I’ve heard people refer to “inductive bible study” but never really had a firm understanding of what was meant or how it differed from a deductive bible study. In looking for a definition, I came across a very helpful article called Inductive and Deductive Bible Studies by Harvey Bluedorn. I don’t know much of anything about the author, other than he appears to be the father of Nathan Bluedorn, whom I met very briefly at a film festival a few years ago. Nathan is the author of the Fallacy Detective book series http://www.christianlogic.com/ (and I believe he is influenced by Gordon Clark’s writings, but don’t quote me on that).
As you can see, we aren’t actually talking about a method of reasoning so much as we are talking about a method of approaching a subject.
“Deductive or synthetic Bible study gathers propositions from Scripture and arranges them as premises in formal arguments which reason toward necessary doctrinal conclusions which may not otherwise have been stated in the Bible. In this way, it builds Biblical doctrine. On the basic level, the gathering and arranging of Scripture to prove doctrines has already been done for the student. On the advanced level, the student researches these on his own.
Inductive or analytic Bible study examines in detail large passages of Scripture in order to understand those passages in context. In this way, it builds a general understanding of the Bible. On the basic level, the student researches on his own. On the advanced level, the student surveys all or large portions of Scripture looking for patterns, and theorizes about the meaning of what he observes. He then goes back and attempts to prove his theory deductively.
So inductive and deductive study go hand in hand. Inductive study supplies the analytical Bible knowledge and understanding necessary to deductively build Bible doctrine, and deductive study researches and builds doctrine which informs inductive study concerning the wider doctrinal context of Scripture which then enables inductive study thereby to draw out even more meaning from the text.
The weakness of inductive study is its limitations in building doctrine, and the weakness of deductive study is its susceptibility to being infected with dogma.
The abuse of inductive study comes when theory is turned into dogma, and the abuse of deductive study comes when dogma is mixed with doctrine.”