The Inductive Bible Study is the little secret to getting into the Word many believers are yet to discover. I stumbled upon it over 20 years ago as I perused the Bible school textbooks of my uncle; I was curious to know what pastors learn in Bible school. And since my accidental, or more correctly, divinely directed discovery, I have held it so tight and refused to let go.
Thankfully, many believers are now learning more about this form of Bible study than ever before. However, they often lack resources that explain it in straightforward terms. I wrote this article to meet this need—explain the Inductive Bible study, and introduce you to its core concepts. Do you prefer to watch, here is a teaching on “what is Inductive Bible Study”?
The inductive Bible Study is a comprehensive approach to studying the Bible that emphasizes a commitment to move from the evidence of the text to conclusions regarding its meaning and meets this commitment through carefully chosen and ordered steps.
Please note the following key facets of this definition:
- The inductive Bible study is an approach. It is a way or manner of studying the Bible, amongst others. However, it is unique because it incorporates other approaches to form a comprehensive approach.
- It begins with the facts (evidence), then proceeds to conclusions about meaning based solely on the facts.
- It includes steps, so it is methodical.
This approach to Bible study is not a recent invention; it has a long and enlightening history.
A Brief History
The inductive Bible study as a specific approach began with two Bible scholars, William Rainey Harper and Wilbert Webster White, associated with The Biblical Seminary in New York in 1900. In 1952, Robert A Traina published Methodical Bible Study, which gave impetus to inductive Bible study and made it famous. Traina’s book introduced me to Inductive Bible study; I have read it through over five times and continue to do so.
In 2011, David R. Bauer and Robert A. Traina published Inductive Bible study: a Comprehensive Guide to the Practice of Hermeneutics, which updates Methodical Bible Study. This book is the principal resource for this article.
But the most thrilling aspect of this history lies in the events that prompted these scholars to formulate and develop this approach.
Why the Inductive Bible Study?
What birthed the idea of Inductive Bible study in the hearts of Harper and White? These scholars were concerned that the methods Bible scholars employed rendered Bible Study “lifeless and devoid of clear significance for Christian Faith and ministry”—a concern still alive and well in some circles today.
With this limitation in mind, Harper and White sought to create an approach to Bible study that encouraged students to directly study the scriptures in their mother tongue (e.g. English for English speakers) and emphasize context and structure within the Bible itself to help determine meaning.
Furthermore, the Inductive Bible Study approach promotes personal and spiritual growth—it encourages students to develop their own bible interpretation skills and adapt the various methods to their needs. Besides, the pioneers of this approach, Bible scholars themselves, were careful to incorporate every known crucial step of Bible study to create a comprehensive process with ordered steps.
A blessing for everyone
Consequently, the inductive bible study was born to be simple yet sophisticated, methodical yet comprehensive, and scholarly yet practical. Perhaps, one of its most outstanding characteristics is that it could be performed by any Christian, with or without formal theological training: from the busy mom to the sophisticated bible scholar. All that is needed is to adopt the mindset and learn the process of studying the Bible inductively.
The Spirit and Process of Induction
Induction is the foundation upon which the Inductive Bible Study is built, and that foundation of induction itself has two main pillars: the inductive spirit and the inductive process.
The inductive spirit
The term spirit here means an attitude or disposition of the mind and heart. God’s words, whether written or spoken, demand a particular response from us to fulfill the reason God gave them to us. We are accustomed to the crucial role of faith: we must believe God’s words to be saved. So, as God’s words, the Bible demands surrender, obedience, openness, and believing.
When we study the Bible, we interact with God solely in the written text. Because of this limitation, the biblical text is at risk of being made to say or mean whatever we want—God is not present physically to correct any misunderstandings or misinterpretations or say, “hey, son or daughter, that is not what I meant”! Therefore, a radically open attitude to the text (not to deception) is crucial to guard the text against ourselves.
This openness is accomplished by committing to the facts (the evidence) and then drawing conclusions based only on the facts, not our presuppositions, desires, or wants (deduction). The inductive process is carefully designed to execute the inductive spirit and shield the text from human error, manipulation, or corruption—accidental or intentional.
The Inductive Process
To ensure we allow the Bible to say what God wants to say, not what we want Him to say, the Inductive Bible Study incorporates carefully chosen and ordered steps as a guide for any student of the Bible. These ordered steps are not unique to this method, but are steps that Bible scholars have employed in different approaches to studying the Bible effectively. The inductive process included those steps from various techniques that are crucial at just the right time of Bible study.
There are five steps in the inductive process :
- Observation: Gather the facts from the text.
- Interpretation: Determine what those facts mean.
- Evaluation: Assess what applies to us today.
- Application: Contemplate how the truths apply to us.
- Correlation: fit the truths gleaned with the rest of the Bible.
In practice, specially so for beginners, these five steps are usually shortened to just three:
- 1. Observation
- 2. Interpretation
- 3. Application
This abridged process leaves out Evaluation and Correlation; this is not an attempt to undermine their importance but to emphasize the core of the approach.
The inductive Bible study is a scholarly sound, methodologically comprehensive, practically simple, and spiritually fruitful approach to studying the Bible. It is a tool for both the sophisticated Bible scholar and the simple with no formal theological training. To prevent the havoc of a haphazard, disorderly plan for studying the Bible, please check out our “How to study the Bible in Five Simple Steps.” Or, if you already have a solid personal Bible study plan, you can learn more about the steps of the Inductive Bible study tailored for beginners, intermediaries, and the advanced.
- Bible Study Methods
- How to Study the Bible in Five Steps
- Watch: How to Study the Bible For Yourself in five simple steps