Here we’ll propose a method of studying the Bible called “Inductive.” In it you’re doing three
essential things:  investigating what it says, interpreting what it means, and integrating its meaning
into your daily life.

If it seems like this is going to be too complicated and actually detract from your appreciation and
understanding of the Bible, instead of enhancing those things, take hope. It’s sort of like learning
how to drive car. At first, it can be a bit tedious, since you have to concentrate on the steps and the
process. But after a while you don’t have to think about putting your hands at the 10:00 and 2:00
positions on the steering wheel like they taught you in Driver Training. You just do it. It becomes
second nature to you. Studying God’s Word, mining it’s meaning, and applying it to your life may at
times be hard work, but once you learn how to do it (at least the study part), will become more and
more natural to you.  

Investigation:  What does it say?
First, we’re investigating the contents of the Word. We’re looking for clues, like an investigator
would on a case. The clues we’re looking for are the ones helping us to understand the message of
the Bible and implement it in our daily lives. So, here are some simple steps to this Investigation
phase of studying the Bible.

1) Ask God to help you understand His Word.
The Bible comes from Him, and He’s the One to reveal its message to us.  
John 14:26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you
all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
1 Corinthians 2:12 We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that
we may understand what God has freely given us.

2) Ask the questions… who, what, where, when, why?
·        Who is addressing who in this passage? Who is He talking to here? Who is this guy, named
_____________ ?
·        What is happening, what is transpiring in this passage?
·        Where is this happening?
·        When did it happen?
·        Why did it happen?

3) Identify the context.
Every passage of the Bible has a context. It has a macr-context and and micro-context. For
instance, I currently live a street called Navarra, in the city of Scotts Valley, which is in the county of
Santa Cruz, which is located in Northern California, which is part of the state of California, which is
part of the United States, which is in North America, part of the Northern Hemisphere, on planet
earth, in our solar system… You get the point. Every sentence of Scripture is part of a paragraph,
which is part of a chapter, which is found in a particular book of the Bible, which is part of a
particular genre of biblical literature, which is found in one of two Testaments (Old and New). All of
this helps you think through what the passage you’re studying might mean.  

4) Observe the obvious.
Investigating the message of Scripture is kind of like putting a puzzle together. You usually begin
with the four corners. Why? They’re the most obvious and easiest to find. What do you look for
next? The rest of the edge pieces. That provides a framework for doing the rest from there. So,
when you look at this passage, what stands out to you? What’s obvious about it?

5) Mark repeated or key words in your Bible.
That’s right! Write in your Bible. I always say that if you have a Bible that’s too special to write in,
get rid of it and get one you can mark up. It will help you study it if you can underline and circle
words and whole passages, and write comments in the margins. You can begin by noticing
repeated terms and concepts and marking them. It stands to reason that the more repeated a term
or thought gives you a clue into the mind of the author. You’re looking for a theme, and noticing
repetition will help you in your search.

6) Identify main themes of a book of the Bible or a section of Scripture.
It’s particularly nice when the author gives you clear clues when they say things like, “I’ve written
this because…” or “I say this in response to your question about…”. In some cases though, you’ll
have to dig a little more to find the main themes. As you take the steps mentioned above, you’ll
begin to be able to more and more readily decipher these important themes that God has on His
heart for you to understand.

Interpretation:  What’s it mean?
Once we’ve done some investigating, and finding out what it says, we’re going to want to transition
to do some interpreting, looking for what it means. Again, some simple steps.

1) Start with asking God for help.
Why? Because the Bible’s a supernatural book, and is therefore supernaturally understood. All the
good literary interpretive skills in the world, though helpful, won’t yield the kind of help we need to
accurately interpret the Word of God. We need God to help us know His Word. So, start with prayer.

2) Context rules.
Remember what we said above about the importance of context during our investigation phase?
Well, it’s just as crucial while we interpret. Is our interpretation consistent with the context of the
passage? This is the reason it’s so important to do a thorough job of investigation before you jump
to interpretation.

3) Keep in mind the whole counsel of God.
In Acts 20:27 Paul told some spiritual leaders, “For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole
will of God.” When interpreting we want to be careful not to base a doctrine on one obscure
passage. We want to look at what the rest of the Bible says when interpreting one section or

4) Remember, God doesn’t contradict Himself.
So you can count on Scripture
correlating with Scripture. Though some of the Word of God is
difficult to understand, it doesn’t contradict itself.

