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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!

Conclusion
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?



Comments

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 01/24/23
Actually, Barbara, even those secondary activities sound like inductive study because you are still in discovery mode. Think of deductive as teaching mode--preparing proof to convince someone of something.

Yes, that's it exactly Sam. When challenged, we want to go back and rally up the evidence for our position. It's important to stay open to new possibilities, but not when they contradict things that are well established truth. But it's not just when challenged, it can be in a teaching mode also, with very open and receptive people. We're just lining up our evidence to make our case regarding some topic...
Posted by Shawnda McKnight on 01/24/23
I usually use the inductive technique unless someone challenges me on something the Bible says, then I use the deductive approach. I am excited to read this because I want to learn all that I can from the Bible, knowing that both approaches will give me a more in-depth study. I vowed to be more vigilant in my study so from now on I will be using both!
Posted by Barbara E. LaRose on 01/24/23
With my morning watch I am using the inductive process as you outlined in past lessons. But invariably I find myself looking up other texts, word meanings, a concordance to help me understand more things in the verse so I do end up using the deductive approach too. They do go hand in 🖐🤚
Posted by Dan Vis on 01/16/23
Amen Valerie! There's definitely a place for both learning and teaching modes. But as I've probably said more than once in the comments below, the higher we want to climb, the more vital it is to spend time learning. That's how we acquire something new...

Teaching mode is how we affirm it, deepen it, polish it, and package it up to share with others.
Posted by Valerie Wise Burrell on 01/16/23
Dan,
I needed to review this memo again because it helped me to have clarity about the two approaches. I believe that I do both inductive and deductive reasoning in my study; however, now I can be more mindful of why I do them.

What is important is that I use intelligence in my study of God's Word so He can use it to help me to have the mind of Christ.
Posted by Dan Vis on 10/16/22
Yes, I think that's the key issue I think Barbara. The problem comes when we think we doing devotions (where we're supposed to listening to and submitting to God) when in fact we're doing something else--like studying to prove some point we already believe. And we think we are having devotions. There's a place for that kind of study, of course, but we need to be really careful about letting that crowd out our time sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening for whatever He has for us that day...
Posted by Barbara E. LaRose on 10/15/22
I really like the way you broke it down to: one is a teaching mode and one is a learning mode. So simple looking at it this way. Thank you Pastor Dan. 😊👍
Posted by Dan Vis on 10/07/22
That sounds like an inductive approach to me Valerie! And I love the emphasis on application. I think you may have been around here at FAST for awhile! :)

It's worth noting that application is a subsequent process--that is, you can take whatever you find inductively or deductively and look for ways to apply it. It's just generally better to let the Bible speak for itself, rather than try to get it to say what we want--if your goal is personal implementation.

Or to put it differently, those seeking application are going to be inclined toward an inductive study approach. Those with other goals, will sometimes require a more deductive approach.
Posted by Valerie Wise Burrell on 10/06/22
Dan,
This was a good study for me as it caused me to think about my typical approach to studying the Bible but also studying any topic. I tend towards understanding the principle and then bringing in a practical application. I suppose that this is using both an inductive and deductive approach. Until I can find a personal application, ie, a practical application of what the text is saying, it is hard for me to apply it.   

The Bible is a living thing that gives life to me and to all who are willing to be led by the Holy Spirit.
Posted by Dan Vis on 10/05/22
Glad this was helpful Tonya! And I would say that even seeing that is valuable. I personally think we have a cultural tendency that direction as a denomination. We're all about sustaining and defending an existing theory of truth. As important as that is, it hinders our ability to hear God speaking to us individually, teaching us what we need practically for our daily life. And that lack, leaves us spiritually weak.

Yes, that's a pretty accurate summary Linda. Though typically deductive study is more topical (like say a doctrine or something) while passage studies are more often deductive. That's not a hard and fast rule, but it's quite often the case.
Posted by Linda Johnson on 10/04/22
Okay this is good review, so you are saying:
Deductive Bible study is when you already believe you know what the scriptural verse is saying, after you read it, prayed over it, meditated or thought about it, read verses before and after for better understanding, and you just want to prove that your understanding is what the Bible is wanting to teach you so you go to other verses using the same words and checking in a concordance for other verses for better clarity.
Posted by Tonya Anspach on 10/04/22
I think I have been leaning more toward the deductive method of study. I really appreciate the detail you provided in this lesson. Seeing the clear differences between the two is very helpful.
Posted by Dan Vis on 10/04/22
As long as you are studying to find out what God is trying to say Linda, that is inductive. Learning mode. It's not really about which method is deeper.

