The Value of Inductive Bible Study

August 04, 2023

The story is told of a man who was seeking God’s will for his life. I know what I’ll do, he thought. I’ll just open my Bible, point to a verse, and that will be my answer. So he closed his eyes, opened his Bible, pointed to a page, then read the verse out loud: “Matthew 27:5...‘So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself’” (NIV). That doesn’t sound right, he thought. I’ll try again. And so he repeated the procedure: “Luke 10:37...‘Go and do likewise’” (NIV). This isn’t getting any better. I’d better try one more time. Slightly flustered, he closed his eyes and pointed a third time: “John 13:27...‘What you are about to do, do quickly’” (NIV).

As absurd as this story sounds, it illustrates the dangers of using improper methods of Bible study. If we want to engage in a good, inductive study of Scripture, we must avoid certain pitfalls. For instance, we must look at the entire context of a passage rather than focusing on an isolated verse or phrase. In addition, we must do all we can to understand the true meaning of the passage before we attempt to apply it to our lives.


As a teacher, using good, inductive Bible study methods will benefit you in two ways: First, you will personally begin to understand Scripture better, and be more accurate and precise in interpreting and applying Scripture. Second, you will be better equipped to accurately and concisely share the truths of Scripture with your students.


Good, inductive Bible study involves the following five key principles:

1. Observation—What does this passage say, and how does it say it? Inductive Bible study looks beyond individual verses to understand the underlying principle being taught in the surrounding paragraphs and chapters, and even considers the overall theme of the particular book of Scripture being studied. We must consider how each verse of Scripture relates to its surrounding context. As the opening story illustrated, taking verses and phrases out of context will lead to confusion or, worse yet, a tragic misunderstanding of Scripture.


2. Interpretation—What did this passage mean to its original hearers in Bible times? Although intended for all believers, Scripture was originally written to people in a culture far different from our own. Thus, inductive Bible study examines the culture of Bible times, including how the message would have been interpreted in that culture. In addition, Scripture was often written to address a particular situation. For example, Galatians was written to a church that was being misled by false teachings, while First Thessalonians was penned to encourage a congregation enduring intense persecution. By understanding these situations, we are better able to grasp the spiritual principle God seeks to teach us through each passage.


3. Application—How do the teachings of this passage apply to our lives? Application is important; Scripture is as fresh and relevant today as it was when it was first written. But our application must be accurate or we run the risk of making Scripture say something it was never intended to say. It is only after observing the context of Scripture and interpreting its meaning that we are ready to draw out spiritual principles and apply them to our lives.


4. Response—What are we going to do about the teaching of this passage? This is where the power and authority of Scripture are discovered. If we stop at simply understanding Scripture, our Bible study is incomplete. Scripture is more than words on a page. It must become real to us and compel us to action. God’s Word is meant to transform our lives. We must each personally respond to its teachings. Be sure you structure your class in such a way that you get to the response time before the end of your class. Your Teacher’s Guide includes many more activities than you will have time to complete, so be sure to prayerfully choose activities that will lead you to the response the Holy Spirit wants from your class. Be sure to save time for that response before time to close.


5. Communication—How can we share what we’ve discovered with others? The “crowning jewel” of inductive Bible study is when we take the truths that have been learned and applied to our own lives, and share them with others. This communication may take the form of teaching a Sunday School class or small group, sharing Christ with an unsaved friend, or offering encouragement to a fellow Christian who is hurting. Both you and your students are part of this communication loop.


Inductive Bible study isn’t always easy. It involves a commitment of time, and may require us to “dig a little deeper” as we examine the Word and prepare to teach our students. But, in the end, we will reap the benefits of a better understanding of Scripture, a more consistent Christian walk, and a greater ability to convey God’s truths to the people we are teaching.


by James Meredith

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