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General Bible Study: Answers to Inductive Questions

General Bible study resources for regular use by students and laypersons.

Stuck on a Question?

The purpose of this page is to provide you with example answers to the inductive Bible study questions for Observation, Interpretation, and Application, for various passages of Scripture.

Sometimes it is hard to remember how to answer one of the questions for inductive Bible study.  For instance, students often have a hard time figuring out the difference between these two questions, and how to answer them:

  1. What is the immediate context/setting of the passage?
  2. How does the passage relate to its immediate context?

Below you will find an inductive Bible study performed on a passage of scripture with answers to each question.  In addition, guidelines for answering the questions are provided.  Click on the tab for the section you want to review, and click on the question to be taken to the answer.

Passage: John 3:1-15

[1] "Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. [2] This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” [3] Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” [4] Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?” [5] Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. [6] That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. [7] Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ [8] The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” [9] Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” [10] Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? [11] Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. [12] If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? [13] No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. [14] And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, [15] that whoever believes in him may have eternal life."

(John 3:1-15 ESV)

Answers to Observation Questions

1. The author of this passage is John, the Apostle. This is the testimony of the early church and John is the person most likely to be "the beloved disciple" who testifies to writing the book. Known as a "son of thunder," he wanted to call down fire on those who would not believe in Jesus, but he became a teacher of brotherly love among the saints.

Guidelines for answering this question:

  • Always give more than just a name.
  • Personal characteristics of the author:  John was the son of Zebedee and an Apostle.  Paul was a pharisee, etc.
  • Give reasons why we believe the author wrote the book. (ie. testimony of the church fathers, internal evidence, etc).


 2. The Gospel of John was most likely written sometime between AD 70-100 due to internal details such as the theological themes and references to persons, places, or events.  For instance, John alludes to Peter's martyrdom in chapter 21, and to the Sea of Gallilee as the Sea of Tiberias.  There is also no reference to the Sadducees, who ceased to be a religious party after AD 70.  The emphasis upon the deity of Jesus might also reflect the theological concerns of John as overseer of the churches in Asia Minor.

Guidelines for answering this question:

  • Look for clues in the first few sentences of the book as to when it might have been written.
  • Use the introduction to the book in a study Bible, New Testament survey, or Bible commentary.


3. Jesus and Niccodemus, a religious leader of the Jews. God, the Father. God, the Holy Spirit. Moses.

Guidelines for answering this question:

  • Look for persons referenced in the passage, including members of the Godhead and biblical figures not present in a narrative "scene."


4. John speaks as the narrator. Jesus speaks to Nicodemus and Nicodemus responds accordingly.

Guidelines for answering this question:

  • The speaker is often someone other than the author.
  • Look for the clues of dialogue, such as quotation marks.
  • Look toward the beginning of the segment of scripture or the beginning of the book for clues.


5. Born/born again. God/Kingdom of God. Spirit. Bear witness/tell/give testimony. Believe. Eternal life. Heaven.  (Words with slashes between them indicate a concept represented by different words in the passage).

  • Key words are hinge words, not fringe words.  Key words significantly impact the meaning of the passage.
  • Key concepts are sometimes represented by several words.
  • Look for repeated words, but make sure they are hinge words.
  • "God" and "Jesus" are not always key words.
  • Long narrative passages have fewer key words than short didactic (teaching) passages.
  • After you have selected several words do this:  Imagine the passage as a door with three hinges.  Which three words are the hinges upon which the door turns?  For this passage I chose: Born again, believe, eternal life.


6. Born again. Spirit. Believe. Kingdom of God. Bear witness/tell.

  • Look for repeated concepts represented by different words (ie. birth, bear witness/tell)
  • Do not include insignificant words as key words just because they are repeated.


7. There are several comparisons in this passage.  Jesus compares the spiritual renewal that comes from God to one's birth.  Jesus compares water and  the Holy Spirit.  Jesus compares wind and the Holy Spirit.  Jesus compares the lifting up of the Son of Man (his crucifixion) to Moses lifting up the snake in the wilderness.

