Inductive Bible Study has five basic steps, which will enable you to open up the text of the Scriptures in a new and exciting way.
As the Bible is the inspired Word of God, we need to approach it with a willingness to learn from God. We are not merely performing an academic study of an ancient text. The Psalmist prayed, “Open my eyes Lord that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Ps 119:18). This needs to be our continual prayer too, as we read and study the Bible.
The natural unit of the Bible is the book, not chapters and verses. Chapters were not added until the 13th century, and verses in the 15th century. Reading a whole book of the Bible gives the wider context, and is the way they were originally intended to be read, especially the letters. As you read through the whole book, look for the main themes, and begin to ask what the main message of the book is.
The key here is learning to see that the text actually says, not what we think it says. Observation takes time and diligence to open up the text. There are a number of observation questions to ask.
The most helpful are the following
Who? - Who are the main characters?
What? - What can we learn about the main characters?
What events or emotion is seen?
When? - Timing (before, after). Verb tenses (past, present, future)
Where? - Places and geography
Repetition - Repeated words and themes give the emphasis of the passage
Contrast - Opposites: words, concepts or characters. Look for the word 'but'
Results or conclusions - Indicated by words such as: therefore, so that ...
Commands - Instructions to be obeyed
Quotations of OT - Where is it from?
How does the quotation add to the author’s argument?
Figures of speech - Non-literal language (simile, metaphor, symbols)
A more extensive and detailed list is given on the observation questions page.
After thorough observation we are ready to move to the next stage. This is called interpretation, which is finding the meaning of the passage, particularly what it meant to the original readers. It is necessary to appreciate the cultural and historical setting of the author’s original audience, so we can attempt to understand how the message would have impacted their lives. For accurate interpretation, we also need to appreciate its type of literature and the structure of the book. The key question to ask is “why?”, particularly taking what we have just observed, and asking why the author wrote that to his readers.
More extensive information about the process of interpretation is given on the interpretation questions page.
The pages in the section on the types of literature found in the Bible give some explanation on how to read and understand them:
Book of Acts
There is also a page which gives help in the understanding on the passages concerning the second coming of Jesus and end times (Eschatology)
The final and most important stage of Bible study is application. This is when we bring the original message through the centuries and across the cultures to today, and seek to find a practical outworking of the text. The key is to identify the timeless truths, which are not affected by time and culture, and bring them to today. Application should be personal, as we meditate on the Scripture and allow God to speak to us. We should also consider whether there is a broader application to the church or even to the world today. There are more suggestions on how to find relevant application from the Scriptures on the application page.