Inductive Bible Study Method: Observe | Interpret | Apply
The Inductive Bible Study Method is a way of studying the Bible that puts God first. As image bearers of God, we can only understand ourselves correctly through the lens of who God is, carefully studying the character and purposes of God, as revealed in the scriptures. This is critical to a Christian's growth and maturity.
Engaging in a deliberate and dedicated study of God's word can feel slow and difficult at times. It will mean some frustration, questions and learning to live deep in the "I don't know." But over time, seeking to understand the true meaning of God's word provides a backdrop for gospel-centered thinking, allowing us to discern truth and make wise decisions through a Biblical lens.
Ultimately, proper study of the scriptures will increase our knowledge of God transforming us into his image as the affections of our heart follow our minds. "[For when we] behold the glory of the Lord [we are] transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another." (2 Corinthians 3:18)
Could there be a more worthwhile pursuit?
If you're ready to get started with this Bible study method, follow the steps below. Don't worry about doing them all perfectly, or feeling like you must complete each step in this order. Use this method to guide your time and provide a general framework, but know that it can be fluid enough to meet the needs of the time you have and the text you are studying.
If this is your first time working with this type of study, we recommend reading this in full, and trying it a few times with this page as a reference. Then once you're more comfortable with the method, download the printable with a condensed version of this page from RM|EQUIPPING as a quick reminder of the process.
Before starting, gather your materials:
- Scripture: You can write directly in a Bible (like a journaling Bible) or we like to print out the book or passage we're studying on paper in a large font (10-12 pt.), double spaced. You can search what you'll be studying here, and copy and paste it into a word document to print.
- Worksheets/Extra Paper: To help guide your study and give you room to write down your thoughts, we designed these worksheets to go with the Inductive Bible Study method. Print out a handful (20-50) for you to use each time you're in the text, or feel free to grab an empty notebook or loose leaf paper to keep it simple!
- Binder/Folder: To stay organized, a binder or folder is helpful to keep everything together.
- Pens/Pencils/Markers: Some people like to just use one great pen, others use a whole slew of multi-colored colored pencils, pens or markers. We noted a few of our favorites here, but you use a system that works for you.
- Reference Materials/Books: Everything else can be accessed online, or you can slowly work towards building up a small library of the resources you find most helpful.
- Gather a group: (Optional, but encouraged!) Remember that fallible human minds have a hard time discerning truth in isolation. Consider grabbing a group of women to study the same book or passage at the same time. Then, meet once or twice a month, start a Voxer conversation, or begin an email chain to discuss what you're learning or even take time to listen to relevant teaching together.
Begin With Prayer:
We need God's help to understand his Word. Before reading and studying the Bible, always pray that the Holy Spirit would come and work during your time. Ask that God would open your eyes to new truths, to see God as holy as he is, and for His character, purposes and plans to come alive as you read. Of course, you can structure your prayer time in anyway you wish during your study - feel free to pray all throughout the study or just at the beginning and end – however the Spirit leads. But by all means, start with prayer, asking God for help as you strive to uncover truths in The Word.
Build A Framework and Context:
When you're first starting to dive into a new book of the Bible, start by reading the book's introduction in a study Bible (We personally like the ESV Study Bible) or find a trusted commentary. Read a bit about who the author was, look at the maps and timelines, and research the setting, people and culture when the text was originally written. Basically, get a feel for the historical and cultural context of the text. This will help you to discover what would the text have sounded like to the original hearers.
Start by answering the questions on an extra sheet of paper or in a notebook:
- Who wrote it?
- When was it written?
- What was the culture and setting like at the time?
- To whom was it written?
- Why did they write it?
Once you have some initial framework and context for the book you're about to begin studying, begin with Observation. You'll spend a significant amount of time in this portion of the study, but this is the part that will truly stretch and grow you to understand what the Bible actually says, and will build the basis for good theology and an understanding of who God is.
Observation: What does the text say?