  • To compare is to show how two things are similar.
  • To contrast is to show how two things are different.
  • The presence of words such as "like" or "as" may signify the presence of a comparison.
  • The presence of the word "but," may indicate the presence of a contrast.
  • Not every passage will have comparison or contrast.
  • Do not force a comparison or contrast where none exists!


8. There are a few cause-effect relationships in this passage.  According to Jesus, being born again causes one to see the Kingdom of God.  Being born of water and the Spirit leads one into the Kingdom of God. Believing in the Son of Man results in eternal life.

  • A cause and effect relationship is present when a reaction, condition or event is said to be result of an action, condition or event.
  • Words such as "then," "when," ",so" or "unless" may indicate the presence of a cause-effect relationship.
  • Sometimes a cause-effect relationship is implied, rather than clearly stated when words expressing that something is possible in the event that a certain condition is met, ie. Jesus is lifted up so that those who believe on Him may have eternal life.
  • Not all passages have a cause-effect relationship.  Don't force it!


9. The literary form used in this passage is narrative.  More specifically, it is a gospel, which is a sub-genre of the New Testament.

  • The best way to identify literary form is to learn about all the literary forms present within the Bible: law, narrative, poetry, wisdom, historical, prophecy, apocalyptic, gospel, parable, and epistle.‚Äč
  • Utilize the "Keys to interpretation" in your Bible study DiscipleWay book (pg 21-22).
  • Epistles begin with a salutation and have more commands.
  • Narratives describe action, persons, places, and things and usually have dialogue.
  • The text of poetry is offset in most Bibles.




Answers to Interpretation Question

1.John was an apostle of Jesus Christ many years before he wrote his gospel and lived in Asia Minor, but he was a Palestinian Jew by birth.  In this passage, the concept of new birth must have been appalling for Nicodemus.  As a religious ruler of God's chosen people He believed that he was automatically born into the Kingdom of God.  He might have been greatly offended by Jesus' words that he needed to be born again.  The Hebrew and Greek words for "wind" and "spirit" are the same in each language.  A Palestinian Jew would also be aware of what was being implied by Jesus' statement "Son of Man," a messianic term, and that "being lifted up" means being offered up as a sacrifice.

Guidelines for answering this question:

  • This question is basically asking how the world of the original audience differs from our own and what about this passage reflects this fact.
  • The best way to become aware of the effect of cultural-historical context upon the passage is to study Bible backgrounds.  A good study Bible will point out where this occurs, but commentaries will go deeper.  Moreoever, a dictionary or other text on Bible backgrounds will offer insight into the culture and customs which affect the meaning of a text.


2. John is in the process of telling his readers the most important things that Jesus said and did.  In this passage he is explaining how Jesus spoke truth to a religious leader of the Jews who came to him by night.  The next chapter shows how He spoke truth to the lowest people in His world, going to the adulterous Samaritan woman in the brightest part of the day.  Jesus proceeds to tell this ruler that his status as a religious leader is worth nothing if the Spirit does not give Him new life from above and that he must believe in Him in order to enter the Kingdom of God.

  • The context or setting of a passage refers to what is going on in the passage.  
  • For narratives and historical passages we can speak in terms of events and how the author is presenting them.
  • For epistles, or other didactic (teaching) passages we are looking more for what the author is doing.
  • When we ask "what is the author doing" we might reply that he is "encouraging the church at Thessalonica" or "warning the church of Galatia not to follow false doctrine." 


3. Rabbi simply means "teacher."  Although rabbis might be associated with particular sects in Jesus' day, it was probably out of respect for Jesus' good teaching that people referred to Him as a rabbi.  Kingdom of God refers to the reign and rule of God that Christ was initiating on earth among His followers, teaching them how to live and prepare for the full realization of that Kingdom on earth.  Born of water and the Spirit: There are several theories as to what this means.  Some say it refers to water baptism in which a person receives the Holy Spirit.  Some say it refers to the combination of natural birth (of water, referring to the fluids associated with birth) and spiritual.  More likely, it is a reference to Ezekiel 36:25-27.

