Two Contradictory Church of Christ Principles

There are two principles you will hear if you spend much time in our fellowship:

  1. We speak where the Bible speaks and are silent where the Bible is silent
  2. We support our practices by studying the Bible looking for commands, examples and necessary inferences

I am sure someone, somewhere has already pointed this out…but I will go ahead and say it. These two often stated principles are contradictory. #2 is about speaking where the Bible speaks and finding a way to speak where the Bible is silent and making that just as authoritative as when the Bible speaks. It is important we are honest with ourselves about this one. If we really stuck with #1 we would be in much better shape.

About mattdabbs
I am a minister, husband, and father. My wife and I live and minister in Saint Petersburg, Florida. My primary ministry responsibilities include: small groups, 20s and 30s, involvement, and adult education.

52 Responses to Two Contradictory Church of Christ Principles

  1. Tim Spivey says:

    Word.

    Though, I think both have issues in their own way. In a sentence, it’s viewing Scripture’s silence as prohibitive. There are some times when the silence of Scripture could reasonably be seen as prohibitive…but on the whole, this is a hermeneutical flaw.

  2. “but, but!… the Bible *speaks* through command & necessary inference!”

    Just wait- that comment is coming. Probably 2,500 words long.

    We all need to be more honest about our hermeneutic. I don’t understand how a dishonest hermeneutic serves the Kingdom of God.

    • Paul Smith says:

      “Incomplete” or “abused” maybe. Maybe even intellectually challenged. But your use of the word “dishonest” involves moral guilt, and I simply do not see where the Restorers in the early 18th century were being morally corrupt. Disagree if you must, but when you start throwing mud it reveals more of your character than the individual with whom you disagree.

      • mattdabbs says:

        I don’t think Philip is saying the early Restoration folks were being dishonest/morally corrupt. I obviously don’t think they were sinless but I don’t think Philip is saying they intentionally created a sinful hermeneutic. Some would say CENI is not a hermeneutic at all. I know Philip very well and he is not much of a mud slinger!

    • mattdabbs says:

      Philip…how right you are. See below.

      • CaseyGray says:

        Ridicule is not helpful in coming to a full understanding of the truth. In fact it hinders it. I was tempted not to even object because of this comment. How can we come to a full knowledge of the truth if we ridicule everyone who poses an objection? This very topic is an objection that was posed because of a misunderstanding of necessary inference. It will lead to a further understanding of the truth. Objections are good as long as they are rational. Let’s try not to keep people from posing objections. We might get farther that way…

  3. WroughtInGod says:

    I haven’t taken the time to read your history/denomination/etc… but the “only” relevant truth comes from the mouth of God. Man’s interpretation is at best “perfect” with God’s intention or flawed.

  4. I looked this morning in James – and then happened to look here. Affirming I, Barb, sometimes need to be silent! Quick to listen! I realize your point is different – but it takes me to the time Jesus just knelt and drew in sand rather than responding. He waited. He listened. The he gave a gentle answer to a sinner like me. Truth can be gentle. I needed to hear that – thank you!

  5. Our real problem comes when we make our interpretation of examples and inferences (which are often not really “necessary”) into binding law. I view examples more as permissive than restrictive. Inferences are often only in the mind of the one making them.

    As you say, we will do better to stick to speaking where the Bible speaks and remaining silent where it is silent. After all, the Lord did say, “The secret things [the things about which He is silent?] belong to God.” The things revealed are ours that we may do them. [See Deuteronomy 29:29.]

    If we will do the things God has explicitly told us to do, proclaim the message He has actually given us, while keeping our pontificating about other things to ourselves, we will do much better.

    Jerry

  6. Paul Smith says:

    Matt, I am not sure where the two are absolutely “contradictory.” I believe that the Bible does “speak” through command and example. However, as with Jerry above, I think that we have elevated “inference,” to a meaning which was not in the mind of Thomas and Alexander Campbell. They spoke of concepts which must be necessarily derived from a clear teaching or example. We have turned that into, “If I can see it in the text it is a clear command from God.”

    The issue about “speaking where the Bible speaks” alone is that there are issues confronting us in the 21st century that simply did not exist in the 1st. Therefore, we must take the “spoken” word and derive guiding principles, or not address those issues at all. I find no passage that “speaks” of gender modification, abortion, the use of weapons of mass destruction, international banking institutions, global warming and the list could go on. But the difference as I see it, is that the principles that I see in the text might be different from the principles you see in the text, and at that point we need to work as partners to find a unified response as opposed to enemies who tear each other down.

    I have no problem standing on command and example. I just want to walk on egg shells when it comes to inferences.

    Paul

    • mattdabbs says:

      The contradiction is pointed out by James a little more explicitly in his comment after yours. If we are truly silent where the Bible is silent then we have no room for speaking on any issue that is not plainly laid out in scripture, much less make those inferences binding.

      The whole concept of CENI is trying to find a way to make the Bible speak where the Bible is silent. It is an effort to make the Bible have a final word on every conceivable issue. I do think we need to seek God’s wisdom even on areas in which the Bible is silent. I think that is wise to take broader biblical principles to try to determine how God would view a particular issue they may not have had in their day. But as has already been said here…to make inference binding is a huge problem.

      Take the issue of infant baptism. Those who support it point to the household baptisms in Acts and Corinthians and necessarily infer that when a whole household is baptized it includes the “whole household”…every man, woman, child, slave, free, etc. They would even say it is not even an inference because the text actually says the whole household was baptized. We like necessary inference when the inferences are our own but have a hard time with it when we don’t think the inferences concluded match up with our own or don’t think it necessarily infers that conclusion at all. If inference has authority, which inferences are the right ones?

