The 5 W’s for Studying the Bible Inductively

If you know the 5 W’s and H, then you are ready to study your Bible using the Inductive Bible Study Approach. The answers to the questions, Who, What, Where, When and Why will help you to dig deeper into the text than casual reading.  With the Inductive Study Approach, we will consciously ask these questions that will lead us to observe what is in the text.

Did I mention that this is my favourite Bible Study method? I first learned it about 10 years ago and have been using it ever since in my personal study.

Read this post to see what is involved and when you are ready to study, you will need a few tools to help with discovery:

  • Bible with wide margins for writing
  • Colour pencils
  • Colour pens, 4 colours at least and preferably archival ink to prevent bleeding through the thin pages
  • Pencil
  • Eraser
  • Pencil sharpener
  • Worksheet or Observation Sheet or Notebook (worksheets available under Resources at end of post)

3 parts to studying inductively:

  • Observation
  • Interpretation
  • Application & Transformation

As with all Bible Studies, the very first step is to begin with prayer. We need the Holy Spirit to guide and teach us so that we can understand what it is we are studying.

If studying a whole book, read it all if it is brief and skim it if it is long.

Plan out your study chapter by chapter. If using worksheets, you may want to use one worksheet per chapter. Otherwise, use a notebook and write your observations. Check the Resources section at the end.

Inductive Bible Study Method | Inductive Study Approach | Bible Study | 5 W's
Free Stock Photo: John-Mark Kuznietsov with Unsplash

Observation: what does the text say?

In your observation, be objective and don’t try to make the scripture say what you want it to say. Let Scripture speak for itself. Ask God to make His truth obvious to you and then adjust your life accordingly.

 

Context – Culture, background, date

Take note of the background, the culture and the time period. If you’re studying in the Old Testament, note who the kings or rulers are, this will help with keeping the scene in order. The date may not always be mentioned but note whether it is “in the days of.” This information can be looked in up in resource books along with the time of writing.

 

Writing Style

The Bible has four major literary styles and determining the literary style will allow you to understand better how to interpret Scripture. The styles are:

Poetry/Wisdom: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon

Historical: the Old Testament books of the Law plus Joshua through Esther and Acts from the New Testament

Prophecy: the Major and Minor Prophets of the Old Testament plus Revelation in the New Testament

Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John

Epistles: Paul’s letters plus the general letters

 

Themes

As you read through the entire passage in context, determine the overall theme, message or topic. Look for the “main idea.”

5W’s and H –  who, what, where, when, why and how

Who – who is the author? Who is the author speaking to? Are there any other characters? Who are they?

What – what is the author writing about? What is happening or has happened that caused the author to write? What are the main events?

Where – where are these things occurring? Where is the author? Where are the recipients? Where will it happen?

When – when is this event going to happen? When are the instructions to be carried out?

Why – why was this written? Why is this happening or going to happen? Why should the instructions be carried out? Why did the author say as much or as little as he did?

How – how did this happen? How did the message get to the recipients? How did they do it? How do I do it?

 

Keywords: keywords will answer the 5 W questions

They are most often words that are repeated. Names of key people in the story and their pronouns are keywords. God, Jesus, and Holy Spirit, or any words that mean the same, including pronouns, are also always key as we are seeking to discover more about God.

Create a keyword list and develop a marking system for these words. This will keep them consistent from book to book and chapter to chapter.

Here is a sample of a keyword list developed by Kari King Dent. When you open the link, select the A – Z Comprehensive List.

 

Interpretation: what does it mean

Interpreting the text based on observation requires that we understand the author’s purpose, the cultural background and historical context of the material studied. When we understand the background in context, we can then determine how to apply the principles for us today.

Some questions to help with determining this are:

  1. The number one rule of interpretation is that there is no contradiction in Scripture.
  2. What is the intention of the author? What did he want his readers to understand?
  3. Was the author addressing cultural issues, moral issues or doctrinal issues?
  4. In light of the whole book of the Bible, how does this passage fulfil the broader theme?
  5. Did the author want the readers to carry on specific instructions or perform a particular action?
  6. Is there anything that is still unclear or confusing? Is there a reference elsewhere in the Bible that could clarify this?
  7. Am I isolating my interpretation of the passage that gives it a view that supports my personal thoughts and opinions? To ensure you are not doing this, speak with your pastor or review trusted commentaries so that you have a clear and Biblical understanding.
  8. Often however, after thorough study, you will find that you no longer need to consult a commentary because the Lord Himself has taught you as He promised in 1 John 2:27. But, there are times that commentaries are necessary and valuable.
  9. If you are going to utilize other references, ensure they are from a trusted source such as Bible dictionaries, exhaustive concordances, Vine’s Expository Dictionary.

A note about commentary authors – Be certain that the author of your chosen commentary is solid. Don’t just Google your passage and take everything you find on the internet at face value. There are some very sketchy, very far off-base commentators out there in cyber-space. Not everyone can be trusted. Be certain of the source you trust.

When you feel you have interpreted the passage in context, write a summary of your interpretation.

 

Application & Transformation

The main goal of any Bible study is to learn what He wants us to do so that we can be more like Christ. Applying the truth indicates that we have learned from observation. Transformation comes from the application of truth. All application should result in a changed life. Acquiring knowledge without change is not the goal of any Bible Study.

  • Prayerfully ask the Holy Spirit what it is that He wants you to learn from this passage.
  • Is there anything that you can identify with?
  • Do you need to make a change in your beliefs in order to accept the truth as you now see it?
  • Confess any sins or doubt that you may have about the truth so that He can empower you to follow Jesus better.
  • What would you have to do to apply this truth?
  • If you applied this truth today, would your life be changed for the better?
  • Ask God to help you take the necessary steps to apply this truth. Some changes will take longer than others, don’t expect everything to happen overnight.
  • Let the Holy Spirit guide you and take you through so this is a lasting change.

 

Resources:

Here is a basic worksheet to be used per chapter of study. The Author is (A) while the (O) represents Other main characters. Inductive Bible Study Worksheet.

This is an optional basic Inductive Bible Study Observation Sheet can be used for the whole book of study.

Keyword List by Kari King Dent.

 

As always, please leave me a comment letting me know your thoughts on the Inductive Study approach. Is this something you would like to do? Your comments are always welcome!

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About Cindy

Lovin' the Word of God - reading it - studying it - sharing it - living it!

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