Inductive Versus Deductive Study
To study the Bible inductively means to use information in the passage to reach a conclusion about what the passage is saying. This might sound obvious, and we probably assume this is what were doing when we read the Bible. But, whether aware of it or not, we all come to passages of Scripture with conclusions already made.
For example, if you have concluded that a certain brand of clothing is high-quality and fashionable, then you may assume each item of that brand is high-quality and fashionable, without looking closely at each item yourself.
When we study a Bible passage inductively, we try very hard to make our conclusions about what the text is saying from evidence within the text, rather than from information or opinions outside of the text.
How To Do Inductive Bible Study
Given everything above, it sounds like the inductive Bible study method is a complicated way to study. That couldnt be further from the truth. When it comes down to it, the inductive approach contains three primary steps:
Yes, there are things we must do within each step, but the general approach to the inductive Bible study method is three steps. We must observe the text before we can interpret it. Then, once weve rightly interpreted the text, we can make appropriate application to our lives.
Lets start with observation.
Compare Bible Translations And Write Down Any Questions And Observations
Using the parallel tab, Im going to compare the ESV with the NIV and NKJV. Im also going to generally observe whats going on and ask questions:
- When was the sixth hour?
- ESV+NKJV says housetop but NIV says roof
- Whose house was it?
- Peter was hungry
- ESV+NKJV the heavens and NIV heaven. whats the difference?
- The sheet had four corners
- ESV animals, NIV+NKJV four-footed animals
- The voice was telling Peter to eat all kinds of animals
- ESV+NKJV common, NIV impure. Is there a difference?
- Peter went back and forth with the voice of the Lord three times
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Observation: What Does The Passage Say
When engaging in this step, it helps to know some of the background of the text, to paraphrase sections of it into your own words, and to make note of cross-references within the text.
- Why was it written?
- When was it written?
Some Bibles have summaries at the beginning of each book that will provide some of this information. Study Bibles are especially helpful for this purpose.
My highly recommended study Bibles:
- The Apologetics Study Bible This Bible is excellent for helping Christians to deepen their confidence in Christ and to be able to defend their faith against moral and spiritual relativism.
- The Cultural Context Study Bible If you want to know what life was like in Biblical times, and understand the culture and practices that shaped the society, then this is the study Bible for you.
Example: Galatians – When studying Pauls letter to the Galatians, it helps to know that it was written sometime between AD 49 and AD 58. This makes it one of the earliest New Testament writings.
Knowing this, we can conclude that Jesus followers started with a high Christology .
Paul and the early church saw Jesus as Lord , as the post-resurrection revealer , as the preexistent one sent forth by the Father , and as the changer of the world structure .
Having a contemporary translation of the Bible will help with this.
What Is The Difference Between Deductive And Inductive Bible Study
The term inductive is used, regarding reasoning, when we look at a specific circumstance and, after understanding it, apply it to more general circumstances. Deductive reasoning is taking a more global or general circumstance and then looking for specifics to back it up.
For instance, if we do an inductive study of Luke 8:22-25, we first read that Jesus got in a boat with His disciples to cross a lake. As they set out, Jesus fell asleep. During the crossing, a storm arose, one that was so wild it unnerved the disciples, several of whom were seasoned fishermen. They cried out to Jesus to wake up because they were perishing. When Jesus awoke, He rebuked the wind and waves so that calm fell. Thats the story.
We can infer from this passage that Jesus had authority over the natural worldat least the wind and the waves. We can also infer that Jesus wants His followers to demonstrate their faith in Him during storms. These would be reasonable conclusions of an inductive study.
One form of study seeks to discover the truth that emerges from an understanding of the text. The other form starts with a truth and goes to the text to seek examples. Both have their place but were going to explore the inductive method.
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Inductive Bible Study: How Kay Arthur Studies The Bible
Before I share with you how I study Gods word using the inductive Bible study method, I want to share with you why I study it this way.
As Moses said in Deuteronomy 32:47, it is my life! Jesus, quoting from Deuteronomy 8:3, said we are to live on every word that comes from the mouth of God. Like manna, it is our daily sustenance. There are 66 books in the Bible, and I believe God wants us to know all 66. In Peters final letter, he told us it is everything we need for life and godliness . The word of God is my plumb line by which I measure everything I hear and read. His word is truth!
You say, But I dont have the intelligence or education to understand it. If you are a Christian, you are indwelt by the Spirit of God. He is your teacher and your helper. If I can do it, you can. I often tell people any ol bush will do to set on fire with the fire of God.