- Read the text at least once all the way through for comprehension. (The "pros" recommend doing this once a week for the short books, and two or three times for the longer books during the duration of the study.)
- Read again, this time working through the text slowly and deliberately, marking:
- Key words (Feel free to make up your own markings, or check out this robust list from Precepts.)
- Time, locations and people
- Repeated words, ideas and phrases
- Transition words (but, therefore, because, likewise, if/then ...)
- Lists (Make a note when the author makes several points in a row.)
- Contrasts and comparisons
- As you work through the text, note any questions you have about the meaning of certain words, or of the text in general.
- For those of you who are more familiar with studying the Bible, we would encourage you at this point to mark major themes in the text, listed below. If you need further explanation on how to do this, you can find details here. If this type of study is brand-new to you, feel free to move to the next step and add this in as you become more confident.
- Gospel Truths
- New Self / Identity
- Great Commission
- Great Commandment
- The Church
- Redemptive Promises
- "Types" of Jesus
- Get out the dictionary. Look up the difficult words you don't know the meaning to. But also look up the keywords in the text (like holy, sanctification, abide), even if you think you know what they mean. You'll be surprised with what you discover! Note the appropriate meaning for the passage and any related words.
- Consult different translations for clarity and deeper understanding. (If you don't have hard-copy favorites on hand, we recommend Bible Gateway. Our go-to translations include ESV, NIV, CSB, RSV and NASB.)
- Look up related scripture (also known as cross-references). In some Bibles, related scriptures are listed in the middle column of the Bible, otherwise, you can use Study Light to do a word search. You can also use Blue Letter Bible for checking on specific word and seeing where the original Hebrew/Greek word was used in other scriptures (This cross-referencing, but going even another layer deep to see the original word).
Once you have a clearer picture of what the text says, move to Interpretation.
Interpretation: What does the text mean?
- Ask yourself: What would the original hearers have thought? It's critical to linger here before considering what this passage means to you today.
- Challenge yourself to evaluate how this passage fits within the greater theme of the Bible: Creation-Fall-Redemption-Restoration.
- Paraphrase: Rewrite the text in your own words. (This is challenging and hard, but the wrestle will be worth the effort.)
- Consult reliable commentaries. (An easy one is the ESV Study Bible. Here is a great list for the top commentaries for every book of the Bible or check out Precepts Austin and Blue Letter Bible, both which have online commentaries and sermons - but there are many great options. Just be sure to do your research to make sure they are founded on good theology.)
After you've discovered the meaning of the text, move to Application.
Application: How does the text change me?
- Answer these questions:
- What does this passage tell you about who God is?
- What does this passage tell you about your sin and need for a Savior? How does it change how you view yourself?
- How can these truths transform your life today?
- Remember that all actions begin as thoughts and desires of the heart. How do these truths transform what you love, worship and value most?
- In turn, how will these renewed desires change the way you respond to God and others?
- Are there practical things God is leading you to do differently as your heart changes?
- What might these truths look like in action? Is the Holy Spirit bringing to mind any specific people, circumstances, conversations or sins to mind for your prayer, repentance and reconciliation?
Take It Further
After a careful inspection of the text, here are some ways to respond to what God is teaching you:
- Journal or write down some of these conclusions for further reflection and meditation.
- Share what you learned with a spouse or close friend.
- Pray, repent, and ask God for what you need.
* As we mentioned at the beginning, we highly recommend you strive to discuss your process and what you're learning to a group of believers. Even the most mature believers still have many questions after studying the Bible in this way! Discussing themes, questions, observations, and conclusions with other women can illuminate things you missed and challenge your hidden biases.
For easy reference, we've designed a streamlined version of this page for you to print and keep with your study materials. You can download it here, or visit RM|EQUIPPING to download and print all our tools for the Inductive study method. We have also listed all our favorite tools (everything from pens to prayer journals) for quiet times and Bible study on our Resources page, so you can easily find what you need.
*For a more in-depth look at this type of study method, we recommend Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin.