What Is a “Necessary Inference”?
by Wayne Jackson
“I frequently hear ministers talk about a ‘necessary inference’ in connection with the issue of Bible authority.What is a ‘necessary inference,’ and is this a legitimate method of establishing scriptural authority?”
The word “inference” derives from Latin roots that signify “to gather in.”In logic (the science of critical thinking), it suggests the idea of gathering in data from various sources, and then drawing such deductions as are demanded by the evidence.
There are two kinds of inferences.“Reasonable” inferences suggest a likely possibility.For example, if one hears thunder and sees lightning, he may reasonably infer that it will rain shortly.And, based upon that inference, he may wish to take his umbrella when he leaves his house.
On the other hand, if an “inference” is characterized as “necessary,” this means that the conclusion drawn from the facts is irresistible.If there is snow covering the countryside in the morning, one may necessarily conclude that the temperature was below 32 degrees during the night.
Inference has fallen on hard times in the church these days.Those who wish to bring the Lord’s church into conformity with denominational practices suggest that nothing can be made a test of fellowship that is based upon inference. “Inference” restricts these “free spirits” to more rigidity than they can tolerate.
But inference is a perfectly legitimate means of obtaining truth.
There is an example related to Solomon’s dedication of the temple that enables the careful Bible student to derive some information that he could not know but for inference.Look at the following data.
At the dedication of the temple, Solomon prayed a wonderful prayer soliciting Jehovah’s blessings upon the sacred house.An inspired writer subsequently notes that “Jehovah appeared to Solomon by night” in response to the petition (2 Chron. 7:12).The text does not mention precisely how the Lord “appeared.”That leaves the episode clouded in mystery, since there were various ways by which deity could “appear” to men.Other passages, however, allow us to arrive at the full truth relative to this incident.
In a parallel record, a sacred writer says that Jehovah “appeared” to Solomon “as he had appeared unto him at Gibeon” (1 Kg. 9:2).Well, how was that?This text does not specify.In yet another related passage, though, the Scriptures reveal the following: “In Gibeon Jehovah appeared to Solomon in a dream by night” (1 Kgs. 3:5).Putting the related information together, therefore, one reasons:
- If God appeared to Solomon in Jerusalem as he did in Gibeon.
- And he appeared to the king in Gibeon “in a dream.”
- Then it necessarily follows, then, that the Lord’s appearance to Solomon in Jerusalem was in a dream.
Let me cite a couple of examples that help focus upon crucial matters pertaining to Christian practice.
- Since the New Testament teaches that valid baptism requires both belief and repentance (Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:38), and inasmuch as babies can not believe, nor do they need to repent (seeing they have no sin), it follows necessarily that infants are not amenable to baptism.The logical use of necessary inference eliminates the sectarian practice of “infant baptism.”
- The first century church of Christ met each Lord’s day for worship.This is established by the phrase “first day of every week,” as reflected in the Greek text of 1 Corinthians 16:2 (as most of the modern translations reveal; see RSV, NASB, NIV, ESV).The preposition kata in the original text definitely means “every.”(See: Danker, F.W., et al.,Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Chicago: University of Chicago, 2000, p. 512).
Additionally, the New Testament record establishes the fact that the main purpose of the Sunday meeting was to celebrate the Lord’s supper.That is established by the infinitive phrase of purpose in Acts 20:7; the disciples were brought together “to break bread.”
Since we know that the Christians met each Lord’s day. And inasmuch as it is clear that the primary purpose of their gathering was to observe the sacred communion.It necessarily follows that the early church, under the supervision of the inspired apostles, observed the Lord’s supper every Sunday.Churches today, therefore, who seek to be biblical in their worship, will emulate the apostolic practice.For further study of this matter, see the author’s commentary, “The Acts of the Apostles — From Jerusalem to Rome”.
The logical concept of “necessary inference” is a perfectly legitimate reasoning device.We use it most every day in common procedures, and it is no less valuable in arriving at scriptural conclusions.
2 Chronicles 7:12; 1 Kings 9:2; 1 Kings 3:5; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 1 Corinthians 16:2; Acts 20:7
Cite this article
Jackson, Wayne. "What Is a "Necessary Inference"?" ChristianCourier.com. Access date: March 13, 2018. https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/609-what-is-a-necessary-inference
Hard line churches of Christ have long distinguished themselves from other Christian groups by their practice of acappella singing (no instruments of music) and the Lord’s Supper (communion, eucharist) every Sunday. Hard line Churches of Christ have also split over how to collect money and spend it. If you asked a preacher in the hard line Churches of Christ why these practices are important, he would reply that they only practice what the Bible teaches.
