Inductive Bible Studies

Spiritual Maturation

In his Real-Life Discipleship Training Manual, Jim Putman describes four stages of spiritual maturity: infancy, childhood, young adulthood, and parenthood. I have found the metaphor of eating habits useful in explaining what these stages mean for spiritual maturity.

Spiritual infants are completely dependent on someone else to feed them. They may fuss and complain when they are hungry, but they will never feed themselves. Spiritual infants can only consume the “milk” of the word (1 Cor. 3:2). Spiritual children are capable of feeding themselves, but they do not have a disciplined diet. They would rather “snack” than eat meat. They need a spiritual parent to help them eat a well-rounded diet. A spiritual young adult is completely able to feed themselves on a disciplined diet. They are able to feed themselves spiritual “meat” (1 Cor. 3:2). A spiritual parent is one who feeding themselves well and is feeding a spiritual infant and child also. 

These stages of spiritual maturity strongly correlate with how well we feed ourselves through prayer and study of God’s Word. The inductive studies provided here aim to help the believer to feed themselves and, eventually, to feed others. When a spiritual adult is ready to start feeding a spiritual child, they enter a new phase of spiritual maturity—what Jim Putman calls “spiritual parenting.”

The goal of every believer should be to feed a young believer who will grow up to also be a spiritual parent.

Training a Spiritual Infant

If you are a Discipler, it is paramount that your disciple learns quickly how to interact with the text of Scripture. A young Christian is capable of picking up the habits and tools necessary for learning how to feed themselves spiritually.  New disciples should not be given Bible-reading goals but Bible-study goals. Reading shorter passages while making specific observations is far more valuable than reading large portions of Scripture with little understanding. Below you will find suggested tools for conducting personal Bible study.

The Bible should be a believer’s first devotional book. Too many times we hand a new believer a devotional book and they fail to pick up good study habits. I recommend reading the spiritual classics such as Isaac Watts’ A Guide to Prayer or Thomas Watson’s The Art of Divine Contentment. (See List of Spiritual Classics). Generally, modern devotional books do not exemplify good Bible study habits. Thankfully, several recent authors have picked up on the need for inductive interaction with Scripture and are making good efforts to write inductive-based Bible studies. Nonetheless, there is nothing like doing your own investigation – just you, your marker, and your Bible.

Growth through Inductive Bible Study

The surest sign of maturity is growth. Every believer should be driven to grow spiritually and relationally. There are many spiritual disciplines that foster growth, but chief among them is the study of God’s Word. The collection of inductive Bible studies below aims to inspire believers to engage and interact with God’s Word in a productive and memorable way. Merely reading the Bible does not produce drastic personal growth. We must be what Robert Traina calls “a Scripture detective,” one who discovers the key clues to understanding the Bible. Just like a detective, the student of Scripture uses inductive reasoning to understand the message of Scripture. (One should be aware that there is no such thing as “pure induction,” that is, reading a text without any preconception of what we are reading. The purpose of this series is to provide prompts for your own inductive study.)

What is Inductive Bible Study? Inductive Bible Study is studying the Bible by making observations from the text of Scripture, asking yourself questions from those observations, and making application for your life. Inductive study allows the Bible to speak for itself without the use of commentaries and other deductive resources. 

There are three basic steps in inductive Bible study:

  1. Observation — Like a detective, our study of the Bible begins with observing clues that will help us understand a passage. We will consider later how to identify these clues.
  1. Asking Questions — Once we have gathered some key clues, we are ready to ask questions raised by those clues. Inductive study allows the Bible to raise the questions. For instance, the Book of Revelation begins with the descriptive phrase: “The revelation of Jesus Christ.” This raises the question of what the Book of Revelation reveals about Jesus Christ. What does the book reveal about Jesus Christ? An inductive study of Revelation would include reading the entire book and looking for more clues that reveal Jesus Christ to us.
  1. Application  — Inductive study is never complete without applying God’s Word to our own lives. Inductive study should end with the question, “So what?” What difference do the truths I have discovered make in my life? A person who is passionate about growing spiritually will be eager to apply God’s Word. Be careful, however, in your strong desire to apply God’s Word that you do not rush to conclusions without first carefully observing what the Bible says and means. If you do not yet have a passionate desire to apply God’s Word, then pray earnestly and work on the Bible studies here marked “Beginner.” It is my belief that Bible study and prayer are worth doing until you learn to love it.