      • Paul Smith says:

        Matt, I don’t like trying to defend something I don’t necessarily agree with 100%. I am not trying to defend “necessary inference” as I believe it is inherently weak. I would simply argue that the hermeneutic of command, example, and necessary inference is not “always” a poor hermeneutic. I agree wholeheartedly that when we make silence “always” permissive or “always” restrictive we have made a mistake. As I read Campbell, Stone and others I do not believe that is what they were trying to teach. As to their disciples, well, we can see what has developed.

        The hermeneutic is flawed, at least in terms of necessary inference, because it is a human construct. But by far and away the greater flaw is in the heart of the interpreter who wants the Bible to say what he or she wants it to say regardless of the hermeneutic used. As long as that flaw remains no human hermeneutic is safe – not the least is “speak where the Bible speaks.” For just one example, I believe the Bible speaks with crystal clarity regarding gender responsibilities, but many of my brothers and sisters refuse to even consider that it is the Bible that is speaking. If we refuse to hear the words of Scripture, what hermeneutic is ever going to be useful?

    • mattdabbs says:

      Paul…good stuff in that last post. I especially love your second paragraph. It is dead on. If we are reading scripture for the wrong reason…to bend it to our wishes, it doesn’t matter how good or bad your hermeneutic is…it will fail.

  7. James says:

    Exactly right, Matt. In order to say that silence always permissive or always restrictive in terms of authority, you must first speak where the Bible is silent, since the Bible itself never says either extreme is true.

  8. There is a third version which we actually follow in principle. “Where the Bible speaks we listen in silence. Where the Bible is silent we are free to speak.”

  9. K. Rex Butts says:

    I’ve always thought that there is a bit irony that the phrase “speak where the Bible speaks, be silent where the Bible is silent” is found nowhere in the Bible. The irony, of course, is that we have a phrase used as a rule for reading the Bible that calls for us to remain silent where the Bible is silent and yet the said phrase isn’t even part of the Bible.

    It would be funny if it were not for the amount of division that such a hermeneutic has caused.

  10. I didn’t grow up in our brotherhood. I didn’t grow up in any other brotherhood either. Thanks to God for His salvation! I however, love the churches of Christ and I am proud to be serving the Lord as a minister within the body. However, I have not been a big fan of “Speak where the Bible speaks, silent where the Bible is silent” because I just don’t see that in the pages of Scripture. However, like Paul, above, I agree that on matters that God has specifically defined, we cannot ignore. That being said, I find it rather ironic, and kind of sad, actually, that we tend to speak where the bible doesn’t speak and be silent where the Bible hasn’t been silent. We claim one thing and do another. There is a flaw in that, right? Or am I missing something?

    • mattdabbs says:

      “That being said, I find it rather ironic, and kind of sad, actually, that we tend to speak where the bible doesn’t speak and be silent where the Bible hasn’t been silent.”

      I have seen that happen from time to time. In the places I have worshiped over the last 10 years that has been the exception rather than the rule and I am thankful for that.

  11. Paul Smith makes an excellent point. To add to that, do we really need to know that baptism in Jesus’ name is in water by its only defining example in Acts 11:47-48? Do we really need to make an inference that Jesus’ definition of fornication in Mark 7:20-23 included rape, pedophilia, sex-slavery, etc; that murder would include unborn children, or should we just agree to permit any understanding?

    Why can’t we just be united in observing Jesus’ instructions and the scriptures that define them? That’s the hermeneutic that I find the scriptures in a nutshell.

    • mattdabbs says:

      Scott…it should be that simple. The problem we get into is when we bring our agenda and predetermined conclusions into scripture and twist scripture to fit what we have already decided is the conclusion.

  12. The issue is far too complex for a comment, but I would like to emphasize one point. The issue is not whether silence permits or silence prohibits. Silence is just silence. To say it either permits or prohibits is by definition making a judgment. We are saying more about ourselves than we are about the text.

    • mattdabbs says:

      Gary,

      One point I am going to make in a later post is that we need to follow the example of Paul in 1 C or 7:12,

      “To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord):”

      Here Paul is making a statement that he has no scriptural backing for or word from God on. So he says what he is about to say is from him, not from the Lord. I think we have too many cases where we are speaking our opinions as if they are the Lord’s on issues that scriptures are silent on. We need to have more statements like Paul’s in this verse that we start by saying, “Scripture is not clear on this issue at all…or is completely silent on it. Here is my opinion…”

  13. CaseyGray says:

    If “all scripture is given by inspiration” 2Tim 3:16, and the Bible represents all of our scriptures today then we cannot contradict the divine words spoken therein. Paul’s interjections of “I, not the Lord” should therefore be held as the only words in the Bible that are not from divine inspiration. All other scripture comes from the single source of divine inspiration.

    The truths you say contradict each other are easily brought together in the statement below…

    If our teachings contradicts* anything clearly inferred* through the commands/instructions given in the Bible, we would be contradicting the divine inspiration. Therefore, we would be taking away from or adding to the word that is given to us, (i.e. speaking differently than the Bible speaks) and making God say something He did not say.

    -contradicts (teaches opposite or differently by taking away from or adding to)

    -clearly inferred (using every resource, translation, historical fact available and keeping an honest heart; taking into account the fact that the scriptures cannot contradict themselves because they come from one divine source)

    This statement does not ratify those things which aren’t “clearly inferred.” The honest heart that seeks to do the will of God will do it’s best to follow and teach with humility those things which that heart believes the inspired word says through command, example, and necessary inference. You are correct in saying that these three methods of drawing conclusions on the will of God are inadequate, but I say that these three methods are the only way to honestly draw the entirety of God’s will from the Bible. Those things which aren’t clearly inferred that we want to add in any way should be done with extreme caution because they are not given by divine inspiration, but come from man and can be against the will of God. As for me, I will strive to obtain the glory of Christ who was one with God’s will and God’s will ALONE!

