instruction to me as his child?
    1. Are there new truths to be believed?
    2. Are there new commandments to be acted upon?
    3. Are there new insights to pursue?
    4. Are there promises to embrace?
  4. When applying Scripture, beware of the following:
    1. Applying cultural standards rather than biblical standards
    2. Attempting to strengthen a legitimate truth by using Scripture incorrectly
    3. Applying Scripture out of prejudice from past training or teaching

This is a lot of information to take in, but I hope it has been helpful in describing the sort of process I was looking for in my study of Scripture. If you are interested in looking at this Bible for yourself, you can find it here. Please keep in mind that this link is for the ESV version; but other versions of the Bible are available as well.

For each book of the Bible, The New Inductive Study Bible includes a short introduction to the book, a list of suggested instructions for observing the text, a list of “Things to Think About” regarding the important themes or topics of the book, an Observations Chart where notes can be made about important themes, and an “At A Glance” chart where you can record chapter themes and write information about the various divisions or segments of the book.

All of this information combined constitutes the Observations and Interpretation steps described above. As for Application, I personally have a separate notebook where I write down applications I see in what I’ve read.

And so, without further ado, if you are interested in reading about which books I’ve studied so far and what I’ve learned, please see the list below for links to these studies. (Please note, the links are listed in the order in which they appear in the Bible, not the order I studied them.)

Romans – under construction

Ephesians – under construction

 

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