“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17
Confession: I grew up in the church, actively participated in youth group, attended Christian schools from first grade through university, served and led in several ministry capacities, and was virtually Bible illiterate. True story.
I memorized well-known verses and could easily find scripture to meet a particular need. I wrote topical devotions and sent pretty Bible-based notes to friends for encouragement, but had limited understanding of how they fit together and into the greater gospel story. I loved God desperately and believed I had been called to a life committed to Him, but was struggling and striving in my faith. I didn’t realize how little I knew His Word until I really began studying it several years ago.
It was at a Women’s Leadership training session at our church when things started to change. We were asked to reflect on a small passage of scripture – To read it over several times for context and content, explore the cross-references, look for repeated words and phrases, pray through the text, and journal about what we learned. It was the first time I experienced both conviction and grief over the way I had studied scripture in the past and felt a deep longing to know it, understand it, and allow it to change me. I spent the next two years delving into the Word in a way that involved both heart and mind and committed to a method of study that truly revitalized both my understanding of the Bible AND my relationship with Christ.
The Inductive Bible Study Method
The purpose of an Inductive Bible Study Method is to understand the Word of God by first observing the text (discovering what the passage says), interpreting it (figuring out what it means), and applying the message of Bible passages to our lives (determining how it can change us and walking in light of the truth we’ve learned). It seeks to help us understand the Word for ourselves rather than relying solely on another’s assumptions, analysis, or comprehension.
Below is a summary of how to study the Bible inductively. We have created a printable resource page, and a worksheet to help you get started. Personally, I make as many of my observations in the text and margins of my Bible, then write additional thoughts and prayers (application) in a journal if they don’t fit beside the passage. It may take a few months to figure out what works best for you, but that’s OK! We’re running a marathon, not a sprint.
Observe – What does the passage say?
Ask yourself the five W’s (who, what, when, where, why) while reading through the text. It may seem redundant, but it will help you remember what you’ve learned and keep the content in context.
- Who was the author writing to?
- Why was this particular passage/book/letter written?
- What is happening in the passage?
- When and where did this take place?
In addition to answering the questions above and reflecting on them each time you read from/study a passage, book, or chapter in the Bible, consider doing the following:
- Mark key words in your Bible and pay special attention to repeated phrases.
- If you see a list, make a note of it and write it in a notebook or margins of your Bible. If you were studying 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, for example, you could write “Love Is” as a heading, and make a list below (patient, kind, does not envy, does not boast…).
- Look for comparisons and contrasts. These usually begin with but, like, and or.
- Mark terms and phrases of finality or cause. These often include, therefore, thus, or so. They summarize the previous verses and give deep meaning to the author’s purpose in writing. Pay particular attention to if-then statements.
Interpret – What does the passage mean?
Interpretation of the text flows naturally from your direct observations. This is where you get to think more deeply about the things you noted and figure out what they mean. I find the following strategies especially helpful:
- Look up the cross-references in the margins of your Bible. This will help you use scripture to interpret scripture and supplement what you already observed by putting it in a more detailed historical or cultural setting.
- Utilize word studies to discover what words meant in the original Greek or Hebrew. Sometimes this changes what we originally assumed a passage meant and/or provides greater depth to our understanding. Consider purchasing the Key Word Study Bible (link here). The Blue Letter Bible online is another great place to start: https://www.blueletterbible.org.
- Ask: What would the original hearers, audience, or readers have thought? How does this passage fit within the greater story of the Bible? Within the gospel?
- Paraphrase (rewrite the text in your own words) based on your observations and understanding from the previous steps.
Apply – How can this passage change me?
We are all a work in progress – Praise God! While it’s essential to both observe and interpret the Truth to understand it fully, studying is futile if we are not changed as a result. God did not give us His Word just so we would KNOW it – He gave it to us so we would LIVE it.
It’s here where we mull over everything we’ve learned and ask God how it applies to our own lives.
Ask yourself the following questions (and more as they come to mind) while you reflect on the things you’ve learned:
- What does this passage tell me about God?
- What is God leading me to do differently in response to what I observed and interpreted?
- What might these truths look like in action today? In my day-to-day life? In my goals and dreams? In my family? In my ministry?
- Is there a belief I need to re-examine or thinking that needs to change in light of this text?
- What is the first action I can take in response to what I’ve learned – Forgive? Serve? Go? Stop?
- Is the Holy Spirit bringing to mind any specific people, circumstances, conversations or sins to mind for prayer, repentance, and reconciliation? If so, take time to lay them before Him.
- Use a journal or the margin of your Bible to write out prayers, notes, confessions, or other thoughts on how you can apply the themes and applications to your own life.
Get Started: I’m not sure what your past experience or history with Bible Study has been, but I do know this: It’s never too late, and you CAN learn to study inductively! God’s Word is a gracious gift to us – He will help you and give you the wisdom you need (James 1:5).
Find a Group: While it’s important to study and wrestle through biblical truths on your own, discussing what you’ve learned in a group is ideal for motivation and building community.
Personally, I have a hard time finishing what I’ve started and truly committing to the text without a deadline or accountability. It’s hard work, and I’m a bit of a slacker without encouragement. Consider choosing a particular book or long passage to study with others. I suggest something from the New Testament if you’re just getting started or are feeling called to lead. Philippians, James, or 1 Peter would be great letters to begin with, but please don’t shy away from the Old Testament. The gospel isn’t the gospel without these rich books of history and prophecy. They testify to God’s sovereignty and character, and we can’t begin to fully know the New Testament without them.
Join a Class: Precept Ministries International trains leaders in this method and provides study guides that transformed my life. I’m a huge fan and participate in a weekly group! You can find classes all over the world. Consider joining one of the groups offered at Summit View Church if you live in the Vancouver, Washington area.
Believe: True study that engages both heart and mind will change you. Believe it and cling to the truth that His Word will never return void (Isaiah 55:11). Reject the lie that you aren’t committed enough, smart enough, or don’t have the time. Believe that you are disciplined and claim the fact that He gave you an able mind and spirit. Make the time. You will be so very grateful in the end.
With great expectation and for His glory,
About the Author: Lisa DaSilva is a wife, mom of two teenagers, and advocate for women to love God with their heart, soul and mind as they engage in responsible study of His Word. She writes, speaks, and teaches the Bible to anyone who will read or listen.
Lisa is a teacher by trade and passion, voice for the marginalized, recovering striver, and lover of simplicity, authenticity, and all things pretty. She enjoys thrift store shopping and often has to convince people she’s an introvert. Just a loud one.
Loving Jesus and making Him known really is her everything.