OICA is an acronym representing the four steps of an inductive Bible study:
1 - Observation - What is being said?
2 - Interpretation - What is being meant?
3 - Correlation - Where else is it being said and / or explained?
4 - Application - What will I do about what is being said?
I have added a fifth step to the above which, while closely related to the step of applying what you have learned to
your life, is more of a stand alone practice whose sole purpose is to keep God's word at the forefront of your mind.
5 - Meditation - Keeping the Bible and what it teaches on your mind.
Inductive Bible study is that Bible study which occurs when the passage being studied is allowed to speak to us, our conclusions being
drawn from the passage. It is the opposite of deductive Bible study, that which forms conclusions prior to the Bible study and searches
the Bible for support for these conclusions, often taking passages out of their context in the process. In performing inductive Bible
study we are reading data from the passage, while in performing deductive Bible study we are reading data into the passage.
Step 1: Observation
Read the passage being studied several times in order to get a good feel for the details. Act as though you are reading this passage
for the first time and observe all the facts. Ask questions of the passage:
1 - Who is involved?
2 - What are they doing?
3 - Where are they? Where are they going?
4 - When did this happen, what happened before, what will happen afterwards.
5 - Why is this happening, what happened to lead up to this event?
6 - Had this been foretold?
More questions may be found in the section on the Chapter Analysis Method of Bible study.
Observation is crucial in obtaining a good understanding of any given Bible passage, in order for it to be effective we must learn to
avoid the following traps:
1.1 - Speed reading. Often, either through familiarity, boredom, or lack of time, we tend to rush through a
passage. We must learn to take our time, extracting from the text every detail.
1.2 - Trusting our memory. Too seldom do we actually write down what we are seeing in the Bible's pages, our
memory for detail will be greatly enhanced once we start to take notes during the observation process.
1.3 - Giving up. Just because we have already studied a given text does not mean that we know all there is to
know about it. Simply because we have not studied the Bible in a classroom environment, or have not gone to Bible college, it does not mean
that our Bible study will be ineffective. It is God who rewards the student, as we gain experience in Bible study we will still need to
rely on His guiding hand, our mind will simply be better at doing the work of Bible study.
1.4 - Immediate application. Many passages of Scripture may seem to be easily understood, especially to those
who read the Bible frequently. In some cases this may not be out of place but in general the point of Bible study is to put off
application until we fully understand what we have been studying. The danger of immediate application is that we tend to apply what the
passage means to us personally rather than what the author intended the passage to mean to all.
Some of these questions will lead to the next step of interpretation but that is not the goal during the observation step, what you are
attempting here is to get a good understanding of the flow of the passage, its surrounding events, its characters – you are in short
looking for every detail you can find. Take your time through this stage, as it is foundational to the overall impact of the study.
Step 2: Interpretation
Regard the passage as though you are a detective, studying the passage for any clues that can help to answer the following questions:
2.1 - What does this passage mean, what is being said? Attempt to discover the actual meaning of the passage.
2.2 - What was the author trying to say to his original readers, how would the original readers have understood this
2.3 - What is the author trying to say to me? Keep in mind that there is often significant distance (historical,
political, societal, cultural, geographical, covenantal and positional to name just a few) between the original readers and us.
2.4 - Why is this here, what is the theological significance of the text?
Keep in mind that: When the plain sense of Bible makes common sense, seek no other sense, you might find nonsense. The Bible was
written for normal people to understand, not merely the super intelligent or those who (according to some cults) claim an additional
knowledge not generally given to all. Don't look for hidden meanings unless you have good reason to think there is further meaning that is
not obvious or indicated by the surrounding context. This means that we are not to modify the plain sense of the Bible when it contradicts
our treasured beliefs but must instead modify even our treasured beliefs when the teaching of the Bible is against them. Remember also to
ask questions, Christianity is not a faith for the intellectually challenged and our God is not a God who acts in a manner that is beyond
our ability to understand, though He often acts in ways that are beyond our capacity to understand. We can ask questions of all that we
read in the Bible and expect reasonable answers that we are able to understand and that are consistent with teachings elsewhere in the
Some general principles of interpretation are:
1 - Interpret the Bible by the Bible, refer to parallel passages, noting both differences and similarities.
