Independent inductive bible study requires that the student do his or her own research and not rely on the interpretation of others. Inductive bible study emphasizes letting the text speak for itself, forcing students to immerse themselves in the biblical passage rather than in commentaries or study helps. As we will see, there is a place for commentaries and study bibles, but only as an aid and only after the text itself has been thoroughly explored.
Inductive Bible Study is methodical. There is a proper path to follow to determine what the Scriptures are saying. There are specific steps necessary in order to keep our approach inductive and independent. Skipping one of the steps or taking the steps out of order will result in a less effective understanding and application of the scripture.
Step #1 – Observation
When studying a passage of the bible, we begin by observing that passage. We begin our study by asking, what does the text say. It requires that we be good readers. It requires that we be detectives. And, it requires that we look at the big picture. But we always want to know what does the text say. To accomplish this we must look for and understand the following components of any passage:
- Terms – the meaning of the specific words in a passage.
- Structure – the parts of speech in a sentence, and the development of sentences within a paragraph.
- Literary Forms – understanding the structure of different literary genres.
- Atmosphere – understanding the historical context of the passage.
Observations do not try to determine meaning. Meaning comes from the interpretation phase. Therefore, observation statements use the same words as the text and does not make any assumption about the meaning of those words by replacing them with synonyms.
Where the process of observation become difficult is when the text doesn’t make sense. But observation doesn’t try to create meaning or sense of the text, but merely observe what it says. Avoid short circuiting the process by beginning to assign meaning to early.
The task of observation is an on-going task, and one should never think they have
exhausted all there is to observe.
Step #2 – Interpretation
After observing the passage, we are ready to interpret the passage. We are ready to ask the question, what is the point of the passage? There is only one true interpretation of any passage of scripture. That interpretation is the meaning, principle, or point that the original author was trying to communicate to his original readers.
In interpretation, we are attempting to stand in the author’s shoes and ask, what did he mean? What was he trying to say? What principle was the author trying to communicate? What is the key point of the passage to the original readers? To accomplish this we:
- Ask interpretative questions – Developing questions are the key to interpretation.
- Utilize good hermeneutics – There are specific rules of interpretation which will guide our understanding of a passage.
Interpretation moves beyond simple observation, and begins assigning meaning to those observations. Because the scripture is the written word, meaning then is closely connected with definition, connotation, and meaning of words.
However, because the bible was written in ancient Hebrew and Greek, we sometimes loose the subtle nuances of the words of scripture. To recapture the full meaning of the words of scripture as intended by the original author, we have to take the extra effort and do a word study.
Step #3 – Correlation
The Bible never contradict itself. Therefore, we must always check our interpretation against other passages of scripture to make sure we have the proper interpretation. The correlation step asks, where does the passage fit in the overall teaching of God’s word? This requires that we:
- Capture the unique contribution of the text
- Let Scripture interpret scripture
The correlation step in our process guards us against wrong interpretation as we test our conclusions with the unified message of the scriptures.
However, we can not hope to correlate every passage with the entire bible. For one, we don’t have time to do a full review of the entire bible with each passage we are studying. Instead, the process of correlation requires that we connect the passage with what we currently know about the whole of scripture, and then narrow down our correlation to specific related passages. Finally, the process is always on-going. As we study more and more of scripture, we will find that interpretations we have done in the past will be modified and improved as we gain in our understanding of more and more of the bible.
Step #4 – Verification
Up to this point, our study has been independent, using only the bible and tools which help the observation process. However, in this step we must ask, is the meaning I discovered the best meaning? How have others understood this passage? If our interpretation is so unique that no one else in the history of the church has come up with this, our interpretation is on shaky ground. Therefore we look the good bible commentators to verify our interpretation. To do this we will learn:
- How to choose a good commentary
- How to use a good commentary
Verification is to verify your conclusions with other bible scholars. This serves only as a final check on your interpretation to make sure that we are in the ball park with our personal inductive bible study. For example, if you’ve come up with an interpretation that no one else has in the history of Christendom, then you are probably wrong in your interpretation. Let’s face it, we aren’t that smart!
Commentaries are especially useful when you face difficult interpretive questions that just can’t be answered from your own inductive study. However, be careful, because commentaries often disagree. Never use just one commentary, but check two or three reliable commentaries. If there interpretations differ, then read through the justification each uses. Objectively weigh the justifications and if you’ve done your own independent study of the passage, you’ll be able to make an informed decision as to which interpretation is most likely the accurate one. Finally, remember, commentaries and study bibles are not inspired by God. They are just one person’opinion.
For that reason, using commentaries are to be left for the end of our study, not the beginning. The Scriptures will always mean more to us when we have done our own discovery than if we short cut the process and just read commentaries and study bibles.
Step #5 – Application
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.
It is not enough to know what the passage says, or even what it means. We must make the bridge from knowing about the Bible to living it. This is called Application. Here we ask the question, what does the point or principle of the passage mean to me? How does it work in my own life? What does it mean to me today? This is a three step process of:
- Determining the timeless principle.
- Personalizing the principle.
- Practicing the principle.
While there is only one proper interpretation of a passage, there are numerous applications for a passage. The interpretation of a passage asks what the author originally meant for his original readers to understand. Application asks us to take that original interpretation and connect it to our lives. Therefore, each person may have a different application stemming from the same interpretation. Furthermore, one might come back to the same passage some time later and find a completely different application because their life situation has changed.
Independent Inductive Bible Study is one of the best way to understand and interpret the Scripture. Always pray to God first before studying for insight and for applying the passage. You already know that God wants you to do two things: obey His Word and share it with others. In your prayer tell God that you are ready to obey what He will show you and that you are willing to share that application with others.
The following (SPECK) questions my help you apply this passage to your life.
1. Is there SIN for me to avoid?
2. Is there PROMISE for me to claim?
3. Is there EXAMPLE for me to follow?
4. Is there COMMAND for me to obey?
5. Is there KNOWLEDGE for me to gain?
Carson, Ken. Bible Study Methods. Grace Institute for Biblical Leadership Spring, 2005.
Warren, Rick. Bible Study Methods: Twelve Ways You Can Unlock God’s Word