In the 25 years that I’ve been a Christian, I’ve participated in a lot of Bible studies.
There was the Bible study that encouraged me to be more like David, someone after God’s own heart. The Bible study that took me from Genesis to Revelation in ten weeks. Homespun Bible studies written by gifted women in my church and shiny new Bible studies from major publishers. Bible studies that provided free childcare (thank you, Lord) and Bible studies that had me in tears of conviction on the drive home. Big Bible studies in a room full of women and small Bible studies in a church member’s living room.
Over all these years with all these different studies (and in my own personal study), I regularly looked to the Bible for life-changing words that would transform my relationships, improve my spiritual self-discipline, or solve other problems in my life. This kind of “what’s in it for me?” way to study the Bible is the default setting even among longtime Christians. Reading the Bible and seeking God’s personal, problem-solving message to you is very common—try googling “what Bible verse should I read when” and you’ll see what I mean.
I did learn from these Bible studies. I sometimes even found answers to my problems or inspiration to become a better person in some particular way. But for more than two decades, even though I enjoyed and learned from the Bible studies that I had done, none of them answered the question that I didn’t even know I had: how to study and Bible, and why.
Finding a new (to me) approach to Bible study
I believe that any Bible reading is worthwhile, but seeing the Bible merely as a helpful life resource is very limiting. I’d been short-changing myself on the full benefits of reading the Bible by not thinking about how or why I was doing it.
Then, about a year ago, two things happened simultaneously:
- Our church started a simple, no-homework, drop-in Bible study for women that was unlike any I’d ever done before. We showed up with our Bibles and pens, spent several minutes silently marking up a triple-spaced copy of the passage we were going to study, talked about the author and context of the passage, and then tackled it verse by verse, together. And at the same time …
- I began reading about inductive Bible study and related topics (see resources below), which completely altered my “me-first” approach to the Bible that I’d taken for the majority of my Christian life.
As I learned more about inductive Bible study (the systematic method of observation, interpretation, and application), I recognized that it was very similar to what I’d been doing at my simple Bible study at church. I was learning about the whys and hows of a new-to-me study method and practicing a very similar method at the same time.
This discovery was exciting because I had never found one method of study I could use with any passage or book in the Bible. I had always been led through specific studies by teachers or pastors or authors, which was helpful, to be sure. But reading about one method I could apply to anything in the Bible, by myself or with others, was eye-opening for me, and very freeing. My Bible study went from disjointed and me-focused to cohesive and God-focused. Suddenly, the Bible was no longer about my self-improvement or even how to live a godly life, but about God as the author of the story, Jesus as the subject of the story, and myself as a beneficiary of the story—and this was true consistently, from the beginning of the Bible to the end.
Practical changes to personal or small group Bible study time
If you decide to give inductive Bible study a try, here are a few things to expect that will transform your time in the Word:
- You’ll read and study shorter passages than you might be used to. It might be just a few verses at a time, or maybe a whole chapter, depending on the book. You might study this passage for several days.
- You’ll spend a short amount of time in each new book learning about the author and the context of the writing (observation).
- You’ll think about what the passage is saying about the nature of God and the nature of mankind (interpretation).
- You’ll ask, “what is this passage teaching about Jesus,” or, if you’re in the Old Testament, “how does it point to Jesus?” (interpretation).
- Then, and only then, will you ask, “how does this apply to my life?” (application).
By following this pattern, inductive study helps us remember that the Bible is one unified story of God’s redemptive love for his people through the person of Jesus Christ. It’s not a self-help book or a resource we turn to only when we need guidance or encouragement (although it does offer both). First and foremost, God has given us his Word to teach us who he is, what he has done, and what he is going to do. In light of these truths, it also teaches us who we are and how we can be more like Jesus. Inductive Bible study helps us keep these things in order and in perspective.
Using inductive methods to study the Bible has blessed me with a richer, deeper, and more God-centered time in the Word. I don’t consciously use this method every time I sit down to read, but when I do, I find myself thinking less about me and more about what God is telling me about himself. I’ve learned more about God in this process and have begun to instinctively see Christ on every page.
Several resources were tremendously helpful to me as I began to learn more about inductive Bible study. If this concept is new to you, and if you’d like to reinvigorate your personal Bible study time or begin a small group study with others, these are great places to start:
One of the first resources I found was Glenna Marshall’s Bible study tools and easy-to-follow method, including a demonstration video.
Navigators has a helpful page on inductive Bible study. It’s a bit more involved than the one above, with more detailed steps.
Jen Wilkin’s bestselling Women of the Word it helped me understand why knowing God better through his Word was foundational to my spiritual growth in Bible study.
The concept of biblical theology (reading the Bible as one big story with several central themes) ties in well with inductive bible study, and I’ve always been story-oriented. You can watch Nancy Guthrie’s overview workshop or read the transcript here, aptly titled, “It’s Not About You: How Biblical Theology Transforms Bible Study.”
About the Author:
Rebekah Matt’s life changed drastically 25 years ago with marriage to her husband Rick, acceptance of Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior, and first-time motherhood all occurring within less than two years. She was a high school English teacher before becoming a freelance writer and editor and homeschooling her four children. Rebekah has coordinated children’s Sunday school, written academic and Sunday school curricula for preschool through high school, and served in women’s ministry in St. Louis, Missouri. She loves visual and performing arts, reading, writing, teaching, and discussing ideas both big and small at www.greatandnobletasks.com.