Anyone can read the Bible, but it’s another thing altogether to read it for all it’s worth. To get the most out of the study of God’s Word, one must utilize a method that ensures integrity in the interpretative process. Such a method would allow the reader to come away from the text with an objective appraisal of the Scripture, and be able to apply the truth gleaned to one’s life. To that end, many Bible scholars and teachers prefer the Inductive Bible Study method. Inductive Study follows a three step process of 1) Observation, 2) Interpretation, and 3) Application.
One writer has noted that the Inductive Bible Study method “involves a careful scrutiny of every word of a particular text—combing through, making observations via repeated readings, and ultimately discovering how to apply what the text says in a practical way that changes one's thinking so that it lines up with God's Word” (Tennant, 2010). In the end, the Inductive Study method aids the reader to “rightly divide the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15, King James Version), to avoid the pitfalls of improper interpretation, and to apply what is learned to everyday life.Following the Inductive Study method will help the reader to draw from the text the meaning contained within the text, a process known as exegesis. A breakdown in the process inevitably leads to reading into the text a meaning not contained by the text, which is known as eisegesis. Proper exegesis allows the Word of God to speak for itself, and to produce for the diligent student of the Bible the meaning intended by the writer (and Author) in its proper context. The process begins with observation.
The first step in the Inductive Bible Study approach is Observation; that is, looking at the text and asking, “What does it say? Learning how to read is essential to answering that question. In their book, “Living By the Book: The Art and Science of Reading the Bible,” authors Howard and William Hendricks propose that to be a first-rate reader of the Bible, one must read thoughtfully, repeatedly, patiently, selectively, prayerfully, imaginatively, meditatively, purposefully, acquisitively, and telescopically (Hendricks & Hendricks, 2007, p. 77).That’s a mouthful, but the basic premise is to look at the text and ask the questions, “Who? What? Where? When? Why? and Wherefore? Allowing the text to answer these questions (rather than the reader through conjecture or prejudice) reveals the meat and potatoes of the passage.
Beyond these basics, the reader should look for things that are emphasized, things that are repeated, things that are related, things that are alike and unlike, and things that are true to life (Hendricks & Hendricks, 2007, p. 145). With carefully structured observation, the next step of interpretation becomes much easier.The second step in the Inductive Bible Study approach is Interpretation. Based on the facts uncovered through observation, interpretation asks the question, “What does it mean? ” If the student has been thorough in the observation process, the meaning of the passage will be easier to discern. The important thing to remember is that interpretation is not subjective; it is not for the reader to ask, “What does this mean to me? ” Literal interpretation is fundamental, as the passage may certainly have several applications, but it has only one correct interpretation.
In other words, it means what it means, not necessarily what we think it means.Again, good observation leads to good interpretation. Five keys to consider in order to arrive at the correct interpretation are content, context, comparison, culture, and the consultation of good extra-biblical resources such as concordances, dictionaries, atlases, handbooks, and commentaries. With these steps and tools, the reader can move from the work of interpretation to the process of application.
The third and final step of the Inductive Bible Study approach is Application; that is, taking everything learned through observation and interpretation and asking, “How does this apply to my life? Unfortunately, many people read the Word of God for information rather than transformation; but James admonishes the reader in his epistle, “do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22, New International Version). The study of God’s Word should be understood as an expedition into the heart and mind of God, a journey not to be taken lightly. It is a mission with purpose, not simply knowledge of God but a knowing of God.Face to face with divine revelation, it is a very honest and natural response to ask, “How do I respond to this? Life change is the goal of good inductive study, to produce transformed saints rather than simply better informed sinners. Questions to ask in the process of application include, “Is there an example for me to follow? Is there sin to avoid? Is there a promise to claim? Is there a command to obey? ” and “Is there a condition to meet? ” among others (Hendricks & Hendricks, 2007, pp.
338-342). The answer to these questions gives the reader a way to live out the truth that they have discovered, and thereby grow in their walk with God.Inductive Study isn’t easy, but the rewards far outstrip the effort. Following the Inductive Study method will give both the new believer and the seasoned saint an approach to studying God’s Word that provides solid understanding and fruitful living. By carefully and prayerfully following the steps of observation, interpretation, and application, the student of the Bible can be confident that they are reading the Bible for all its worth, and that they are honoring both the Word of God and the God of the Word.