Three Steps of Inductive Bible Study

God’s Spirit moved on holy men to pen His written revelation to us (2 Peter 1:21). This resulted in 66 books which His people receive as authoritative and without error, since their source is an all-knowing, omnipotent, and truthful God. Since He has communicated to us in written form, His intention is that we read and study His Word.

For studying God’s Word, inductive Bible study is a method many have found fruitful. Inductive Bible study is at the core of what we train preachers and teachers to do through the Cumberland Area Pulpit Supply, so we can prepare and send out men who have studied the Word they are to preach.

The method is simple and something we already do every day. It will also help us to directly encounter the voice of God in the text, as we prayerfully and sincerely approach Him there. There are three basic steps to this type of study and three corresponding questions. I have gleaned much from Peter Krol’s excellent, brief, and very readable book, Knowable Word, which I commend as a follow up to this article.


First of all, we must observe what the Bible says. Every day we observe some things and ignore others. When we observe that the red flag is still up on our mailbox, that observation will provide the foundation for our interpretation that the letter has not yet been picked up, which will lead to our response of refraining to visit the mailbox. Likewise, when we read the Bible, we need to notice both large and small details.

To help us observe, we need to set aside any familiarity we may have with the text and know some things to look for. Asking the basic who, what, when, where, why, how questions is always a good starting point to slow us down and help us see what is in the text. These questions are helpful to note what you can see about the bigger picture (author, audience, occasion, type of literature, themes, purpose) and the particulars of a certain passage (structure, key words, connector words).


Once we notice what is actually there in the text, we can proceed to the next step, which is interpretation. Interpretation seeks to find the meaning of the text on its own terms, not presuming to understand it before we have observed and examined it in context. The context includes not only the paragraph of the verse(s) under consideration, but encompasses the entire book of the Bible in which it is found, as well as the larger context of the whole Bible, since all Scripture is God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16).

The type of literature and factors such as figures of speech will have an impact on interpretation. The structure and grammar that you should have observed will also provide clues for understanding the meaning of a passage. Since the purpose of the Bible is to point us to Christ (2 Tim 3:15; Luke 24:27, 44), we must also interpret a given text in light of Jesus. To do this, we can ask how the text points forward or backward to Jesus’ death and resurrection, how it illustrates our need for repentance and faith in Christ, or how it demonstrates our obligation to preach Him to all nations.


Bible study cannot be properly done without observation and interpretation. But it is not complete without application. We must seek to discern the implications of the biblical text, not only for its original hearers and readers but for our own time and our own lives. Application deals with how we need to change in our thinking, our desires, and our actions. The text may have multiple applications that can vary widely depending on one’s situation. Application can be made to individuals as well as to entire groups. We must look for the proper response to the text, and then cooperate with God’s Spirit to overcome our inertia and be doers of the Word (James 1:22).



Philippians 4:2-9 contains several well known verses. As you read through the book and the passage, you can see them in light of their larger context. In this case study, we observe that Paul is addressing a situation in the church at Philippi, a church he had helped start after meeting them at a women’s riverside prayer meeting and being jailed for his ministry (Acts 16). The context of the book shows us that the church had sent him a gift to him in a later imprisonment, which he acknowledges, but that he also wanted to address the issue of unity in the church. Their fear of persecution, need for more humility, and threat of false teachers were factors that reduced their unity and robbed them of joy. In this particular passage, Paul lists two feminine names, Euodia and Syntyche, tells them to be of the same mind in the Lord and enlists a true yokefellow to help them. The commands to rejoice in the Lord always, be gentle, pray, think on certain things, and follow Paul’s example come immediately after Paul addresses this particular instance of disunity.


The fact that these commands follow Paul’s mention of a specific situation strongly suggests that the church was to work through the apparent conflict between these women by doing the things commanded. As they tried to help Euodia and Syntyche, they needed to rejoice in the Lord (4:2-3). This is the same Lord who set the perfect example of humility (2:5-11) and who should be everything to them (3:7-11), whose gospel they needed to proclaim and represent in a worthy manner, which would be demonstrated in unity (1:27). They needed to be gentle since the Lord is at hand (4:5), avoid anxiety through thankful prayer (4:6-7), think on excellent and praiseworthy qualities (4:8), and follow Paul’s good example (4:9).


When we face conflict in the church today, rather than avoiding people, we need to take responsibility, whether as one of the parties directly involved or someone who can help them resolve matters (4:2-3). We need to be of the same mind in the Lord and remember that we are on the same team if we are believers (4:2). We need to rejoice, not in getting our own way, but by locating our joy in the Lord, regardless of how matters proceed (4:4). We need to be gentle, not harsh, since the Lord is at hand and looking on during our conflict (4:5). As conflict brings anxiety, we need to take that to the Lord in prayer and be thankful for our brothers and sisters, and expect mind- and heart-guarding peace to come from God (4:6-7). We need to think on the things that are excellent, not dwelling on the negatives and our differences primarily, but the pure, good, true things that are who they are in Christ and who God is making them to be now (4:8). We must not follow just any example in dealing with conflict, but godly ones which follow the pattern laid out in the text (4:9).


The best way to learn inductive Bible study is … to do it! Pray and ask God’s Spirit to open your eyes and heart (Psalm 119:18). Read, read, and re-read. Observe, interpret, and apply. Look at what it says, learn what it means, and live it out.

After you do these three steps, you can add one more. Share what you have learned with others. You can do this one on one, in a small group, or even through writing or preaching. Lord willing, in the next issue, we will consider how inductive Bible study is a necessary foundation for biblical, expository preaching that feeds God’s Word to people.

For more help in inductive Bible study and supply preaching, check out the Pulpit Supply Handbook or

Related:  “How to Agree When You Disagree” – sermon from Philippians 4:2-9

Thanks to the Common Ground Herald for printing this article there!

Deal Alert: Seven Arrows – Aiming Bible Readers in the Right Direction

This looks like another good book on Bible study.  Free for Kindle through April 28.

Matt Rogers and Donny Mathis, Seven Arrows – Aiming Bible Readers in the Right Direction

Comes at the recommendation of my seminary prof., Dr. Rob Plummer at SBTS.

Arrow 1: What does this passage say?
Arrow 2: What does this passage mean to its original audience?
Arrow 3: What does this passage tell us about God?
Arrow 4: What does this passage tell us about man?
Arrow 5: What does this passage demand of me?
Arrow 6: How does this passage change the way I relate to people?
Arrow 7: What does this passage prompt me to pray to God?

New CAPS Class Beginning in Duffield

I’m excited to announce that Thomas Village Baptist Church in Duffield, Virginia plans to host a monthly meeting for twelve sessions of classes with the Cumberland Area Pulpit Supply.  The first class will be on April 23 at 6:30 p.m. at 879 Duff Patt Hwy
Duffield, Virginia.

Each month will include instruction in inductive Bible study and expository preaching, with two student sermons which will receive feedback that encourages and makes suggestions for improvement.

There is no fee required to attend the class, although there may be a charge for materials if you choose to purchase books.

For more information about the class, or to register for it, please contact me via the form below or call (423) 302-0357.


Book Giveaway – The Happy Christian

happyOne of my favorite blogs is Dr. David Murray’s Head Heart Hand.  I have found his writing to be saturated with the theology of the Bible, applicable to life, and fair in interacting with others’ views.  I also find his writing refreshing and encouraging.  And now he has written The Happy Christian.  I am blessed to host a giveaway for this book, so if you would like to be entered for a random drawing to receive this book, please send me your information below.  No information will be shared with anyone else, except, of course, the winner’s information will be shared with those shipping the book (publicly, I will only post first name unless you explicitly give me permission).

One winner will be randomly chosen among the entries (please enter only once).  If you are from the continental US or Canada, you can win the physical book.  Everyone else is eligible to win a digital copy. Please fill in the boxes below to enter the contest:


Ministry Spotlight:

Mark Lamprecht has set up a new online ministry to help churches fill vacant pulpits and to help supply preachers find opportunities to preach.  His website,, allows men to register by state of residence (in the United States of America).  Here’s more from the site’s description:

Pulpit Supply Preachers is a ministry that helps your local church fill her pulpit in times o f need. We help by connecting your church with preachers, from students to teachers to Evangelists, who desire and seek opportunities to preach.

Each pulpit supply candidate will attest they have support of their pastor(s) that they are qualified to preach. Candidates will also be male and come from an Evangelical theological tradition.

Candidates will affirm the statement of faith found on our about page. If you are a church in need of a preacher, a preacher in need of a pulpit, or have a general inquiry, please contact us to let us know how we can help.

If you’re a church in need of a supply preacher or a supply preacher looking for opportunities, check out the site, bookmark it or register here:

Preaching in the Advent Season

The Christmas season is quickly approaching, as stores have been reminding us for weeks.  For preachers, that may mean considering what we are preaching during the season.  When it comes to Christmas, some preachers are faced with one or more dilemmas:

Should I temporarily step away from the book I am preaching through to preach a special Christmas message or series of messages throughout December?

What texts and topics shall I cover?

How can I present the old, old story without coming across in a stale way? How do I stay fresh with texts and topics I feel I have exhausted or shared year after year to the same church?

Some preachers will not deviate from their normal preaching, but will continue through the book or series they are working through.  Some of these will probably recognize the season somewhere in the service.  Others will continue their normal preaching rotation, but may use the Christmas story as an illustration of the text.  If they are preaching on humility, they may point to how Christ’s first coming provides a perfect example of humility.

Others, however, will devote entire messages to the themes of Christmas.  If this is your preference, here are some ideas that may help you present fresh, helpful, biblical messages for the Advent season, whether you are a pastor or are filling in during this season.

Expository Series

Preaching through a portion of a book – the most obvious idea here would be to preach through Matthew 1 & 2 or Luke 1 & 2.  One year, I had the opportunity to fill in at a church in December and preached consecutive messages from Matthew 1:1-17, 1:18-25, 2:1-18, and finished with 28:18-20 by connecting the coming of the King to His marching orders in the Great Commission.

Preaching through selected passages – one could take a theme and preach expository messages from key passages related to it, for example: “Christmas Prophecies Made and Fulfilled” (such as Isaiah 7:14 and Micah 5:2 with Matthew 1:22-23 and Matthew 2:4-6) or “Christmas with the Patriarchs & Prophets” (Genesis 12:3 and Jeremiah 23:5 with Matthew 1:1-17).

Preaching stand-alone messages – one could select various passages to preach messages that are not part of a series, except that they share the Christmas theme of Christ’s person and why He came (such as Genesis 3:15, Genesis 12:1-3, Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 9:1-9, Micah 5:2, Matthew 1-2, Luke 1-2, John 1:14, Galatians 4:4-7, Philippians 2:5-11, Hebrews 1, etc.).

Whether preaching a series or stand-alone messages, make sure you pay close attention to the context and the type of literature of the passage.

For example, Matthew 1:1-17 may have a less obvious application than Matthew 2:1-18.  The first is a genealogy, and the latter a narrative that showcases various reactions to God keeping His promise to send King Jesus.  In chapter 2, the wise men provide an example of Gentiles coming from far away to seek and honor the king, whereas Herod and the scribes demonstrate hostility and indifference, respectively.  We can preach the glorious Person of Christ, the faithfulness of God in keeping His promise, and the proper response we should have.

Matthew 1:1-17, on the other hand, is a genealogy which may initially appear irrelevant for today’s readers.  Repeated reading and observation of the genealogy should yield some helpful insights.  Take note of who Jesus’ human lineage is traced to – primarily Abraham and David, to whom God made some glorious promises involving a Descendant (Genesis 12, 15, 17, 22; 2 Samuel 7:13-14).  Note the inclusion of the women in the genealogy and their backgrounds and how they came to be in this line.  Note how the pattern switches at the end – Jesus is not the son of Joseph, but was born of Mary, to whom Joseph was husband, a key detail which sets the stage for the account of the virgin birth in 1:18-25.  One could preach about the unique background of Jesus, who God used to preserve His line, and the faith we need to have in Him because He is no mere man.  One may also note that in the New Testament, there are no other extensive genealogies than that of Jesus (here and also in Luke 3), suggesting that He is the most important figure of history and we need to know if we have a relationship with Him as our Savior and King.

