Inductive Bible Study is a way of working with the Bible that is intentional in trying to hear the message of the Bible on its own terms. It involves a movement from looking at the evidence in and around the biblical text (evidential premises) to conclusions regarding the meaning of passages and books (inferences). This stands over against a deductive approach which begins with certain presuppositions or assumptions and reads these assumptions or presuppositions into the Bible.
Inductive Bible Study acknowledges that we all come to the Bible with presuppositions or assumptions about what the Bible means and how we ought to evaluate the Bible’s message. But an inductive approach insists that we should try to set those presuppositions aside so that we can understand what the Bible is actually teaching.
What we have just described is an inductive attitude. While an inductive attitude is critically important, it must be expressed through an inductive process, or method, for studying the Bible. Everyone has a method for studying the Bible; the question is whether our method for studying the Bible is the most effective way to grasp what the Bible is really saying.
Inductive Bible Study Convictions
Those who practice inductive Bible study believe the nature of the Bible itself should determine how we are to study it. Inductive Bible Study embraces the following convictions:
1. Focus on the Bible
The focus of study should be the text of the Bible itself rather than books or articles about the Bible. True, we should give attention to “secondary sources” such as commentaries or books on biblical passages or themes. But we should give priority to the study of the Bible itself. This means that we should typically begin with the examination of the biblical text before consulting books about the Bible; and it means that we should give more time and energy to the study of the Bible than to works dealing with the Bible. After all, the Bible is itself the object of Bible Study.
2. Focus on the Biblical Books
Bible Study should focus on the meaning and message of the biblical books. The Bible is not so much a single book as it is a group of books. The basic unit of the Bible is the biblical book. The Bible was originally written as individual documents, or books, which were later brought together to form our Bible. We should therefore consider how books are put together, that is their structure; we should try to grasp the messages of the various biblical books and we should attempt to discover the meaning of biblical passages by considering their role within the biblical book of which they are a part.
3. The Bible Is a Library of Books, Not Random Books
The Bible is a library of books and not just a random collection of separate documents. The Bible describes a continuous history from the beginning of creation in Genesis 1 to the end of history in Revelation 22. And the Bible presents a consistent message throughout. A core of unity exists within the whole Bible, along with some differences of perspective among the individual biblical books. To use a musical image, the Bible is not so much a simple melody as it is a harmony, with each part making its contribution to the song. Therefore, we should consider how each biblical book, and indeed each passage, contributes to the message of the whole Bible. And we should explore, too, how the witness of the entire Bible may inform the meaning of individual passages.
4. IBS Needs to be Comprehensive
All legitimate means and methods for interpreting the Bible find a place in inductive Bible Study. This includes things like word studies and historical background. Inductive Bible Study is thus a comprehensive approach. And it is an integrated approach in that inductive Bible Study attempts to relate these individual components if the Bible study to each other.
5. Everyone Needs Bible Study Skills
It is essential that all readers of the Bible develop their own skills in Bible study. Readers of the Bible often assume that they can never gain the expertise to grasp the meaning of the Bible for themselves. They tend to think that they must look to the “expert” to unlock the meaning of the Bible. Although there is an indispensable place in inductive Bible study for consulting the experts, this consultation is meant to enhance, and not replace, students’ own insights which emerge from their encounter with the text.
6. IBS is for Everyone
Inductive Bible Study can be employed by laypersons, pastors and other Christian leaders, and by biblical scholars. It affirms the importance of basic reading competencies achievable by those who have no formal training and who employ translations in their own languages, while also recognizing the greater capacity within an inductive approach for profound and creative insights that come with the employment of technical expertise, including knowledge of the original biblical languages.