by Al Maxey

Issue #450 ------- August 5, 2010
He who will not reason is a bigot; he who
cannot is a fool; he who dares not is a slave.

Sir William Drummond {1585-1649}

Two Interpretive Approaches
Should Our Study of the Scriptures be
Approached Inductively or Deductively?

Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4 B.C. - 65 A.D.), who was a famous playwright, orator and philosopher, and also an advisor to the Roman Emperor Nero, was quite right when he observed in his Epistles, "Man is a reasoning animal." The Lord God created us with the ability to reason our way to logical conclusions about matters, and He certainly expects us to employ this cognitive tool. Indeed, on one occasion He even called out to mankind, "Come now, let us reason together" (Isaiah 1:18). Not all men are inclined to do this, however, and those who do may easily fall into the trap of using flawed methods of reasoning, which tend to result in flawed conclusions. This, in turn, leads one to misguided life-applications. Therefore, it is imperative that we learn to reason rightly.

This whole process is especially critical when approaching the examination of God's holy, inspired Scriptures, the apprehension of Truth therefrom, and the application of that Truth to our daily lives. Although there are a great many ways in which men seek to understand the divine revelation conveyed in the sacred writings, two of the primary methodologies (and the two we'll be examining in this article) are known as Inductive Reasoning and Deductive Reasoning. Although both are legitimate approaches to understanding the world around us, as well as specific aspects of it (including God's will), and although we each most likely make use of both to some degree in our daily lives, yet they are very much different from one another in how evidence is treated and what conclusions are ultimately drawn and then applied. It doesn't take long to discover that the legalists, patternists and ultra-conservative elements within the church favor the latter of these two, while those on the other end of the theological spectrum tend to favor the former. Reasons for this will soon become quite apparent.

The Deductive Method

Deductive reasoning works from the general to the specific (whereas inductive reasoning works just the opposite: moving from specific observations to broader generalizations). For this reason, some have characterized deductive reasoning as the "top down approach" (while inductive reasoning is characterized as a "bottom up approach"). In essence, deductive reasoning begins with a theory or hypothesis (which the one proposing it presumes to be true) and then seeks to assemble a body of evidence to affirm that theory or hypothesis. For example, I might hypothesize: "Sexual intimacy outside of marriage is a sin." That is a general statement that I might perceive as representing the divine perspective. The deductive approach to the Scriptures would dictate that I begin a thorough search through the Bible for every passage that would tend to support that theory. The greater the evidence I amass from the Scriptures in support of my own hypothesis, the greater the weight of evidence that suggests my statement is true. In some cases, God has clearly and unequivocally declared such to be true, thus there is no need for either induction or deduction. But, where God has NOT declared such specifically, this process of deductive reasoning would then offer this body of evidence as validation of what would be termed a "deduced doctrine" of God.

It doesn't take a genius to perceive that this is the method of reasoning employed by most legalists within the church. They hold to a position that they are convinced is "the will of God," although God may never have actually said anything about it in Scripture. Therefore, they go on a search through Scripture to find every passage that would tend to support their hypothesis, often lifting such passages from their context and true meaning and application. This is known as "proof-texting." In the minds of such men, deduced doctrines (also known as inferred doctrines or assumed doctrines) are equal to the direct teachings of God. If a mere man deduces it, it is as though God Himself declared it. Thus, my own assumptions, if I can amass enough passages that seem to validate them, are equally as binding as Law upon the rest of humanity as God's direct commands. Again, I don't think it takes a genius to detect the danger in such a practice.

In the study of biblical hermeneutics this is known as The Dogmatic Method. The great objection to such a methodology, when used in connection with the study of God's Word, is that such people "set out with the ostensible purpose of maintaining a preconceived hypothesis" [Dr. Milton S. Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics: A Treatise on the Interpretation of the Old and New Testaments, p. 171]. Dr. Terry observes, "The whole Bible is ransacked and treated as if it were an atomical collection of dogmatic proof-texts" [ibid, p. 172]. "Such procedures are not exposition, but imposition" [ibid]. The obvious weakness of such a reasoning process is that one's initial hypothesis just might be false! Yes, we may indeed collect a significant number of "proof-texts" lifted from their original context, and this "body of evidence" may indeed appear impressive to those who don't know any better, but wresting and twisting portions of Scripture to one's own purposes is a dangerous and deadly practice, although one that is quite commonly engaged in by far too many who profess to be Christians! The sad reality is that "men and parties hold and teach doctrines nowhere found in the Bible, and yet they must do something to support their theories" [D. R. Dungan, Hermeneutics: The Science of Interpreting the Scriptures, p. 73]. Therefore, such persons tend to employ deductive reasoning, and in so doing they "resort to methods of proof that would not be recognized in any other search for knowledge" [ibid, p. 74].

