A simple guide to Inductive Bible Study, perfect for beginners or others who’ve been too afraid to try. You can study the Bible for yourself!
Many women miss out on the treasures of studying God’s Word because they’re intimidated. Social media abounds with colorful images of Bibles filled with study notes and artful markings. It sounds too complicated. It looks too time-consuming.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
I’m not special. I don’t have a theology degree – or any degree, for that matter! I just have a hunger for more of God’s Word. I’ve learned from other women and various resources. I’ve learned by doing, by practice. And I continue to learn.
My life was forever changed when I learned how to study the Bible for myself. That’s why I started Wield The Word. I want to do everything I possibly can to get as many women as possible into God’s Word. Read it for yourself and be transformed!
So I’ll keep it simple.
What Is Inductive Bible Study?
Inductive Bible Study is a method of studying God’s Word in a way that allows it to speak for itself. It helps you better understand the Bible on your own and then live out the principles you’ve learned. Not just information, but transformation.
There’s no such thing as the one perfect way to study the Bible. There are many effective methods. Inductive Bible Study is one of them.
A very brief outline of Inductive Bible Study is typically summed up in 3 steps:
Observation involves reading the passage in context. Take note of the facts using the 5 Ws and an H questions – Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How.
Interpretation digs a little deeper. Once you’re clear on the facts, which you’ve observed in context, then you can start to consider the purpose of that passage in Scripture.
Application takes the interpretation and seeks to live it out.
Do the terms “observation”, “interpretation”, and “application” sound too academic? I’m going to share with you another way of thinking about Inductive Bible Study.
A Practical Approach to Inductive Bible Study
When I study the Bible, I’m not consciously following this “formula”. It has become natural to me. I find myself doing these steps without thinking, whether I’m reading a random Psalm, listening to a sermon, or going through an entire book of the Bible. With time and practice, Inductive Bible Study can become natural for you, too.
For readers of Wield The Word who like to use my Bible Reading Challenges, I’ve outlined my own approach like this:
Pray -> Read -> Learn -> Meditate -> Respond
Many people read the Bible without ever understanding it. Even more people read it without ever being changed by it. Spiritual truth is spiritually discerned. If we’re going to really understand the Truth of God’s Word and have it transform our hearts, we need the help of the Holy Spirit.
Beginning my Bible study with prayer puts me in a place of humility, recognizing that I need God to open my eyes to the Truth He has for me.
A prayer I like to pray before studying the Bible comes from Psalm 119:18.
“Open my eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of Your law.”
We must read a passage before we can study it. Does that seem obvious?
A common mistake in personal study of the Bible is neglecting to read a passage in context. Without knowing the context of a verse or passage, we can easily misinterpret it, which leads to applying it wrongly. The context gives us crucial information. Context is key.
Now how do we decide what to read and study? There are 66 books in the Bible to choose from!
What to study might depend on where you’re at in your familiarity with the Bible or your comfort level with inductive study. If this is new to you, a shorter book (like Jude) might be a good starting point.
I sometimes choose a particular book to read based on it’s main theme. For example, Philippians talks a lot about a joy-filled life. Or 1 Peter focuses on how to respond to suffering.
If choosing a book of the Bible and studying it from start to finish seems a bit much for you, go ahead and use a Bible reading plan that better fits your schedule. I suggest several plans to use in one of my first posts: How to Read & Study the Bible. Alternatively, a quick Google search for “Bible reading plans” will present you with endless options.
What do you learn from the passage you just read?
If you’re reading in context, the setting, the author, and other details will inform your understanding of the text. This is the part commonly referred to as “observation”.
Some of the questions you might ask as you read:
- Who wrote the book?
- Who is this about?
- Who did/said this?
- What is happening?
- Where did this take place?
- When did this take place?
- Why did this happen?
- Why did he/she do/say that?
- How did this happen?
Take note of keywords that are repeated throughout the passage. This gives you an idea of what’s important and what you should be paying attention to. It helps you notice themes in the whole Bible or in specific books, etc.
Some people like to mark keywords in their Bibles, others prefer to just take mental notes.
To meditate on Scripture simply means to “digest” it. As a cow chews its cud, we take in God’s Word and we chew it and chew it some more. Just because we’ve “swallowed” it once doesn’t mean we’ve gotten all the nourishment out of it that’s there for us! We chew on it again to get more goodness from it to enrich our souls.