    Please help me understand where I am mistaken in my belief if you feel I am. And please don’t say I am wrong to disreguard the clear inferences we see in the scriptures. HAVE AN HONEST HEART!!!

    • mattdabbs says:

      Casey,

      If you have read this blog and the discussions here for any length of time you know that I am willing to engage people in actual, loving dialog. Let me respond to a few of your points and get some feedback from you.

      “If “all scripture is given by inspiration” 2Tim 3:16, and the Bible represents all of our scriptures today then we cannot contradict the divine words spoken therein.”

      – Don’t people contradict scripture all the time? You seem to be saying that because scripture is inspired we cannot contradict it. Maybe instead of contradict it you meant to say that we cannot actually make it false? Help me understand what you meant there.

      “The honest heart that seeks to do the will of God will do it’s best to follow and teach with humility those things which that heart believes the inspired word says through command, example, and necessary inference.”

      – So why do people all following that same interpretive framework (command, example, necessary inference) come to very different conclusions on many issues? Many of them have very, very good hearts and are honestly seeking the truth and yet disagree. CENI does not guarantee agreement for several reasons. Sometimes our presuppositions/preconceived ideas and conclusions get in the way. Other times the text is very difficult and there are several possible interpretations, none of which stand out over the others.

      “Those things which aren’t clearly inferred that we want to add in any way should be done with extreme caution because they are not given by divine inspiration, but come from man and can be against the will of God.”

      – Now you are getting to the heart of it. Which things are clearly inferred and which things are not? Who determines what is clear and what is not clear? That is the sticking point.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I look forward to hearing more from you.

      • CaseyGray says:

        In response to your first question. False teaching is teaching that is contradictory to the scriptures. One who teaches God’s word is to speak “the oracles of God.” I will remind you of what Paul wrote in his harsh letter to the Galatians, excuse me for paraphrasing the NET, “if anyone comes to you preaching a gospel different than we have preached to you, let them be condemned to hell!.” Time and time again the Epistles speak warnings against false teachers. The only way to know who is a false teacher is by understanding the scriptures and comparing the teachings. We wouldn’t say that God set up scriptures in such a way that we can draw differing conclusions on matters of His will would we? That would contradict the scriptures which teach that “God is not an author of confusion.”

        Sure people contradict the scriptures all the time, but we can’t say that necessary inference is speaking where the Bible is silent given that fact. I will remind you of one more verse from Romans 10 “how are they to hear without a preacher?” In this verse Paul uses necessary inference over and over again. Necessary inference is drawing the correct conclusions of what is needed to perform a command using common sense. It can’t be done without _____. I would say that God clearly tells us what he expects us to do and necessary inference is the means by which we can accomplish it.

        In response to your second question/comment. You interchanged interpretation and inference. They are not completely the same because their is ONE correct interpretation that was intended by the author of the scriptures (Holy Spirit). We do the best we can to make that interpretation. The similarity between the two is that there are many interpretations held by man today and there are many tools which man can used to do God’s will (inferences). One interpretation is correct, but many different inferences can be correct. Any inference taught as commandments is an addition to God’s word and any interpretations that are taught as absolute when the text is difficult might have a low probability of being correct. We need to be humble about our interpretations on difficult things, but seek to come to the Divine interpretation.

        Further understanding of what necessary inference is…

        Necessary inference is the tools needed to perform a command or example. I can’t play basketball without a ball goal. So if I am commanded to go play basketball, we need to find a ball goal of some kind! It isn’t on the same level as a command or example in that it can be adjusted (i.e. we can have a goal made out of anything) but it needs to perform the function necessary to fulffill the command.

        Necessary inference is a method to be used in carring out God’s will. It is not on the same level as commandments or examples. People do consider it on the same level and it is NOT. I might have alluded to that in my previous comment. FORGIVE ME. Necessary inference is not a method to be used in drawing conclusions on WHAT we do to please God it is a method to be used in understanding HOW we should go about doing it.

        The real ambiguity comes when deciding what is a NECESSARY tool to be used to do God’s will, what is UNECESSARY and irresponsible, and what is an addition to God’s word. Here are some examples of Additions, irresponsible inference, and necessary inference.

        1. An addition is saying that we are commanded to teach God’s word on a TV.
        2. An irresponsible use of necessary inference is saying “We need a 66″ plasma TV in every class to teach the word of God!” and we put our foot down saying we will leave the church unless the church uses it’s funds to buy those TVs. Then we are trying to perform God’s commands and examples while adding something that may have little impact on one’s ability to teach but cost the church a large amount of money. Could we not just as easily teach God’s word with a Bible?
        3. A Bible is clearly inferred in the command to teach is it not? I am not at all against using tools to help in the growth and development of the members of God’s word, but I need to be extremely careful and responsible about using the Lord’s funds to do His will.

        The main point I wanted to drive home, and did a poor job of, was that we can’t eliminate necessary inference from our methods doing the will of God. Things that are necessarily inferred are things which would be needed to perform a command or follow an example given under the new convenant. God gives us liberty to use whatever tools we deem necessary to fulfill a command or example. However, we need to use that liberty responsibly

        Additionally, I think that the parable of the talents applies in making inference decisions. Men were given different amounts of money and expected to use that money responsibly to glorify their master. The first century Christians did what they could with the teachings they first recieved by apostles, with the resources available in that time (Prophets, inspired writings, divine knowledge and wisdom, etc.) to help the number and spiritual quality of the church to grow. We have the complete word and can stand in a mirror face to face with what God wants us to be. We use the scriptures following the commandments and examples listed. Purchasing the things that are necessary to get the best spiritual return for our investment in both development and number.

        I hope this extremely long commentary has been at least somewhat helpful and completely correct. I read this subject heading and couldn’t let it go unpunished.🙂 I appreciate your material on this website though. Very helpful stuff. Let me know your thoughts or disapprovals.

    • mattdabbs says:

      Casey,

      I am perfectly aware of what false teaching is. I was just wondering if you were saying it is impossible to contradict it or if you were saying that we shouldn’t contradict it. Obviously people do contradict the word of God. Do you believe that someone who holds a different view on a particular matter than you is a false teacher? Is it one thing to flat contradict the scriptures and another thing to see how someone comes to a particular, plausible conclusion even though you disagree with it? To me, someone who flat out contradicts scripture and doesn’t care that they are contradicting the clear teaching of scripture would be more in line with a false teacher than someone who holds a plausible view that happens to be one that I disagree with…obviously, this all depends on which issue you are talking about. Some things are more clear in scripture than other things.

  14. Paul Smith says:

    CaseyGray, I am confused here. What I would like to know is who exactly is authoritative enough today to determine what exactly is a necessary and what is not a necessary inference. To give just one example, some point to 1 Cor. 11:22 and make the “necessary inference” that kitchens inside buildings are unscriptural. When you say that an inference is necessary, you are saying that there is no other way to interpret that Scripture. It is necessary (obligatory) to see it only one way. If someone disagrees with that interpretation then by definition they are a false teacher and bound for condemnation. Where does Romans 14 fit into your hermeneutic? Paul clearly allowed different interpretations of holy days to coexist in the church at Rome. So how do you define necessary, and to whom do you grant the power to determine what is necessary or not?

    • CaseyGray says:

      Paul,

      They are not making the “necessary inference” in that case. They are trying to understand the interpretation that is intended in that scripture by the Holy Spirit. Paul is pointing out that common meals of fellowship are better accomplished at home. The Lord’s Supper is to be a sacred meal shared equally by all of the members! Read verse 17 through the end of the chapter.

      I don’t like one verse answers to any question!

      The necessary inference one is using in having a kitchen is that they are saying. The Lord commands me to have fellowship with my brethren. I am going to use the Lord’s funds to purchase a building that has a kitchen and fellowship hall. I then ask the question, “Is that a responsible inference that was made out of necessity?” Paul asks the question, “Do you not have homes to enjoy common meals together?” I would be very uneasy with the huge expense of a kitchen given the fact that I think we can have the Lord’s Supper every week without a big elaborate kitchen and Paul tells us to use our homes to enjoy common meals.

      My interpretation (hermeneutic) does not matter. If it isn’t in keeping with the one interpretation that the Spirit intended it is wrong.

      I understand Romans 14 to be discussing our loving response to a brother’s concience (beginning with verse 8 of chapter 13. It deals largely with our use of judgment towards those who see some food as “idol worship” and those who are Jewish and have the view of some food being “unclean.” How does it relate to the topic at hand? Judging the responsible uses of the Lord’s funds is not the same as condemning it. Judging the responsible uses of the Lord’s funds is not the same as food offered to idol’s or unclean. Is it? What do you mean by
      “Paul clearly allowed different interpretations of holy days to coexist in the church at Rome”

      I said before, “God gives us liberty to use whatever tools we deem necessary to fulfill a command or example.” and below I said, ” I can make my own choices, but not if it contradicts what He wants me to do or if my concience condemns it as sinful” This is one of the passages I was referring to and in light of Chapter 14 verse 13 I should add to that “I can make my own choices, but not if it causes my brother to stumble.”

      • CaseyGray says:

        I said, “Judging the responsible use of the Lord’s funds is not the same as condemning it.”

        Let me elaborate…

        Using necessary inference is an exercise of free will. We choose to spend the Lord’s funds differently to accomplish the goal of fellowship. If I say, “That seems to be an irresponsible use of the Lord’s funds based on the amount of money spent and the fruit of the labor.” I am not saying, “You are going to hell for contradicting the scriptures!” Therefore I am not condemning anyone as the Christians in Rome seemed to be doing.

  15. CaseyGray says:

    I believe that God is clear on everything that truly matters when it comes to living faithfully as long as we study the scriptures as a whole. Contrary to popular belief today, the number of points that are difficult to understand are extremely small and for those few issues, like I said before, we need to be careful to have a humble attitude if we don’t know for sure.

    All too often people say, we can’t know for sure what he is writing about here, when looking at the context of the passage, understanding the traditions of that day based on historical evidence we can understand a lot about that particular text. (I am warning against using this as an excuse to not study more in depth)

    Focusing on the few things that aren’t easily understood and don’t have an impact on the way we are saved or worship is not as prophetable as making sure we are doing the correct things to be saved and live faithfully for God. My personal response to anything not mentioned in the scriptures is “When in doubt, DON’T!” I know that I can be God’s child if I do what He tells me to do. I can make my own choices, but not if it contradicts what He wants me to do or if my concience condemns it as sinful. I leave moral and ethical discussions that are extremely unprofitable and sometimes have no answer to polititians for the most part because I am not facing those issues in my decision making.

  16. Paul Smith says:

    Casey said, “My interpretation (hermeneutic) does not matter. If it isn’t in keeping with the one interpretation that the Spirit intended it is wrong.” And he makes my point exactly, although unintentionally, I am sure.

    One’s hermeneutic certainly does matter!! It matters tremendously. And those who argue that “necessary inference” is a legitimate hermeneutic are dangerously close to classic theological liberalism. I asked Casey how he determined the “one interpretation that the spirit intended” and he did not answer that question. To be absolutely clear, I agree that each entire contextual passage has a single meaning (otherwise the text would be unintelligable), but I am equally convinced that the hermeneutic of “necessary inference” does not get us to that meaning. I believe that T. and A. Campbell and others who used that phrase had a much different idea in mind than their theological heirs, and how I see the phrase being used today it is taken to mean, “my interpretation is the Holy Spirit’s interpretation, and if you disagree you are disagreeing with God.”

    And so I ask again, how are we do differentiate between a “necessary” inference and an arbitrary one?

    • CaseyGray says:

      I will try to be as clear as possible as well as short this time.🙂

      Necessary inference is not an interpretation of God’s will. It is the steps taken to perform God’s will.

      How do we determine the one interpretation originally intended by the Spirit? Study with an HONEST HEART! Words coming out of anyones mouth have a purpose. Not multiple purposes.

      Please help me understand your objection to one of these statements.

      • Paul Smith says:

        #1, Okay, I see the problem here. We are dealing with two entirely different definitions of the phrase “necessary inference.” I am working with Matt’s definitions (see below) so any attempt to communicate with you is going to be short-circuited by this basic disagreement with definitions.

        #2 I know many, many people, some within the church of Christ and many outside of it who study the Scripture with an honest heart and honestly come up with a different interpretation of the text than I do. To impugn their heart by condemning them because they came up with a different understanding than mine is to judge their heart with an evil intent, and Jesus clearly labels that sin. Honesty alone is no guarantee of correct exegesis or hermeneutics, whether it is my heart or anyone else’s heart that is being examined. When we judge someone’s soul (heart) because of a difference in intellectual conclusions, we have come very close, if not blatantly crossing, the line between God and man. We must be willing to debate conclusions without assigning dishonest motives to the hearts of our opponents.

      • CaseyGray says:

        Paul,

        Please read my response to Matt below. I am terrible at trying to sum up all my thoughts in short statements. They aren’t full understood that way. All of your misunderstanding is stemming from the use of the word “would” instead of the word “might” in my original statements.

        #1 My short statement #1 was false. Necessary inference is an interpretation of God’s will based on Matt’s correct definition. However, it is also one of the steps taken to perform God’s will.

        #2 I am not condemning Christians for misunderstanding a small thing nor am I judging their hearts. I am merely pointing out that there is an overall point God wants us to see and we must use necessary inference to find it. It is not speaking where God does not speak. It is speaking where God speaks indirectly. Jesus did that himself when He said “On these depend all the law and the prophets.” in Matt 22: 40. The Jews missed that the overall point of the OT was to have a love for God and their neighbor. Because of this misunderstanding they were following various other commandments the wrong way. We see that it is possible for one to be condemned by God if they do not use necessary inference.

        My reference to having an honest heart was meant to show the likelyhood of a man being incorrect in his thinking because of his own desires or previous learnings. I am not trying to insinuate that anyone on here has a dishonest heart. I just consider an honest heart of the utmost importance when coming to an understanding of truth and using necessary inference.

  17. OK I’d like to dive in – as a lay-Christian. Gulp.
    I grew up Quaker. We would worship in silence, and await the Holy Spirit bidding to direct someone to share a word with the fellow worshippers. (As a kid, it was often a long hour especially if ones sibling did something worth giggling about nearby.)
    As someone studied with me and loved me along in college I was lead to read through Matthew and got very stuck on those passages that group people as sheep. I didn’t want to be a sheep. I thought they were dumb and helpless. As the Lord drew me in – I started to see the Shepherd as the gentle, yet fiercly protective One that had help and hope for me. I long to hear His voice. I long to see the fences. They are comforting. I started to realize that the Quaker way of worship was not fully guiding those searching to the truth – (this really is not to open a comment on Quakers but my personal walk). My point is coming – during the silence of meditating – in any meditation (whether it be people kneeling in prayer and having pauses, during communion time when it is quiet reflection, etc) I now find myself listening to His word and seeking His word. While I admit that sometimes He says something to me – one time I heard Him tell me ‘there are no guardrails’ and at that time I took it to be a warning to stay VERY strictly on the middle line of the road and not try to look over a crevice…looking ahead not behind – I am more apt to be like the sheep that searches the scripture for His voice.
    So to bring it into the context here – silence is neat – but His voice through written word is such a prize! John 10:16 they too will listen to my voice…

    • mattdabbs says:

      Barb,

      You know you don’t have to apologize here. I have so much respect for you and for your opinion. I think you got to the heart of the matter in your comment. The whole point is that we are close to the heartbeat of God, listening, learning, and growing. Thank you for sharing that and some of your story. That is neat to hear.

  18. mattdabbs says:

    Casey,

    Let me get right to the heart and soul of this discussion by addressing one of your points again because I didn’t hear your response to this. This is from your first post.

    “If our teachings contradicts* anything clearly inferred* through the commands/instructions given in the Bible, we would be contradicting the divine inspiration. Therefore, we would be taking away from or adding to the word that is given to us, (i.e. speaking differently than the Bible speaks) and making God say something He did not say.”

    You didn’t say if our teaching contradicts something clearly taught by scripture but something clearly inferred. Inference is not always clear. That is why it is called inference.

    Inference – “the process of arriving at some conclusion that, though it is not logically derivable from the assumed premises, possesses some degree of probability relative to the premises.” – Dictionary.com

    Or this – “the act of passing from one proposition, statement, or judgment considered as true to another whose truth is believed to follow from that of the former.” – merriam-webster.com

    Inference is derived from truth. That means it has basis in truth but, whereas truth is absolute, inference is not necessarily absolute. Because it is not necessarily absolute you cannot bind inference on others in the same way commands from God are binding. You just cannot say that every single inference is as valid as every single truth taught in scripture because the process of inference leaves a tremendous amount of room for error. We can’t even get people to agree on simple things, much less things that require complicate and convoluted inferences. So what I hear you saying, correct me if I am wrong, is that in at least many cases, probable actually means absolute and on level with and to be held to the same standard as the absolutes in scripture. Am I hearing you right?

    I have a few more thoughts and questions to share and maybe even a quote or two but I want to get at this point first, so please respond when you get a chance. Thanks for being patient!.

    • CaseyGray says:

      I think that you are correct in almost everything you are saying here and you ALMOST understand my point of view.🙂 As I read back through my original post I can see that it wasn’t as clear as it should have been. Sorry about that. Pardon another long response as well. I don’t know how to shorten my thoughts obviously…

      I appreciate your bringing out these definitions. As you well know, inference stems from the word inferred. Something that is inferred is intended to be understood as common sense. The formal definition is – “Deduce or conclude (information) from evidence and reasoning rather than from explicit statements.” (Dictionary.com) Please study those definitions as well as this one before reading my next paragraph. You have helped me to put into words the definition of “clearly inferred.” Then, I will discuss my mistake in the first statement and provide an example of clear inference.

      I did mean to use the word inferred in that statement and I will tell you why. Something is “clearly inferred” when the context of that scripture and information provided in other scriptures deems the possibility of one interpretation extremely higher than all others. People tend to ignore the probabilities and do what they want to do. As I said before, things that are difficult (low amount of contextual revelation, and low probability) we must be humble about teaching as a commandment. The word I misused was the word “would.” I should have used the word “might” because it isn’t true in every case as you pointed out. See below.

      “If our teachings contradicts* anything clearly inferred* through the commands/instructions given in the Bible, we ‘might’ be contradicting the divine inspiration. Therefore, we ‘might’ be taking away from or adding to the word that is given to us, (i.e. speaking differently than the Bible speaks) and making God say something He did not say.”

      The simplest example of God expecting clear interpretation that is disobeyed I found in the Old Testament. God commanded observance of the Sabbath by not working. In Numbers 15:32-36 a man was found gathering sticks. Could he have said, “I am not working, I am just picking up sticks!” and not been stoned? God was clear in His command and He was justified in having the man put to death. Was He not? How do we know this? Because we can deduce that picking up sticks has a high probability of being work.

      I realize that we aren’t under that Law nor were we given that same command today, but the point is there. Barb was right in the statement about we must live by what He did say to us, but how do we find the answer to the question “What did He say to us?” We must Study His commandments, examples, and the context of those two things with an honest heart understanding the overall principles implied and not going against those principles. We can’t get to that point without using common sense, necessary inference, whatever you want to call it. God never flat out told the man not to pick up sticks. Did He?

      I did not mean to make a point that all inference is absolute. That is certainly not true, but just because all are not, doesn’t take away from the fact that some could be absolute. All inferences aren’t often absolute, but it is possible that some are. We need to study diligently to ensure the way to go about fulfilling that command is lawful.

      I feel my argument still stands. Following necessary inference is not contradicting silence where the Bible is silent. It speaks where the Bible speaks indirectly. Some things are clearly inferred by understanding the context of the teaching and we should use them to define the original church’s doctrine to the best of our ability. It is our responsibility to understand the overall principles given in the word and not contradict them.

      I might ask you the question, “How can we know and correctly follow EVERY command given in the New Testament without necessary inference?”

      If the answer is “You can’t” then your statement about the two teachings being contradictory is false. Necessary inference does not speak where the Bible is silent it speaks where the Bible speaks indirectly. It is a method to uncover the entirety of God’s true desire for mankind. A method God has given us an example of using. (ref Rom 10 as before)

    • CaseyGray says:

      One more example in the NT.

      Jesus came to a clear overall understanding of the Law through necessary inference when He said “On these depend all the law and the prophets.” in Matt 22: 40. The Jews missed that the overall point of the OT was to have a love for God and their neighbor. Because of this misunderstanding they were following various other commandments the wrong way. We see that it is possible for one to be condemned by God if they do not use necessary inference.

      There is a level of depth to the scriptures that we need to see in order to understand what he wants us to do correctly.

      I have said all I know to say. I will answer questions you have, admit I am wrong if I am, and correct myself if I have made a mistake, but I will not give another lengthy response.

  19. Paul Smith says:

    Casey, thanks for the clarification. I am encouraged by the phrase, “where God speaks indirectly.” However, I was equally concerned by your response to Matt when you say that we can “be condemned by God if they do not use necessary inference.”

    The Pharisees “necessarily” inferred that because healing was a physical work, Jesus was sinning by healing on the Sabbath. (For background, read Ezekiel and his condemnation of the desecration of the Sabbath). Jesus condemned them for their “necessary” inference!

    Therein lies my point – just whose inference is “necessary” and whose is arbitrary? Your answer is, “well if you are honest you will get it right.” But Paul himself argued that he persecuted the church with a clear conscience, and was yet dead wrong! (Phil. 3).

    Unless you have a much tighter control over the word “necessary,” the hermeneutic of discerning God’s will by “necessary inference” collapses under the weight of its own preconceptions. It cannot deliver what it promises to deliver!