  • This question is a call to do extra research in terms or ideas which one does not understand or for which one needs further clarification.
  • Pay attention to terms which seem related to cultural-historical context.
  • Use information sources such as dictionaries of the Bible or biblical backgrounds, as well as biblical commentaries to research these terms.


4. This passage follows the narrator's statement in John 2 that Jesus did not need to be told about the nature of human beings because He knows what is in a person.  The first person presented after that is this religious ruler of the Jews and teacher of Israel, Nicodemus.  Following Jesus' meeting with Nicodemus, He meets the Samaritan woman, who He also knows.  This passage shows readers that Jesus has something to say to the religious elites, that they need to be born again and believe in the Son of man, just as the following chapter shows that Jesus had something to say to the social outcasts, that they can come to Him for living water. The author is telling us what happened between Jesus and Nicodemus, not just because it happened, but because of what it tells us about Jesus.

  • The best way to answer this question is to ask yourself "How does this passage fit into the author's purpose for the whole book?"
  • If the purpose of the book is to tell us about the life, ministry, and message of Jesus, you want to answer this question by explaining how this passage functions in that purpose.
  • If the purpose of a book is to warn against false doctrine, you want to figure out how the present passage contributes to that overall purpose.


5. The following scriptures are related to the new birth: 2 Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 6:15, 1 Peter 1:3, 23.  Ezekiel 36:25-27, Titus 3:5, and Hebrews 10:22 are related to "born of water and the Spirit." Numbers 21:9 is where Moses lifts up the serpent in the wilderness.  Two subsequent times Jesus refers to Himself as being lifted up: 8:28, 12:32-34.

  • Search for scriptures that genuinely help interpret the passage.
  • Use the cross-references in your Bible, but do not simply copy them down.
  • This is the practice of letting scripture interpret scripture.


6. The Apostle John wrote this passage to show his readers how Jesus came to teach all men the way to eternal life.  In this account of Nicodemus, coming to Jesus by night, Jesus teaches a teacher of Israel that he must be born again in order to see the Kingdom of God.  All people must be born again from above through the work of God's Spirit, that they might believe the good testimony that Jesus is the Son of man lifted up and thereby have eternal life.

  • Include the author and his purpose if you can, especially if it is an epistle.
  • An application statement to the present-day reader is not a summary.  For instance, "You must be born again in order to have eternal life."
  • If the passage is from an epistle, include the audience, ie. "The churches of Asia Minor."
  • A good summary reflects much of what you have discovered through the previous questions.

Answers to Application Questions

1. One must be born again in order to see the Kingdom of God.  One must be born of water and the Spirit to enter the Kingdom of God.  Whoever believes in the Son of Man lifted up will have eternal life.

  • A truth to believe is more than a factual statement:  Note the difference between these two statements: Jesus raised "Lazarus from the dead" vs "Jesus is the resurrection and the life."
  • A promise to claim or a truth to believe ought to be something you can cling to and teach others to cling to for dear life.


2.  There isn't really an example to follow in this passage, nor is there an error presented that the reader should avoid.

  • An example to follow is a person in the text who is doing something good.
  • An error to avoid is a prohibition or an action performed by someone in the text which is presented as an error or a sin.


3.  "You must be born again."

  • Only answer with commands that come from a member of the Godhead or a representative such as an apostle or prophet.
  • Commands are given to the reader or to a person in whose position the reader could be.  The reader cannot be expected to bathe in the Jordan river.


4. There isn't an attitude to change or a sin to confess presented in the passage.

  • Thee are two ways you might answer this question.
    • Attitudes and sins mentioned in the passage, ie. "You shall not steal."
    • Attitudes and sins which come to one's attention while reading the passage.
  • This is personal, but stick with items that logically proceed from the text.


5. Praise God for the new birth by which we can see the Kingdom of God and believe upon the Son of Man for eternal life!

  • Mention items that are specifically in the text.