What Is Inductive Bible Study
Before we can talk about the how to of the inductive Bible study method, we must first define what it is. At its simplest, inductive Bible study is a simple and effective step-by-step approach to interpreting and studying the Bible. It is time tested and generally regarded by Bible-believing Christians to be the best way to study Scripture. The goal is to walk you through the steps of reading and interpreting Scripture to applying it to your life.
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Interpretation: What Does The Passage Mean
- Write down and then answer any questions you have about the passage or any confusing terms.
- Write down any personal insights you have related to the passage, and then after youve done this, you can consult a Bible commentary for additional insight.
It may help to pick up a study Bible, a life application Bible, or a good commentary to help you interpret Scripture, especially when you come to places where you really don’t know what’s going on.
My favourite resources for interpreting Scripture are the Apologetics Study Bible, the Cultural Context Study Bible, and Nicky Gumbel’s Bible in One Year app.
Example: Exodus 32 – If we return to the Exodus passage, we can ask what the heck is going on. Why does God send a plague in punishment for idolatry? Why do so many people die violently? How can a good and loving God sanction such anger and violence? How does this even make sense?
But when we reflect on the situation, we realise that the deeper truth here is that worshipping idols leads to our destruction. And isnt this true of everyone? God may not send a plague because I have set up wealth and comfort as an idol, but I may feel empty and hallow inside because new cars and a full bank account dont give my life purpose.
And this leads to the application part of inductive Bible study.
Observation Answers The Question: What Does The Passage Say
It is the foundation which must be laid if you want to accurately interpret and properly apply God’s Word. Have you ever read a book, chapter, or verse of the Bible and five minutes later been unable to remember anything you have read? So often we read the Bible with our eyes but not with our mind. There are several reasons for this. Either
- we think God’s Word will magically make an impression on us without any effort on our part, or
- we don’t really believe we can understand what we’ve read, or
- we are waiting for the pastor to teach on this section of Scripture so we’ll know what to believe.
Often, however, we forget what we have read simply because we don’t know what to look for in the text. Therefore, in the first part of this book you are going to learn what to look for when you read your Bible.
Because observation is discovering what the passage is saying, it requires time and practice. You’ll discover that the more you read and get to know a book of the Bible, the more its truths will become obvious to you. You’ll be awed at the wealth of spiritual riches contained in even the shortest books of the Bibleand you will have discovered it yourself! You will know that you know!
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Interpretation: What Does The Text Mean
The observation phase was all about observing what the text says, but the interpretation phase is the next step. And its in this phase we start to look at what the text means.
Your job at this stage is to discover what the author is trying to communicate. And to do this, you need to look at the context . Here are a few questions you can ask:
- What is the cultural and/or historical context of this passage?
- What else do I know about the book, author, and broader context of the passage?
- What other Scripture passages might help me better interpret this one?
- Have I overlooked anything or made any assumptions?
- What is the clearest meaning of this text?
There are a few essential rules to remember when attempting to interpret a passage:
- Dont twist Scripturemeaning, dont manipulate the text to get it to say something youd like for it to say. This is a dishonest way to interpret the text.
- Look for the plainest interpretation first. Believe that the text means what it says. Sometimes there will be figurative language and confusing imagery, but dont start by looking for hidden meaning. Start with the obvious.
- Scripture interprets Scripture. Allow the Bible to help you understand other passages of the Bible. Where similar words are used, explore the context of each of those instances.
- Avoid basing important doctrines on obscure passages.
- Connect each passage back to the gospel and the broader message of the Bible.
The Three Steps Of An Inductive Bible Study
First, when you observe the text youre looking for:
- key words
Just mark the text or keep notes on what you notice in the observation step.
For example, if you were studying in I John 1:5-7, which key words would you mark in the text?
5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
I John 1:5-7, ESV
Did you notice the repetition and contrast of light and darkness? What about the words truth and fellowship? This is what it means to observe the text and ask what is says. You can use this step to look up any words you dont know.
Next, youll want to ask what does the text mean as you move on to interpretation. You do this by digging deeper, looking at cross-references, and trying to summarize the main idea. Those of you who are familiar with a Charlotte Mason homeschool style will be familiar with the art of narration. In the inductive method, you use narration in this second step.
Finally, youll apply what the text means to you life. What do you learn about God? Human nature? How does your life need to change?