    • CaseyGray says:

      You are correct that the Pharisees misunderstood who Jesus was and did not “necessarily” infer in that case, Jesus condemned them. I might point out that they were doing so hypocritically (No pure heart in those guys!) because Jesus said they would pull a sheep out of a hole on the Sabbath. (Matt 12) I’m pretty sure Jesus actually condemned them because of their hypocrisy not because of their incorrect inferrence. If they would have realized that He was the Son of God and that God has been working on the Sabbath, they wouldn’t have made such a condemnation. The works that Jesus did on the Sabbath. Were they works of men or of God?🙂 I’m amazed by the statement Jesus is “Lord of the Sabbath.”

      This furthers my point that an incorrect inference is condemnable and we must recognize the truth God expects us to see.

      I believe the one’s inference that comes from scriptural, contextual, and historical evidence is formed of necessity.

      Paul’s incorrect convictions further the point that incorrect inference is condemnable. He did not take into account the scriptures in his decision to reak havoc on the church. He was most likely just being a Pharisee of Pharisees.

      Am I making any sense?

      • Paul Smith says:

        Casey, you are making sense. The problem is that you are trying to defend a human construct (hermeneutic) that at the end of the day is Scripturally indefensible. I know whereof I speak. I once attempted to defend NI as much as you have, and it is just not in agreement with Scripture.

        We are saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-10). You have elevated NI to a matter of salvation (if we do not infer correctly, God can condemn us). Therefore, you have elevated a human ability (intellectual inference) to a matter of salvation, something that Jesus accomplished on the cross. When I realized that point I could do either one of two things: give up necessary inference as a workable hermeneutic, or give up Eph. 2:8-10 (along with many other passages). Because NI was created by a group of men in the 1800’s, I gave up on NI as a hermeneutic.

        To me, inference is simply a matter of discussion. If I infer something that is profitable, I want to share it with others. I like to be informed and built up by their inferences. But in absolutely no way can my inference become binding on any person as a matter of salvation, nor can their inference become binding on me for my salvation. Perhaps I am wrong, but that is exactly what I read you to say. If you do not believe in making inferences binding as a matter of salvation, I apologize, but when you say that God can condemn us for making a wrong inference, I see no other conclusion. By the way, do you really want to face God at judgment and tell him that you have correctly identified every single inference he intended with perfect obedience and with absolutely no errors whatsoever? Because, if others can be condemned by making wrong inferences (albeit with an honest and seeking heart) so can you, unless you are perfect and sinless.

        That was just too big of a burden for me to carry.

      • CaseyGray says:

        The funny and ironic thing is. I am trying to defend what I believe to be two necessary inferences. They are reflections made by men on what the Bible teaches as a whole on one subject or another are they not? Are you saying that I can’t bind any inferences which have their foundation entirely in the scriptures. In a sense you could say I would be correct because man has said it and it’s not directly from God. However, that does not mean that the inference is untrue. God’s word is binding and it makes up the very foundation of the statement.

        Speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where it is silent was agreed to above and it is in fact a necessary inference. Would you say that we can’t make that binding?

        I am not trying to go beyond the word. I am trying to use it correctly and fully understand all of its truths. A combination of truths does not make a false statement unless one of the truths in fact false or is used in a false way.

        On the matter of salvation. I believe we can bind the necessary inference that one must “believe, confess, repent, be baptized for the remission of sins, and live faithfully for the rest of their life” Isn’t that binding? Is that not a necessary inference based on the scriptures as a whole?

        Others can be condemned by following the wrong inference can they not? The demons believed, but weren’t saved were they?

        Where did I say that I have identified every inference and follow every inference? I believe I follow the inferences necessary for salvation and true worship. If I have not, I pray to God continually for better understanding of His will and am willing to change when coming to a better understanding of His word. When I am in judgement God will know my works and what I have taught. He will know where my teachings come from and He will know if I have handled His precious words and commandments responsibly. I do not judge myself as Paul didn’t judge himself (1 Cor 4). I do the best I can to follow and ever stive to know all that God desires to show me. In this I am still not justified by my works. God has cleansed me and I can be justified through the death of His son. I live for Him because I love HIM not to try and justify what I cannot justify! I desire to teach and therefore make every effort to speak the oracles of God. I take James 3:1 very seriously.

      • CaseyGray says:

        By condemnable I mean sin. Any one sin could make us unable to enter heaven if we are doing it willfully while knowing the truth (Heb 10:26). Jesus is faithful to forgive us our sin if we confess and repent upon finding out the truth(1 John 1:9, Acts 8:22). That does not mean that sin we do not know of can make us unable to receive heaven. As I have previously pointed out multiple times some inferences disqualify one from receiving heaven. Others are false teachings done in ignorance. God’s decision on those matters are entirely God’s, but I want to do the best I can. I think necessary inference, if used correctly MUST be used to support our practices. How else can we fully use the scriptures? It does not have a weakness unless it is based on unscriptural teachings. That is why you are having a hard time nailing down what is truly wrong with using multiple scriptures to come to a greater truth. It is dangerous if done incorrectly, but beneficial if done correctly because it puts God’s will in human terms. It is speaking the oracles of God if done correctly, what’s not beneficial about that? I contend that every preacher does this when he speaks in front of a congregation and speaks anything other than reading the scriptures. Should we filter it and check to make sure that it is correct? ABSOLUTELY, but just because it is an inference doesn’t mean that it is untrue.

        Please don’t say we can’t bind necessary inference. We do it all the time and we can’t teach anything without it. In saying that, you might be contributing to the confusion that is in the world today. Everything isn’t up for debate or subject to one’s interpretation when it comes to scriptures. Don’t let people even come close to thinking that’s true. That is liberal theology.

        God is NOT the God of confusion! (1 Cor 14:13)

        The following fallacies are in the world today. They would be proved true using your inference that there are no binding inferences. (Agnostic viewpoint)

        “What I say is the truth, is every bit as right as what you say is truth because we can’t know for sure.”

