Two different points jumped out at me, including your main question:
phelps wrote:... have been studying God's word. The question I am putting out is the determining of authority. I understand direct commands and apostolic examples. The question I have is the "inference". It seems to me this can be really end up to be only a matter of opinion.
Admittedly, drawing necessary inferences that were implied by the Holy Spirit is a difficult task. One who accurately reaches the unavoidable conclusions embedded in God's text represents a truly skilled student, showing prowess in both observation and honesty, exemplifying both breadth of knowledge and depth of understanding. However, that being said, it is certainly not "opinion". It may only appear as opinion to the untrained, or jaded. Often abused, the frequent misuse of necessary inference can leave a bad taste in anyone's mouth, but we should not let a few bad apples spoil the whole bunch. Should we? Let's look at a few Scriptures to see if drawing logical conclusions - that is operating on indirectly stated truths - is permitted or approved by God:
- Direct Command - In the study of hermeneutics, like all thought processes, you have to start somewhere. The "direct command" is that "somewhere". It should be self-evident that we must obey God's directly issued commands, assuming the context permits application to us. Like Job (6:6, 30), each of us should be able to "taste salt" and instinctively recognize our responsibility to this end. Unless you make this assumption, or similar, establishing a basis for hermeneutics and interpretation becomes a vicious cycle of reasoning with no foundation. However, we will assume that we all have ability to read, understand, and pick out God's commands to us (Ephesians 3:3-5).
Let us conclude this section with a virtually rhetorical question, "Must we obey the commands issued by Jesus and His apostles and prophets?" I think so (I Corinthians 14:37; I John 4:6).
- Approved Apostolic Example - Should we follow the examples of the apostles and prophets? Of course, they made some mistakes (Galatians 2:11-14), so we should not follow them when they exemplify human frailty; therefore, the example must be approved. But, the question has still not been answered. Should we follow their example at all? It depends. Do you think we should follow New Testament commands?
If we reject the approved examples of Jesus' apostles and prophets, we are rejecting a direct command from the apostles and therefore God Himself (Matthew 18:18; I Corinthians 14:37). If we accept the commands of the apostles as coming from God, then we must accept their example and pattern as a means of establishing authority.
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, wrote:Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern. ... The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 3:17; 4:9)
Admittedly, using examples to establish authority is more difficult than simply observing direct commands. However, God has given us the Bible, a command, and our brains; so, we can do it (Exodus 4:10-12)!
- Necessary Inference - Also known as "necessary conclusion", this is the next logical step in analysis. Admittedly, it is again more tedious than the first two, requiring more diligence and honesty. But, I am getting ahead of myself. ... Let's pause and ask ourselves, "Does God want us to draw necessary inferences?" It depends. Do you think we should follow approved New Testament examples?
For example, in Matthew 22:23-33, Jesus confirmed that there was indeed a future resurrection, based on the simple fact that God said "I am the God of Abraham". Since God identified Himself as still being the God of Abraham ("I am" - present tense), we can infer or conclude that Abraham was still alive - somewhere - even though he died a few hundred years before that event. Therfore, life exists after death, which suggests a resurrection. Jesus drew that conclusion, but should we? Could we? Well, Jesus chided the Sadducees saying, "have you not read what was spoken to you by God?" (Matthew 22:31) Although displaced by over a thousand years, Jesus observed that they were among the intended recipients of the text, and they were expected to understand its implications. So, yes, people can, should, and must draw necessary inferences, if Jesus' example and statements are meaningful to us.
Furthermore, Peter observed in David's Old Testament prophecies that David foretold his flesh would not see corruption, but yet David died; therefore, the text must have foretold of Jesus', his descendent's resurrection (Acts 2:25-36). The book of Hebrews abounds with amazing examples of exercising one's brain to deduce necessary conclusions from Old Testament texts. For example, the writer observes that Abraham paid tithes to the priest of God, Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:1-4). Since Melchizedek received the tithes and blessed Abraham, Melchizedek was superior to him ("beyond all contradiction", Hebrews 7:7). Now Abraham was superior to Levi and his sons, including Aaron, which made Abraham superior to the Levitical and Aaronic priesthood (Hebrews 7:9-10). Finally, the writer concludes that Melchizedek must have filled a superior priesthood to that of Aaron, and since Jesus was promised to be a priest like Melchizedek, that makes His priesthood superior to the Levitical, which implies that the Old Law and its Levitical priesthood were inferior and replaced by the New Law and its Divine High Priest, Jesus (Hebrews 7:11). He buttresses his conclusion by also observing that Jesus came from the tribe of Judah, which required a change in the law, since priests under the Old Law could only come from the tribe of Levi, which again "necessitated a change in the law" (Hebrews 7:11-14).
Since both Jesus and His apostles and prophets used necessary inference as a means of establishing God's will, should we do the same? We will, if we believe we should follow their example, and if we believe we have been so commanded. Do you see the chain? To deny necessary inference is to reject examples and ultimately disobey a direct command!
The key to correct "necessary inference" is the word, "necessary". Anybody can draw a conclusion, but is it a necessary conclusion? Are there alternative explanations that reconcile and harmonize all texts? We must be careful that we do not "jump to conclusions" and incorrectly label them as "necessary conclusions". This is the reason it is such a strong test and evidence to our honesty. Prejudiced and preconceived notions can drive our conclusions and blind us to alternatives, encouraging us to only see what we want to see. This is what makes it so difficult. Fortunately, we have "friends" to help us test our conclusions (Proverbs 27:17
), although we should ultimately become skilled at questioning and examining ourselves. Just keep asking yourself, "Is this a necessary
conclusion?" "Can I find legitimate, alternative explanations that equally harmonize and reconcile all the Scriptures on this point - not my pet doctrine - but the Scriptures?"