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Inductive Bible Study Method Summary
There you have it, a step by step guide on how to get started with the inductive Bible study method. Want to learn how to incorporate inductive Bible study into your daily routine? This Bible study journalwill walk you through a 10-day, in-depth study of John chapter 1. This chapter gives us some great, foundational teaching of the life, ministry, and deity of Jesus and sample of inductive bible study! Alternatively, you may which to use this 40-day inductive Bible study worksheet to walk you through an in-depth study of what it means to rejoice always, a study on Philippians.
An Example Of Inductive Bible Study: Isaiah 5: 8
What does the text say?
I first read Isaiah 55 in different translations. I chose HCSB, ESV, NIV, NLT, and The Message. I choose these translations because some are more word-for-word and others more thought-for-thought. Then I made some observations of the specific verses I was focusing on:
- Repeated Words/phrases include:
- My ways are higher than your ways and My thoughts are higher than your thoughts.
- The idea of returning to God repeats
What does the text mean?
Taking all the observations into account I began to look for a universal principle.
Thus, I concluded that the theological principle could be: God is higher than humans and thus able to save them.
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Interpretation Answers The Question: What Does The Passage Mean
And the basis for accurate interpretation is always careful observation. Interpretation is the process of discovering what the passage means. As you carefully observe Scripture, the meaning will become apparent. However, if you rush into interpretation without laying the vital foundation of accurate observation, your understanding will be colored by your presuppositionswhat you think, what you feel, or what other people have said, rather than what God’s Word says.
Interpretation is not necessarily a separate step from observation, for often, as you carefully observe the text, at that very moment you begin to see what it means. Thus, interpretation flows out of observation.
However, interpretation can also involve separate actions or steps that go beyond merely observing the immediate text. One of these exercises is investigating cross-references. First and foremost, let Scripture interpret Scripture. You may also use other helps, such as word studies or the evaluation of resources such as commentaries and Bible dictionaries to check your conclusions or to supplement your understanding of the historical or cultural setting of the text.
Resource: How To Do An Inductive Bible Study
How to do an Inductive Bible Study by Pastor Tim Molter
Thank you for taking the time to do something that is so important learning how to correctly read and apply the Bible. Why use the Inductive method? Because deductive reasoning is like a bad medical doctor who gives you a solution without detecting the cause of the health issue. Inductive reasoning is like a good doctor who investigates the health issue in order to give you the correct solution. When you are done with learning this Bible study method, you will read the Word and be amazed by its contents. The Bible will come alive for you and you will experience a never ending supply of encouragement and a better understanding of the Scriptures.
O Observation Search the Scriptures, they testify of Jesus John 5:39
I Interpretation Everything written in the Bible is all about Jesus John 5:46
C Correlation Expounded all the Scriptures, they are about Jesus Luke 24:27
A Application All things in the Bible were written about Jesus Luke 24:44
Method to Study the Bible
Observation What is being said?
Read the scripture being studied several times carefully, and each time reread looking for something specific.
1 Who or whom is involved?
2 What are they doing?
3 Where are they? Where are they going?
4 When did this happen, what happened before this, what will happen after this?
5 Why is this happening, what happened to lead up to this event? Had this been foretold?
Interpretation What is the meaning?
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How To Do The Inductive Bible Study Method
Above all, we hope youre reading the Bible as your primary source of truth, knowledge, encouragement, and growth. It is the only book inspired by God and without error. Many people use the inductive study method to help understand the Bible, both in its original context and as it applies to life today.
This method of studying the Bible has 3 basic steps, guiding the reader from specific details to more general principles in the text. The 3 steps are:
- Determine who, what, when, where, why, and how
- Note repeated words, lists of things
- Identify contrasting words, cause and effect
While making observations, turn it into a conversation with God as you read so that youre actually asking God these questions and allowing him, by his Spirit, to lead you to the answers. Studying without observing is like cooking a meal without paying attention to the ingredients. Jackie Hill Perry, Jude Study, LifeWay.com
- Look at cultural/historical context to the original hearers of the passage
- Consider details about the author, setting, type of literature it is, etc.
- Investigate other Bible texts to help you understand
- Connect the passage to the gospel and the bigger picture of the Bible
The underlying goal of inductive Bible study is to investigate Scripture, understanding what it says, what it meant to its original audience, and what it means for life today.
Remember, its the Holy Spirit who gives understanding of Gods word .