“Inductive Bible Study” sounds kind of boring, doesn’t it? But it’s actually an amazing process that allows us to s-l-o-w d-o-w-n and let God’s Word come ALIVE to us. It’s quite magical. If that sounds amazing (it is) or you’ve been struggling to get anything out of your daily Bible reading lately, it might be a good time to give an inductive Bible study a go.
How to Start An Inductive Bible Study
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Before we get started you will need a few things: a good commentary and a book of the Bible you want to read.
You can either use the commentary that comes with your Bible or a separate one like Halley’s Bible Handbook. Commentaries fill in the gaps as far as what was going on historically, the author, who he was speaking to and why, and what he really meant by certain phrases and/or sayings.
Also, I’m going to be using passages from James as examples but if you’re looking for a recommendation to get started I’d suggest Ephesians because it’s jam-packed with goodness.
Now let’s get started.
The very first thing in an inductive Bible study is to read an entire chapter. Don’t go in with an agenda, just read. This sets the stage and also helps us get a bigger picture of what is going on to prevent us from taking a verse out of context.
Now read the chapter again.
After reading through a chapter twice stop and ask God to show you what He wants you to learn from this passage. If we don’t do this it’s easy to go in with an agenda and only look for what we want to see instead of what’s actually written.
When finished, ask yourself these questions:
- Who is the author?
- Who is the audience and what was their circumstance?
- When was it written?
- Why was it written?
- Are there any repeating words/ contrasts or comparisons? Cause and effect? Conjunctions? Verbs?
In other words, Who, What, When, Where, and Why?
I was reading through James 4 recently when I realized that he was speaking to Christians and yet throwing words around like “murderer” and “adulterer.”
I had to stop and question whether James was accusing these early Christians of actually killing each other and being unfaithful to their spouses or if there was another meaning behind it.
By asking these questions it allows us to pinpoint where we need more information or to do more digging. Otherwise, I may have glossed right over this kind of language.
This is the critical step and greatly requires God’s help. I used to attend a Bible study where we read a chapter and everyone shared what they thought it meant without looking up any context or commentary. That’s dangerous. Not surprisingly, of the twelve people in the group, there were often twelve interpretations of what the passage meant and many in direct conflict. The leader shrugged her shoulders and just said that it was up to us to decide what version best fit our lives. (!)
That’s not to say people won’t see different parts of a passage in a different light, but we have to be careful not to interpret the Bible through our personal lens.
Here are 5 steps to interpret a passage according to the inductive Bible study:
1.) Start with prayer.
Hebrews 4:16 reminds us that we can, “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
So let’s approach! If we ask with a sincere heart it is His will to show us His word.
2.) Define any words or phrases you don’t know.
For instance, while reading through James 1:12 I came across the “Crown of Life.” But after some digging, I found out that the New Testament mentions five crowns: the imperishable crown, the crown of rejoicing, the crown of righteousness, the crown of glory, and the crown of life. They describe different rewards of heaven that God promises those who are faithful. So cool! I’m thinking about doing a future post just on the crowns but there is too much to unpack right now.
Look for unusual or surprising words or phrases that you want to dig into more and make note of them.
3.) Compare translations.
It’s best to compare a formal translation like NKJ, New King James, with a more modern translation like NIV, or New International Version This allows you to read the Scripture closer to the original translation as well as a less formal version that can help with understanding.
Here are some questions to ask after comparing translations:
- What did I learn about God?
- What did I learn about people?
- What did I learn about relating to God?
- What did I learn about relating to others?
4.) Consult your commentary to compare it with your results.
After you’ve started to piece together what the passage means it’s time to compare it to commentaries. It’s a great way to compare the thoughts you had with trusted sources to come to a final conclusion about the passage.
After digging out my commentary I discovered that James was using harsh words like “murderer” and “adulterer” in James 4 as a metaphor to expose what was going on in their hearts. While they weren’t actually killing each other, Christians were “murdering” others through slander, gossip, or disagreements. Jesus used similar language on the Sermon on the Mount.
If I had just read through this chapter without pausing to reflect on the language I never would have seen that.
Be like the Bereans who “were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” (Acts 17:11)
What do the commentaries say? How does it compare to what you thought? What surprises you?
5.) Find the lesson.
What is the purpose of the passage you’re reading today? Is the author trying to tell a specific group of people a lesson or is it for all Christians instead? If it’s just for a specific group of people or time make note of that.
After reading, praying, re-reading, asking questions, comparing translations, and comparing my findings to commentaries, I pieced together a lesson. James’s goal in writing to these early Christians was to help them mature in their life, live out what they said they believed, and live by godly, instead of worldly wisdom.
Now is the time to apply the lesson to our life. I’ll note that there isn’t always a specific lesson we can apply, but there will always be a lesson we can learn about God within each chapter.
James 1:23-24 reminds us that, “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.”
Let’s not be like that man in the story who walks away from the Word and “forgets” it. Here are some questions on how to pull lessons from a passage and/or apply it to your life.
- What does God want me to understand?
- What does God want me to believe?
- What does God want me to desire?
- What does God want me to do?