2 - Research the words recalling that even in English the meanings of various words will change over time. Remember,
too, that different words may be used to convey similar concepts, such as our use of acquaintance, friend, intimate friend, girlfriend &
boyfriend, fiancée, wife & husband, or parent & child to define various aspects of the love relationship between humans.
3 - Evaluate the use of grammar, why were the words put together as they have been? Would another idea have been
conveyed if the grammar had been different?
4 - Carefully consider the context of the verse, passage, paragraph, chapter and book. Context is either near (in the
same body of text) or remote (in a removed portion of text).
5 - Discover what the author's intent was in writing what you are reading. For example: Paul's letters generally convey
the occasion of each letter, as do some of the gospels, for other writing you may have to do some research.
6 - Study the background of the book of which your study passage is a part by use of Bible dictionaries, encyclopaedias,
7 - Consider the author's themes in other writings. For example: Does Revelation have anything to offer to our study of
the Gospel of John.
8 - Evaluate how you would understand the writer if they were communicating directly with you. What would you most
immediately understand his meaning?
Step 3: Correlation
Correlation can actually be part of interpretation and is frequently done simultaneously. When you correlate, you are bringing up
sections from other parts of the chapter, book, or entire Bible that help you to understand the section you are studying and are operating
on the principle that: The Bible is its own best interpreter. An example of correlation would be to refer to parallel passages in the
synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) during a study of the gospel of John. A concordance, cross reference system or study Bible (such
as the Thompson Chain Reference Bible) will be especially valuable at this stage. Other useful practices in correlation are: paraphrasing
the passage, summarizing the passage, outlining the passage, and making charts that relate concepts and ideas in the passage to each other
and to other passages dealing with similar ideas. Various uses of these devices will appear in some form or an other in the following
section on the Bible study methods.
Step 4: Application
Application begins during your study but continues on into your day-to-day living. Bible study without application becomes a stale,
intellectual exercise, like sitting in a car without fuel you will not go anywhere. Your spiritual growth will not occur by merely reading
the Bible; its truths must be acted out. Do not rush into application until you are sure what the passage says and means, and then adjust
your life accordingly. Take steps also to measure your application, evaluate your progress and make the necessary changes in your
application. If you are unable to apply the passage, try asking yourself these questions:
1 - Is there a command for me to obey?
2 - Is there a good example for me to follow?
3 - Is there a sin here for me to avoid?
4 - Is there something here I want to thank God for?
5- Is there a promise I can call my own?
6 - Is there a blessing I can enjoy?
7 - Is there a failure from which I can learn?
8 - Is there a victory for me to win?
9 - Is there a new thought about God, the Lord Jesus, the Holy Spirit, Satan, man?
10 - Is there a truth in this passage that has greatly affected me?
Remember during your study the words of Jesus:
"Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the
rock. And the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the
rock. But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And
the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall."
This is a clear warning to all who would learn the Bible that its teaching is for application into one's life in order that that life
may be build upon the Solid Rock. It is important to allow change to occur as we read the Bible else we become like the man who built his
house on the sand, we hear the words of God but fail to take heed of them and so our life is lost in the storm. Some of the study methods
that follow will give you opportunity to note various applications and provide for you to be able to evaluate you application after a
certain period of time. If you will follow those prompts you will be able to allow God to change your life through you times of fellowship
with Him in the study of His word.
As you begin to apply what you are learning through your Bible studies you will find that you have made some progress toward change in
a certain aspect of your life. At this point you may be tempted to stop this particular application process and carry on with another
application. Don't. There may always be room for improvement, as Paul has said in his letter to the church in Philippi:
"Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which
Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me." (Philippians 3:12)
If you have been prompted by the Holy Spirit toward some change in your life, or He is leading you through such a change, you must not
be satisfied with the fact that you may no longer be doing the worst of what the Holy Spirit is leading you away from while continuing to
do the less bad aspects of this thing. When God comes to change us He is asking that we eliminate all within us that is contrary to His
will, not merely the worst of it.