Dungan further observes: "Dogmatism first determines what it is willing shall be found in the Scriptures, and then goes to work at once to find nothing else there, and even to refuse that anything else shall be found. ... No investigation will ever be worthy of the name while conducted under this controlling power of prejudice" [ibid, p. 78]. Such people exalt the "traditions and speculations of men to an equality with the Word of God," and will do "anything to save their doctrine, from which they are determined not to part" [ibid, p. 75]. "They are unwilling that you should differ from them" [ibid, p. 79], and will hound and harass all who dare to do so! When men begin with the premise that their own assumptions and deductions are infallible, it's inevitable that such persons will perceive all those who differ with them as differing with God. This form of arrogance invariably leads to the affliction of those they thereby deem to be "apostate." Tony Warren, in an article titled "What is Inductive Bible Study?", correctly stated, "Effective Bible study cannot begin with a supposition or conclusion from which we search the Scriptures (backward) for evidence to support it. It must begin with the evidence, which must then be followed meticulously to wherever it leads. Far too many theologians today are looking through Scripture in order to justify what they already believe, rather than honestly looking to receive what Scripture itself justifies." In other words, inductive Bible study could easily be characterized as "exegesis" (where a position is pulled from out of the Scriptures), whereas deductive Bible study could be characterized as "eisegesis" (where a position is pushed into the Scriptures). Or, as one writer observed, "Inductive Bible study allows the Bible to lead the student; deductive Bible study has the student leading the Bible."

Clearly, there are some rather significant dangers inherent within the deductive method, especially if one's initial premise or hypothesis is not true. After all, just about anyone can "prove" just about anything by collecting enough isolated passages that appear to validate their theory. On the other hand, there is a valid place for the deductive method in Bible study -- IF honest hearts control the process. Many of our sermons and topical Bible studies, for example, follow this methodology. For example, I might plan to do a lesson on the value of a variety of age-appropriate Bible classes for our youth during the hour prior to our corporate assembly. Since Scripture does not specifically command such, I begin with the premise that such a practice has value. I then try and determine if there is evidence in the Scriptures to support such a view (evidence that does not need to be lifted out of context, or wrested or twisted). If there is, even though that evidence may be in the form of principles rather than precepts, then I may choose to share that evidence as an indication that perhaps my premise is a valid one. Ultimately, however, others must decide if my proffered evidence supports my claim. In my mind it may; in their mind it may not. Therefore, we must always be very careful, in the absence of direct command from God, not to elevate our deductions to the same level as divine decree. The former can never rise to the status of the latter!!

The Inductive Method

The more common of these two reasoning approaches is the Inductive Method, also known by its more familiar name: the Scientific Method. Inductive reasoning begins primarily with specific observed details and facts, and then seeks to formulate what may be the underlying principles and processes that tend to explain those observations. For example, Sir Isaac Newton observed that an apple, when dislodged from the branch of a tree, would always fall to the ground rather than floating into the clouds. There seemed to be no known exceptions to this, and others confirmed his observation. This led him to suspect there was some force at work that would explain this phenomenon. With additional study and experimentation he formulated his "Law of Gravity." Unlike the deductive method, Newton didn't begin with a theory and begin searching for anything that might validate it; rather, his observations of specific occurrences, and questions raised by those observations, led him to formulate a theory that might make sense of what he was seeing. Thus, the inductive method asks a host of very direct questions, prompted by that which we have observed, so as to arrive at a conclusion that explains what we've seen in a manner consistent with, and not in conflict with, those observed details and facts.

As a result, inductive reasoning is far more "open-ended and exploratory" in nature, especially at the beginning of the process. Those who draw conclusions using this methodology are much less likely to be dogmatic about their views and positions than those who embrace the deductive methodology, for the latter begin with a conclusion that they already regard as true, and their quest is simply to validate in the eyes of others that which they have proclaimed to be fact, whereas the former simply look objectively at the facts seeking to draw only those conclusions consistent with all observable facts. With respect to study of the Scriptures, this simply means that we must approach the text with an open mind, no biases or preconceptions, and just allow the Word to speak to us and lead us wherever it will. We ask questions of each passage; questions like: who, what, when, where, why? We examine the context, we take into account the history and culture of the time, we seek to understand the words in the original language, we search for the purpose of the author, examine his audience, etc. This has sometimes been labeled as: "Analytic" Bible study. Tony Warren, in the article already referenced above, states that inductive Bible study means "interpreting Scripture with no pre-judgments, by the text itself, through analyzing the evidence and drawing out of it logical conclusions." For the honest student of the Bible, these conclusions may very well differ with prior convictions, some of which may have been handed down to us by beloved forefathers in the faith, but which were embraced without much critical examination and prayerful evaluation in light of what Scripture really teaches. Honest hearts will not hesitate to go where Truth leads, even if that means risking the wrath of friends, family and fellow adherents to the traditions and tenets of a particular faith-heritage or some faction thereof.

In my first book -- Down, But Not Out -- I approached the whole matter of marriage and divorce, as well as various subsequent marital unions, using the inductive method. Most who had written on this topic had approached it deductively: they began with a premise (usually: God accepts no divorce, except for fornication, and thus all subsequent unions are "living in adultery"), and then went out hunting for proof-texts in an effort to validate what they had already concluded was God's will in the matter. The much better approach, I believed, was to examine the entirety of the biblical evidence on the matter book by book, passage by passage, and seek to determine, based upon the collected evidence, what message God was seeking to convey to His people (both then and now). As you can imagine, this approach led to some different conclusions than the ones promoted by those embracing the dogmatic method. As a result, my book was quickly chosen by the "Contending for the Faith" crowd as one of the ones to be "cast up on tongues" at their recent "Profiles in Apostasy" lectureship in Spring, Texas.

How do you feel about instrumental accompaniment to the heartfelt singing of praises to our God in a corporate setting? Is this a sin? Will this cause one to be lost? Does God accept such accompanied singing? Does He approve of it? Those on both sides of the issue will take up the very same Bible to try and make their case, but one will approach the sacred Scriptures using the deductive method, while the other will approach the Scriptures using the inductive method. One begins with a premise they hold to be absolute truth: the use of instruments to accompany our singing is a SIN. They will then search out every passage that they believe can be utilized to validate their premise. They will even go so far as to declare that what the Bible doesn't say proves their point. It is a theory elevated to Truth based upon assumptions drawn by fallible men from what Scripture never actually says. On the other hand, those who approach the Scriptures inductively will simply amass all the statements the Lord DID make in Scripture, analyze them carefully and seek to determine what God DID say about the matter. In every single case where God DID express His view, He expressed His approval. Indeed, He even commanded it of His people on occasion. He even used the symbol of a musical instrument to represent the singing of praises unto Him by all the redeemed in heaven --- a musical instrument that He is depicted as personally handing to the redeemed. What conclusions can be drawn from this body of evidence? Well, I think you can see quite quickly how men can arrive at two different positions: one based on a premise in search of proof, the other the collecting of actual evidence in search of understanding. We must each choose our own approach to the sacred Writings, but as for me and my house, we choose the latter!!

Down, But Not Out
A Study of Divorce and Remarriage
in Light of God's Healing Grace

A 193 page book by Al Maxey

One Bread, One Body
An Examination of Eucharistic
Expectation, Evolution and Extremism

A 230 page book by Al Maxey

Order both books from Publish America at: or (301) 695-1707

Readers' Reflections

From an Elder in Florida:

Brother Al, I'm really enjoying your new book on the Lord's Supper -- One Bread, One Body. As a matter of fact, I cried during the first chapter: partly for all the wonderful information that was in it, and partly for the loss we've experienced over the years for not being able to enjoy such a rich blessing through the combination of the Agape feast and the Lord's Supper, as it was observed at first by the early Christians. It is as if something has been stolen from us; some blessing taken away that we should have. Again, I am really enjoying this book. Please keep up the good work.

From a Reader in Texas:

Dear Brother Al, I always read your Reflections articles with much interest and agreement. I'm glad someone is saying the things you are, because much remains to be done to bring our brotherhood out of its sectarianism. Keep on working toward this goal -- we are with you!! By the way, your "Musings" this past week were especially appreciated!

