What is the Bible?
Bible is God’s detailed handbook for mankind to live by. It is the infallible, inerrant Word of God, inspired by God. “Inspired” means that men wrote down exactly what God wanted them to write. The word ‘inspired’ means “God-breathed”.
Why was the Bible written?
God wants each one of us to be in an intimate relationship with him. Bible was written so that a person desiring to know God and to live in a manner pleasing to Him can read it and find out how. Bible tells us everything we need to know about life including what will happen in the future. Bible alone has answers to all of man’s problems and questions.
Why should we study the Bible?
- It teaches us to – live
- It reproves us – when we go wrong.
- It corrects us – brings us back to the right path.
- It trains us in righteousness – teaches us what is truly right and what is wrong.
[2 Timothy 3:16,17]
What is inductive method?
It is a method of learning directly from God. It draws us into a personal interaction with Scripture and thus with the God of the Scripture so that our beliefs are based on a first-hand prayerful Holy Spirit-controlled understanding of the Bible.
Features of Inductive Bible Study
1. Bible is the primary source
In Inductive Bible Study, Bible is the primary source of study. Commentaries, books, tapes and other sources of study are consulted only after you have made your own thorough examination of the Scripture. These can then serve as sounding boards for your own conclusions. Then you cannot be misled in a wrong understanding.
2. Holy Spirit is the teacher- so begin with prayer.
John 16:13-15 tells us that the One who guides us into all truth is the Holy Spirit. He takes the things of God and reveals them to us. He is our resident teacher. So, ask His help in prayer. We should not only begin with prayer, but also continue the study in an attitude of prayer.
3. Three Components
Inductive Bible Study consists of three components. They are Observation, Interpretation and Application.
a. Observation. Observation answers the question ‘What does the text say?’ [Text here only means the portion you are studying.] It could be a verse, a paragraph, a chapter, or a book itself. Observation is the process of accurately seeing what the passage is saying. It takes time and practice. The more you observe the text, the more its truth will become clear to you. This can simply be done by asking a few questions like Who, What, When, Where, Why and How[5Ws and 1 H] .
b. Interpretation. It answers the question
‘What does the text mean’?’ It is the process of discovering the meaning of the passage. For accurate interpretation, it is essential that we lay the vital foundation of accurate observation. Otherwise, your understanding will be coloured by your pre-suppositionswhat you think, what you feel or what other people have said about it- rather than what God has said.
Application. Application answers the question “How does the meaning of the text apply to my life”? Application begins with believing what you have studied, which then results in being and doing. Once you find out what the text means, you are not only responsible for putting those truths into practice in your life, but also accountable if you don’t. So, the goal of personal Bible study is a transformed life and a deep and abiding relationship with Jesus Christ.
Identify the context
One of the most important principles of inductive Bible study is to interpret the Scripture in the light of its context. Context is the king which rules all interpretations. Context is the environment in which something occurs. The immediate context of the text you are studying is the verses preceding it and the verses that follow. But, if we are studying a particular book of the Bible, we need to identify the context of the book itself or do an overview of the book.
Identifying the context of a book is like fixing the corners of a jigsaw puzzle by choosing the pieces with two straight sides. Once the corners are fixed, you can look for the pieces with one straight side and fix the sides of the puzzle. Once the outline is fixed, fixing the rest of the puzzle becomes easier.
Identify the type of literature
All the 66 books of the Bible fall into different categories of literature such as historical, biographical, poetical, proverbial, prophetic, epistles, wisdom literature or a combination of two or more types of literature. The type of literature determines the way you will handle the text.
Ask the 5 W’s & 1 H questions
When you read the text, keep asking these interrogating questions (who, why, what, when where & how) and find as many answers as possible from the text itself. Scripture interpreting the Scripture is the best way to study the Bible.
Look for the obvious
To discover the context of the book, begin identifying the obvious. Names of people & places and events are easy to see. Next, look for the facts about them, These facts will enable you to discern the context of the book. A careful observation of the book itself will reveal the historic setting of the book.
