For our final topic of discussion, we went back to the very first topic of our summer: the Bible. Every week, we’ve introduced different types of spiritual disciplines or what we’ve been calling, habits of faith. And although we talked about ways in which we can read, study and meditate on Scripture, with our limited time, we didn’t discuss too much on the how. So, with the remaining last three hangouts, we took time to practice the inductive bible study method.

The following materials was adapted from a core seminar series provided by the Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.

What is the inductive bible study method?

Inductive study is not something primarily Christian. It’s a way to study or reason that takes specific information to make broader conclusions. The opposite would be a deductive study which takes broader information to make specific conclusions.

In terms of using the inductive method to study the Bible, we have to do so without bringing our own agenda. What we need to focus on is that Scripture was not written in a vacuum. There is a context and a history that the writers of the Scriptures were writing in and writing for and an agenda that God had set forth by divinely inspiring the writers of the Scriptures.

“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”

1 Corinthians 2:14

We need to also remember that it is only by the help of the Holy Spirit that we can ever understand Scripture rightly and we must come to Scripture by faith that all Scripture was breathed by God and by His divine inspiration, there is no falsehood or fallibility in Scripture. Therefore, before we even study the Bible, we must always come to Scripture in prayer.

“Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.”

Psalm 119:18

The inductive bible study method can be split into three distinct parts. The key is to keep the order sequential. To skip straight to application is not only lazy, it leads to misinformed and wrong interpretations of Scripture.

  1. Observation. What does it say?
  2. Interpretation. What does it mean?
  3. Application. What does it mean for me?

Observation

The goal of observation is to interrogate the text. What you want to be able to answer are the “5 W’s.” Who? What? Where? When? Why? Who is speaking to whom? What are they saying? When are they saying it? Why do they say they are saying it? What is the context? Etc. Things that may help you to observe better are to mark key people, words and phrases in the passage, mark linking words, mark terms of conclusions, make a list of observable facts and patterns in the text, watch for contrasts and comparisons and note the expressions of time and geographic locations.

Being able to do a good and thorough observation will make for a good Bible study. It takes effort. But it will be effort well worth it. A solid and deeper observation and interpretation will result in a better application of the text.

Interpretation

The goal of interpretation is to find God’s agenda and goal for the text. Here are 7 guidelines to help you interpret better.

  • Context Rules. Your interpretation should be consistent with the theme, purpose, and structure of the book in which it is found. If it isn’t, you’ve made a wrong turn somewhere. Ask yourself if you’re considering the historic and cultural context or are you ignoring these things to get a more pleasing interpretation?
  • Let scripture interpret scripture. Always seek the full counsel of the Word of God: If your interpretation runs contrary to the clear, established doctrines of the faith then you need to reconsider your interpretation. No part of the bible will ever undermine another part of the bible. Sometimes sorting out what initially seems like a contradiction takes work, but this is the point of studying the bible. I think as you read the bible, you’ll be amazed at how consistent its teaching is on things like, sin, the nature of man, and the character of God.
  • Never base your convictions on an obscure passage of scripture. An obscure passage is one in which the meaning isn’t clear, even when the proper principles of interpretation are used. Again, employ the full counsel of the bible.
  • Interpret scripture as the author intends you to. Take the words you read in the bible at face value.  Often, that means interpreting “literally.”  By which I mean, it is what it says.  If it says God created the heavens and the earth, it means exactly that.  But of course not all the Bible intends to be taken literally. You need to take into account differences in genre, imagery, and symbolism to understand the author’s intent. God gave us the bible so we could read it easily and understand Him better, so we should not feel the need to reinterpret everything in a more “spiritual” manner.
  • Look for the main message of the passage. Always keep in mind what the author is trying to communicate. What’s the main idea? What’s the clear purpose? Any conclusions you come to must come from and support this main idea.
  • Study the OT in view of Jesus and the NT. Ask how an Old Testament passage fits within the teaching of the New Testament. Ask yourself these questions: 
    • Where does this passage fit in the timeline of redemptive history? 
    • How does this passage point to Jesus? 
    • How does this truth about OT Israel relate to the New Testament idea of the church? 
    • How is this passage foundational for an understanding of New Testament Christianity? 
    • Which New Testament passages help me to answer these questions? 
  • Adopt the New Testament’s attitude toward the Old Testament. Train your brain to make connections between NT passages and what has come before in the Old Testament. Ask these three questions: 
    • How is this passage a fulfillment of something promised in the Old Testament? 
    • How is this New Testament idea different from or similar to an Old Testament teaching? 
    • In what way does this New Testament passage clarify, unveil, fulfill or amplify something from the Old Testament?