Deductive is when you already think you know what it says and you are just wanting to prove your existing understanding. Teaching mode. So I think that desire for deeper searching is probably still inductive! :)
Posted by Linda Johnson on 10/03/22
I am more inductive in reading scripture and mulling verses over in my mind. I write down my favorite verses in the chapter. I pray that verses/s and claim them for my family, others or for myself.
The deductive appeals to me now to add for deeper searching and meaning of the verses in scripture.
Posted by Dan Vis on 10/01/22
Ah, now I see what you meant Louise. They do kind of make another sort of bike... :)
Posted by Louise P on 09/30/22
Inductive and Deductive studies work together to give me balance and movement - as the two wheels of the Morning Watch Bike do...
Posted by Doug Schoch on 09/30/22
We should be careful of extremes. I like using both.
Posted by Dan Vis on 09/30/22
That's a beautiful testimony Julio. I'm sure the Lord is really willing to speak to any who are willing to listen! He helps those who want to teach others, too, but in a different sense I think. And that personal instruction is what I need most each morning! Thanks again for you post!
Posted by Julio Useche on 09/30/22
Dan, so true in your caution about having an overly deductive approach. Looking back at my own devotion times, the times that stand out the most have been those times when I'm following an inductive approach. The Lord has spoken to me in such clear tones through His Word. I've been overwhelmed with his presence and have felt a closeness to Him more than any other times. Thank you for that reminder and the caution. I will be sure to heed it!
Posted by Dan Vis on 09/30/22
I'm curious where you see the connections Louise, other than the fact Bible study is a part of both illustrations. Maybe you just meant in a more kind of general way...

Yes, good description of how these two approaches are often interconnected, and how the purpose driving our study tends to determine the approach we use. Nice post Julio.

One caution about an overly deductive approach--which I think is common for pastors and those who do a lot of Bible work. If we allow deductive type work to intrude into our devotions (sermon or Bible study prep, etc) we can tend to neglect the feeding of our own soul. I learned long ago, the hard way, that I need to separate my own devotional study (inductive) where I just learn from Christ personally, from my various Bible study related responsibilities (deductive) like writing or teaching. I don't know if I've mentioned that anywhere, but I thought it worth highlighting this for all who come after.

I had a mentor one time tell me it was ok to use my devotional time for such activities. He was a good friend, and well-intentioned, but it set me back years in my spiritual growth.
Posted by Julio Useche on 09/30/22
I've studied the Word both inductively & deductively, but I think my focus has been more on the deductive side. As I often give bible studies, questions will arise where I might need to prove from scripture the basis for a specific doctrine, so I search the Word to find all the supporting verses for that doctrine. Oftentimes when doing this I come across a verse that appears in direct opposition to the doctrine I'm trying to prove. At that point the study becomes inductive and I take more time to understand the context, the entire passage and the message the writer was trying to convey, all while keeping my deductive purpose in mind of supporting my original doctrine.
Posted by Louise P on 09/29/22
It’s the Morning Watch Bike! I see glimpses of the Disciple Wheel, too! So important for me to remain teachable (Spirit led!)
Posted by Dan Vis on 09/28/22
You are right Jeannie, that we do want to consider other verses in our study of a passage, to make sure we are not misinterpreting and/or misapplying things. Definitely. But the difference between inductive and deductive is more about intent. Kind of: are we in learning mode or teaching mode.

So for example I can study a topic and look up all the key verses on it to see what God has to say, and that's inductive. Or I can study a passage and look for evidence to support a specific interpretation of it, and that would be deductive. So it's not whether it's passage or topical, it has more to do with the mental approach.

I would say, if I'm reading a passage, and listening for other verses to help me understand it, that's actually still inductive. I'm in learning mode. If I've already come to a conclusion about what a passage says and I'm trying to articulate that more effectively, that's probably more deductive at that point.

Obviously the two blend together to some extent, so it's not worth analyzing at this level of detail, but I'm just trying to highlight my sense of the meanings here. More typically, the purpose of the study (devotions, debate) determines which word is used for the whole process--though there are almost always elements of both in either approach.

Also, I should emphasize, sounds to me like you are doing things exactly right! :)
Posted by Jeannie Marcoux on 09/28/22
When I meditate on a passage, I am connecting the dots between the passage I am reading and other verses that share key words and concepts. This builds my understanding of key words and concepts of the main points of the passage. So this must be the deductive part of my Bible study, as I am starting with a “statement” and supporting the “statement” with other verses.   But when I am trying to formulate words to state the principles from the passage and then to make personal application, my primary focus is the passage at hand, which is inductive. My deductive study insures that my understanding of the principle is based on true and consistent knowledge of the Word. Am I on point?
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 .
Thank-you,

Carole
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.


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