Inductive Bible study is an approach to God’s Word focusing on three basic steps that move from a focus on specific details to a more general, universal principle. Through these three steps, we apply inductive reasoning, which is defined as the attempt to use information about a specific situation to draw a conclusion. The steps are observation (what does it say?), interpretation (what does it mean?), and application (what does it mean for my life?). Inductive Bible study is a valuable tool in understanding and applying the principles of God’s Word. Inductive Bible study can be done on many different levels. The shorter version is good for a brief devotional. The more extensive study is wonderful for digging deeper into the mind and heart of God.
A sample verse to illustrate the method is 2 Samuel 9:1: “David asked, ‘Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?’” As we observe this verse and ask ourselves "what does it say?", we see that David simply wants to know if there are any living relatives of Saul’s that he may be kind to for Jonathan’s sake. Whether or not there are any relatives or why David is asking are to be determined in the next step. The first step of observing the verse is generally confined to a simple understanding of what the verse is saying. At this first step, there may be words or phrases that are unfamiliar to us, in which case checking different Bible translations is helpful.
The second step—interpretation (what does it mean?)—requires a more in-depth examination than the first step. At this step, we want to be careful to find the meaning of the verse in its context. For our sample verse, as we look into the background of the incident we find that the relationship between David, God’s anointed future king of Israel, and Jonathan, son of King Saul, was very close. Jonathan had saved David’s life when Saul was pursuing him (1 Samuel 20). David had described their relationship as “extraordinary” and he mourned Jonathan’s death greatly (2 Samuel 1:25-27). In this context, we see David wanting to do something nice for any of his relatives who might still be alive. His love and loyalty were still strong even though Jonathan had been out of his life for some time. David did not sit passively and wonder about this; he took action and searched for these people.
The third step in inductive Bible study is the practical application of the principles (what does it mean to me?). Among the ways we can apply our sample verse to our own lives is to see David’s action as one of love and loyalty. We might ask ourselves: How loyal am I to my earthly friends and my heavenly Friend? Am I casual and passive about the relationships? Or am I willing to go out of my way to honor them? What can I do this week to let them know that I love them? Based on my detailed research, what did God communicate to me? Has He given me any commands, warnings, promises, or encouragement? Part of the application process is asking ourselves where we go from here. How can we use what we have learned from the passage in the future? A crucial part of any Bible study is asking God to implement the principles into our lives and praying for His wisdom as we go forward with this knowledge.
It is important to note that, while inductive Bible study or any other method is helpful to Christians as we delve into God’s Word, ultimately it is the Spirit of God who opens the Scriptures to us because He has first opened our hearts to Truth. It is the Spirit who interprets spiritual truth to those who are spiritual. The natural man does not and cannot understand spiritual truth (1 Corinthians 2:12-14). So before attempting any Bible study method, we must be sure we have the Holy Spirit living in our hearts (1 Corinthians 6:19) through faith in Christ as Lord and Savior.