How to Read the Bible

Posted by Naomi Vacaro on

Using an Inductive Bible Study Approach
Nicole Schrader

The Bible has been a best-selling book ever since it was written. Its audience is unlimited by era, region, race, age, class, or rank. It has been read by religious leaders, teachers, scholars, laypeople, and children. And since all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16 ESV), it would benefit all of us to read it.

The question, then, is how do we read the Bible?

When I was eleven, I was given a King James translation of the Bible. I had no direction as to how to go about reading it and began in Genesis. The language was unfamiliar, and I had no understanding of who God was, so I eventually stopped reading.
It wasn’t until I became a follower of Jesus Christ at seventeen, that I picked up my Bible again. This time the Holy Spirit gave meaning to everything I read. Youth leaders and pastors taught me from the Old and New Testaments, and I was amazed at how the words came alive. I couldn’t get enough of God’s word!
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4:12 (ESV)

It’s interesting that God chose to use humans to communicate his words to humans.

The Bible is at the same time both human and divine. It is the Word of God given in human words in history. Because the Bible is God’s message, it has eternal relevance; it speaks to all humankind, in every age, and in every culture. Because it is the Word of God we must listen—and obey it. But because God chose to speak his word through human words in history, every book in the Bible also has historical peculiarity, each document is conditioned by the language, time, and culture in which it was originally written. Interpretation of the Bible is demanded by the tension that exists between its eternal relevance and historical peculiarity…One of the most important aspects of the human side of the Bible is that, in order to communicate his word to all human conditions, God chose to use almost every available kind of communication: narrative history, genealogies, chronicles, laws of all kinds, poetry of all kinds, proverbs, prophetic oracles, riddles, drama, biographical sketches, parables, letters, sermons, and apocalypses.
(Fee, Gordon D., and Douglass Stuart. How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. Zondervan, 2014.)

Because God spoke through real people in varying circumstances across 1,500 years, it’s important to read his words as much as possible in the context of the original writers (culture and historical occasion) to understand their original intent. But as we do that we must also remember that God’s word has eternal relevance as well—these things were written as examples for us (I Corinthians 10:6 ESV). So, we must also seek to understand the contemporary relevance of Scripture.

I practice an Inductive approach to reading the Bible. It’s a great way to make observations and apply the scripture to my life.

How to read the Bible using the Inductive method of Bible study:

1) Pray!
The Bible is God’s inspired word and spiritually discerned. Ask God to reveal his word to you by his Spirit. (I Corinthians 2:10).

2) Observe—What’s there? (Background)
This is where we take the context of the author into consideration to ascertain the reason, occasion, or purpose of the Scripture.

  •   What comes immediately before and after the passage?
  •   What is the cultural context of the original readers/audience?
  •   Note characters, relationships, locations, time, actions, and reactions.
  •   Look for repeated words, comparisons, contrasts, and cause-and-effect

A) Bible dictionaries can help with these observations but focus on the text before going to other sources.
B) It’s easier to make observations using a manuscript of the passage—also called Manuscript Bible Study. Scripture is printed out without verse numeration and observations are made directly on the page with colored markers. For more information on Manuscript Bible Study, go to )

3) Interpret—What does it mean? (Questions)

  •   What did the author originally intend the passage to communicate?
  •   Why is this passage or story here?
  •   What’s the perspective of the people in the scene?

A) A text cannot mean what it could never have meant for its original readers/hearers.
B) A good Bible commentary can be a helpful tool for the observation and interpretation of Scripture.

4) Apply—So what? (Summary)

  •   Is there a command to obey or a promise to hold on to?
  •   How does this passage challenge how I see God/Jesus? Myself?
  •   How does this passage shape/impact my worldview?
  •   How can I live this out with my community?
A) Some passages are not easily applicable but may primarily impact your understanding of who God is, who Jesus Christ is, and/or what it means to be a citizen of the Kingdom of God.

B) (InterVarsity Bible Study resources can be found at

My Quiet Time Companion has sections for my observations, interpretations, and applications. I write out my observations in the Quiet Time section under Scripture (right-hand) and key verses in the Remember area (bottom left). My prayers are often the outpouring of how the Holy Spirit is giving relevance to the scripture I read. And, when the Lord convicts my heart, I write it down in the Prayerful Convictions section.

It’s my prayer that as you read your Bible inductively, God will make his words clear and the Holy Spirit will give you understanding and insights as to how to live as citizens of His kingdom.

  Nicole Schrader is a retired homeschool mother who loves to travel, bake bread, read, and spend time with her kids and grandkids. For more of her writing, visit


Applying Scripture to Life Bible Study Methods Bible Study Techniques Biblical Interpretation Engaging with Scripture Inductive Bible Study Understanding the Bible

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