Topical Series

Biographical studies – perhaps a study on “the Characters of Christmas” could focus on the significance of the individual in the larger story and positive and negative lessons we can learn from people such as Mary, Joseph, shepherds, magi, scribes, King Herod, Elizabeth, Zacharias, John the Baptist, Simeon, Anna, the angel Gabriel, Caesar Augustus (well, maybe not a whole message on him, since he is just mentioned in passing… but there could be some great contrasts between him and the true Ruler of all), God the Father, God the Holy Spirit and of course, Jesus the Son.

Geographical theme – tracing the events from Bethlehem to Egypt to Nazareth to Calvary or something similar.

Christmas carols – take the song title as the sermon title, give the background to the song in the introduction and then preach on the main text or truth the song declares (make sure it does teach truth — see the next suggestion).

Christmas: fact or fiction? or “the myths of Christmas” – could debunk common errors.  Was it really a “silent” night?  Is it true that “little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes?”  Did the shepherds look up and see a star?  Did the wise men visit Jesus immediately after the shepherds?  Focus on giving an accurate account, encouraging the people that it is necessary to know what God’s Word actually says for ourselves.

The scandal of Christmas – “Man Finds Fiancée Pregnant Before Wedding!” or “King Born in a Cow Trough!”, etc. — there is plenty of shocking material in the Christmas story that points to the glory of God in using the lowly and unexpected to bring His plan to pass.

The wonder of Christmas – could deal with all the wondering and marveling that the people in the narratives do (Luke 2:18, 33) and how we ought to be far more amazed at what God has done than we are.  One might also get attention by titling the series “the Boredom of Christmas” and proceed to explain how we have lost the wonder by getting our focus off of Christ and all that is revealed about Him.

The necessity of Christmas – could speak to that fact that we don’t need a lot of the stuff we have or get, but we desperately needed for Jesus to come.  One could preach a series on our accountability to God our Creator, the punishment our sin deserved, how Christ was qualified to be our sacrifice, and what He accomplished in His life and death.

Closing Guidelines

There are many ways to preach helpful, biblical messages for the Advent season.  And they can be intermingled as well (for example, preaching a biographical message each year and using the rest of the Sundays for an expository series).  But none of them will be as helpful and as biblical as they should be unless you also remember to do the following:

  1. Connect passage to its context and main point, even if you’re focusing on a minor point.
  2. Locate the Christmas story in the storyline of the Bible– particularly in how it is fulfilling God’s promises to bring salvation to sinful mankind through Jesus.
  3. Be sure to bring out who Jesus is, and the wonder of the incarnation – God taking on flesh, fully God and fully man (but perfect)– it is also good to connect His humble birth, perfect life, substitutionary death, victorious resurrection, exalted title, and His future glorious return.
  4. Explain why Jesus needed to come and how we should respond to Him – although you could preach a whole message on this topic (one of the suggestions above), it needs to be present in some way any time we preach, if we are to be “gospel” preachers who preach the gospel.  Sinners need to respond to this gospel by repenting of our sin and trusting Christ.  Believers need to respond by looking afresh to their Savior in repentance and faith, by imitating His example of humility, and by making this this message known.  The whole reason Christmas should be so glorious is that it is an announcement of the good news, the best news of all: “I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people” (Luke 2:10).

The Unashamed Workman blog also has some suggestions for dealing with the “Challenges of Christmas Preaching” here.

Two related articles:

“An Ambivalent Hallmark Calendar Guy” by Dr. Michael Lawrence

“100 Failed Human Predictions” by Dr. David Murray