Home > theology > Inductive vs Deductive Bible Study

Inductive vs Deductive Bible Study

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).

Bluedorn is very helpful in that he explains that inductive and deductive study is not the same thing as inductive and deductive reasoning:
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.
Here is his conclusion. I welcome comments:

“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.”

 

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Categories: theology
  1. March 7, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    It sounds like inductive Bible study results in biblical theology, while deductive Bible study results in systematic theology.

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  2. March 7, 2012 at 7:27 pm

    That reminds me of problems I ran into while taking Principles of Epistolary Interpretation at Washington Bible College. When assigned a passage, we had to almost completely limit ourselves to the passage at hand. Too much use of other passages or established doctrine was not allowed. Hebrews 6:4-6 was one of the passages, and it was a complete disaster. Huge waste of time, and a lot of students left completely confused at the end. I did learn that A.W. Pink is pretty great on that passage, though.

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  3. December 9, 2012 at 3:55 pm

    Hey thanks for taking the time to put this together. It answered all my questions in a very clear and helpful manner. God bless.

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  4. May 8, 2014 at 9:32 am

    Sounds like a charley horse between the ears to me. Inductive Bible study done without a systematic understanding of Scripture is to insert disjunctions that do not exist. Deductive Bible study acknowledges that the details fit with the system of theology in the Bible and in God’s mind. Systematic theology is therefore indispensable in interpreting the Scriptures.

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  5. Rusty Carroll
    March 4, 2016 at 3:42 am

    In the context of biblical study, it seems to me (only my opinion), inductive means to take away (as by force); and deductive means to enter into (coming empty handed to the unified and complete biblical story). Either the story becomes small enough to get into our big lives (story becomes conquerable) or our lives are small enough to get into the big story (our lives become conquerable by the story).

    We spend much time in attempting to master the biblical narrative, to make it subject to us (inductive temptation) over against seeing ourselves as part of the whole story (deductive affirmation).

    Inductive approach leads to a form of church nihilism by throwing off the continuity of the voice of the saints that have come and gone before – boldly going one’s own subjective way. Is this not a sign of our american individualistic times? Is it not the reason Sunday school classes are filled with glazed eyes.

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  6. Seth
    April 1, 2016 at 11:37 am

    When you say “the abuse of deductive study comes when dogma is mixed with doctrine.” What is your definition of doctrine and dogma? How are they distinct?

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  7. Tony G Campbell
    December 6, 2016 at 9:07 am

    I like the suggested cyclical connection of the two approaches, or the two sides of the same coin suggestion (from elsewhere). Whether we journey from a filling (self) to an emptying (faith, repentance, justification) and then back to filling (Sanctification) the Wesleyan Quadrilateral (Scripture, Tradition, Experience and Reason) guide me. The Bible takes precedence. Tradition gives us dialogue with past Christians. Experience and Reason are where it gets obviously exciting and sticky since these areas are very subjective. Love, respect, tolerance and genuine appreciation of experiences and reasoning are foundational for the Body of Christ to expand from one heart to a global community.

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  8. October 28, 2018 at 10:02 am

    I recognize that this is an old post and might never be read, but in the hopes that it might be, I would like to add some commentary from an inductive Bible study leader/teacher.

    I have been studying inductively for several years now and I teach others to do so as well. I learned from “the Inductive Bible Study People” both how to study and how to train others to study. Studying inductively has completely transformed my understanding of how the whole counsel of God fits within itself and how more difficult passages are always interpreted by the more accessible ones. I would never have known how all 66 books so beautifully compliment each other if not for inductive Bible study. It was also inductive Bible study that made me begin to strongly question dispensationalism and ultimately brought me to find a home in Reformed theology. When you study for yourself and start putting pieces together on your own without being spoon-fed doctrine from others, the Holy Spirit is faithful to illumine the Scriptures for you in ways you may not have otherwise seen if approaching the text using strictly a deductive method.

    However, me alone with Scripture and without the benefit of church history and the input of faithful scholars could be dangerous and lead me to wrong conclusions. Thus, deductive study methods are also necessary. I love how the quote you shared points out the interlacing of these two methods because they should always complement each other.

    I have found the most reasonable approach to be inductive first, then deductive. Meaning, when approaching a new large passage or book (I tend to prefer whole books when so I can gather the most accurate context, but there are times chapters or sections are more appropriate), I study it inductively first, paying close attention to word studies and cross-references and draw **initial** conclusions. Then, I go to the writings of smarter people than I to test my conclusions to be sure they’re accurate as well as give me a greater understanding and richer, deeper engagement with the passage.

    I find this approach to be the best way to maintain retention. If I have done the hard work to study a passage for myself and wrestle with what it could possibly mean before I go “ask” others by reading/listening to their teaching, I have truly engaged with the text to the fullest and I don’t forget that as readily as I would if I had just read/studied by one method alone.

    So, thank you to smart people like you who share what you’ve learned and leave good breadcrumbs to study other smart people as well! You’re a gift to the church!

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