These 7 guidelines are extremely helpful to interpretation and it’s only after we properly interpret a passage that we can move on to applying it. The more we study the bible, the better our observations will become and the clearer our interpretations will become. And it will be obvious that certain texts will not have direct application but others will. The degree of application depends on the breadth of observation and interpretation.

Application

The goal of inductive bible study as a whole is application. Unless we apply what we have observed and interpreted into our own lives, those efforts are in vain and we’ve accomplished nothing of value.

“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.”

James 1:22-24

Some things that keep us from applying Scripture or apply it well is doing a poor job of observation and interpretation of Scripture and thereby having difficulty understanding Scripture, not spending enough time to think hard about how it connects to our lives, being unwilling to consider sin in our lives, and applying Scripture only by ourselves rather than doing it with someone who may see things in our lives that we don’t.

The hardest part is that sometimes, we think the job of the Bible is to always affirm us and encourage us rather than changing us and conforming us to heart of God and train ourselves for godliness.

“Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.”

1 Timothy 4:7-10

Here are some guidelines to help us apply Scripture well.

  1. Pray first.  I mentioned this in the beginning, but it’s worth mentioning it again. The Scripture says: “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Romans 8:7).  That is our nature apart from God’s grace.  We need to pray for spiritual sight to see truth in God’s word.  Psalm 119:18 is a great prayer when opening up God’s word, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.”
  2. Make time to think. Sometimes in the mornings, you’re running late, you didn’t sleep much and you can only grab just a few minutes in God’s word and in prayer. That’s fine!  But plan at least normally to have enough time to let God’s word really weigh on your heart.
  3. Write. For many of us, we think best as we write. Write down what you’re thinking as you’re thinking it. We learned about journaling last week and that the pencil makes for a wonderful eye.
  4. Talk. With someone else. I hope that what you’re thinking about in your study of God’s word is a regular topic of conversation with the people you do life with, friends and family. Invite them to help you apply God’s word to your life.
  5. Listen. Sometimes after you’ve spent time in the text on your own, it can be good to listen to what someone else has thought about it.  Sermons are normally best for this. Or you can buy printed sermons by pastors you trust. Another good source is a passage-by-passage devotional book like “Morning and Evening” by C.H. Spurgeon or “For the Love of God” by D.A. Carson. “Look at the Book” by Dr. John Piper is also great. So is the Bible Project to understand whole books and themes.
  6. Apply. And lastly, here are some questions you can refer to as you look to apply Scripture to your life.
    • Does it point out sin in my life?
    • What assumptions does it have that I don’t share?
    • Is there a command to obey in the passage?
    • Is there an encouragement in this text?
    • Is there a promise for me?
    • Does it teach me something about God?
    • Does it teach me something about myself?
    • What evidence for my faith does it give me?
    • What will I do differently today because of this text?
    • How can I model/share/teach this truth to encourage others?
    • How could my family or church apply this text?

I pray that this week’s Fresh Morning has been helpful to you and I encourage you to visit the other core seminars provided by the Capitol Hill Baptist Church for biblical and practical resources to growing in your faith.

Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life

By Donald S. Whitney

Every topic we’ve covered has been adapted from this book. If you want to go more in depth on any topic or you want to have one organized resource of everything we’ve talked about, this is the book for you!