In the coming days I will (eventually) get into the details of inductive Bible study (with some printable study tools) but there are a few topics I’m going to cover before I zoom in.
First off, I should probably define inductive Bible study since everything I will be talking about is within the framework of the inductive method. So, here we go:
There are essentially two ways that we can approach the Bible: deductively or inductively.
In the deductive approach, one comes to the text with a thesis and then seeks out passages to support their thesis. (You already have an opinion on a topic so you look for verses to support your opinion.) One has already, to a certain extent, drawn conclusions before reading the whole text of Scripture in context. The problem with this approach is that verses get taken out of context as one is dictating to the Scriptures, rather than letting the Scriptures speak.
Biblical scholar John Stek spoke of this when we wrote:
“Many of us do not know how to listen to the voice of God in Scripture, because we are trained to view the Bible as a series of verses strung together like pearls on a string, each having its own meaning in itself. We were trained to resort to that treasure trove whenever we felt a need for something from it, plucking the gem that satisfies our quest at the moment.
Ideally, we respond receptively to God’s message. But usually we do not come to the Word ready to listen. Isolated verses have become “God’s will” for us in the circumstances, or they serve as magic words that we use on God to try to manipulate him, or as levers that we employ to get what we want from God. When this is done to rationalize hate-filled motives, the gospel itself is violated. But even when it is done with good intentions, we hamper ourselves from truly hearing God’s word.”
In the inductive approach, one lays aside preconceived ideas and first lays a groundwork of observations. Conclusions are drawn from what one has observed and a thorough examination of the content becomes a basis for one’s conclusions. This approach seeks to let Scriptures speak for themselves and studies the Scriptures in context*. A methodology for how to do an inductive Bible study will be forthcoming in this series.
*There are multiple layers to reading or studying a verse in context. Examples of reading a verse in context would be looking at the 10 verses before and after that specific verse, looking at the whole section or chapter in which the particular verse is found, reading the entire book in which said verse is found, looking at the verse in light of everything else that particular author wrote, looking at that verse in light of the Testament in which it is found, and finally reading the verse in the context of what the whole Bible says, and thus interpreting it accordingly (asking “what does this say and mean in light of what the surrounding context is saying?”). Reading the Bible in context means you let Scripture interpret Scripture. If you are struggling to understand the meaning of a particular word or verse you can look at the context in which it is found to help uncover its meaning.
One way to begin to look at Scripture inductively is to read a book in one sitting instead of using the “string of pearls” approach mentioned above. It wasn’t until after the Reformation that publishers added verse numbers and chapters in their attempts to make books of the Bible easier to reference. The original authors and audiences did not isolate verses or even chapters or sections like we often do today, and to read it in such a way is to read it in a way the author did not intend. For example, if you received a letter*, would you turn to the middle of it and just read a few lines and call it good? Of course not— it wouldn’t make sense and you’d be missing a lot of important context surrounding those few lines. Yet that is exactly what we do when it comes to the Bible. (*Much of the New Testament is made up of letters.)
The awesome fruit of studying the Bible inductively is that in allowing the Scriptures to speak for themselves and shape your thinking, you develop a solid Biblical worldview. To get the most out of the inductive approach and to develop an overall context— or overview— of the Bible, you’ve really got to read it! If you’ve never read through the whole Bible, consider making it your summer goal? The entire Bible can be read aloud in less than 100 hours. If the longer books intimidate you, consider listening to them. Or if your summer is looking pretty busy, there are a variety of 1 year Bible reading plans here.
PS— A neat resource that I recently came across is the Community Bible Experience. This is a Bible reading program that takes you through the Bible whole books at a time and is to be done in a community… our church has a few small groups going through this right now, and I’m hearing great things about it! Here is their introduction video: