March 21, 2014 Broadcast

Explicit and Implicit

A Message by R.C. Sproul

The Bible contains both explicit and implicit passages.  Some verses are easy to understand, like “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13 ESV).  But others are more difficult to grasp, and may even seem contradictory.  How should we handle such passages?  Is there a principle we could refer to that would help us?  These are the questions Dr. Sproul addresses in this lesson.

From the series: Knowing Scripture

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. article

    Logical Fallacies

  2. devotional

    Explicit Vs. Implicit

  3. article

    Interpreting Hermeneutics

Logical Fallacies

Andreas Kostenberger

Logic (from the Greek word logos, "reason") is the "science that deals with the principles and criteria of validity of inference and demonstration, the science of the formal principles of reasoning" (Merriam-Webster). While theology, as the study of God, transcends mere logic, it is reasonable to expect that Scripture adheres to common principles of reasoning. Properly used, logic derives true propositions from other true propositions. Even though Scripture may not explicitly state a given truth, we may make true statements that have Scripture's authority behind them if they are properly derived from what Scripture does say following principles of logical reasoning.

A basic understanding of the rules of logic is crucial to sound hermeneutics. Logical fallacies, both formal and informal, are found in every field of study, and biblical exegesis is no exception. In what follows, I will provide examples of some of the most common logical fallacies encountered in biblical studies. They are: (1) false disjunctions, (2) appeals to selective evidence, (3) unwarranted associative jumps, (4) improperly handled syllogisms, (5) false statements, and (6) non sequiturs.

False disjunctions are made when an argument is presented in an either or fashion: either A or B is true, but not both. However, there are times when the answer is "both/and" rather than "either/or." Take the relationship between Galatians 3:28 and 1 Timothy 2:12, for example. It is at times claimed that Paul's assertion in Galatians 3 that in Christ there is "no male and female" eradicates all gender-related distinctions with regard to church ministry, so that the prohibition of women teaching or exercising authority over men in the church in 1 Timothy 2 must be explained as a culturally relative injunction. Both— undifferentiated male-female equality in Christ and limiting authoritative local church offices to men—cannot be true, it is said (or at least implied), so the latter principle must be relativized in such a way that it fits with the former. However, this kind of disjunctive thinking is fallacious. Since 1 Timothy 2:12 is grounded in creation's design and, conversely, the scenario at the fall (vv. 13–14), the passage cannot easily be set aside as culturally bound. More promising is the explanation that Galatians 3:28, in affirming the irrelevance of male-female distinctions with regard to salvation in Christ, is not seeking to address male-female roles in the church at all, so that the passages are pertaining to different (albeit related) topics. Both affirmations are true: men and women are indiscriminately saved by grace through faith in Christ, and the office of elder/overseer is reserved in Scripture for men in keeping with God's creation design.

Appeals to selective evidence are numerous. By definition, we engage in this logical fallacy anytime we only refer to authorities or passages that agree with us on a given issue while failing to account for countervailing evidence or authorities. A specific example comes from the "name it and claim it" theology. In circles that embrace this sort of thinking, it is common to cite Scripture passages that promise answers to prayer for "whatever you ask." For example, in John 14:13–14 Jesus says: "Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it." At other times, Scripture stresses the need for faith on the part of the one who prays (Heb. 11:6; James 1:6). However, people can sustain the name-it-and-claim- it approach only by selective use of evidence while ignoring other passages that put certain constraints on the kinds of prayers God will answer: prayers of disciples who take up their cross and follow Jesus, prayers asking for resources to carry out God's mission in the world, and so on. Such proponents also tend to ignore the mystery of suffering (see, for example, Jesus' comments in Luke 13:1–6), fail to explain why God answers certain prayers but not others (such as for the salvation of loved ones), and neglect to point out that there is no scriptural guarantee that God will answer all prayers for healing.

