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How to Interpret the Bible More Easily with an Inductive Study

  • Bethany Pyle Editor,
  • Published Mar 09, 2022
How to Interpret the Bible More Easily with an Inductive Study

Regularly reading and studying the Bible is an important part of the Christian life. The Bible is infallible, meaning it is never wrong, and it’s the Holy Word of God gifted to us. There’s a saying that if you want to hear God speak, read the Bible. If you want to hear Him speak audibly, read the Bible aloud.

But for some of us, picking up the Bible is incredibly daunting. Once you decide where to start, it can be hard to stay focused and truly understand what the words mean. God doesn’t call all of us to be Bible scholars, but He does call us all to read and understand His word for ourselves.

With just a few handy tools, you’ll be able to comfortably pick up the Bible and study it. Whether you are reading an old favorite Sunday School story, or one of the smaller prophetic books, understanding an inductive method of Bible study will help you to understand and apply the text to your own life.

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Why Is This a Good Way to Study the Bible?

The inductive method of Bible study, sometimes called the OIA, has three parts: Observation, Interpretation, Application. When I was in college and preparing to lead my first Bible study group, my ministry taught all of us this method because it’s a great way to break apart a passage to teach to others. You start out small and build from just what you see in the verses.

But you don’t have to be a leader or pastor to use and understand this method – it’s simple! And the best part is that it works with every single passage of Scripture. There aren’t parts of the Bible that are more advanced than others. The stories of Noah’s ark and Jesus’ birth are just as approachable as every other story, we just are more familiar with those two. Utilizing the OIA method can help you to break down difficult passages, ask good questions and seek good answers in order to understand it better.

The most important part of any Bible study, however, is to begin with prayer. This is a good practice for two reasons: first it helps us to approach the Word humbly if we ask God to guide and assist us first. Second, it reminds us of why we are reading in the first place. This isn’t a study session or a quick read to help you fall asleep; this is a conversation with the Lord God. Especially if you aren’t confident in your Bible study skills, take a moment to pause and ask God to be with you.

All that being said, let’s break down the three parts of an inductive Bible study!

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The first part of the study is called Observation. In this, you are just looking at what the passage says. Don’t look for meaning just yet. Like a good reporter, you can ask yourself the five W’s and H:

- Who

- What

- When

- Where

- Why

- How

In this part of the study, you are just making observations about the text. Don’t try to be super spiritual here – look for the basics. Let’s try it out on a passage.

“1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. 9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:1-13).

What sort of details do you notice about this passage? Maybe some of the verses are familiar to you, but try not to pull previous knowledge. Focus on what you notice right now.

- In the first verse, Word is capitalized, and it’s repeated three times.

- Verse six shifts the tone. This verse also name-drops. The book is John, is this the same John?

- Light is repeated throughout the passage.

If you can, printing a copy of the passage is helpful, so that you can scribble notes, highlight words or draw arrows. Whatever helps you to engage with the text!

Once you’ve sat with the passage for long enough and can’t think of any other observations, move on to the next step: Interpretation.

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This is the point when you will start to flesh out what the passage means. This guide sheet from InterVarsity offers some helpful guidelines as you begin.

As you start to dig deeper, look at the context of the passage - what was the culture like, and how could that impact the author or text? Are there any other passages in Scripture that are connected to the one you are reading? Often, people in the Bible will quote Old Testament verses, so it's helpful to flip back and see what was happening in that passage too.

Ask yourself if there's anything you glossed over, or if you are making assumptions about anything? It can be easy for us to read a text through our 21st century lens, but try to be aware of how that can color your interpretation.

This is probably the point at which you’ll need to pull up some outside resources. Bible Study Tools has a lot of great free resources, from dictionaries to commentaries, that can help you look up the meaning and context of certain passage. A study Bible can also be helpful for looking up details while you read.

The most important part of this section is to let the Scripture speak for itself. Don’t try to fit the passage around a certain theme or idea, or figure out what you want it to say. Look at the text honestly to try to determine what God is saying through the author.

Don’t worry about trying to learn everything right now; Scripture has been studied for centuries, so there’s always more to read and learn about! Try narrowing down a few key questions you have, maybe things that you feel are applicable to you, things that you find particularly intriguing, or whatever you feel God has laid on your heart. Focus on trying your best to answer those questions.

When you feel that you have a better understanding of what the text really means, you can move on to the next section.

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The final section of OIA is the A – application. In my opinion, this can be both the easiest and hardest part of inductive Bible study. On the one hand, it’s often easy to see how we can apply the text to our everyday lives, but harder to honestly answer and do it.

After reading and analyzing the text, you should have a fairly solid idea of its meaning – though not complete of course! But take a look at the text, your notes and what you’ve learned about this passage, and ask yourself “what does this mean for me?”

Scripture is God’s gift to us. It isn’t a textbook to be studied from afar, or a book of poetry to get warm fuzzies from. Every verse is applicable for teaching and guiding us.

If you are having trouble finding a solid application, remember that every part of the Bible, at its core, is about Jesus and the gospel. Maybe the passage you are looking at is just a beautiful reminder of Jesus’ coming, or God’s patient love for His people.

Ask yourself if the text is challenging you in any way: to do something, to change a behavior, to shift your mindset. What would it look like to embrace the passage in your everyday life? What would it look like to share the message of the passage with a specific person that you know? The application section of this Bible study is when we take the knowledge of the Bible, and put it into action.

God Will Meet You There

The Bible is a long and ancient book. But it’s also miraculous gift that many of us in the modern American church take for granted. We leave it sitting on our bookshelves and bedside tables, forgetting that it is the Holy word of God. If it feels too intimidating to open your Bible and start reading, then I would challenge you to first pray that God would give you wisdom and discernment when reading His word. That is something He’s always willing to grant!

But then make a plan, break down these three simple steps, and take the time to really sit with a passage. God will meet you there, no matter your reading level or general Bible knowledge. He’s always ready to speak to us through His word.

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Bethany Pyle is the editor for Bible Study and the design editor for She has a background in journalism and a degree in English from Christopher Newport University. When not editing for Salem, she enjoys good fiction and better coffee.