From a Reader in Texas:

Dear Bro. Al, You have never been more "right on" than you were in your latest issue of Reflections ("Maxey's Musings"). The Holy Spirit was clearly upon you!! I hope and pray that what you wrote benefits and blesses all who read your words. The Holy Spirit truly was your mouthpiece. What you wrote uplifted me. It was a rewarding experience reading this Reflections, and I thank you immensely for your efforts for Christ! I will also be praying for those within your church heritage, so that they will find it within their hearts to actually hear what the Holy Spirit has moved you to communicate to them through your writings. Al, my heart is with you in your efforts to unify all of God's believers.

From an Elder/Author in Florida:

Bro. Al, I have celebrated more than 60 years in the Body of Christ, serving as a preaching minister for 30 years and an elder for more than 20 years. In response to the frequent questions about spiritual conception and the new birth of water and Spirit, what I have found meaningful is the realization that if there is no life before birth, then the birth process will only end in a miscarriage! I firmly believe that spiritual life begins at the moment of the Father's impregnation of love, when the Spirit convicts us of the truth of Jesus: Son of God, Savior, Lord. We are not Romanists who believe in a salvation mediated through our being baptized in water. And yet many believers among the evangelicals not only question, but are resistant to, what they are hearing from us --- seeing it as the old Romanist sacramental baptism with salvation being imparted through the ritual itself.

From a Missionary in Colombia:

Brother Al, Thanks for writing about my question on John 1:13 in your last Reflections. I agree with what you wrote, and I appreciate your thoughts, which enrich my understanding. It is wonderful when we can share understandings of God's Word and grow. I have been blessed by you!

From a Reader in Louisiana:

Dear Brother Al, I just read your latest Reflections, and I really admire your heart for your detractors! I think perhaps you are being much too generous in calling them "brethren," however. People who are trusting in anything other than Jesus for salvation are not "brothers" in my view. By the way, I heard in person all three of your talks at The Tulsa Workshop and you were completely biblical. Keep up the good work of presenting Truth to a people steeped in error.

From a Reader in New Mexico:

My Dear Brother Al, If it were not for you, I do not know where I would be today!! You've opened my eyes in so many areas of God's teachings! My question to you, however, is -- Are the "Contending for the Faith" bunch a faction of the Churches of Christ? If so, this tells me what I have been afraid of since the beginning of my association with the Churches of Christ -- far too many of our number run off more souls than they will ever bring into the fold of God's saving grace!! Al, am I "off base" in thinking and saying this?

From a Reader in Georgia:

Dear Bro. Al, Your last Reflections led to one of those "eureka" moments for me! I have been reading the entire Bible through every year since my late teens, so by now I have read it well over 30 times, but this year when I read Romans 4:10-11, I double underlined it in red. I have read that passage, studied it, and taught it, but this year it just made me stop longer than usual. Anyway, I had just read your comment under "Food for Thought" in your latest Reflections, and then, an hour later, I came across what Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:13-14 --- "In Him you also, when you heard the word of Truth, the Gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit." I grew up hearing baptism preached every Sunday. Now, however, I believe I can better understand those around me who think a little differently than I do on the subject. I just had to write to you and share this! Thanks for continuing to study God's Word and to write about it!

From a Reader in Alabama:

Brother Al, I just read what your critic (alluded to within your last Reflections) had to say about you on his web site. I find it disturbing that so many put themselves in the position of passing judgment as to the faith of others. It's no coincidence that they always judge their own faith to be acceptable in God's sight, but the faith of others is often deemed insufficient for His grace. When it comes to the Judgment Seat, I thought Someone was already sitting there! Thanks for all you do, brother.

From a Reader in Washington:

My Dear Brother, You continue to humble me with your insight into the words of our Lord, and also with the ability you have to comment graciously on "Christian" jerks who so disagreeably disagree with you. I really get my dander up with folks who can't see past their own noses, and who condemn others all because of what they have always been taught to believe (instead of bothering to study things out for themselves). It seems no matter how right someone may be, there will always be others who will search to find something wrong!

From a Minister in Florida:

Brother Al, I really liked your quote at the top of your article: "Words ought to be a little wild for they are the assault of thoughts on the unthinking." My dad used to tell me that some people needed to be "smothered to death with intelligence." Thanks once again for your work!

