The Method

A significant way to mine the depths of Scripture is through the inductive Bible study method. This method can be summarized with these three points:

  1. Observation (ask, “What do I see?”)
  2. Interpretation (ask, “What does it mean in context?”)
  3. Application (ask, “What does it mean for my life?”)

Observation sets the tone for your entire study, yet it is the step we most often overlook. It is easy to skip directly to step 2 and try to interpret what we read. But observation is vital: If you don’t know what the text says, you can’t determine what it means.

You can begin making simple observations of the text by asking these questions: “Who are the characters?” “What is happening?” “Where is this taking place?” Be sure to observe the individual words, especially if they’re repeated. Is the text trying to emphasize material by spending a lot of time on it?  Don’t miss connecting words such as “but,” or “therefore,” since these can be the key to the passage.

Some people like to make bullet lists of observations, while others opt for a color-coding system, and still others prefer making notes in the margins of their Bible. 

No observation is too simple.

This is the step we typically associate with Bible study, because we want to know what the text means. Here we begin with questions such as, “Why is this idea presented here?” “How do the ideas I observed fit together?”

Interpretation begins with observation. Without good observations, our interpretations will likely be misguided.

To properly interpret, you’ll also want to consider the context of the passage. No verse exists in a vacuum. Ask questions like, “What happens before and after this particular section?” “What’s going on behind the scenes in the ancient cultural context?”  You can use a concordance to see where particular words occur throughout the Bible to help you interpret Scripture with Scripture (see also the Word Study link on the right). Finally, after you’ve spent time engaging with the text, take time to interact with the community of faith. Talk to friends about your findings, and consult commentaries, Bible dictionaries, or Bible handbooks to gain perspective from what others see in the text.

A steady gaze into God’s Word should change our life, not merely add to our skill in Bible trivia. In application, we must take special care to pray through what we have learned, and listen for the Holy Spirit’s direction. This is where we let the Word begin to read us.

Make a personal action plan based on how the Word is speaking to you. Is there a command to obey? a sin to avoid? an example to follow? Brainstorm the different relationships or roles which this truth might apply, such as with your family, friends, or coworkers.  Finally, find someone to hold you accountable as you seek to apply the Scripture to your life.

A Final Word:
The goal of this method is not an additional line on our to-do lists. Our heart’s desire is to walk in obedience as a response of gratitude for Christ’s work on our behalf. Let this method be a tool to aid you in offering a life of love back to our Savior — in the power of the Holy Spirit, to the glory of the Father (John 15:7-8).