the good way

Inductive Bible Study

Session 2 • Scripture • Activation

Inductive Bible Study is a method of interpreting scripture using three skills:

Observation/Comprehension - What is the passage saying?

Interpretation - What does the passage actually mean?

Application - How does this apply to my life?

Begin with Prayer: Prayer is often the missing element in Bible study. Reading scripture is about cultivating a relationship with God and so we begin by inviting God to speak to us through the power of the Holy Spirit.


Ask the “5 W’s and an H”: As you study any passage of Scripture, train yourself to constantly ask: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? These questions are the building blocks of precise observation, which is essential for accurate interpretation.

Mark key words and phrases (see picture below): A key word is one that is essential to the text. Key words and phrases are repeated in order to convey the author’s point or purpose for writing. For example, some form of the word suffering is used three times in 1 Peter 5. Key words can be marked using symbols, colors, or a combination of the two. You may also want to engage in a word study, as described at the end.

Make lists: Making lists can be one of the most enlightening things you do as you study. Lists reveal truths and highlight important concepts. 1 Peter 5:2,3, for example, contains a simple list regarding the role of the elder, shown by numbering the items in the text. It is also helpful to make a list of what you learn about each key word or person you mark.

Watch for contrasts and comparisons: Contrasts and comparisons use highly descriptive language to make it easier to remember what you’ve learned. For example, Peter compares the devil to a roaring lion in verse 8. Peter also contrasts God’s attitude toward the proud and the humble.

Note expressions of time: The relationship of events in time often sheds light on the true meaning of the text. Marking them will help you see the sequence or timing of events and lead to accurate interpretation of Scripture.

Geographic Locations: Often it’s helpful to mark geographical locations, which tell you where an event takes place.

Mark terms of conclusion: Words such as “therefore,” “thus,” and “for this reason” indicate that a conclusion or summary is being made. You may want to underline them in the text.

Identify chapter themes: The theme of a chapter will center on the main person, event, teaching, or subject of that section of Scripture. Themes are often revealed by reviewing the key words and lists you developed. Try to express the theme as briefly as possible, using words found in the text.


Remember that context rules: If you lay the solid foundation of observation, you will be prepared to consider each verse in the light of the surrounding verses, the book in which it is found, and the entire Word of God.

When studying a book of the Bible, it’s always a good idea to have the basic context:

  • Who wrote it and what is their role in the Biblical story?
  • When was it written?
  • To whom was it written?
  • In what style was it written?
  • Why was it written?

As you study, ask yourself: Is my interpretation of this passage of Scripture consistent with the theme, purpose, and structure of the book in which it is found? Is it consistent with other Scripture about the same subject? Am I considering the historic and cultural context? Never take a Scripture out of its context to make it say what you want it to say. Discover what the author is saying; don’t add to his meaning.

Always seek the full counsel of the Word of God: When you know God’s Word thoroughly, you will not accept a teaching simply because someone has used one or two isolated verses to support it. You will be able to discern whether a teaching is biblical or not.

Remember that Scripture will never contradict Scripture: Remember, all Scripture is inspired by God. Therefore, Scripture will never contradict itself. Sometimes, however, you may find it difficult to reconcile two seemingly contradictory truths taught in Scripture, such as the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. Don’t take a teaching to an extreme that God doesn’t. Seek insight and help from those experienced in studying God’s word.

Don’t base your convictions on an obscure passage of Scripture: An obscure passage is one in which the meaning is unclear or not easily understood. Because these passages are difficult to understand even when proper principles of interpretation are used, they should not be used as a basis for establishing doctrine.

Interpret Scripture literally: God spoke to us that we might know truth. Therefore, take the Word of God at face value—in its natural, normal sense. Look first for the clear teaching of Scripture, not a hidden meaning. Understand and recognize figures of speech and interpret them accordingly.

Consider what is being said in the light of its literary style: For example, you will find more similes and metaphors in poetical and prophetic literature than in historical or biographical books.

Interpret portions of Scripture according to their literary style: Some literary styles in the Bible are: Historical—Acts, Exodus; Prophetic—Revelation, Isaiah; Biographical—Luke; Didactic (teaching)—Romans; Poetic—Psalms; Epistle (letter)—2 Timothy; Proverbial—Proverbs

Look for the single meaning of the passage: Always try to understand what the author had in mind when you interpret a portion of the Bible. Don’t twist verses to support a meaning that is not clearly taught. Unless the author of a particular book indicates that there is another meaning to what he says, let the passage speak for itself.


Here, it may be helpful to reflect on the following questions:

  • Is there anything that feels particularly applicable to my life?
  • What is this passage teaching me?
  • What does this passage reveal to me about God?
  • How can I embrace this teaching and apply it to my life?

Word Study

Another helpful practice as we engage the text is word study. This practice can unpack deeper meaning that can often be lost in translation. Here is a helpful framework for exploring the text:

  1. Pick a few words, particularly often repeated or unfamiliar words, and highlight them.
  2. Use a tool like Blue Letter Bible, or a bound concordance, to look up the scripture reference and select the desired word.
  3. Examine the definition of the word, noting multiple uses throughout scripture. Also take note of the frequency of use, root words, and other passages where the word appears.
  4. Lastly, consider all the information you’ve learned and make notes of what conclusions can be made about why the author chose the word they used.

For any kind of study of scripture, using a great commentary is extremely helpful, such as the NIV Application or The Word Biblical Commentary. Commentaries can be expensive, so you can also make use of free online resources such as Bible Hub, Blue Letter Bible and The Bible Project.

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