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Inductive VS. Deductive Methods – What’s the Big Deal?
Inductive VS. Deductive Methods – What’s the Big Deal?

Maybe you have heard of the great Inductive versus Deductive Bible study methods debate. Maybe you, yourself, are an “Inducter” or “Deducter.”

Or, maybe you’re looking at your screen right now like: “…..Huh???”

If that’s you, you’re not alone. From my own personal experience, no one knows (or cares) about the difference between inductive versus deductive Bible studies. One time, I was speaking with the senior pastor’s wife at my old church about this very topic. When I told her my understanding of the two formats, she told me I was wrong and gave me a completely different explanation. Later, I looked it up to check, and I had been right all along. Hmmm….!

So today, I am going to clear up that confusion, as well as give you 7 tips on how you can use these skills for your own Bible study time.


What is Inductive Study?

Using the inductive Bible study format means you first begin with a passage, then break it down concerning its language, context (whether historical or cultural), and meaning. Do you remember diagramming sentences in school for grammar classes? You would do a similar thing here with the biblical text. The purpose of an inductive study is to allow the passage’s theology and meaning to reveal itself to you as you study its unique parts.

The inductive format goes like this:

  1. Observe the text, by using resources and commentaries to figure out each detail.
  2. Interpret the text, by utilizing your resources and asking the question, “What did this passage mean to its original intended audience?”
  3. Apply the text, by seeing what stood out to you personally and how a modern audience can put this passage into practice.


You can tell you’re doing an inductive Bible study format if you’re:

  1. Filling out a chart that has you summarize each chapter’s content into one sentence each.
  2. Looking for trends throughout a particular book or chapter, and highlighting in some form these themes.
  3. Filling out charts that compare and contrast parts from your studied passage with another.
  4. Marking different keywords with symbols or colors to make them stand out.
  5. Dragging out big Greek-to-English or Hebrew-to-English Bible dictionaries to look up certain words.
  6. Answering questions like, “Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?”
  7. Looking up cross-references on certain characters, locations, or themes.


A popular inductive Bible study series that follows these rules is Kay Arthur’s Precepts Upon Precepts. Although I grew up on doing Precepts and, thus, love them, I must warn you that Precepts is not for the faint-hearted. Most times, a day’s worth of study takes me about an hour to finish. Yikes.

A Sho.resh Bible study that is mainly inductive in method is our "Book of Acts" Bible study.

P.S. The inductive study format is heavy on higher and lower textual criticism, which I explained here.


What is Deductive Study?

A deductive study is like the Socratic method: you answer questions from a Bible study author, so that you can come to the author’s intended conclusion. A deductive study will also have you observe more than just one passage, so you can see the study’s doctrine in full.

Examples of deductive Bible studies:

  1. A topical study (like our "Character of Ministry" Bible study)
  2. A word study, i.e. you’re studying any time a particular word shows up in Scripture
  3. Christian books that walk you through a particular subject in the Bible, whether it be theological or thematic
  4. A pastor teaching to a congregation


You know you’re doing a deductive Bible study when you:

  1. Mainly cross-reference to any passage that relates thematically or theologically
  2. Study mainly verses, not whole chapters, or even books, of the Bible
  3. Are not doing much outside study, like using commentaries
  4. The intent of a passage may be explained to you by the author


An example of a deductive Bible study would be any of Beth Moore’s Bible studies, like Breaking Free. Our only issue with these books is that you have to buy Beth Moore’s videos in order to complete the Bible studies, which can get expensive. (For example, the Bible study for Breaking Free is only $16 – but you also need the CDs, which are $40…)

As said previously, a Sho.resh example of a deductive Bible study is our "Character of Ministry" Bible study. You can also do our "Promises of God" Bible study, that has you only observe specific promises in Scripture. (Plus, no $40 CD sets required      )

Here’s a quick chart from Gaye E. Austin at that we think is really informative. Check it out:

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People are told what to think, how to respond, how to internalize the truths, and the Holy Spirit is not part of the equation, with the exception of the speaker who has been taught by the Holy Spirit and is now teaching. Who it's for: sometimes it seems as if it is for “lazy” thinkers. However, we know that that is not always the case, otherwise why would we have “teachers”! The benefit is this: a deductive method provides spiritual nourishment. The downsides of this method is that it (a) encourages those who should be students to become sponges, taking in but not being wrung out, and (b) lessons are often forgotten once the teaching time is over. (Ex: "What did you learn in church/SS?" – “I don’t know” is often the response.)

People learn from asking questions & internalizing data and then draw their conclusions People learn from listening to another’s data source while he/she shares their conclusions.
People must think about “something” and its implications, and then can internalize it as the Holy Spirit reveals His truths.
The student is taught to discern truth from error through the avenue of the Holy Spirit’s guidance. It is worthwhile for small groups and individuals. Deductive Study is worthwhile for teaching large audiences what God’s Word says about a particular passage.
Downside: Individual participation and time consuming Downside: No participation on the listener, no time involved Who for: energetic learners, lessons gleaned from “digging” stay with student and are internalized and easily shared with another.


Why Does This Matter?!

You may be thinking, “YEAH. SO?!” I don’t blame you. This feels like superfluous information at first. However, it is really important to know the difference because oftentimes Bible studies are written in a deductive format where the author is basically telling you what a passage means. If you are doing a topical study, it is, of course, the author’s discretion which verses to have you look up, which means you need to have a lot of trust in this person’s theology that they are not leading you astray. Yet, that doesn’t mean all deductive Bible studies are bad. This also doesn’t mean every inductive Bible study is good, since this kind of format tends to be time-consuming and may feel monotonous.

This is what you should look for when buying a Bible study curriculum:

  1. Has you analyze a passage on several levels: language, context, purpose, meaning
  2. Has you come to conclusions on your own (i.e. not told what a passage means)
  3. Doesn’t have conjecture, like a description of what it must have felt like for a particular Bible character, or uncited information
  4. Has you apply the passage to your own life as a last step, not the first
  5. Connects your reading to other parts of the Bible (including the opposite Testament) for fuller understanding
  6. Takes longer than 5 minutes, but no more than 30 minutes
  7. Is written by a well-studied, informed Bible scholar


We like to think we follow each of these criteria, so be sure to check out all of our studies!     


What about you? What format of Bible study do you prefer? Tell us in the comments!

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