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Inductive vs Deductive

By Dan Vis
April 11, 2022
Comments: 50

This month I'm just sharing a few favorite memo's, on various aspects of the discipleship (following the Disciple's Wheel). This week, we look at Bible study, with one of our most popular memos. Somehow I haven't post this in nearly five years!

A book and glasses

It's common to hear people emphasize the importance of inductive Bible study as opposed to deductive--but the difference between the two is not always well explained. In this article I'd like to share how I define these two approaches, and explore their pros and cons. I'll also suggest which is best.

Defining Terms
The words "inductive" and "deductive" can be applied to many things. In terms of Bible study, an inductive approach generally starts with some passage and attempts to infer a principle or teaching. A deductive approach, starts with some principle or teaching, and attempts to find supporting passages. Inductive emphasizes discovery. Deductive emphasizes proof.

Inductive studies are often passage oriented. One reads a passage carefully, studies the context of the passage, and attempts to get into the flow of the writer's thoughts. Finally he looks for some insight or discovery--often with a focus on application. Small groups often use this approach.

Deductive studies are usually topical. One starts with a doctrine or concept, then you look up all the passages containing that word or idea, and line up the verses that best support your position. In the end you have a compelling list of proof texts. Bible study guides are often created using this approach.

Passage studies, however, can be deductive. If you scour a passage for every trace of evidence to support your preexisting view--you make the study deductive. Similarly, topical studies can be inductive. If you look up every verse containing some word or idea, and then try to draw fresh insights from those references--your approach is largely inductive. The difference is your goal.

The Pros and Cons
It is sometimes argued the inductive approach is better, because it avoids imposing preconceived ideas on our interpretation of Scripture. We are more likely to make personal discoveries, and hear God speak to us in a meaningful way. And because there is often an emphasis on application, this approach can be highly life-changing.

But there are weaknesses to this approach as well. Because we are focused on personal discovery, our insights can be rather subjective. When we stick to a single passage, we may miss verses that would otherwise contradict or refine our interpretation. And by not carefully documenting all the evidence for a specific belief, we can find ourselves ill-prepared to give a clear answer for our faith. If we want to be theologically solid, there is a place for deductive study too.

The Best Approach
So which approach is better? In part, it depends on your purpose. If we are talking about morning devotions--where we are simply seeking to hear a Word from the Lord to strengthen us for the day--an inductive study is often most nourishing. We take our personal application, and head out into the world! But if we are getting ready to study with a friend who is confused on some biblical teaching, you better review all the verses on that topic you can find and get your best verses lined up.

But the best approach is a combination of the two. While my morning devotions may be largely inductive, there needs to be a deductive component. I want to analyze the passage carefully to make sure I am not misreading it. And I am constantly comparing with cross references mentally, to make sure my interpretation does not contradict some other principle taught elsewhere in the Bible.

Likewise, when I'm preparing for a doctrinal study with my friend, I may want to dig deeper into some of the specific verses and make sure they say what I think they say--that I'm not reading something into them that is not there. I also want to remain open to the possibility some aspect of my understanding is incorrect. Perhaps my friend is actually right! Though my approach is largely deductive, I must always maintain a teachable, inductive attitude to God's Word.

Here's an example of how the two methods blend together. Suppose you have been asked to do a sermon. I usually begin by praying until I have a clear impression as to a topic. Then, I start with a serious topical study--but keep it inductive. That is, I find every verse on that topic I can, and then look for broad patterns or principles in those verses, and ultimately a central, overarching theme. I begin putting together a simple outline based on those main points. Then I go back through my notes and highlight the best verses for each one, verses to make my message as clear and concise as possible. This becomes the skeleton of the sermon which I flesh out with stories, illustrations, transitions, etc. The main theme becomes my final appeal. Basically, I'm inductive first, and then deductive second.

Similarly, suppose you have been asked to do the lesson study at your church one day. I usually completely skip the quarterly at first and go straight to a serious inductive study of the assigned passage. I dig deep into the context, examine the original words used, consider relevant cross references, and in general try to get into the mind of the Bible writer. Then, when I have inferred 3 or 4 main points from the passage itself, I'll go back and build a list of the best evidences for each of those points, and only then compare my outline with any ideas from the quarterly I missed. Last, I put together a list of questions to help guide my class through each of those points, thus guiding and replicating the process of discovery I myself went through. Once again, I begin with inductive study to figure out the main highlights, and then switch to a deductive approach to help get ready to teach!

It's not really one or the other--but rather, a combination of the two that is best. We must always remain teachable, and avoid imposing preconceived ideas on God's Word. An inductive approach is vital. But we must also be intentional about building a solid theological framework, and test every insight or interpretation by those core Bible teachings. A deductive approach is important too. Neither by itself is safe. Together, they balance and reinforce each other. Are both kinds of study a part of your life?


So which type of study do you gravitate toward? Do you focus primarily on passage studies and personal application? Or do you focus more on Bible doctrine, and building a theological framework? What can you do to bring more balance to your intake of the Word?

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Posted by Dan Vis on 09/25/22
That's good, if you ask me Lana. I think our devotions should always be inductive--ie, waiting on the Lord to speak to us. But you're right that there is a place for both, and at every stage of our journey. I would guess you are also rare in that, as my observation is that most people tend to focus more on deductive study.
Posted by Lana Rose on 09/25/22
I think that lately I have been an inductive studier.
I have really been excited about applying the Word.
Guessing that with everything else in life there is balance needed between the two ways, and will strive to put more deductive into my study.
Posted by Dan Vis on 04/17/22
I don't doubt you are a natural teacher Colette!
Posted by Colette Guthrie on 04/17/22
That makes sense Dan. Thanks.
Posted by Dan Vis on 04/17/22
I guess that would be a hybrid approach Colette, leaning towards deductive. Deriving the conclusion without carefully analyzing the passage first may limit our ability to fully grasp what the passage is getting at. A big part of the inductive approach is suspending judgment until we are certain we have discerned what it is saying.

To go back afterward and find verses to support our points is definitely deductive in nature. It's possibly the sign of a good teacher--the ability to intuit a passage's meaning and then quickly switch to preparing a presentation, so to speak. But that's the real difference. One is learning mode, one is teaching mode...
Posted by Colette Guthrie on 04/16/22
I like the passage based-approach to studying the word and have benefitted from using it in advanced classes at Fast. I tend to start at the end with the conclusion and then go looking for the texts to back up my points. Not sure which approach that is!

I've been asked to share at church at one Wednesday night prayer meeting in May. I know I want to focus on an aspect of prayer and started out with an acronym POWER but after looking up three reasons why prayers aren't answered in the Survival Kit, I'm going with an inductive approach! Looking at Matthew 7:7Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: & Luke 11:13If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him? got me started.
Posted by Dan Vis on 04/11/22
That's a good point Cecilia. I suspect we have a sense of which approach is most helpful based on our situation and specific need. It's super important to always remain teachable and Spirit-led. Thanks for your comment!
Posted by Cecilia D Jones on 04/11/22
I've never thought about the way I study the Bible.   I have always just followed the leading of the Holy Spirit.   I find, in retrospect, that in doing so, I have done both types. I feel that by allowing the Spirit to lead me I have always learned what God wanted me to learn.
Posted by Dan Vis on 04/10/22
I think the deductive approach is far more common, which is partly why I tend to encourage a more inductive approach--it seems more needed, and for the most part, our skills are weaker here. Inductive skills are key to our own personal growth, but for ministry, we need good deductive skills too.
Posted by Paul Roell on 06/08/19
I typically do the deductive studying, now that I think about it. But there are certainly times when I use the inductive approach. I've never led a bible study nor given a sermon. I've been praying for God to lead me in doing either or both. Then, suddenly, my Pastor asked me to lead in this program. I excitedly accepted the offer! I'm so glad to be learning these new principles and how to lead in Bible study!
Posted by Dan Vis on 05/29/19
Anita, there is a timed limit on your posts, I think. About 20 minutes or so. I always scroll down to double check my post is there. If I time out, it's usually sitting there in the comment box waiting for me to try again. Sorry you lost your post!
Posted by Anita Huffman on 05/29/19
I'm sure I hit "Post" and it just disappeared ---again. I'll try again. I have always enjoyed gathering and sharing facts on any subject, not just Bible study. I do think it's important to be balanced and to try to learn things and ways that I may be deficient in.
Posted by Dan Vis on 05/29/19
Funny you see it that way Anita - to me it's the exact opposite. Exploring and discovering is the fun part. Putting together all the texts to prove a point is the hard work. I actually enjoy both, but inductive is easier because I don't have to bring anything to the table but an inquisitive and curious mind, and simply see what God has for me. :)

I'm sure you will do fine Anita! Stay encouraged!
Posted by Anita Huffman on 05/29/19
Dan, thank you for pointing me to this good article. I would have to say that I must be more deductive. This is probably why the inductive method is so hard for me to grasp and do. Deductive is fun, inductive is work! :) So to bring balance, I obviously need to work on the inductive way and AWE is a good start. I'm reading about the method and kind of avoiding actually trying it. Fear of failure, yet again I guess. :). I did try it during the last AWE class but as soon as the class was over, I stopped. I apparently need lots of hand-holding and step by step guidance. I don't like that about myself! I'll keep trying!! Would appreciate prayers for this.
Posted by Dan Vis on 05/27/19
I'm almost completely inductive in my devotions Floride, but use a more deductive approach when preparing a Bible study or presentation on a specific topic. So think of it more as using the right approach for the right need. Just being aware of how we are studying in a given situation is really helpful.
Posted by Floride Leonce on 05/27/19
Hi Dan, thank you!

I normally do read the passage during devotion and look to see what I can draw from it and how I should apply it in my daily life. So, I navigate toward the inductive type. I just always thought that, if I already knew the concept, I would have preconceived ideas on what to expect. To me, that would impact my discoveries for the day. However, I think it would be beneficial to combine both, based on what I just read in the post. From now on, I’ll try to see how that goes.
Posted by Dan Vis on 05/26/19
I feel the exact same way Lillian! The important thing is knowing when to use both. For personal devotional study, an inductive approach focused on discovery is vital. When sharing, a deductive approach focused on clear proof is vital. As a noted above, a blending of both is often helpful. Good post!
Posted by Lillian E. Cepeda on 05/26/19
I have the tendency to be more inductive, but passionate about deductive. I used both approaches. I thank God for his Word and how we can learn from it. This verse came to mind: Psalms 119:105Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.
Posted by Dan Vis on 02/02/18
Welcome John! Glad to see you checking out some of our various articles. Right now we are featuring our Crash Course in Bible Memorization in the training area. If you are not doing another challenge, I'd recommend giving it a try!
Posted by John on 01/30/18
Blessed be the name of Lord Jesus, I have just joined and this very educative. Thanks Dan and may our Father above bless abundantly.
Posted by Carole Bliss on 08/10/17
Interesting message. I do see the importance of having both methods .
Inductive and deductive, as a means of study.
I myself lean towards inductive, but see I need both .

Posted by Dan Vis on 08/10/17
Thanks for putting in a plug for our Crossreference class Qing. We do need to make sure everything we find in Scripture is supported throughout Scripture. :)
Posted by Qing Ling on 08/09/17
Barbara that's beautiful :)
I agree with this article...I use both methods depending on my goal. My take away from the message is that cross referencing is always important no matter our goal. We are always to compare scripture with scripture. Isaiah 28:9-109 Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. 10 For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little: ; and I was just reading II Peter 1:20Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. this morning!
Posted by Barbara Davis on 08/08/17
Had an amazing experience in inductive-deductive as I was doing the daily this morning. While reviewing the passages one suddenly blossomed into a "sermon" with cross references and word meanings, and, an invitation to follow Jesus. Wow!
Posted by Dan Vis on 08/08/17
Great posts ladies (Barbara, Valerie). Shows how important it is to use both approaches, and to use them each properly. Keep up the good work!
Posted by Valerie Wise Burrell on 08/07/17
I am looking forward to expanding the use of both inductive and deductive methods of study. I read the Bible through each year (inductive) but I want to get better at teaching specific topics through deductive study to help others understand Bible truth. The concept of the State of the Dead is something that comes up a lot among my friends. They are more apt to follow tradition rather than to read what the Bible actually says. It is my hope to be a loving guide to the Word of God on this topic.
Posted by Barbara Davis on 08/07/17
I enjoy studying inductively to understand everything God wants to teach me in the passage, and most importantly, that what I am gleaning is in context with the passage and with he Bible as a whole by using lots of coss-referencess--so, guess there is a good mix of both. The Concordance, Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries, and a topical concodance get used a lot. I also appreciate the quicknss of digital devices to locate passages when I remember only a word or two.
Posted by Liza W on 03/25/17
Such a helpful study! I use both, as you say, it depends on the purpose. I agree so important to have a well-balanced method and to have that willing, teachable attitude so you don't miss any vital information and also be able to correct any mistaken beliefs you may have.
Posted by Musa Sibisi on 03/11/17
Dan thank you for this clarity
Posted by Jacqueline on 03/07/17
Thank you for helping us to better study the bible.
Posted by Dan Vis on 03/05/17
Thanks Pam and Sherry. Appreciate each of you as well. When we get to the Basic Training portion of the Journey, we will be spending a lot more time focusing on how to meditate. I think you will really enjoy that information!
Posted by Sherry Olson on 03/05/17
So appreciative of all you share, I have been asking God to help me understand how to study His Word, I am not usually an in-depth miner and try to live in obedience to God's Word, but I realize now that I have not been "intentional" in regards to looking for the application, and asking God to give me someone with whom to share what I have learned.
Nothing is impossible with God, so I know I will have divine help in this endeavor! I don't know how I missed this back on Feb. 28th, but so glad it was still there and I took the time to read it.
May God continue to bless you Dan and all your coaches, what a wonderful work you are doing!
Posted by Pamela Kendall on 03/05/17
Dan Thank you so much for this very practical information! I have outlined it in a word document to use as a reference in my studies.

