If you’re like me, then you have one major roadblock keeping you from studying the Bible: disorganization. Whether you’re overwhelmed by the massive amounts of Bible study tools or you just feel like there’s a more efficient way, you can use this simple framework to get the most out of your study time: the inductive study method.

What is an inductive Bible study?

An inductive Bible study is a deep dive into a verse or passage from the Bible. It is the opposite of a deductive Bible study, (AKA a topical study). We suggest taking notes so that you can remember your study later – you can use a notebook, a note app on your computer or device, or the Notes function on the Olive Tree app!

There are five steps to an inductive study:

  1. Pick a verse or group of verses and pray for understanding.
  2. Compare Bible translations and write down any questions and observations.
  3. Research definitions, concepts, places, cultural elements, and anything else connected to the text.
  4. Interpret by finding the general meaning of the verse/s. Find the answers to your questions. Consider the context.
  5. Apply this verse to your life. What does this verse mean for you? How should you respond? Pray about it.

These steps may seem daunting, so let’s do a sample together! We will be using the ESV Olive Tree Bible Study Pack, a collection of curated tools we put together, perfect for getting the most out of Scripture.

Inductive Study: Acts 10:9-16

1. Pick a verse or group of verses and pray for understanding

The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. 10 And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance 11 and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth.12 In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” 15 And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” 16 This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.

Acts 10:9-16, ESV

Prayer: God, help me study this passage. What are you saying here? What do you want me to learn? Amen.

2. Compare Bible translations and write down any questions and observations.

Using the parallel tab, I’m going to compare the ESV with the NIV and NKJV. I’m also going to generally observe what’s going on and ask questions:

  • When was the “sixth hour”? (v.9)
  • ESV+NKJV says “housetop” but NIV says “roof” (v.9)
  • Whose house was it? (v.9)
  • Peter was hungry (v.10)
  • ESV+NKJV “the heavens” and NIV “heaven”. what’s the difference? (v.11)
  • The sheet had four corners (v.11)
  • ESV “animals”, NIV+NKJV “four-footed animals” (v.12)
  • The voice was telling Peter to eat “all kinds of animals” (v.13)
  • ESV+NKJV “common”, NIV “impure”. Is there a difference? (vv.14-15)
  • Peter went back and forth with the voice of the Lord three times (v.16)

3. Research definitions, concepts, places, cultural elements, and anything else connected to the text.

Now that we’ve taken a look for ourselves, it’s time to consult other resources! The ESV Study Pack has a wealth of different tools. Let’s see what they all say.

ESV STUDY BIBLE NOTES:

  • 10:9 housetop. Houses in Judea typically had flat roofs accessible by ladders or stairs.
  • 10:12 All kinds of animals and reptiles and birds would include both clean and unclean animals. Jewish law forbade the consumption of unclean animals (see Lev. 11:2-47).
  • 10:13 The command from Jesus to kill and eat made no sense to Peter, since it would have violated Jewish food laws. Verse 15 is the key: God was overturning the old clean/unclean distinctions and dietary laws in general, along with all other “ceremonial” laws in the Mosaic covenant (including laws about sacrifices, festivals and special days, and circumcision). Nothing like this was to get in the way of fellowship with Gentiles, as Galatians 2 also shows.

NEW BIBLE DICTIONARY

  • Clean and Unclean (there’s a lot so here are some highlights)
    • “According to Leviticus 10:10-11 it was the duty of the priests ‘to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean’ and to teach the people about the differences. These fundamental categories of biblical thought are then expounded in the following chapters of Leviticus.”
    • “God is the supremely holy being, and anyone who wishes to come into his presence must be holy too. But uncleanness is a bar to holiness: indeed if any unholy person comes into contact with the holy, he will die (e.g. 2 Sam 6:6-7). Uncleanness has a variety of causes and cures.”
    • Lev 11 classifies living creatures into clean and unclean. Clean may be eaten, and some of the clean creatures may be sacrificed, but unclean may not. Cud-chewing animals with split hooves (e.g. cattle, sheep), are clean and may be eaten, but others (e.g. pigs) are unclean. Birds, except birds of prey, are clean and edible. Ordinary fish with fins and scales are also clean, but other aquatic creatures (e.g. shellfish) are unclean (Lev 11:9-12).”
    • “Mankind falls into two main groups, Israel and the Gentiles. Within Israel only one group, the priests may approach the altar to offer sacrifice. This matches the law’s understanding of sacred space. outside the camp is the abode of Gentiles and unclean Israelites. Ordinary Israelites dwell inside the camp, but only priests may approach the altar or enter the tabernacle tent.”
    • These distinctions served to remind Israel of her special status as God’s chosen people. The food laws not only reminded Israel of her distinctiveness, but they also served to enforce it. Jews faithful to these laws would tend to avoid Gentile company, in case they were offered unclean food to eat (see Dan 1:8-16).”

