What is Inductive Bible Study?
Studying the Bible is a gift and a blessing within the Christian life. In my life, being given the tools I needed to digest the Bible for myself made an impact I can barely put into words. The Bible can be difficult to approach, confusing and intimidating people into complacency towards it. Unfortunately, it seems like most Christians are unaware of the many tools and methods available to make Bible study not only accessible but transformational. The Inductive Bible Study method showed me that understanding the scriptures is not, as I had assumed, beyond my grasp. It taught me that God’s Word is timelessly relevant, deeply informative, and indeed, Good News.
Purpose and Goal of Inductive Bible Study
Every Bible study method will serve a different purpose and aim at a different goal. Some methods seek to collect data and categorize topics. Some serve as meditation and reflection tools. The Inductive Method is a little of both. It combines the scholastic need for information with the active voice of the Holy Spirit, allowing the breath of God to fill the student with well
informed, timeless, transformative truths.
As a Youth With A Mission (YWAM) student, I was first introduced to this method of Bible Study in my Discipleship Training School (DTS). During the DTS lecture phase, Bible Overview gave me a new appreciation for the Book I had always felt weary of. Instead of feeling guilt, anxiety, and confusion, I began to feel curiosity, amazement, and awe.
The purpose of Inductive Bible Study is to allow the reader to use pertaining historical and cultural context (inside and outside of the text), to illuminate the author’s intent for the passage being studied so that the reader can make educated interpretations, appropriate conclusions, and finally, meaningful applications. Every student of the Inductive method will tell you that the goal is always application. If we do not allow our studies to produce actionable avenues of growth within us, we are not allowing our hearts to engage with the Bible fully. The Bible is, of course, a vast collection of intellectual concepts, conversations, and ideas. But, at its core, it is the primary vessel through which God continues to reveal who He is to His people. It’s meant to be a relational, interactive, communal, and personal means to grow closer in likeness to Christ – and draw us into a deeper abiding with His Spirit.
I appreciate what LaRosa Johnson writes in his article on the topic. He writes, “A large part of understanding the Bible rightly requires looking at it through the proper lenses. Unlike many books we read today, the Bible is old, a compilation of many writings, and a religious book. As
such, we must remember all those things when we study the Bible. In addition, each facet plays a key role in the right interpretation of Scripture.
First, the Bible is a historical book. It is several thousand years old and was written over centuries. This means we cannot approach it like a book written in the 21st Century. There is a different cultures and backgrounds we must keep in mind when we study. The Bible’s authors wrote in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Koine (common) Greek. Each language is old and requires translation into modern vernacular. We must keep this in mind when studying. Second, the Bible contains many different literary genres. We cannot read each book of the Bible the same way. Scripture contains history, prophecy, letters, apocalyptic literature, poetry, and so on. Each passage needs to be read and understood based on its given genre, which, in turn, affects how we interpret it.
Finally, we must understand that it is a theological book. God wrote and teaches us about himself in the Bible. This is another fact we cannot ignore in our interpretation.”
Steps of Inductive Bible Study
1. The first step of Inductive Bible study is prayer. We ask God to give us the ability to take off the lenses we wear that cloud our vision, skew our perspective, and lead us toward partiality. We ask that He lead us, open our eyes, ears, and heart and that we would yield to His Lordship in the process. We want to approach the Bible with as little bias, preconceived notions, and other hindrances as possible.
2. Next, we read the entirety of the book we are reading, if possible, in one sitting, out loud. When we read the whole book out loud, in one go, our brains can absorb more of what we are reading.
3. Then, once we have completed one reading of the book, we read through it again. But this time, we are reading to make observations. We are making a note of things like who, where, and when, as well as literary tools like lists, metaphors, and figures of speech…we notice promises, commands, questions, repeated words, key ideas, parables, and genealogies..and we physically mark them on the paper we are reading from. Most Inductive Students will make their own “legend” that allows them to mark up their text with their own symbols. For example, my mark for a promise is a yellow star. My mark for a figure of speech is a purple triangle. This stage of study is meant to get you to slow down, notice what is happening in the text, and warm up your brain to start asking questions.
4. From these observations, we can begin to ask questions. This is where the CONTEXT of the book comes into play. You will want to have a good handle on these things before drawing ANY conclusions about what you have read:
What type of literature is it?
Who wrote it?
When did they write it?
Who did they write it to?
Was it happening at this point in history?
What was the political, religious, and cultural setting?
This contextual information will guide you as you ask questions. You can find contextual information in a variety of places. A few of my favorites are:
- The Archaeological Study Bible
- Zondervan’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary
- Holman’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary
- Free online commentaries offered on BibleGateway
- Blue Letter Bible
- NET Bible (with notes, translations, and commentaries)
5. Now that you have asked some educated questions, begin to use the contextual information you’ve gathered to make interpretations…AKA: answer your own questions using the information you’ve gathered. Can you see what the author was trying to communicate? Given their circumstances, what might the audience/reader have needed to hear? What are the implications of this passage to those originally involved?
6. You’ve read the book in its entirety, made observations, gotten some basic context, and asked and answered educated questions..now you can draw some conclusions. Time to come up with some TIMELESS TRUTHS. You can pull these truths from your interpretations that remain true for all kinds of people throughout all of time.
For example, “God is not limited to man’s methods” is a timeless truth. It is true no matter who you are, where, or when.
7. Lastly, and most importantly, allow the Holy Spirit to guide you to a pertinent APPLICATION of this truth in your life, or the life of the contemporary reader. Using the example above, a personal application of this may be trusting that God can solve the issue you are facing using methods you know nothing about. Trusting that God knows a way through even when you see no options with your human capacities.
Inductive Bible Study at YWAM Asheville
During the Discipleship Training School, students are given a whole week to go through the Bible. Bible Overview is built into the YWAM DTS curriculum. This week gives students a chance to look at the scriptures, from Genesis to Revelation, and it is often taught from an Inductive perspective. Other YWAM courses are dedicated to teaching students the Inductive method, such as the School of Biblical Studies and the Bible Core Course. Here in Asheville, YWAM values giving DTS students a basic understanding of Inductive Bible Study so they can become users of the method in their own lives. Students are also invited to return for the Foundational Leadership Course where they will be given even further training and education on Inductive Bible Study.
I saw a recent post on Twitter from a fitness account that said, “Strength training will make every other problem you have easier to solve.” I would argue that the same could be said about Bible Study. The more you engage with God’s voice, doing the heavy lifting of observation, interpretation, and application, you will find that life’s problems are brought into perspective; an eternal perspective.