Hard line Churches of Christ have emphasized the hermeneutical principles of Command, Example and Necessary Inference. In general, all Christian groups practice these principles, but in specific, only a few small sects practice these principles the way the Churches of Christ understand them, these principles having descended from strictPresbyterian and Zwinglian principles.
The churches of Christ generally make a big deal out of the Silence of the Scriptures, meaning that in the absence of a command, example or inference, there is no authority to create a ritual or worship in a manner that has not been authorized by God. Scary stories are recounted: how Nadab and Abihu, sons of Aaron, and the nephews of Moses, serving during one of the first times in the tabernacle, brought unauthorized fire to worship God with, and were struck dead (Lev 10). Therefore we need to be careful that every act of worship in the church be authorized, lest we incur God’s wrath.
The parallel to the Nadab and Abihu story (2000 B.C.), is the story of Ananias and Sapphira (shortly after the death and resurrection of Christ, at the start of the church) who saw how much honor people were receiving who contributed to the poor Christians in Jerusalem, and pretended to give a greater amount than they actually gave, and were struck dead (Acts 5). Commentators are adamant that this is a parallel to the deaths of Nadab and Abihu at the start of tabernacle worship. But notice the difference: Nadab and Abihu were struck dead for not following a specific command of God for a literal ritual of worship. Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead for an act of the heart–lying to the Holy Spirit, the apostle Peter said.
And that is where the Churches of Christ went astray. They are quite sure that God is still looking for specifically proscribed rituals of worship (as in the tabernacle worship), and have relegated the acts of the heart to the back pew. So each of the five acts of worship in the Churches of Christ (Singing, Praying, Preaching, Giving, the Lord’s Supper) has been carefully worked out so it is not “strange fire.” Except that there are no lists of rules in the writings of the apostles. And what few commands there are were written to individual congregations in the first few years after Christ’s resurrection. It has to be inferred that these commands are for us and for all time.
Some in the Churches of Christ are upset that there is not a clearer guide as to how to run church worship services on Sunday mornings. Others in the Churches of Christ are glad that is unclear, because then they can show off their hermeneutical expertise in ferreting out the commands behind the stories in the book of Acts: since the Christians at Troas met on the first day of the week to say goodbye to Paul and his entourage, and “broke bread”, then that must mean that we have to take communion every first day of the week (Acts 20). Never mind that they met in an upper room (irrelevant), and that Paul preached until midnight (irrelevant) and that he performed a miracle (irrelevant). The only piece of the puzzle that is an inferred command is the first day of the week breaking of bread. And how often does the first day of the week occur? Every week! Can we take the Lord’s Supper on other days of the week? No! Why not? We have no example; the silence of the scriptures prohibits any other practice.
There is a fascinating story about how the two and a half tribes of the nation of Israel that were settled on the eastern side of the Jordan River built a stone altar, a replica of the altar in front of the official tabernacle of worship (Joshua 22). The tribes on the western side of the Jordan River gathered as an army to attack the eastern tribes because they had built a replacement altar, unauthorized by God. The eastern tribes said, no, they were commemorating the fact that they were united with the tribes on the other side of the Jordan by building an identical altar. This calmed the western tribes down. A commemoration of unity was fine, a substitute was not. Which is a hermeneutical problem for the Churches of Christ. The eastern tribes still had no authority or command from God to allow them to build that altar. Yet the western tribes were fine with it as long as it was not a substitute.
If we were to take that principle: we can make up rituals in worship to God, as long as they are not substitutes for what God has asked for, then we would have a totally different hermeneutic, one that would look very similar to the varied landscape of Christian expressions we see today.
Jesus was angry at the Pharisees because they paid a tenth of even their garden herbs to God, “straining out a gnat” out of their tea, Jesus described them, but they “swallowed a camel” when it came to actually loving God and loving their neighbors (Matt 23). And that will always be the result when we take our eyes off the focal point of what Jesus and the apostles taught, and substitute it for a list of rules we have ferreted out of the stories in the early church.
One of the great substitutes the hard line Churches of Christ have made is to say that the center of the gospel are the rules for Sunday morning church.
About MarkI was raised in the conservative non-institutional churches of Christ and attended Florida College in Tampa, Florida. I served as a minister for 8 years in the non-institutional churches of Christ, and 4 years at a mainline church of Christ in Vermont.
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