Choosing a Bible

First, these studies require what I teasingly call “a real Bible”—that is a non-digital, hardcopy of the Bible. While the Beginner studies may be conducted with a digital Bible, the more advanced studies will require you to have a physical copy of the Bible.

Second, I recommend purchasing a wide-margin, double-columned English Standard Version. The studies included here are based on the ESV although they may just as well be used with the New American Standard Version or any other translation. Whichever translation you choose, make sure the Bible you choose has a wide margin so you can write notes. Your goal is to be so intentional in your Bible study that your Bible tells a story about you.

Using Other Resources in Addition to the Bible

There are two types of Bible study resources—inductive and deductive. We are focused on inductive methods and resources here, but higher levels of Bible study will require the use of some “deductive” sources such as Bible commentaries.


Inductive resources are those that provide information without offering opinions or interpretations of the information. Bible maps, concordances, and Bible dictionaries would be included in this category. Here are some inductive resources I recommend:

  1. Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary (2014)
  2. Nelsons’s Complete Book of Bible Maps and Charts (2010)
  3. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance: The 21st Century Edition (2001)


Deductive resources give information and offer opinions and interpretations. These are resources that should be used only after you have made your observations of a passage. Deductive resources include commentaries, Bible handbooks, theological dictionaries, and handbooks. The least deductive of these are Background Commentaries such as the IVP Bible Background Commentary. These provide helpful cultural and historical information that we would not know simply from reading the Bible. For Bible commentaries on a particular book of the Bible, I recommend looking at

Listening to the Holy Spirit and the Word

The Bible is God’s speech to us. That thought alone ought to put us in awe of the gift we have in the Bible. The Bible itself tells us that it must be understood with the help of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:12-14). Bible study, therefore, should be accompanied with prayer and meditation, else it is merely an exercise in academics. Believers through the ages have experienced the aid of the Holy Spirit in understanding Scripture by practicing two methods.

  1. Meditation on God’s Word. Meditation means placing the Scriptures before your eyes and simply allowing its words to sink into your mind. It is during this time that the Holy Spirit can cause you to see something you didn’t see before. 
  2. Praying in response to God’s Word. Praying for the Spirit’s help to live out what you are studying is a sure way to remember what God has said. The two spiritual disciplines of meditation and prayer must accompany our study of Scripture. I recommend reading Isaac Watt’s spiritual classic A Guide to Prayer.

Tools for Inductive Bible Study

  1. A wide-margin, double-columned English Standard Version Bible.
  2. A set of Bible highlighters such as the Bible Marking Kit by Zebrite (available in four or five color sets). For more advanced study, Feela Bible Gel highlighters are available in eight colors. Both packs may be used together.
  3. A set of fine-print (.4mm or less), colored pens such as the G-Tech-C4 ultra fine set by Pilot (available in sets of five, ten, and twelve).
  4. A set of erasable, colored pens such as the Frixion (.7mm) ballpoint pens by Pilot (available in seven colors).
  5. A small straight edge such as that provided in the Zebrite kit mentioned above.
  6. Access to inductive study resources such as those published by Nelson and mentioned above.
  7. Access to a Bible Background Commentary such as those published by Zondervan or Intervarsity Press.

How to Use the Tools

1. Designate each color for a single theme throughout your Bible. This allows for quick reference. Here is an example:

  • Yellow = Prayer and Worship
  • Green = People of God/The Church
  • Red = Sin and Salvation
  • Pink = Eschatology
  • Light Blue = Holy Spirit 
  • Dark Blue = Holy Fellowship with God
  • Purple = The Kingdom of God
  • Orange = Notes on historical context
  • Brown = The Land
  • Black = General Notations that don’t fit any particular category

2. Highlighting: When using a highlighter, highlight only the words while leaving white space between the lines above and below. You may use the space between the lines to make other markings.

3. Note-taking: Use your fine-point pen with a ruler in order to keep your notes neat and straight while maximizing the space in your Bible. I recommend writing in all CAPS since capital letters are all formed above the line of the ruler (the small letters g, j, p, q, and y drop below the line).

4. Write your notes in the margin with the same color of pen that matches the color of your marks in the text. This allows you to see how your margin notes correlate with your text markings.

