What is inductive Bible study anyway?
When I was a child I remember my Granddaddy coming out of his bedroom telling me about what Jesus was just telling him. I was in awe. He talked with Jesus like we talk to each other. Would I see Jesus if I went into my Granddaddy's bedroom?
My Granddaddy knew Jesus. Not just facts about Him; he really knew Him and talked to Him like a real person. I wanted to know Jesus that way, too, but struggled for years to understand the Bible on my own. It seemed dry, confusing, and old. How could it possibly be meaningful to my life today?
Years later, my Mom began teaching a Precept Inductive Bible study. I began with a haughty attitude, thinking that I already knew the basic stories...what more could I learn without going to seminary? Little did I know! As I began to use the tools of inductive study, the Word of God became alive to me! I was getting to know God firsthand through His Word, and He was speaking truth into my life; directing me and teaching me and loving me. I now was beginning to understand the difference between knowing about God and truly knowing Him.
What we call inductive study is nothing new. In fact, it is explained in the book of Proverbs. Solomon, the wisest man (2 Chronicles 9) who has ever lived - except Jesus - showed us how God created us to learn:
My son, if you will receive my words
And treasure my commandments within you,
Make your ear attentive to wisdom,
Incline your heart to understanding;
For if you cry for discernment,
Lift your voice for understanding;
If you seek her as silver
And search for her as for hidden treasures;
Then you will discern the fear of the LORD
And discover the knowledge of God.
For the LORD gives wisdom;
From His mouth come knowledge and understanding.
—Proverbs 2:1-6 NASB
Inductive study is simply learning how to learn. This is how God wired us to learn, whether it is His Word, a language, history, math, or any other subject.
The first step of learning is knowledge; a gathering of the facts, the simple building blocks of a text or subject. (If you are learning a language, knowledge comes from learning the letters and sounds.)
The second step is understanding; seeing how the facts fit together in a context. (Letters in a language come together in specific ways to create words, giving meaning and understanding to the sounds.)
The last step is wisdom; choosing to apply or respond to what is understood. (In learning a language, wisdom is putting words together in sentences to convey a specific message.)
When we study God's Word inductively, we are learning through this process, although today we use different terms. Proverbs speaks of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. The inductive method today terms these steps as observe, interpret, and apply. Same method of learning; just different terminology.
If you read again through the verses above, notice what they say about knowledge: we will discover the knowledge of God if we search His Word like we would search for hidden treasures. We also see that knowledge comes from Him. We can learn more about understanding and wisdom in these verses, too.
When we gather these facts, we then want to understand them in their context. The context here is a book of wisdom in the Bible, God's Word. These are truths that He wants us to understand about Him, His Word, and how we are to live life. Wisdom is putting into practice what He tells us through His Word.
Knowledge, understanding, and wisdom are key words throughout the book of Proverbs. You can learn a lot about them by simply reading a chapter each day, looking for them, and seeing what truth is expressed in the sentence where you find one of them. Write down what you learn. God speaks to us through His Word. Seek to simply understand what He says. Then pray what you've gleaned back to God. This is how a relationship is developed. One speaks, one listens and responds. Begin the conversation and be ready to listen to His response to your prayer. You never know. There may be someone waiting to hear what Jesus has been telling you.