How To Study Inductively

When you have made the decision that you are ready to begin studying the Bible, you must begin preparing your tools. In Inductive Bible study, the object of study will be the Bible, or rather smaller portions of it. So, the tools you will need will be a Bible, a pencil and paper, and your “two eyes”. 

One of the best ways to learn how to use the inductive method(s) is to read the following article, The Student, The Fish and Agassiz. Permission has been graciously granted for me to re-publish this article on my website and to generate as a PDF file by the family of Irving L. Jensen. This article appeared as an appendix in “Independent Bible Study” by Irving L. Jensen, Chicago: Moody Press, pp. 173-178, 1963.

If you read The Student, The Fish, and Agassiz, you noticed the object of study was a fish. In the story, the student used various tools to enhance his study, like a pencil and paper to record his observations, and to make conclusions.

First Things First


You Need a Bible…


Wide Margins


First, let us consider the format of the Bible that is conducive to Inductive Study. A good Bible to use for this purpose should have wide margins for making notes, lists, comparisons, etc. If you are going to engage in this most thrilling and rewarding of tasks, please do not be squeamish about writing in your Bible. It yearns to be examined by the most critical eye. I am convinced that many do not engage in serious Bible study because they fear they may find something that dashes their hopes or contradicts their prejudices — that they may find that something is true that they thought or heard someone else say was false. My friend, please examine it thoroughly, then decide.

No Subheadings


Anyway, a good study Bible format also should have NO subheadings! Subheadings are the little titles that publishers insert to help you understand what you about to read. They are not inspired by God and can mislead. The joy of making notes in a Bible without subheadings is that YOU get to decide what the subheadings should be. YOU are going to observe and YOU are going to decide what a certain section of Scripture might be relating. For instance, in John 17, I have entitled it “The Real Lord’s Prayer”. Many Bibles have subheadings in Matthew 6:9-15 calling this section “The Lord’s Prayer”.

Yes, the Lord did say a “prayer”, but, there are a couple of things happening. First, He was teaching HOW one should pray. The Master Teacher used examples on how not to pray in order to show how to pray and used the examples of the hypocrites and Gentiles on how NOT to pray. And, He gave an example on HOW to pray – by going into a room, privately. He was giving the listeners a template, a basic outline on how to format their prayers. Many have mistakenly used this section of scripture – contained within this sermon of Christ to say that this is the ONLY prayer one can utter. If this were true, then He violated His own teaching. Consider Mark 14:36.

And, in John 17, the Lord was in a different setting than in Matthew 6. He was nearing the time of the crucifixion, and He was PRAYING. That is the REAL Lord’s Prayer!

Yet, in one of my versions of the Bible, in John 17, in the middle of the prayer, there is a subheading, “The Disciples in The World”. This is not a good place for a subheading. Jesus is praying beginning in verse 6 about His Apostles, the twelve men He would send to preach and teach the gospel after He had risen. This is within the context of the prayer. He is asking that they be allowed to carry on, while in the world, the work the the Lord had given them to do. So, it may be have been more aptly entitled, “The Apostles in the World”. And still, this leaves so much unsaid. For, in verse 20 is a very important request. The Lord is asking for consideration to be given to “those also who believe in Me through their word;..” In this case, “those who believe” do so because of somebody’s word. Whose? Whoever He has been speaking of up to this point which are the Apostles, the twelve. So, the Lord is praying for believers who have not physically been with the Lord, as had the Apostles. Here is the beginning of the outline of their mission-to teach the world. They taught it in their time by speaking and writing and today by their writings which are preserved in the New Testament. (This is not a declaration to abandon the Old Testament. The NT writers relied heavily on the OT and were able to convert people to Christ from their knowledge of the OT. Remember, they didn’t have a copy of the NT to carry around with them.)

Therefore, I believe subheadings can take away from your study and your discovery.

Which Version?


OK. I prefer the New American Standard Bible (NASB). It is a modern translation that is very accurate as to the original Hebrew and Greek. Its weakness is the verse equals a paragraph format. However, most NASB versions have the verse numbers in bold where there is a paragraph beginning. The American Standard Version (ASV) is also a modern translation (1901) and is very accurate to the original languages. It does, however, use the less-modern language structure and can be difficult to comprehend. The New International Version (NIV) is excellent in the Old Testament, but not as accurate in the New Testament. However it is in paragraph format. The New King James Version (NKJV) is a true translation and a revision of the King James Version (KJV). The NKJV has up to date language yet most versions continue to use the narrow margins which are not conducive to study. The KJV, while also a true translation, is difficult to comprehend with older language syntax and structure.

Versions to be wary of include The Living Bible, The Reader’s Digest versions, etc. These are not translations, they are paraphrases…VERY DANGEROUS!!

What’s the difference? A true translation takes one language and translates it into another language. A paraphrase takes a translation and paraphrases or restates the translation. One reason a paraphrase is dangerous is that it allows the author to change things he may not agree with. At this point, he becomes an editor, not a translator. Once a paraphrase is finished, there is a new author.

In a translation, the author stays the same, his words are simply translated into another language. The paraphrase allows the new author to add interpretation, giving new meanings where there were none or different ones than what the original context would indicate.

A Pencil and Paper


If you have read the article, The Student, The Fish, and Agassiz, one of the comments that Dr. Agassiz makes to his student is that the pencil is one of the best of eyes. The student had “observed” all that he thought he could about the specimen when he thought of drawing the specimen. And as he drew, he discovered that he hadn’t seen everything. Indeed, he had just begun…

Bible Study is much the same. You may have read and read the Bible. But, have you discovered any of the magnificent jewels of knowledge that God has left to be found? With a pencil and paper, you begin to unravel the “mystery” because you are about to learn how to “draw the specimen”.

 The following is an overview of how we would begin to make observations of the text. (We’ll get into the details later.)

 Read the segment of Scripture that you have selected.

 Then, read it again.