5. Use an erasable pen when taking notes during a sermon or Bible study.

6. Underlining: I recommend using the straightedge to underline words.

7. Boxing: I recommend using the straightedge to draw a box around a passage of several verses in place of underlining a large passage. Draw your box completely around the passage using the inside and outside margins.

8. Bracketing: Bracketing is the same as boxing except your mark is uses only the outside margin.

Inductive Bible Study Actions

If you have read the preceding instructions, you are now ready to explore your Bible with your Bible study tools. Here are some of the basic actions taken in inductive Bible study. All or some of these actions may be applied to every passage of Scripture.

1. Tracking — Tracking means tracing the repetition of words, phrases, or concepts through a passage. Some studies track a theme through the entire Bible while others track a concept within a single passage. For example, track the phrase “in Christ” through the book of Ephesians.

2. List and Sorting — Making a list of or sorting out what you have tracked is a meaningful, inductive exercise. There are many kinds of lists that can be made from your observations and tracking. Suggestions will be given with each inductive Bible study in this collection. For example, identify the key verbs and verb phrases that go with each appearance of the phrase “in Christ” in the book of Ephesians. You will notice verbs such as “are faithful” (1:1), “chose” (1:4), and “to unite all things” (1:10).

3. Categorize — If you have composed a list, you may want to categorize the items on the list. Usually categories suggest themselves once you look at your list. You will see that several items on your list clearly fit together while other items stand alone. For example, you are now ready to categorize the verbs and verb phrases from the previous exercise. You may have categories such as: (a) Phrases that describe God’s actions toward us in Christ; and (b) Phrases that describe our actions in Christ.

4. Title — Giving titles for your observations is a helpful method for memorization and correlating information. This includes naming the individual stories (called pericopes) in the Bible to giving names to chapters through a book of the Bible. This allows for you to see patterns emerge from Scripture.

5. Correlate — Correlation is another way of seeing how a word, phrase, or concept relates to other words, phrases, and concepts around it (these are called structural relationships). There are several ways to correlate:

A. Compare and/or Contrast — Words and concepts often relate to one another by comparison or contrast. The Bible uses these two relationships very frequently by using conjunctions such as “but” and “than” and the adverbs “like” and “as”. Our observations should include noticing how words and concepts relate to other words and concepts in the passage. For example, in Psalm 1, how is the blessed man like a tree?

B. Cause and Effect — Cause and effect are often indicated by the use of the conjunction “therefore,” or sometimes just “for” or the phrase “so that.”

C. Series — Take note of series such as the series of virtues listed in Galatians 5:22-23. You will notice that this series is contrasted with the series of vices in Galatians 5:19-21 as indicated by the conjunction “but” that begins verse 22.

D. Correlation with other Scripture verses — As you read and study, other Scriptures will come to mind. Be especially aware of phrases that are repeated from a previous passage. For example, the phrase “then you will know that I am the LORD” appears dozens of times in Ezekiel and is drawn from the book of Exodus where the same phrase appears many times.

For a more complete list of structural relationships, see Robert Traina, Methodical Bible Study, pp. 50-52.

6. Interpret — The first goal of Bible study is to discover the meaning of God’s Word. Therefore, we must eventually reach the step of interpretation. What does this passage mean? The meaning of Scripture is usually very apparent after some study. Occasionally, there are passages whose meaning requires more significant study of the cultural and literary background—the Book of Revelation is a good example. Interpretation includes being able to explain what a word, phrase, and concept mean in relation to the rest of the passage.

7. Apply — The final goal of Bible study is to apply the meaning of the Bible to our lives. We have not honored God’s Word fully until we have applied what it means.

About this Collection of Inductive Studies

The first inductive Bible study I remember doing was tracking the phrase “in Christ” through the Letter to the Ephesians (a study included here). From then I have attempted to collect ideas from my own study of Scripture and from others. The collection here is almost exclusively from my own experience. 

The individual studies are rated in three levels: Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced. Beginner studies consist largely of tracking words and phrases, and making lists. Intermediate studies include tracking simple concepts, categorization, and correlation. Advanced studies are just more complex studies of the same exercises. 

The title of each Bible study may be found in the left margin below the level indicator. Each study consists of a brief description and instructions of how to conduct the study. Remember, when in doubt about whether to mark a passage or not, leave it unmarked or else mark it with an erasable pen or erasable highlighter.

Originally posted by Dr. David T. Fry at