INFERENCES: BIBLICAL OR OTHERWISE

Epaphroditus

e have heard a great deal in the past about "necessary, inferences" being a means of establishing biblical authority for a practice. A multitude of sermons have been preached (I have preached a few of them myself) on the three methods of establishing authority, namely (1) command, (2) example, and (3) necessary inference. In fact, this has been preached so often that I suspect there are probably hundreds of Christians in this country who believe that there is a passage somewhere which contains those exact words. Does the average person who sits in the pews week after week ever question that? Is it possible that preachers have imposed a man-made formula for thinking upon the Scriptures? I believe that is exactly what has happened, and the result is that we have been led down the road of strife and division in the name of a man-made doctrine.

The notion that there are three methods (and only three methods) of determining what the Bible teaches is a purely subjective concept, and 1 would like to pursue that further in a future article. In this article I am concerned only about the third part of this presumed biblical mandate "necessary inferences."

To begin with logicians recognize two kinds of valid inferences: (1) a necessary inference and (2) a sufficient inference. All of us use both kinds of inferences in our think-lng processes, and we would not be able to get along very well without doing so. The point to be noted here is that both kinds of inferences are valid forms of reasoning. A "necessary inference" is a conclusion which is drawn from premises, and which, if the premises are true, must necessarily be true. The usual form used by a logician to analyze that kind of reasoning is known as a "syllogism" such as:

1. All people are rational beings.

2. All Americans are people.

3. Therefore, All Americans are rational beings.

This type of reasoning guarantees the conclusion (statement #3) to be true, if it is demonstrated that the premises (statements 1 and 2) are true. Thus it is possible to have a misleading necessary inference:

1. All dogs have four legs.

2. Fido is a dog.

3. Therefore, Fido has four legs.

Premise #1 is not true. Some dogs (either from birth or by means of accident or surgery) have fewer than four legs. The point is that a "necessary inference" is drawn from premises which may or may not be tree. Statement 3 ("Fido has four legs") is a "necessary inference" from statements 1 and 2. Yet, from those statements alone we do not know for certain whether or not Fido has four legs because premise #1 is not true.

"Sufficient inferences" are those drawn on the 1oasis of reasoning referred to by logicians as "inductive reasoning." Inductive reasoning can be defined as "an argument which claims only that the premises provide some evidence for the conclusion" (Kegley and Kegley, Introduction to Logic, P.27). If a man from some underdeveloped nation sitting on the street corner of a large American city, observing the color of automobiles that passed by, sees 100 black cars pass him (and no other color) he might conclude that all cars arc black. His reasoning does not guarantee that his conclusion is correct, only that it is probable to some degree or another based on evidence he has seen. This was the kind of reasoning used by Nathanael when he said, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" Furthermore, most of the inferences which we draw in our Biblical studies are "sufficient inferences," and not "necessary inferences."

With that in the background, let's take a look at the process of reasoning used by some. We are told that it is a "necessary inference" that the first century disciples partook of the Lord's Supper on the first day of the week, and only on that day. This "necessary inference" is supposed to be drawn from Acts 20:7 which says, "On the first day of the week we came together to break bread..." Now, what are the premises from which this "necessary inference" is supposed to be drawn? If the conclusion is "first century disciples took the Lord's Supper only on the first day of the week," then there is only one thing in the passage which might be used to build a premise leading to that conclusion the first day of the week. It cannot be certainly established that the breaking bread in the passage is the Lord's Supper, since breaking bread is used in the scriptures to refer to common meals. Someone might be able to write a syllogism in which that statement is the necessary conclusion, but I do not know what it might be.

Now the fact is that the type of reasoning used in regard to observing the Lord's Supper on the first day of the week is "inductive reasoning." We are like the man observing the color of cars that pass by him. In the Book of Acts, we are allowed to observe only one gathering of disciples in which they "broke bread." To be sure, we are told about some others (Acts 2:42-46; 1 Cor. 11:17-34), but in those instances we are not told what specific day was involved. Thus, we can say with a relative (and it might be very small) degree of certainty that all of their gatherings for "breaking bread" were on the first day of the week. To me there is an "acceptable" degree of certainty that the first century disciples partook the Lord's Supper only on the first day of the week for me to live by that rule. However, there is not an "acceptable" degree of certainty to me to turn that conclusion into a requirement that we (not the Lord) may bind on people.

As I stated before, "inductive reasoning'' is the most common kind of reasoning we use when it comes to the Bible. This is true about whatever conclusion you draw regarding the instrumental music issue, the orphan home issue, the drinking vessel issue, etc. Most of the conclusions we draw in Bible study are the result of inductive reasoning, which will, at the most, give us "sufficient inferences," not "necessary" ones.

Another fact to consider is that inferences (whether sufficient or necessary) are the result of human reasoning. They arc not what the Bible says, they are what I (or the person doing thc reasoning) say the Bible says. For me to make my conclusions about the Bible to be God's law for every man is arrogance beyond compare. The conclusions I draw regarding the Bible may be very compelling to me, but they should never become the conclusions of another person who has not examined the evidence for himself. I must be willing always to let the other man draw his own conclusions, and recognize that they are the result of honest study and an endeavor to please God. Only then will we end the division and strife which has plagued us through the years.

A LITTLE SOMETHING EXTRA

I have noticed several criticisms of people, like myself, writing for The Examiner under a pseudonym. Those of us who do so are called "cowards," "deceptive," and a host of other names which detractors use to get people to quit reading The Examiner. What difference does it make who I am? If what I say is true, it would not be any more true if you knew who I was. If what I say is false, it would not be any more false if you knew who I was. My only request is that you examine it honestly, and don't worry about who I am.

I will say that the reason I am using a pseudonym is not cowardice or deception, but a realization of the reality of the kind of religious climate we live in today. I am currently a "full-time gospel preacher" (whatever that is), and I do not agree with everything that is published in the pages of The Examiner. However, I do believe that it is a necessary medium of thought in today's world, and that it is the only paper which would publish some of the things which I say.

You may wonder if I preach the things I have written about here. The answer is yes, when I believe they are an essential part of the gospel. Many of the things I say tinder the name of Epaphroditus are merely the musings of my mind, and not my settled conclusions. I appreciate Brother Holt's willingness to let me use this medium of expressing myself, and, at the same time, avoid being pulled through the ringer of brotherhood criticism. Many would ostracize me for simply having the audacity to correspond with Brother Holt.

My belief is that the search for truth is more important than who is expressing an idea. Established religious organizations, and the church of Christ is no exception, are famous for their persecution of good and honest men in the name of defending "orthodoxy." I want the privilege of searching for and expressing an idea, even if it might sound a little strange, without the agony of an ecclesiastical trial. If this explanation does not satisfy you, then you will just have to go on wondering who Epaphroditus is.