Step 5: Meditation
We live in an age where entertainment of various types is widely available and it is quite possible to fill all of one's uncommitted
time with the enjoyment of these entertainments. While entertainment in and of itself is not a bad thing entertainment becomes bad when
it consumes all of our time and it becomes especially bad when it takes from our time with God. You may well ask "How much of my time
belongs to God?" The answer is all of it. Every second that you "own" is given to you by God and is His to command. Any activity that
takes our time from God is harmful. The Israelites were commanded by God at Mount Sinai to meditate upon the scripture at every
"And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children,
and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them
as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your
gates." (Deuteronomy 6:6-9)
The overwhelming idea of this command was that the words of God would constantly be on the mind of His people. They were to think about
God and what He has said at every opportunity. His words were to greet them as they entered their homes. His words were to be on their
minds as they lay on their beds. His words were to be their guide as they went about their business. In every aspect of their lives they
were to consider the words of God so that no part of their lives would be seen as separated from Him. That this command was not restricted
to the Israelites of Moses' day is made evident in Paul's admonition to the church at Colossae:
"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and
spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord." (Colossians 3:16)
Meditation involves a variety of activities, some of which are: Praise, prayer, Scripture memory and worship. We may feel out of place
praising God or worshipping Him as we go about our daily tasks but keep in mind the response of Paul and Silas to being unjustly
imprisoned, beaten and uncomfortable as they sat on the floor with their feet fastened to stocks:
"Then the multitude rose up together against them; and the magistrates tore off their clothes and commanded them to be
beaten with rods. And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely.
Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. But at midnight Paul and Silas
were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them." (Acts 16:22-25)
Even in prison, in pain and surrounded by criminals of every sort Paul and Silas were unashamedly praising God rather than encouraging
each other in feeling sorry for themselves. They were more concerned with God than they were with their circumstance and could therefore
praise Him in spite of their circumstance. Similarly the Psalmist, when confronted by the Godlessness of his society could meditate on the
magnificent things that God had done in history for Israel and remain assured that all would be well. Regardless of what happened he could
rest in the knowledge that God is in control.
Prayer as well is something that we can do throughout our day rather than at set times within the day. We are told in the Bible to pray
without ceasing. A song popular in the 1980s was entitled "Make My Life a Prayer to." You interpreted the idea of unceasing prayer as the
making of our lives a constant prayer to God. Prayer is not merely asking God for what we want or need. Prayer is communication with God
where we lay ourselves open to His will and lay before Him the deepest needs of our hearts (be they the need to praise Him or the need for
food). Many people have experienced great fellowship with God simply by praying the portion of the Bible that they have been studying.
For example: If you are reading about Paul and Silas as quoted in the above passage you might pray that God would enable you to endure
hardship and suffering in the same manner. Or you might pray that you would be able to worship God in every circumstance of your life. The
idea is that prayer is not isolated from our lives (and everything we do with our lives) but is a fundamental component of our lives.
Scripture memory is perhaps the primary aspect of meditation as it relates to Bible study. Of Scripture memory John Ortberg writes that:
Memorizing Scripture is an important part of keeping a mind focused on Christ.... The point of memorizing Scripture is
not to see how many verses you can memorize. The point is what happens to your mind in the process of rehearsing Scripture. When you are
rehearsing statements from Scripture, you are having different thoughts than you would be if you were watching some television show.
(John Ortberg's "If You Want To Walk On Water, You've Got To Get Out Of The Boat")
Too often we avoid Scripture memory, thinking that it is too hard, that we are too old to being to memorize Scripture, or that with
all the resources around today we do not need to memorize the word of God. The verse quoted above from Deuteronomy does not exempt the
aged from contemplation of the word of God, nor does it suggest that having a book handy is sufficient to obey the command. The entire
emphasis of this is that the followers of God are to be intimately involved with Him and His word. Our knowledge of God and His word is
to surpass our knowledge of anything else for there is a life to be lived and we dare not find ourselves unprepared.
Peter Rhebergen, was raised in a Christian home and currently attends Westney Heights Baptist Church
with his family. He is a volunteer in several of its ministries and has served as assistant pastor, youth leader, adult Sunday School
teacher and as pulpit supply at various churches and Bible Camps in Southern Ontario. He has been married since 1989 and together with
his wife has three wonderful children who have introduced them to horses, hermit crabs and numerous other creatures they would not
otherwise have met. He is an avid photographer and poet and has held a life-long interest in astronomy thanks to Psalm 19 and an uncle.
You can visit's Peters website at www.EachNewDay.com.
This material can be freely used by anyone desiring to bring honour to our God - Peter Rhebergen