How to Do Inductive Bible Study – Step One: ObserveDecember 6, 2011
There are several legitimate ways to study the Bible. Most people just read it the way they look out a window on a road trip: They’re going somewhere and want to see if anything long the way interests them. If that describes your normal way of studying the Bible, would you be willing to learn a different way?
Inductive Bible Study is a method built around the idea of “inducing” something. Inductive reasoning is the process where we observe, interpret and discover something rather than figuring it out before observing. With Inductive Bible Study, you simply observe what is there before drawing any conclusions. So how do you do it?
When you are observing anything, you often do two things. First, you use your senses to determine what is happening. In this case, the writers of the Bible have already done that. They have used their senses to record what was happening, where and when it happened and who said what (including God). The second thing you do when you observe is to ask questions: who, what, where, when and how. (Why is also a question, but that doesn’t come in until you are ready to interpret what you’ve found). This is exactly what a scientist does in an experiment. They observe before they interpret.
Let’s give an example of how you might observe something from the Bible. It is often good to start with a section of Scripture that is narrative (meaning that someone is telling a story or relating an historical event). In this case, let’s start at John 2:1–5. This tells the beginning of the story where Jesus turned water into wine (every wine lover just had their interest piqued).
Let’s make a few observations using the five questions:
1. Who: make a list of all the “whos” in these five verses:
- Jesus’ mother
- His disciples
- the servants.
2. What: This lists all the nouns in the passage:
- third day
- “my time”
- “whatever he tells you”
- Cana in Galilee
- “to the wedding” (note: sometimes a place is implied..the wedding is both a thing and a place)
- On the third day
- “when the wine was gone”
- “my time” (this is both a what and a when)
5. How: (this will be a list of all the verbs and action ideas)
- wedding took place
- mother was there
- had been invited
- wine was gone
- mother said to him
- they have no more
- why…involve me?
- my time…not come.
As you’re making the list, you are building the stones together to form your interpretation. The more thorough and clear your observation is, the more opportunity you have to get the interpretation correct. If you skip over the observations you will make glaring errors of assumption and application that will be regretable. Next time we will talk about another element of observation: Setting.