Three Steps and Four Truths (Part 1 of 2)

If you are unfamiliar with Inductive Bible Study, boy, are you in for a treat! I can tell you without exaggeration that it has changed my life. Not just my Bible study, but my life. The more you do it and repeat the process, the more automatic it gets. So, if it seems clunky or confusing, I’m asking you to trust me.

One of the great things about Inductive Bible Study is that kids can learn it, just as adults can. It’s such a gift to your child or any child you’re teaching to give them these tools. Knowing how to study inductively empowers them to study the Bible for themselves, to sharpen their discernment, to know how to find (and accurately interpret) biblical answers to their questions, and to test all things and hold fast to the good (1 Thessalonians 5:21). A person who can accurately handle the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15) is a person who will not be easily deceived and misled. That’s a person who will be able to seek God’s will in His Word, and get to know the real God as He has so generously revealed Himself in Scripture. Does that sound like a breath of fresh air in a world of biblically illiterate spiritual infants? Let’s not look for the Cliffs Notes to the Bible. Let’s get in and know that we know what it says!

Because Inductive Bible Study is a three-step process, and always a three-step process, anyone can learn it. I make sure the kids in my class have these three steps hammered into their little heads before they graduate from my class! (There are also four big truths that get hammered in, but we’ll get to that.) My class is about serving them fish (whatever study we’re in) and teaching them to fish (for any and all future studies).

The three steps of Inductive Bible Study are:

1) Observation

This answers the question, “What does it say?” That may seem kind of basic an obvious, but I’m sorry to tell you that this is probably the most skipped-over step. Especially when we’re reading something familiar, we tend to skim over the text. That is a huge no-no! No matter how many times you’ve read the story of David and Goliath, slow down and really read it. When you’re going through a Precept study, it will take you through this by asking a lot of questions. We call it interrogating the text, and you rely heavily on the 5Ws and an H (who, what, when, where, why, and how). You read the same text over and over. Enjoy this step! You’re really getting to know what the text actually says, and by the time you move on to the second step, you definitely know what it says.

A word of caution. Be care with your why questions. In this step, you can only answer why if it tells you in the text. If you are speculating, or the answer is based on what you learn about the context, or it is any other shade of interpretation, then it’s not Observation. It’s in the next step. For example, in John 4 when Jesus meets the woman at the well, if you are asking why Jesus sat down at the well, the text tells you it is because He was weary. That’s Observation. If you want to consider that He was there for a divine appointment with the Samaritan woman, who was an outcast and would never have expected a Jewish man to speak to her, that’s Interpretation.

2) Interpretation

This answers the question, “What does it mean?” Okay, now we’re rolling. This is where a lot of people want to rush in, but without thoroughly observing the text, you can go off the rails. You, however, have thoroughly observed the text, so you are ready to start interpreting. Interpretation will consider things like context, cross-references, and word studies.  In some cases, like some of the parables, we luck out and the interpretation follows the text. Usually, you have to work a little harder for it. It’s worth it, though, because the last thing you want to do is slack off on Interpretation in a headlong rush toward our last step.

3) Application

This answers the question, “How does this meaning apply to my life?” You can see how if you’ve blown off good Observation, short-changed thorough Interpretation, you will almost certainly misapply God’s Word. After all, you likely misinterpreted it, so now you are all excited to cross the finish line and miss the point. Without taking the time to know what it really says, and what it really means, you’re just not going to get worthwhile application. Now, I’m not saying this is always a super-lengthy process, but it is a process. When we misapply God’s Word, we’re not just wasting our time, we’re presenting something as true that isn’t. And we miss out on getting to know God really well, and know who we are in Him. Take the time. Apply well and live wisely.

The inside front cover of a student's workbook

The inside front cover of a student’s workbook

So, those are the three steps. I promise, practice makes perfect, so keep at it. The other thing I want to be sure my students remember after they have gone on to the Student Ministry (Youth) is a list of four big truths. These go hand-in-hand with the Inductive Bible Study process, and they are pretty strong guard rails against mishandling God’s Word.

(Next up, The Four Big Truths)

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