ESV EXHAUSTIVE CONCORDANCE

COMMON -> Acts 10:15 “What God has made clean, do not call common.” DEFILE -> κοινόω [koinoō] “profane, make common or unclean”. Other uses:

  • Mt 15:20 “These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”
  • Mk 7:15 “There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.”
  • Ac 21:28 “crying out, ‘Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place. Moreover, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.'”

NEW BIBLE COMMENTARY

9-23a Meanwhile in Joppa, Peter went up on the roof to pray. The roof would have been flat and a good place to be alone for prayer. Luke tells us that he fell into a trance in order to made it clear that unlike the light and sound Paul experienced earlier, this was a ‘vision’ that another person next to Peter on the roof would not have seen.

The vision itself was a strange one. A bundle was let down containing all kinds of living creatures: four-footed animals… reptiles of the earth and birds of the air make up the three classifications of the whole animal kingdom (see Gn. 6:20). There were, therefore, animals there that a Jew could not eat, by the food laws (see Lv. 11; 20:25). Thus the command that came, Kill and eat, caused Peter to protest his innocence (Ezek. 4:14). The voice replied Do not call anything impure that God has made clean. The whole interchange was repeated twice more – Peter was no stranger to triple repetition (Jn. 13:38; 21:15-17).

Peter wondered about the meaning of the vision. Although Mk. 7:19 says Jesus ‘declared all foods “clean”,’ the NIV, in common with other translations, puts this comment in brackets. That meaning of Jesus’ saying was not at the fore in the original context, and it is only with the benefit of hindsight that the disciples were able to see that implication in what Jesus said at the time; hence Peter’s protests in this story, years later.

It was while Peter was thinking about the vision that the messengers from Cornelius arrived. The Spirit gave Peter clear instructions that he should not hesitate to go with them. By the immediate linking of Cornelius with the vision we see that God had more to teach Peter than a lesson about foods (important as that was). Gentile-Jewish relations were profoundly affected by the change in what Jewish Christians could consider clean foods. It would be a short step from recognizing that Gentile food was clean to realizing that Gentiles themselves were clean also. The Lord did not cover this in Peter’s vision, because he intended a much more dramatic and wonderful sign in Ac. 10:44.

ESV ARCHAEOLOGY STUDY BIBLE NOTES

10:14-15 never eaten anything that is common or unclean. The OT Law listed unclean foods that Jews were not allowed to eat (see below chart). First-century Jews continued to separate themselves from Gentiles, in part due to their refusal to eat food common to Gentile tables.

ESV Archaeology Study Bible dietary laws

ESV BIBLE ATLAS

12-15. Peter’s Early Ministry, c A.D. 39? (Acts 2-4; 9-12) The apostle Peter traveled to the crossroads town of Lydda and healed a paralyzed man, leading many in that region to turn to the Lord. Later Peter traveled to Joppa and raised a woman from the dead. While Peter was staying at the house of Simon, a tanner in Joppa, the Roman centurion Cornelius sent for him to come to Caesarea.

ESV Bible Atlas Joppa Samaria where did peter's vision happen?

4. Interpret by finding the general meaning of the verse/s. Find the answers to your questions. Consider the context.

Before we finish up this inductive Bible study, let’s take a look at some more study Bible notes that put this verse into a theological context.

GOSPEL TRANSFORMATION STUDY BIBLE NOTES

Acts 10:9-33 The expression “the heavens opened” (v.11) would have reminded readers of other significant communications from God, such as the baptism of Jesus (Luke 3:21) and, in the same book of Acts, Stephen’s vision of the exalted Christ just before his martyrdom (Acts 7:56). In Peter’s visions key word is “all”: God shows him “all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air” (10:12). This would clearly have included animals forbidden in the Old Testament dietary regulations (Lev 11; Deut 14), yet God tells Peter to “kill and eat” (Acts 10:13). As a faithful Jew, Peter reacts with horror at the prospect of eating “unclean” foods.

The vision initially confuses him, but when the God-fearing Cornelius sends for Peter, he makes the connection. God is using a buffet of foods to show that he is able to make anyone clean, and he has chosen to bring cleansing and salvation through Christ to all the nations. Peter now understands that he “should not call any person common or unclean” (v. 28). Once again, salvation extends beyond a significant boundary, this time beyond the borders of Israel into the Gentile world.

