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
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
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 passage?
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 Bible.
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
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
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, maps, etc.
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
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. Aand 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."
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 opportunity:
"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."
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."
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."
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.