In my last article, I promised some instructions and practical tips on how to study your Bible. I truly believe that more people would study diligently if they were taught these very simple, yet very productive skills. The absolute best way to glean the most from your Bible study is a method called “inductive” Bible study.
“Inductive” means we are starting with the source itself and using the source as its own reference. Simply put, the Bible is the primary source of study to learn about God and what He says in the Bible. This is in contrast to the habit of starting with a commentary to explain Scripture. As I said in the previous article, commentaries from trusted sources are great tools to use. But they pale in comparison to allowing the Bible itself to be its own best commentary. More on that in a moment . . .
The three main steps of inductive Bible study are Observation, Interpretation, and Application. In that order. Many of us skip straight to the application step before we’ve truly observed and interpreted the text. It is not responsible to try to apply a text before we’ve properly understood its meaning.
I’ve seen countless examples of Christians taking random verses or passages out of context and applying those Scriptures to their own lives. Before I really understood how to study Scripture, I was guilty of the same thing. I call it the “lucky dip” method. You need an answer from the Lord. You open your Bible randomly and read a passage. Something in that passage grabs your attention and you think “that must apply to me in this situation” because it sounds so good. Or worse, you try to figure out a way to make it fit your situation personally.
This method does not properly handle Scripture in context. Context always rules.
The three steps
In the observation step, you interrogate the text much like an investigative journalist would. You take your passage and read through the entire passage so you can place yourself in the appropriate context. Most times, this requires at least the whole chapter you are reading. Often times, you need to read the whole book. Depends on the literary style. Find more on literary styles here.
While you are reading through the whole passage, you must interrogate the Scripture with the following questions: Who, What, When, Where, Why and How. These are commonly referred to as the 5 W’s and an H questions. Are you having flashbacks of high school English class yet?
Once you have read through, asking the 5 W’s and an H questions, you should have noticed some Key Words. Key Words are words or phrases that are repeated throughout the passage. They unlock the meaning of the passage. Without these Key Words, the passage would not be understandable. “Who” is always the easiest question to ask and will give you the first clue to some Key Words. Ask yourself “Who is the author?”, “Who is the audience?”, “Who is named?”. These are easy questions to answer.
While you are noting the Key Words, you will want to mark each one in a distinctive way with some colored pencils or pens. This causes those Key Words to stand out so that you can then make lists on everything you learn from each of the Key Words.
PLEASE don’t skip this step. This step is critical to understanding the passage. Make a separate list for each of the Key Words you just marked. While this takes a little extra effort, you will be amazed at how much you learn. The benefits far outweigh the cost.
Grab another sheet of paper and write down any questions that might arise as you are observing. They will most likely be answered as you continue onto the next step of Interpretation. Cross the questions off as you gain an answer and watch how God reveals Himself to you as a result of your diligence to seek out the truth contained in His Word.
That is the end of the Observation step. We’ll move on to Interpretation in the next article. Hang in the with me. This is a process and it is very much worth the time and effort.
If you really enjoy this, check out this ministry. Precept Ministries has taught me much about how to study the Bible over the last 6 years. They are an invaluable tool and resource for continuing on in the Inductive study method. I receive no endorsement from them to recommend their website. I am speaking strictly from personal experience with their training and tools.