For example, if you are studying ‘Isaiah’, the first verse itself gives its historic setting. It tells you that the book is a vision of Isaiah concerning Judah and Jerusalem during the reigns of the kings Uzziah, Jotham , Ahaz & Hezekiah. ‘Kings & Chronicles’ record the events that happened during the reigns of the kings. Reading and understanding the events that happened during the reigns of the above mentioned kings will facilitate and enhance the understanding of the message of Isaiah.
If you are studying an epistle, doing an overview of the book will put you into the context of the book. For this, read through the book and mark in a distinctive way the author, the recipients and other people mentioned in the book. Then, carefully listing the information about each one of them and then reviewing them will enable you to see the context of the book. For example, if you are studying ‘Titus’, the above process will tell you that Paul, the author, had left Titus the recipient in Crete to set in order what remains and to appoint elders in every city who are able to refute those who contradict. So, now you see that there is a group in Crete who contradict sound doctrine.
Then list the information about this group after marking the different words used to refer to the same group. The lists about the author and recipient will tell you that Paul wants Titus to join him at Nicopolis where Paul will spend winter. Looking up Crete and Nicopolis in a map will put you into the geographical context. Reading and rereading the book will reveal certain words and phrases which are repeated. Marking them and listing the information about them will lead you to the topics the author is dealing with, and these, in turn, will lead you to the theme of the book.
Find out the purpose
Finding out the purpose for which the author is writing the book is essential for accurate interpretation. The purpose of some books are specifically spelt out by the author. In other cases, where the purpose is not given clearly, you will need to read and reread the book. Focussing on the repeated words and phrases, and the general message of the book will lead you to the purpose.
In John’s gospel, John has specifically written his purpose in John 20:30,31.“And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”
Asking the 5Ws and an H will help us to identify the purpose of the book.
Q. What has the author written?
A. The signs that Jesus did.
Q. Has he written all the signs that Jesus did?
A. No, only some of them.
Q. Where did Jesus do the signs?
A. In the presence of His disciples.
Q. Why did John write these signs?
A. That you [the reader] may believe.
Q. Believe what?
A. That Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.
Q. What do those who believe get?
A. They will have life in His name.
So, everything that John has written in his gospel was to help him accomplish this purpose that his readers will believe that Jesus is the Christ. So, as you read each chapter, watch what John shares in order to accomplish his purpose; what is the sign recorded?, who believed?, what is said about eternal life?,etc. Also, at the end of each chapter, examine your own life to see how the truth you studied relate to your own life: whether you have truly believed, whether you have life in His name etc. This will facilitate a purposeful thorough study of the book and proper application of the truths you learn.
Focussing on the details
Once the overview is done and the context of the book is identified, we can study the book, chapter by chapter. Remember that each chapter and each truth contained in that chapter must be considered in the context of the whole book. In overview, we mark important words which are ‘key’ to the whole book. When we study a chapter, identify the words which are ‘key’ to that chapter, mark them distinctly and ask the 5Ws and an H questions. Remember to focus on the obvious first. If you focus on the obvious first, ultimately those things which are obscure will become clearer. As you read, questions of interpretation will come to mind. Write these on a piece of paper and attempt to answer these only after you have thoroughly examined the text.
Look for contrasts in the text. A contrast is an evaluation of things that are different or opposite in the context being viewed. Many times a contrast is noted by the word ‘but’. For example, in 2 Timothy 1:7 there is a contrast between what God has and has not given us. For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline. In noting contrasts, look for the point the author is making through the contrast.
A comparison always refers to things that are similar. ‘Like’, ‘as’ are usually words of comparison. 1 Peter 5:8 says, “Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.”
