01 June 2012

Inductive Bible Study, Part 6B: Identifying Key Words

Dear Lissy,
It's 70 and sunny and you and Matt are sorting and airing all our camping gear.  I used to schedule a whole day for this project, and I must admit it's more than a little nice to have it done without lifting a finger!  I've been writing you a series of letters on how to do an inductive Bible study.  Today we'll jump into one of the fun parts, marking up the worksheets as we carefully observe the chapter.

First, let's keep that birds-eye view firmly in mind:

Chapter Analysis
  • Create a chapter summary
  • Observe the passage carefully 
  • View the chapter in its historical/cultural context
  • Correlate the chapter with similar passages in the Bible
  • List your conclusions and check with a trusted commentary
  • List applications and create meditation prompts
  • Create paragraph and chapter titles

Most inductive study guides have you examine the 5W's and an H again first.  I've found that's much easier to do after I've identified the key thoughts and themes in the chapter.  As I pursue each of the keys and codes, my mind is flooded with 5W/H questions.

Locating Key Words
I used to find this nearly impossible, and it's still difficult:  I love words, and they all seem important.  This particular exercise needs to be bathed in prayer:  The Author of the book is right there with you to help you!  Let's take a look at how we find these words. . .
  1. Imagine an old Victorian era mansion with a locked door to every room. Inside the rooms are closets, cabinets, and drawers, all locked.  You will need several keys to get into each area.  In inductive studies, key words unlock truth.  If you're unsure about whether or not a word is key to a passage, see if a truth that relates to the overall book theme is unlocked by that word.  Words can unlock large passages like a chapter or paragraph or small passages like a sentence or verse.  During chapter analysis we're not focusing on the small passages, just the medium-sized chapter and paragraph keys.  Sometimes the truth is split up and appears 2-5 times throughout the chapter or book rather than all in one chunk.
  2. The author repeats the word.  Synonyms, pronouns, and nearly identical phrases often indicate that a word is key by quietly repeating the more obvious key word.  Philippians 2:1-10 is a great example.  The word "humbled" is only used once, but synonyms and phrases that define humility are used in nearly every verse.  
  3. Rule of Removal:  If the word is removed, so is the meaning.  If the meaning remains largely intact, it's not a key word.  For a single sentence these are the subjects and verbs.  For paragraphs and chapters, they can function as any part of speech. 
  4. It will ALWAYS answer one or more of the 5W/H questions.  Key words for paragraphs and chapters will usually answer at least 3 or 4.  Key words for sentences and verses rarely answer more than 1.  In our Phil. 2: 1- 10 example, What is biblical humility? Who is supposed to display humility?  When and where are we supposed to humble ourselves? Why is humility important to joy? How are humility and unity (from vs. 1-2) linked?  How can we show humility? How did Christ show humility?  Why did Paul make a point that humility didn't involve giving up His deity?  What are the results of humility? And on and on it goes.
  5. Should be clearly marked.  Dedicated colors and symbols help identify these key words not just in this book, but each time you study.  Use your concordance as a place to record your personal symbols.  Logos software has them built right in, or you can find pdf's online like the one below that will save you hours by just printing and laminating.
  6. Key words form a basis for lists of truth.  As we identify key words, we see how the author organized his thoughts just as you can tell how a homemaker organizes her home by looking in rooms, closets, and drawers.  Our bedrooms have beds, dressers and desks.  Our closets hold clothing and accessories.  Someone looking at our family's bedrooms would rightly intuit that we sleep, dress, and read/study privately in our bedrooms.  Take just a minute to locate all of the words and phrases in Philippians 2:1-10 that define or expand humility and see how much you learn just by making a list.
It's tempting to look at study notes or another person's work to find key words.  Our minds haven't been trained to confidently find them on our own at first.  William Barclay warns us:
It is only when truth is discovered that it is appropriated. When a man is simply told the truth, it remains external to him and he can quite easily forget it. When he is led to discover the truth himself it becomes an integral part of him and he never forgets.
Finding these key words is often hard work.  Inductive study is unique and powerful training for your mind -- don't cheat yourself by peeking at another person's study.


Inductive Bible Study, Part 1: Preparation
Inductive Bible Study, Part 2: Read
Inductive Bible Study, Part 3: Seeking the Context
Inductive Bible Study, Part 4: Book Summary Key
Inductive Bible Study, Part 5: The Choice
Inductive Bible Study, Part 6a: Chapter Analysis
Inductive Bible Study, Part 6b:  Identifying Key Words
Inductive Bible Study, Part 6C: Finding the 3C's
Inductive Bible Study, Part 6D: It's About Time
Inductive Bible Study, Part 6E: Keep Digging
Inductive Bible Study, Part 6F: Word Studies
Inductive Bible Study, Part 6G: Considering Context
Inductive Bible Study, Part 6H: Application Brings Transformation 
Inductive Bible Study, Part 7: Wrap It Up!


  1. Another excellent and useful post Rebecca.

    I have left a wee award over on my blog for you :D

    Thank you for being such a blessing!

    Wendy @ ECTaS

  2. Thank you for nominating me for The Versatile Blogger, Wendy. I'm honored :)

  3. It's all my pleasure!

    By the way, popped over to say, I managed to purchase a little basket today which I will use as my QT basket. I prayed about finding one which would be just right (and not too expensive) and I found one very reasonably priced, i.e. about 1/3rd the price of any I have seen elsewhere to date!

    Looking forward to filling it with my bits and pieces now.

    Thank you for this lovely idea.