The inductive approach focuses on the Bible text itself, beginning with multiple readings, followed by the three steps of:

  1. OBSERVATION – What does the text say?
  2. INTERPRETATION – What did the text mean to the original listeners?
  3. APPLICATION – How does this text apply to our lives?

The rule of thumb is to refrain from using outside references.  If there is a question about the meaning of a word, a dictionary may be used, but avoid consulting commentaries until you have totally finished the study.  Read and re-read the text.  Let the Word speak.

Perhaps the greatest challenge is the first OBSERVATION step.  It is tempting to rush through a brief observation and quickly jump to interpretation and application.  If you can discipline yourselves to spend the majority of the study time on observation, your learning will be richer and truer to the original intent of the Word.

INTERPRETATION focuses on the meaning of the text to the original listeners.  How would they have heard these words?  Consider their situation in your interpretation.

Always finish with a reflective APPLICATION.  Every time we study the Word, it will speak into our lives if we have ears to hear.

HELPFUL SUGGESTIONS:  We encourage the use of a journal or notebook, whether electronic or handwritten.  Writing will bring increased clarity of thought and sharpen your ability to listen to God’s voice.  You may find it useful to compare several translations of the verses.


Pray.  Open your hearts to hear, understand and respond to God.

Read the passage at least 3 times.

SUGGESTION:  Some people prefer to copy the text from the Internet into a computer or printed document to facilitate the use of highlighting or colored pencils for marking the observations.

NOTE:  The steps described below are those which apply to the Epistles and to other letters or New Testament books with teaching.   Narrative or prophetic sections require some variations.


After multiple readings, use colors to underline, circle and connect with lines to observe the following grammatical and literary elements.  Normally in a passage, you will use the first three steps, then choose from the others what is most applicable to the particular passage.
  1. Key words and repeated words (those which are essential to the meaning of the passage)
  2. Verbs:
    1. Tenses (past, present, future, continual, commands, etc.)
    2. Who is doing the action?  God?  A person?
  3. Prepositions, connecting words, and indicators of sequence  (so that, because, after, not only, etc.)
  4. Compare (2 similar concepts) or Contrast (2 different concepts)
  5. Illustrations (a discriptive phrase or example that can be visualized)
  6. Punctuation (commas, periods, semicolons that might clarify the important)
  7. Context or Environment
  8. Structure:
    1. Progression of ideas or actions
    2. Climax or main point
  9. Relationship between ideas:
    1. Cause and effect
    2. Promise and conditions
    3. Counsel an reasons
    4. Lists that describe


Based first on extensive observation, INTERPRETATION asks:

Some synonyms for Interpretation are Commentary, Meaning, Understanding, Explanation, Translation into another language, Explanation, Analysis.


  1. Consider the entire context: historical situation, preceding and following passages, the entire book, type of literature – history, poetry, prophecy, letter/epistle), the whole of Scripture.
  2. Strive to discover and explain the author’s purpose. Leave aside subjectivism, biases, personal opinions, or the need to verify a doctrine. Let the passage speak for itself.
  3. Scripture does not contradict itself.  At the same time, there are concepts of God’s that need to be held in paradox.  Our understanding continues to unfold, yet is always inferior to God’s.
  4. Explore deeply the evidence in the passage itself without resorting to other passages on the same topic. Grapple with and analyze the meaning of the events and truths presented by this author to the original listeners.



If what we have studies dos not move us to an encounter with Jesus and with God, then we have lost the objective of the study of God’s Word.  


  1. Does this passage speak to a general or a specific matter?  Does it apply to the individual or to the church?
  2. How does it disturb or provoke you?
  3. Are the truths that it teaches?  Is there a promise to accept?
  4. Are there questions to hold; paradoxes to contemplate?
  5. What changes are you invited to consider in your life? In your relationships?
  6. How does the passage move you to pray?
  7. What did you learn about God, Jesus, the Spirit, the Kingdom?

The steps of Observation, Interpretation and Application offer the opportunity for a change in character, in vision, in relationships.  This is the purpose of the study of the Scriptures.  Through this study we are transformed into the image of jesus Christ and empowered to proclaim the Kingdom of God.


Consider the place this passage may occupy in the progressive revelation of God.  Perhaps it is not meant to be understood literally, rather to provide principles.  Scripture stories speak into all cultures and eras; listen and apply relevantly.

Take the time needed to meditate on the passage and the context in which you find yourself at the time.  Listen.  This meditation, with the help of the Holy Spirit, is the most important aspect in the process of application.


See also, Inductive Bible Study Adaptation for Groups



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