Words such as ‘then”, after this’, ‘until’ and ‘when’ show timing or sequence of events. Mark these time references and observe when something occurs. This is especially important in passages like Matthew 24:15-31, where the words ‘then’ and ‘when’ lay out the sequence of events. In the book of Daniel, almost every chapter starts with a time-reference. Noting these is very important in clearly understanding ‘Daniel’.
Conclusion and Results
Words such as ‘therefore’, ‘for’, ‘so that’ and ‘for this reason’ indicate that a conclusion or summary is being made or that a result is being stated. Watch for such terms. 2 Timothy 1:7,8 says, “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline. Therefore, do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner——”
The conclusion? Because God has given us a spirit of power, love and discipline- rather than timidity- we are not to be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord [Gospel].
Once the context of the book is understood and an overview of the book is done [in case you are studying a letter], it is time for a careful analysis of the text itself. By now you are quite familiar with the book itself and most of the interpretation questions are already answered. But there may still be questions regarding the meaning of certain passages.
We should remember that all interpretations have to be in the context. For example, 2 Timothy 2:16 says “——–avoid worldly and empty chatter—-”. Does it mean that Christians should not tell funny stories or talk about the mundane things of the world? A careful examination of the context tells us that the subject being considered here is the Gospel and the need to handle it accurately, not whether or not Christians can tell funny stories.
A cross-reference is a reference to another Scripture that supports, illumines or amplifies the Scripture you are studying. God does not exhaust a subject in just one book. The same truth is dealt with in different portions of the Bible. To be sure that you handle His Word accurately, you need to study all the verses in the Bible where the particular subject is dealt with.
For example, John15:7 says, “——ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you”. Does that mean that you can ask anything from God and He will give it to you? No. The Bible has many more verses about prayer, such as asking according to His will [1John 5:14] and asking with the right motive [James 4:3].
Why study the Old Testament?
The Bible is not just a book about God; rather, it is God’s progressive revelation of Himself. The New Testament is built on the foundation of the Old Testament. Since the Old Testament study is incomplete without the study of its fulfillment in the New Testament, we should never treat
either of them as independent of the other. A clear example is in Genesis 3:15. Here God tells the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He shall bruise your head and you shall bruise His heel. We do not find out the meaning of this until we come to the New Testament: that this curse on the serpent was actually fulfilled in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
Interpret Scripture literally
Bible is not a book of mysticism. God has spoken to us through His Word, that we might know His truth. So, look first for the clear teaching of the Scripture, not some hidden meaning. When you focus on the clear plain meaning and learn them, the hidden meaning will become clearer.
Figures of speech
Understand and recognise figures of speech and interpret them accordingly. There are more similes and metaphors in poetical and prophetic books than in historical or biographical books. ‘Proverbs’ are wise sayings that are generally true to life; but they cannot be held as absolute promises for all people, for all times. For example, ‘Proverbs’ says that a man’s enemies will be at peace with him when his ways please the Lord. But Jesus’ enemies were not at peace with Him even though He always did only those things that pleased the Father.
Application is the third and critical component of Inductive Bible Study. It takes place as you are confronted with truth and you respond to it in obedience. No matter how much you know God’s Word, if you do not apply what you learn, Scripture will never benefit your life.
Asking the following questions to yourself will facilitate application.
- Does this section of Scripture expose any error in my beliefs or my behaviour?
- Is there any commandment that I have not obeyed?
- Are there some wrong attitudes or motives in my life that the Scripture brings to light?
- Is there any promise that I can embrace?
Accurate observation will lead to accurate interpretation; this will lead to accurate application of the Scripture and the end result is a gloriously transformed life. So go for it so that you will not be ashamed at the judgement seat of Christ.
[There are study guides available for studying each book of the Bible using this method with Precept Ministries Society of India, Post Box 8474, Mumbai 400 103. You can choose the study guides according to the depth to which you want to go: 40-minute studies with only six lessons–each lesson takes only 40 minutes, NISS courses are survey courses on each book of the Bible, or the Precept Upon Precept (PUP) courses which are in depth studies of the books of the Bible.