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Inductive Bible study – What is it?

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Inductive Bible study is a way of investigating God's Word that includes three major steps: observation, interpretation, and application. Popularized by both Dr. Howard Hendricks (in his book Living by the Book) and in the resources of Kay Arthur, co-founder of Precept Ministries, inductive Bible study has been taught to numerous individuals, groups, and churches around the world to assist Bible students in understanding and living out the principles of Scripture.

The first step, observation, deals with reading and observing details of the biblical text. For example, what ideas or words are repeated? What is the setting of the passage? What time in history is under discussion? What is the genre of the passage—narrative, poetry, a letter, or a prophecy? Also, at this stage more than one translation of the Bible can be used in addition to Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic original language texts to better determine what the Bible passage is saying.

The second step, interpretation, involves understanding the meaning of the text. What is the larger context of the passage? What do the words mean? What cultural practices need to be understood? What historical and/or archaeological resources are relevant to understanding these words? What have others discovered in their investigation of this passage? At this stage, Bible commentaries and other resources can be very helpful in better understanding the meaning of the text. In addition, investigating related biblical passages, or allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture, can offer additional insight.

The third step, application, can only accurately take place once observation and interpretation have been conducted. Once a person understands what the text meant within its original context, principles can be applied from the original context toward a wide variety of applications today. Some passages are much easier to apply than others. For example, the biblical command to "love your neighbor as yourself" is much easier to understand and to use in contemporary application than the offerings made in the tabernacle discussed in Leviticus. Regardless, careful observation and interpretation facilitate insights that allow for a higher degree of accuracy and therefore better opportunities for application than simply reading the text and asking, "What does this mean to me?"

Of course, inductive Bible study is only one system of studying the Bible, yet it operates utilizing a helpful focus on understanding the original meaning of the text before making modern applications in a way that takes God's Word seriously (2 Timothy 2:15). Christians who hold to a high view of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21) often find the inductive Bible study method of enormous value for personal study as well as in preparing to teach others.

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