Inductive vs DeductiveBy Dan Vis
April 11, 2022
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!
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.
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?
CommentsSo 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?
|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 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 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 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 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 02/27/17|
|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 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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