Once you have a good understanding of the facts of the passage, it’s time to go deeper. This is the “interpretation” part. You’ve read what the text says. Now what does the text mean? This is not the same as “What does it mean to me?” Instead, think, “Why did God want this passage included in His Word? What does God mean by it?”
Some of the questions you might ask:
- Why did God want this included in the Bible?
- What is His purpose for this passage?
- What does this passage teach us about God?
- What does this passage teach us about who He is and what He’s done?
Being Transformed By God’s Word
Why do we study the Bible? Seriously. Think about it.
Growing in our knowledge of the Bible is how we grow in our knowledge of Jesus. It’s about our relationship with Him.
The meditation or interpretation aspect of Inductive Bible Study should lead us to apply God’s Word to our own lives. How can we live it out? How does this change me?
Thinking about what you’ve learned from the passage, you might ask questions like:
- How does this affect my life?
- How does it apply to me?
- How should this change the way I think/speak/act?
- What actions do I need to take?
- Is there sin I need to repent of?
Thinking about how to apply God’s Word to your life in a practical way is life-changing. So often, though, we think about it in those quiet Bible study moments, then go about our day and forget about it.
Without actively responding to the Truth right away, we’re less likely to allow it time to permeate our hearts and begin that heart-transformation process.
Responding to what you’ve learned can take on various forms. Some ideas:
- Pray: Talk to God about what you learned. Ask God to help you live it out. Pray about questions you still have about the passage. Confess sin that was revealed to you and ask for the strength to walk in righteousness.
- Praise: If you learned about God’s character or something He did, praise Him for it! Praise Him for the Truth He showed you.
- Journal: Writing down what you learned and how you want to live it out will help you to remember it. It’s a beautiful thing to look back on past journal entries and recognize all the ways God has been speaking to you through His Word! For some, it can also serve as a form of personal accountability.
- Share: This is a big one! I’ve found few things as effective as sharing what God is teaching me. When I talk to someone else about it, it’s like a double blessing. I get to encourage a sister in Christ and the reminder of what I learned causes me to praise God all over again. If what I learned involves a practical change I need to make or a sin I need to repent of, sharing that with a friend holds me accountable.
Keep It Simple
I want to end with this reminder. The goal of studying the Bible is not to have a gallery-worthy journal. It’s not coming up with a perfectly color-coded Bible. It’s not keeping meticulous notes about every detail you read.
Don’t fall into the comparison trap when it comes to your personal study of God’s Word!
If you come away from your study having gleaned a deeper understanding of who God is or who You are in Him, you have succeeded.
If you come away from your study full of more questions than answers, you have not failed! Don’t give up! Keep asking those questions! Keep seeking the answers!
God’s heart is not to be mysterious and hard to understand. He desires a relationship with you. He wants you to know Him. When you diligently seek Him, you will find Him! He promised (Jeremiah 29:13)!
Trust Him to reveal Himself to you through this precious Book. Don’t complicate it.
A Few Recommended Resources to Help You Learn Inductive Bible Study
This section is optional. I don’t benefit in any way if you use any of these resources. I just wanted to share with you some of the resources that have helped me learn to study the Bible for myself.
I first learned about Inductive Bible Study many years ago by watching Precepts for Life. It’s available to watch online for free – either on the website or as a podcast. Each program has a corresponding study guide which you can download for free.
When my children were all young, I used this half-hour program as my morning coffee time. Sometimes the kids would be sitting at the table eating their breakfast while I was digging deep into God’s Word! Other times, I waited till they were having naps. It was a manageable and enjoyable way to learn.
Shortly after I started following this program, I bought the Inductive Study Bible published by Precept Ministries International. This is still the Bible I use today. It’s well-used, yet not even close to falling apart. It has wider margins than a lot of Bibles and includes study helps and useful tips and charts throughout. It even has an overview of Inductive Bible Study at the beginning, along with a specific Inductive Study Guide for each book.
Precept Ministries International has a wealth of Bible-book-specific and topical study guides and resources including a book called How to Study Your Bible. I’ve used many of them and have benefited greatly from each one. They are very helpful for learning as they give step-by-step instructions for each day/chapter of the study.