Unwarranted associative jumps, likewise, are treacherous and lurk at every turn. D.A. Carson, in his excellent book Exegetical Fallacies, cites the classic example of Paul's statement in Philippians 4:13, "I can do all things through him who strengthens me." All things? As Carson rightly points out, Paul's statement cannot be legitimately extended to such things as jumping over the moon, integrating complex mathematical equations in one's head, or turning sand into gold.

Certain constraints are brought to bear by the context of Paul's statement in his letter to the Philippians, most importantly the importance of contentment and of being able to deal with both poverty and wealth. Another common example of an associative jump is taking 2 Chronicles 7:14 ("If my people who are called by my name humble themselves . . . ") as directly applying to modern-day democracies when the original point of reference was to Israel as a theocracy.

Improperly handled syllogisms are very common as well. An example of a two-step argument for women serving authoritatively in the church based on the application of the term co-worker (Greek synergos) to both Timothy (Rom. 16:21) and women such as Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2–3) might look as follows:

Syllogism No. 1:

  1. Timothy is a co-worker of Paul.
  2. Timothy functioned authoritatively in the church.
  3. Therefore, all co-workers of Paul functioned authoritatively in the church.

Syllogism No. 2:

  1. Euodia and Syntyche are co-workers of Paul.
  2. All co-workers of Paul functioned authoritatively in the church (the conclusion of the first syllogism).
  3. Therefore, Euodia and Syntyche functioned authoritatively in the church.

However, there are several problems with this kind of reasoning. Most importantly, the first syllogism is invalid: the conclusion does not properly follow from the premises. That is, if one were to say (1) some A is B and (2) all B is C, then one cannot from these premises categorically conclude that (3) all A is C.

At best, one could seek to work inductively and contend that there is a strong likelihood that all co-workers of Paul functioned (or could function) authoritatively in the church. However, this would be a difficult case to prove, because contextual study of the relevant passages suggests that co-worker in the New Testament is a more flexible term that may indicate various forms of partnership, whether joint ministry, financial support, or other ways of collaboration. In any case, our point here is that arguments based on syllogisms, while common and often having surface appeal, may turn out at closer scrutiny to be fallacious and unsustainable.

False statements are also quite common, though perhaps this category would better be labeled "the use of faulty premises." This fallacy may also be related to the just-mentioned faulty use of syllogisms. Remember, even if a syllogism is formally valid, as we have seen, the conclusion may still be false if one or both of the premises are faulty. An example of this is the common manner of citing Proverbs 29:18: "Where there is no vision, the people perish," with vision being used to indicate a leader's or group's forward-looking plans, desires, and expectations instead of the prophetic revelation that seems to be in view here. This is wisely brought out by the ESV translation of the verse: "Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint" (emphasis added).

While I could continue, I'll close with one of my favorite categories, that of non sequiturs (Latin for "does not [logically] follow"). Many examples could be given, but perhaps most common under this rubric are illegitimate arguments from silence. For example, consider the not-uncommon assertion that the reason why Mark and John don't mention the virgin birth is that they either didn't know about it or, if they did, didn't believe in it. This clearly doesn't follow logically and is both a non sequitur and an illegitimate argument from silence. What about other reasons, such as Mark's desire for concision or John's reference to Jesus' eternal preexistence as the Son of God?

Even more importantly, I'd love to have a nickel for every time I've heard the argument that because Jesus never explicitly addressed the subject of homosexuality, we can safely surmise that He condoned such a practice. This assertion, of course, overlooks the fact that Jesus unequivocally stated, "Have you not read that he who created them [the man and the woman] from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?'" (Matt. 19:4–5). It is hard to infer from this strong affirmation of heterosexual marriage that Jesus condoned same-sex marriage.

These examples highlight the importance of engaging in proper logical reasoning when interpreting Scripture. I don't have space to address numerous other fallacies here, such as those related to emotive appeals, cavalier dismissals, improper analogies, simplistic appeals to authority, fallacies based on equivocal argumentation, and the improper use of obviously and similar expressions. Suffice it to say that every worker who truly desires God's approval in his handling of Scripture (2 Tim. 2:15) will do well to apply himself earnestly to sound principles of logic and proper reasoning.