I have to teach Kindergarten Sabbath School occasionally as a substitute and I have also just been asked to give a short talk at a weak of prayer at my church in about a month. I'm really looking forward to using this information to help guide my preparation. I've already started working on the children's Sabbath School prep for next Sabbath and using this info has already blessed me! Thanks so much!
Posted by Dan Vis on 03/03/17
Welcome Rhonda! So glad to have you getting started with us here at FAST. It's a great community. Hope you learn a lot...
Posted by Rhonda L. Graves on 03/02/17
Thank You. I am just getting started here today and really appreciated this breakdown of these two types of Bible Study. I look forward to being encouraged to dig deeper. God Bless all of us as we go forward.
Posted by Dan Vis on 03/02/17
Glad this was helpful everyone!
Posted by Deanna Dekle on 03/02/17
Yes. I find both methods used, but didn't think to call it by name, but I definitely agree and do similar approach when teaching.
Posted by Charity Funtanilla on 03/01/17
Thank you for this information! It will surely help me in my bible study! God bless!
Posted by Shanthi Solomon on 03/01/17
Thank you @fast4God

your explanation and method of use of both types of bible study is very helpful.
Posted by Dan Vis on 02/28/17
Glad this was helpful Daryl. I think a teacher's first priority must be to have God teach him first, so he has something from God to share. Not always easy, but it gives a genuineness to your teaching that others usually find motivating. Appreciate your comment!

Glad it was helpful, Geraldine.
Posted by Geraldine Yaze on 02/27/17
Thanks Dan for this article. Very informative
God bless you.
Posted by Daryl on 02/27/17
Dan thanks for the article. It was very enlightening. I agree one method is not necessarily better than the other. So many times we think one method works for all situations. e.g. One shoe fits all people.
I'm especially thankful for you sharing how you study for teaching Sabbath school. I teach Sabbath school on a regular basis and found this very helpful.
But I also know I'll need to start earlier in the week if I'm going to use your suggestions.
Posted by Dan Vis on 02/27/17
Glad so many of you found this information helpful. Appreciate all the feedback. And congrats Christian on the new job! All the best. See you in the Breakout Memory Challenge...
Posted by Joyce Augustinis on 02/27/17
Thanks! I am used to doing inductive studying, but I will have to put more effort into deductive studying because I think I may learn much more that I can share with others.
Posted by Christian on 02/27/17
Thank you Dan for sharing. I personally tend to do an 'distance reading' to get the general story line and then a more precise, exegetical work to get to the hinge within the story. On another note, may I thank all those who have prayed. While I had lost my job and more, well I got a permanent contract, which I started a month ago. So I'm now late with the Course because the first weeks were intense but I'm still here Tring to catch up. I don't want to miss the memory challenge for nothing.
Posted by Diane Castanon on 02/27/17
I LOVED this article! The answer to your final question is yes, but in my approach, of late, I, personally, have unanswered questions on a topic that I research and I glean through every text on my question's topic, like faith. I learned that a teachable spirit is very important, or a wrong conclusion could be made. I'm so thankful for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, SOP, and the Bible.

In the end, I'm glad to find out there are names for the type of study I do.

Thank you!!!
Posted by Konni Plue on 02/27/17
Thank you for this study. The difference between inductive and deductive Bible study and conversation related to this is muddy for me. I appreciate your clearing the waters by defining and comparing plus how to combined them.
Posted by FRANK SCHOLTZ on 02/27/17
Thank you, Dan, for the clear outline of inductive and deductive methods, and sharing how you prepare a sermon, it was very informative. I have used both ways, but some times only use one or the other. It make perfect sense that it’s better to combine both to have a more balanced outcome.
Posted by Pamela Kendall on 02/27/17
Very helpful information thank you! I look forward to deepening my Bible study with some of these principles. Prior to starting with FAST I was mostly just reading through the Bible without really putting much thought into what I have been reading. Since starting Fast I think i have been doing more inductive study but usually bring in other passages that shed light on the one I am studying. I'm looking forward to refining and deepening my Bible study skills with the principles I am learning.
Posted by Joy Hank on 02/27/17
Thank you, Dan, for a clear exposition of inductive and deductive Bible study methods. I definitely find I use both and as you say, it depends on the purpose of the study.

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