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Brother Al, Thanks for another great article! In the "Readers' Reflections" section I was both amused and saddened to read that first reader's comment that "Faith saves us when we keep the Law!" I have never read that in my Bible! Does this preacher not know that we are not under law, but under grace? If he is depending upon law-keeping to get into heaven, then he had better be absolutely perfect at it. And if he truly thinks he gets his salvation from law-keeping, then why does he even need faith? Also, his comment, "You cannot have Christ apart from the Church of Christ," just reveals what he really predicates his salvation upon -- being in the "right" church! From his statements he has shown that he doesn't even begin to understand the true nature of the New Covenant or of Christ's Church.

From a Reader in Alabama:

Dear Brother Al, I am so sorry that your friend (mentioned in your recent Reflections) has decided to take the path of defending legalism. In his own mind he seems to have equated keeping certain laws of men with submitting to the will of God. That mindset is easily understood when one realizes that some minds have become fixated on the particulars of a Sunday worship assembly as though they were Bible commandments. God bless your life and ministry.

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Bro. Al, Under the heading "Tragedy in Tulsa" in your last Reflections, your fourth paragraph was a masterpiece! I sent it to a couple who are trying to deprogram themselves from the ultra-conservative point of view that one must be in a perfect church, with perfect doctrine, and perfect practice, and where individual members live perfect lives in order to EARN their entrance into heaven.

From a Leader with Eastern European Mission:

Brother Al, Thanks for another good production! I remember one time telling a rather conservative (traditional) elder that I believed my opinions were the best in the world. I paused while he looked shocked, and then I added: "Because as soon as someone convinces me that he has a better opinion, I adopt it!" While I may want others to adopt my own opinions, I never compel them to do so. Instead, I simply seek to persuade.

From a Minister in Texas:

Brother Al, I continue to enjoy reading your Reflections. It saddens me, though, that so many of our brethren cannot understand salvation and the grace of God.

From an Author in North Carolina:

Brother Al, Your article "Maxey's Musings" was excellent! As you know, God is using you to lead the devil's captives to freedom in Jesus! Keep on, brother!

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Brother Al, Thank you for "Maxey's Musings." I was saddened, though, by the comments of your critic. We've attended The Tulsa Workshop for over 20 years, and are seeing more and more ministries looking unto Jesus. I fear far too many in the brotherhood, however, are or were converted to a set of rules rather than a living, loving Lord and Savior. Blessings and Prayers, brother!

From a Reader in Connecticut:

Dearest Brother Al, I have seen, firsthand, noted legalistic brothers all too quickly condemn you (as well as others) as "apostates" or worse after reading or hearing secondhand about something you supposedly have written or said. I challenged one of these men pointblank, "Did you ask Al Maxey what he meant? Do you even know Al Maxey?" The answer was, "No, but..." I quickly pointed out that I DO know Al Maxey, and I HAVE met him!! It is the height of arrogance and pride to condemn someone of heresy based upon hearsay, especially if you have no personal knowledge of the person or the alleged "crime." I told him that he had better hope that God doesn't use the same standard of judgment on him that he is using on others! You are 100% right, Bro. Al, that the problem lies in the fact that some of our brethren have confused their own deductions with God's decrees.

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

Dear Brother Maxey, I really enjoy reading what you have to say. I have learned so much from you; my doubts are lowered considerably, and my hope is stronger than before. I thank God for you, as well as the many others I have sat at the feet of. Thanks for being the godly man that you are!

From a Reader in Mississippi:

Dear Brother Al, Your Reflections articles have been such a tremendous help to me! Thank you!! I have been looking at the Internet, and almost every web site of the Churches of Christ, at least anywhere near my location, always points out how they are the "one true church," and all others are NOT. They don't tell visitors to their web pages about the love of Jesus and how He died for their sins. It is always more about the Church of Christ than about Christ Himself, and about how they are exclusively "right," and all the "denominations" are WRONG. This was how I was raised before I found my freedom!! -- "denominational" people were all lost ... period ... because they weren't members of the "one true church." Even if a person believed, repented and was baptized, they were still lost if they attended a "denominational" church. Why? Because the Lord Jesus had not yet added them to His church (which was, of course, only our church). As my dear Daddy used to say, "Religion makes more people crazy than anything on earth." He was so right!

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