Integration:  What will I do with it?
So, you’ve done your investigative work and done your best to notice in detail what the Word says.
Then you’ve moved on to the work of interpretation, and prayerfully discovered what you believe it
means. Now you’re ready to go to the last phase of integrating its meaning into the way you think,
speak, and act. What will you do with what you understand to be true?

This helpful acrostic covers the bases of what we’re looking for during the integration phase,         
“S.P.E.C.S.”:  Stuff to believe; Promises to claim; Examples to follow; Commands to obey; Sins to
forsake. Is there something here that’s supposed to affect my belief system? Are there promises
God is giving to me in this passage? In this section of Scripture is somebody showing me an
example of a godly life? Is God telling me to do something here? Is God warning me not to do
something here?

  • Stuff to believe
  • Promises to claim
  • Examples to follow
  • Commands to obey
  • Sins to forsake.

OK, let’s conclude by remembering what we said at the beginning. Don’t let this approach to Bible
study take even one iota of the joy of learning God’s Word out of your reading and study times. As
you practice these phases and steps, they will become more and more second nature to you. You
probably won’t be reading the Word, thinking, “Now I’m in the investigative phase...,” or “What was
that second ‘S’ in SPECS?” You’ll do these things without having to think them so much, and you’ll
get more and more out of God’s great Love Letter written to you. Happy studying!

Now, let’s practice…

Let’s practice on the one chapter epistle called Philemon. It’s a great little letter from Paul to his
friend Philemon regarding his runaway slave, Onesimus, whom Paul apparently led to Christ in jail.
We’ll start of course investigating, then move to interpreting and then on to integrating the Word into
our lives.

So, where do we start?
·        With prayer. Ask Him for insight.

·        Then, let’s ask the questions… who, what, where, when, why? Read the chapter through
once. On a second time through underline all the references to Who (the people)?  

·        Read it again and circle all the references to Where (the places)?

·        Read it once more and put a box around any references to When (the time)? [Hint:  there is at
least one…]     

·        Now, retell the story as you see it (either in your mind, on paper or to a friend), recreating the
What (what happened here).

·        Now, give a reason Why you think the story was written (why did Paul write this letter, what
was his purpose)?

·        Then, while some of these things tend to overlap a bit, think through the issues of context…
obvious observations… key words (mark them)… and main themes.

Now you’re ready to do some interpreting. Notice that you are best off not trying to interpret until
you’ve done your investigating.

So, what do we do next?
·        Pray again. Ask God for insight while you interpret.

·        In this phase we’re asking the question:  “What’s it mean?” This isn’t the “take away,” the
application yet. We have to sort of run it through a time machine, and attempt to interpret what the
passage meant to the original writers and readers.

·        For this letter, let’s ask these questions:
·        What do we learn about 1st century culture? Think some about the institution of slavery…

·        What do we learn about Paul?  What kind of person was he?

·        What do we learn about Onesimus? Do you see something happen to him that brought about

·        What do we learn about God? How is he involved in this story?

Now for the most important part! This is where we attempt to put the Word into our lives, to apply it,
to take it away with us. If the question while investigating was, “What does it say?” and the question
while interpreting is, “What does it mean?” the question here is, “What am I going to do with it –
How will I integrate this into my life today?”

Let’s use
S.P.E.C.S. to help us do that.
·        Do you see in the letter some Stuff to believe – stuff to believe about God, about Jesus, about
our relationship with Him?

·        How about some Promises to claim. Do you see any of those here (even in a sort of obscure

·        Do you see in the any Examples to follow? Do any of the characters do or say or exude
anything that you find exemplary as you attempt to follow Christ?

·        Do you find any Commands to obey – anything the letter just outright tells us as Christians to

·        How about any Sins to forsake – anything we’re either directly or indirectly told to avoid doing?

Now, what do you think is the next two steps? First, pray again! What’s up with all this praying while
trying to just innocently study the Bible?! Well, it’s God’s Book with God’s plan which can only be
revealed and carried out in God’s power. So, pray.

Plus, there really is no such thing as innocently studying the Bible. This Book will not let you peruse
it innocently.

Know it in your head. Stow it in your heart. Show it in your life. Sow it in
the world!
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