That this vision, and its connection to Cornelius, is highly significant is made clear by several indicators. The vision is given by God three times (v. 16). The command in the vision to “kill and eat” is concise and direct (v. 13). The Spirit speaks directly to Peter (vv. 19-20). And finally, an angel speaks directly to Cornelius (vv.30-32). Why is Luke so intent to relate these specifics regarding the importance of the vision and its effects on different persons? In part, to show that God intends to save both individuals and people groups.

Up to this time, individual Gentiles have been saved (from Ruth and Rahab in the Old Testament to the Ethiopian in this book of Acts). But Cornelius has a household with him, and it is apparent that others outside his household are aware of this new kind of mercy as well (v. 24). The gospel will spread not only to individuals but to entire people groups, who will depend and be grafted into God’s people. And, of course, it is important to note that these groups now extend to those formerly considered unclean. The gospel knows no ethnic boundaries.

Let’s put it all together:

Ok we just did a bunch of work. Let’s build a summary so we don’t get lost.

  • Peter was in Joppa on a flat-roofed house (ESV Study Bible; New Bible Commentary; ESV Bible Atlas)
  • He had a vision while he was waiting to eat (v.10; New Bible Commentary)
  • In the vision, clean and unclean animals were being lowered by a sheet (vv.11-12; ESV SB; New Bible Dictionary; New Bible Commentary; ESV Archaeology SB; Gospel Transformation SB)
  • The voice of the Lord tells Peter to “kill and eat”, a controversial request that would have made Peter ritually unclean (vv.13-14; ESV SB; New Bible Dictionary; New Bible Commentary; Gospel Transformation SB)
  • The Lord replies, “what the God has made clean, do not call common”, a general statement that implied the ability for Gentiles to be clean (v.15; ESV SB; ESV Exhaustive Concordance; New Bible Commentary; Gospel Transformation SB)
  • God affirms this statement a total of three times, signaling finality (v.16; New Bible Commentary; Gospel Transformation SB)
  • Peter’s revelation affirmed that individuals, families, and the entire population of Gentiles could be saved (Gospel Transformation SB)
  • During his earthly ministry, Jesus already stated that what goes in doesn’t make you unclean. Maybe this vision happened because Peter missed it the first time (ESV Exhaustive Concordance)

My thoughts: This story isn’t either about food or Gentiles. It’s both. Food was a big part of society back then, so faithful Jews (like Peter) would normally stay away from Gentile entirely. This vision opened the door to all food, meaning Gentiles were no longer made unclean by their food. This is a huge turning point for the unity of the body of Christ! Right after this vision, Peter goes to Cornelius’s house, eats with them, and brings his entire family (of Gentiles) to salvation! There is no room for elitism here!

5. Apply this verse to your life. What does this verse mean for you? How should you respond? Pray about it.

Sometimes I feel like Peter, who went back and forth with the voice of the Lord three times before accepting His words. I can be stubborn and set in my ways. When I’m doing the wrong thing, this makes it hard to change. I learned that this stubbornness is actually a gift because it helps me stay firm in my faith. I may scoff at Peter for not accepting the Lord’s voice after the first time, but how many times have I ignored the promptings of the Holy Spirit? How many times have I been stubborn against God rather than for Him?

Prayer: Lord, forgive me for sometimes considering others unclean or un-savable. Forgive me for being unwilling to break social norms to share your revolutionary Gospel. If I followed you every step of the way, I know there were many opportunities I wouldn’t have missed to encourage and lead others to You. Thank you for providing a way for anyone to become your son or daughter, even a sinner like me. Thank you for having my best interest at heart, even if it’s uncomfortable or difficult. Help me internalize this story of Peter and give me an opportunity to share the Gospel with someone I consider unclean (even unconsciously). Amen.

I want to close with this poignant application from the Gospel Transformation Study Bible:

Satan often tempts us to doubt God’s salvation, reminding us of the unclean blemish of sin in our or others’ lives. Peter’s vision, however, reminds us that what God has called clean, we have no right to call unclean (v. 15). God sees us as pure in Christ, and how God sees things is how they truly are. There is no condemnation for those in Christ (Rom 8:1), for he has removed our sins as far as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12); he has made our scarlet sins as white as snow (Isa. 1:18). We no longer regard others or ourselves by outward appearance. Instead we regard others and ourselves according to the Spirit, in which God has made us clean, pure, and whole (2 Cor 5:16).


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1 Comment

  1. Dorcas Ayuba Kuwat Reply

    This exposition has really given me a clear understanding about the vision Peter had. Thank you for blessing me.

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