The Authority of Necessary Inferences
We have noted in previous articles that God’s authority (God giving man the right or freedom to act, especially in religious matters) is expressed in the Scriptures. Two articles ago, we pointed out that one way we discover what God authorizes is by searching the Scriptures for His commands that apply to us today. In last month’s article, we explained how we can be assured that we have God’s authority for our teachings and practices in the church by means of approved examples revealed in the Scriptures.
In this article we will deal with the third means of establishing what God authorizes–Necessary Inference. Webster’s defines “inference” as “the act or process of reaching a conclusion about something from known facts or evidence” (m-w.com). Inference involves drawing conclusions from statements made in the Scriptures. We do need to stress the point that the inferences we make from Scripture must be necessary. The inference has to actually be there, and the conclusion drawn from it must be logically unavoidable.
Some contend that this method is nothing more than a humanly devised means of establishing authority, and is not based in sound Biblical reasoning. We will show from God’s word that God expects us to draw necessary conclusions from facts and evidences that are found in His word.
The Resurrection of the Dead
In response to the Sadducees’ hypothetical case presented in their effort to disprove the doctrine of the resurrection (the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection or the spirit of man being alive after death), Jesus used necessary inference to establish what God had revealed in the matter. Jesus said: “But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God saying ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?’ God is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Matthew 22:31-32). Though the resurrection is not explicitly stated in God’s statement recorded in Exodus 3:6, it is inferred. Jesus infers from the fact that the verb “am” is in the present tense that God is currently the God of these men long after their deaths. Jesus’ inference is: If God speaks of currently being someone’s God after they have physically died, then they (in this case, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) must in some sense, still be alive. Jesus’ inference from God’s statement led Him to the unavoidable (necessary) conclusion that there must be life after death (something which the Sadducees did not believe).
Healing on the Sabbath
Jesus quite often used reasoning called “from the lesser to the greater,” which serves as another illustration of necessary inference being used to determine what God authorizes. Before Jesus healed a man who had a withered hand, the Pharisees asked Him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” (Matthew 12:10). In response, Jesus said to them, “What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep? Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (vs. 11-12).
The Pharisees knew it was proper and lawful to help the distressed animal (the lesser) on the Sabbath. Jesus wanted them to follow His inference to the only logical conclusion: it is proper, and certainly authorized by God, to help a human being (the greater) who needed assistance on the Sabbath. Note that the necessary inference carries the weight of authority from God: “Therefore it is lawful (God-authorized) to do good on the Sabbath” (vs. 12).
Supporting Preachers of the Gospel
In 1 Corinthians 9, the apostle Paul deals with the question of whether preachers may be supported by the church. Rather than just use his apostolic authority to command that it be done, he states several facts and expects his readers to draw unavoidable conclusions (necessary inferences) from the evidence presented. First he cites precedence from everyday life: “Do we have no right to eat and drink? Do we have no right to take along a believing wife…and…have no right to refrain from working? Who ever goes to war at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its fruit? Or who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk of the flock?” (vs. 4-7). The inferences and necessary conclusions are: if preachers have the right (authority) to eat and drink, they have the right (authority) to be supported so they can eat; if preachers have the right to take along a wife, they have the authority to be supported enough to provide for their family; if preachers have the right to refrain from working in a secular job so they can spend full time laboring in the gospel, they have the authority to be supported as they preach the gospel; if soldiers going to war do not pay their own way, “a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 2:3) preaching the gospel is authorized to have his expenses taken care of by the church; if farmers eat the fruit of their labors, preachers who plant and water in the Lord’s vineyard, have the authority to partake of the fruits of their labors in “God’s field,” the church (1 Corinthians 3:6-9); if shepherds who tend a flock have the right to drink of the milk of the flock, preachers who are also elders who “shepherd the flock of God” (1 Peter 5:1-2) have the authority to receive “wages” (1 Timothy 5:17-18) from the flock.
Paul continues with an Old Testament reference: “Do I say these things as a mere man? (“Do I say this merely on human authority?”–NIV; “Am I expressing merely a human opinion?”–NLT; which is what some claim today about this method of necessary inference being used to determine what is authorized by God–rsb) Or does not the law say the same also? For it is written in the law of Moses, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain’.” (1 Corinthians 9:8-9a). Paul explains and applies this Old Testament verse: “Is it oxen God is concerned about? Or does He say it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written, that he who plows should plow in hope, and he who threshes in hope should be partaker of his hope. If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things?” (vs. 9b-11). In coming to this conclusion, Paul uses the inference of “from the lesser to the greater:” if God has such concern for oxen as they help produce a harvest, He would have more for preachers sent as “laborers into His harvest” (Matthew 9:37-38) of precious souls.
It is instructive to note that Paul also cites an approved example from the Old Testament (1 Corinthians 9:13), and a commandment from the Lord (vs. 14). The entire passage details how we can establish what God authorizes; God’s word authorizes through commands, approved examples, and necessary inferences.