Explicit Vs. Implicit

For the past two days we have studied some of the literary forms that we must take into account when interpreting the Bible. Recognizing these different literary forms leads us to understand exactly what a text may be teaching us and helps us to defend the Bible from its critics. Today we will examine a hermeneutical rule that is very important in order to avoid overly esoteric interpretations of the Bible.

Many different literary genres are represented in Holy Writ. Some genres tend to be more doctrinally explicit than others, like, for example, the New Testament epistles and other more didactic (explicit teaching) portions of Scripture. Narratives and poems tend to be less explicit and didactic, and thus we rely more on implicit inferences in order to determine how they contribute to our understanding.

When reading the Bible, we must let the explicit passages of Scripture clarify the implicit ones. A doctrine that we infer from a text cannot be true if it contradicts the explicit teaching of another text.

The controversy over open theism (the heresy that contends that God does not know the future) illustrates this point well. Many Scripture passages (e.g., Ex. 32:14; Jonah 3:10) indicate that sometimes God “relents” (some versions: “changes His mind”) and does not bring promised disaster upon a people. When human beings change their minds, it is usually due to some unknown future event or unforeseen circumstance. Open theists take this fact about human beings, combine it with texts that speak of God changing His mind, and then infer that God must not know the future because if He did, the Bible would not say that He changes His mind.

This inference, however, denies many explicit portions of Scripture. Numbers 23:19 tells us that “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man that he should change his mind.” This explicit, didactic statement tells us clearly that God does not change His mind like men do. Men change their minds because they do not know the future. God, however, knows the future exhaustively (Isa. 42:9; 44:7; Jer. 1:5; Matt. 26:34), and thus any change of mind of which the Bible speaks must be a change that God knew He would make in advance. Open theism demonstrates that when we do not allow the explicit to govern our interpretation of the implicit, we end up with heresy.

Interpreting Hermeneutics

Burk Parsons

My first appointment today was with a seminary student of mine who also attends our church. He is a sharp student in his early forties who left a lucrative career in order to pursue God's call to pastoral ministry. He asked me to review his research paper and suggest ways he could improve it. In discussing his paper, he explained how his position on baptism had recently begun to change from a believer's-baptist (credobaptist) position to an infant-baptist (paedobaptist) position. Even though I am a convinced paedobaptist, I urged him as a first-year seminary student to take extraordinary care in his study of baptism in particular and in his study of Scripture in general. I explained that his understanding of the recipients of baptism must come as a result of his serious study of Scripture itself and, what's more, that his study of Scripture must be done with careful exegesis and a consistent hermeneutic (method of interpretation). Although I want him to affirm paedobaptism, I only want him to do so on account of careful biblical interpretation, not simply on account of the seminary and church he attends or the theologians and pastors he respects.

In my own four-year-long journey toward affirming paedobaptism—fighting against it all the way—I began to see that it wasn't only my understanding of baptism that was changing but my understanding of biblical covenants, the continuity between covenants, the church, and, more foundationally, my understanding of hermeneutics. I came to see that the fundamental difference between credobaptists and paedobaptists is our hermeneutic in approaching certain passages of Scripture.

Although the word hermeneutic is intimidating, a proper hermeneutic is essential to all forms of communication. And whether we know it or not, everyone has a hermeneutic. The goal, however, is that our hermeneutic be biblically faithful and that we strive to apply it consistently without allowing any hermeneutical fallacies to corrupt our exegesis of Scripture. Our hermeneutic emerges from Scripture and, reciprocally, helps us to interpret Scripture, thus informing all our theology. All Christians, both credobaptist and paedobaptist, affirm the authority of Scripture, yet we sometimes disagree in our interpretation of it on account of our hermeneutical differences. Therefore, we do well to study hermeneutics and the fallacies that can unfortunately affect our interpretation of Scripture, to the end that we might rightly divide the Word of Truth as we all strive to glorify God in all we think, do, and say as we live coram Deo, before His face forever.

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