  20. Paul Smith says:

    Casey, one more comment and I’m done here. I am not arguing plain teaching of Scripture such as baptism, a faithful life, obedient faith. That you reference them is yet another hint that you keep shifting definitions and are not following the discussion.

    I close with one Scripture, from Jesus, and I will let you have the last word. “And in vain they worship me, teaching as doctrine the commandments of men.” Mt. 15:9 (actually quoting Is. 29:13). If you feel comfortable binding your human inferences upon men as matters of eternal salvation, go right ahead.

    I gave that up years ago.

  21. CaseyGray says:

    You continually accuse me of binding personal human inferences upon men. The very thing I warn against! I was trying to help you see the necessity of understanding the entire will of God from a Big picture, but you refuse to listen.

    You also accused me of shifting definitions. That was interesting to me and made me think. I finally realized… We do have differing definitions!!! Let’s get to the true “heart of the matter” as Matt said…

    Matt’s definition from above is…

    “the process of arriving at some conclusion that, though it is not logically derivable from the assumed premises, possesses some degree of probability relative to the premises.” – Dictionary.com

    Or this – “the act of passing from one proposition, statement, or judgment considered as true to another whose truth is believed to follow from that of the former.” – merriam-webster.com

    My definition is…

    (Dictionary.com)
    Defer – “Deduce or conclude (information) from evidence and reasoning rather than from explicit statements.”

    (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/inference)
    : the act or process of inferring (see infer): as
    a : the act of passing from one proposition, statement, or judgment considered as true to another whose truth is believed to follow from that of the former
    b : the act of passing from statistical sample data to generalizations (as of the value of population parameters) usually with calculated degrees of certainty
    2
    : something that is inferred; especially : a conclusion or opinion that is formed because of known facts or evidence
    3
    : the premises and conclusion of a process of inferring

    (freedictionary.com)
    a. The act or process of deriving logical conclusions from premises known or assumed to be true.
    b. The act of reasoning from factual knowledge or evidence.
    2.
    a. Something inferred.

    In my opinion, Matt’s definitions stated that inference is “not logically derivable” and he ignored the use of evidence, facts, or reasoning in the definition. The word inference came from “infer” clarifies the true intended meaning of the word is derivation from logical evidence, facts, or reasoning. That definition makes inference sound like getting something from nothing which is not at all what the complete definition from the sites he references. My definition, as well as everything I have stated above, shows inference to be a logical conclusion based on a known truth. I haven’t shifted once.

    “1 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” Rom 12:1

    No inference? What is the point of renewing your mind if you aren’t going to use it?

  22. mattdabbs says:

    We all make inferences and that is good. It is important that we realize the margin of error on an inference is higher than it would be on a direct command from God. Would anyone disagree with that?

    Also, if we are all saying that we must be very careful about how we view the inferences others especially in areas of disagreement on an inference then that is great.

    What I really don’t like is when people assume things about the views of others without first asking for clarification. You are then making inferences about someones’s view. The only reason we have to make an inference about scripture is because we can’t directly ask the writers and get feedback and clarification. We can ask each other for this and avoid the mistake of making wrong accusations or conclusions about each other’s views.

  23. CaseyGray says:

    I completely agree with you statements above. I still contend that an inference can be made with a margin of error that is mute if it’s sole basis is from the context of a passage and other passages on the subject. For instance,

    Romans 2:8-9 “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

    James 2:18-26 “faith without works is dead”

    If I draw the necessary inference that “one must have a working faith in order to receive God’s grace” am I not helping one to see that a dead faith will not lead to salvation? One must be willing to do the things necessary to be washed of one’s sins. Not that they are in any way earning salvation! In the world today, if a surgeon tells me he will do the surgery I need to live for free at any time, and I believe that he can and will do the surgery, yet never go see the surgeon will I live? That is what Col 2:11-12 is all about. Would I have earned that free surgery if I went and hopped on the surgery table?

    Now do we see that one must use necessary inference in order to come to a complete knowledge of the will of God? Or do you see flaw in my reasoning or evidence? If so, please tell me because my salvation clearly depends on this inference, or would you say it doesn’t?

    I’m so confused by your bold statement that we can fully understand God’s will without drawing conclusions using inference. It would seem that you are trying to make the point that some inferences are purely drawn from illogical thought and should be rejected. That much I agree with. But, then you say we can’t have any absolute inferences when it comes to God’s word. In that statement are you not contradicting yourself by making an absolute inference?

    We can know for sure what God wants by studying his commandments and examples then using the inferences necessary to reach the conclusion God intended! Some things we cannot know because we can’t ask the author, but the overall points we can know because we have other epistles to read from as well as look at the context of a point being made.

    P.S. I in no way intended to make baseless assumptions and am sorry if I did. I desire to understand how your method can bring glory to God and bring about a full understanding of His word. If it cannot, we should all reject it! I reason that God wrote this book for us to fully understand it’s contents so we can live a faithful life for him.

  24. CaseyGray says:

    I just found yet another interesting point on this topic. People relate over and over again that we should not teach the commands of men and I completely understand that to be true. One thing I noticed in the Bible is that the first century Christians were trying to add a burden which God never specified. Check this out. Looking at the context of the passage, he is talking about trying to add circumcision to doctrine of Christ and therefore adding the entire law to the backs of the Gentiles. In doing this they were making an incorrect inference.

    Acs 15:10 – Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?

    This should be something we are very careful not to do, obviously, but we can’t throw the baby out with the bath water and say all necessary inferences are subject to falsehood. We would then be making an incorrect inference.

    I was thinking about this a good bit this weekend and when we picked up our songbooks I realized that the song books are full of necessary inferences and we teach them every service to one another.

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