Inductive Bible Study

“These were more noble-minded that those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so,” Acts 17:11.

It is likely that your personal Bible reading and study could be identified as “inductive” though you may not be familiar with this use of the term. The word “inductive” has a mathematical, electrical, scientific, philosophical and legal usage. As applied to Bible reading and study it simply means – you engage yourself with the specific details of the text of Scripture. You do this yourself. The opposite of this is, to blindly accept the deductions of men and impose those into the text of Scripture.

I use the word “inductive” to describe the approach I believe we ought to take, when reading and studying the Bible. To me it simply means, you engage yourself personally with the text, careful to let the text determine what you believe, teach and practice.

Consider the opposite. If you decide (out of tradition, family or peer influence) what you want to believe, teach and practice – and then read the Bible in search for passages that sound like they confirm what you have already decided, that is not inductive and not objective. If you have been trained at the feet of sound Bible students, the non-inductive approach may not yield a steady stream of error. But it isn’t the best approach for the best results in your personal faith and practice.

1. Inductive Bible Study Begins With The Text. What the Bible says is your starting place; your first step! Out of that reading and study, your beliefs are formed and your behavior determined. You observe for yourself what the text of Scripture says; you read it in narrative order, watch for all contextual information, compare related passages, and move from the specifics of the text to sound conclusions. “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God,” (Rom. 10:17).

2. Inductive Bible Study Requires Mental Effort. It is often noted, we live in the age of visual literacy. Television, Drama and PowerPoint is preferred over individual reading and study. Modern methods of communication often take their place of prominence above the message. In some cases, the audience knows how it was said – but do not recall what was said. Personal inductive Bible study calls for individual involvement with the text. One-on-one à You and your Bible alone! You read it. Then read it again. As you do the individual work, the promise is: “…when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ,” (Eph. 3:4).

3. Inductive Bible Study Must Attend To Context. Context is simply the total literary setting of a word or phrase. Context takes into account: the time, the writer, the culture, the occasion, the original recipients, the immediate theme and all other Biblical information relevant to the matter at hand. When engaged in Inductive Bible Study, you must not be content to let someone dictate what the context is. You discover context yourself as you read the verse within the paragraph, within the epistle or book you have read – and all of this in the framework of your familiarity with the entire Biblical setting.

4. Inductive Bible Study Finds Its Intended End in Godly Behavior. The immediate purpose is to have a personal understanding of the Scriptures as a product of your own work with the text. The practical purpose is to know what you ought to believe, teach and practice. As a result of Inductive Bible Study, you are able to say: “This is what I believe; I’ve read it and studied it myself. This is what I know God said, because I’ve read it myself.” This is different than saying, “This is what our church teaches,” or “this is what my preacher says.” Hopefully, your local church teaches and practices the Scriptural pattern and the preachers you hear propose nothing for your belief but the Word of God. But your individual faith ought to be grounded in your individual reading and study. So that your life is led from day to day by your direct contact with the Word of God. Kay Arthur writes, "Inductive Bible study draws you into personal interaction with the Scripture and thus with the God of the Scriptures so that your beliefs are based on a prayerful understanding and legitimate interpretation of Scripture - truth that transforms you when you live by it." Once meaning is discovered in the text, the next step is self-inquiry: What does this mean to me today?

Warning: If you let someone teach you an “Inductive Bible Study Method,” you may defeat the whole purpose. The purpose is for you (the student) to read and study the text, leading to your conclusions and ultimately your behavior before God.

By Warren E. Berkley

For Further Research: "Independent Bible Study" by Irving L. Jensen, Chicago: Moody Press, 1963. Inductive Preaching, by Ralph L. Lewis with Gregg Lewis, Westchester, Ill: Crossway Books, 1983. Bill Cook’s Inductive Bible Study Page: The International Inductive Study Bible (New American Standard), Eugene, Oregon: 1993.

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