The other thing that makes it difficult is a lack of knowledge. The clue may often be buried in an obscure passage. Who would have thought to look at the burning bush as a testimony to the resurrection? But, Jesus both did it and expected us to do the same. What did He say was the Sadducees' problem, and most likely our problem too? "You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. ... But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God"
). We must have a very broad knowledge of Scripture. The truth is often scattered throughout the pages of God's Word, so we must diligently read it cover to cover, over and over again, astutely observing all things and pondering their significance. This requires diligence and commitment, which again makes it tough.
Finally, one last thing that makes it tough - faith, or lack thereof. Remember, the other thing that Jesus observed was that the Sadducees "did not know the power of God"
). God's power exceeds our knowledge and understanding; therefore, we must have faith, since we cannot know and understand all He does and promises. Their lack of knowledge manifested their lack of faith. More to the point, Jesus often rebuked His own disciples more directly, "Oh, ye of little faith"
; or, "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!
" (Luke 24:25-27
). The problem often lies in our reluctance to take that "leap of faith" and follow the necessary conclusions. Our lack of faith may at first express a lack of faith in our own ability or honesty; however, after some measure of time, our reluctance ultimately expresses a lack of faith in God. Consequently, this point (and questions regarding "silence") tell so much about our view of God by our measure of willingness, or unwillingness, to presume upon God.
True, many people, maybe even most people, abuse "necessary inference" by jumping to conclusions, expecting you to accept their assertions. However, as we can see from the few verses above, it is a path God expects us to follow. However, we must be careful to follow Him and not our hearts. How we handle necessary inference tells more about who we are than most any other point in hermeneutics.
phelps wrote:I am a member of the church and ... as members of the Lord's church we cannot even agree. Look at how we are divided. There are: non-class, one-cup, non-institutional, institutional. We are divided by the inference and not by commands or examples. As a group, we tend to look at those who are in denominations as being in error, but how can we be taken seriously unless we learn to worship God in unity.
Now, this was not your question, but I just have to say, "Whoa!" This sounds very noble - at first, but there is something not healthy in this reasoning. Who is "we"? Who is it that "we" want to take "us" seriously? If this reflects our innermost feelings, then we (you and I) are letting ourselves fall into a trap of denominational thinking - the very thing we are trying to avoid! Yes, division is bad, very bad (I Corinthians 1:10-13
), and it does detract from our ability to evangelize the lost (John 17:20-23
); however, "we" are not in any kind of race or competition with other denominations, neither do "we" require, need, or even want their respect. In fact, I would not want it. Sectarians only respect other sectarians. I do not think that is what you and I want. However, truthseekers will always respect the truth, when they hear it, even if they have not heard it before. That is what they should see first - the truth (Romans 1:16
). The desire to organize a global, recognizable, unified, formidable group (denomination?) could be the very thing that destroys "us". Unity is desirable, but purity comes first (James 3:15-18
). ... I know this may seem a very extreme and unexpected reaction, but it was similar feelings that drove many of the humongous missionary and benevolent societies that caused previous severe divisions in years gone by. People said, "We have to band together to make a name for ourselves, so people will respect us..." Can you think of an Old Testament story that started off with a similar motivation? And, ended with a similar result? (Tower of Babel, maybe?)
I share your concern for the division. It disturbs and concerns me greatly. However, divisions are ultimately unavoidable, even necessary (I John 2:19
). They are not a reflection on a ideal so much as they are a reflection on the people involved, whether for good or bad. All institutions, even the first century church, tends to accumulate hypocrites or non-committals, those who profess the party platform on some level but are ultimately unwilling to maintain their commitment at some deeper level. Paul foretold there would be a great falling away in the early church (II Thessalonians 2:1-12
). Although it may not be as dramatic today, why should we expect it to be any different? People are born in one place, but over a period of time, they migrate to another place that suits their thinking, their view of God. Although we may account for some of the division as due to ignorance or lack of brotherly love, long standing and fortified divisions manifests banners and ensigns for differing schools of thoughts - different appreciations for God. People gather with like-minded people. They ultimately adopt lifestyles and belief systems that suit them, whether that be based on something noble like truth, or something ignoble like self.
Although I am saddened and concerned by the division, I have learned to be content with it at a global level. Now, I always try to undo evil and division on a personal level - wherever and whenever I can, but at some greater level, I must acknowledge a division that I will likely never affect. At that level, I am content, reconciling division as an expression of our free will, varying tastes, and extended time. There is only one truth, but there are many flavors of error (although only a few primary errors), and for some reason people gravitate to the flavor that they like (free will). Given enough time, people mix and match recipes, creating more and more flavors, elaborating the spectrum of choices. They may have created more flavors, but there is still only one truth and only one that will save - God's Word (John 17:17
So, let me wrap this up with three questions for the patient and kind reader:
- Does the Scriptures approve "necessary inference"?
- If yes, and if the enumeration of potential dangers make this sound like a veritable minefield, are you OK with trusting God to see you through that minefield?
- If you are OK with that, are you OK with the fact that some others may not be? If not, what do you gain by joining them and turning your eyes away from the light?
I realize I kind of "jumped on you", but I know you are an honest truthseeker and I am confident you will overlook my bluntness and receive my longwinded answer in the manner it was intended - both love and great concern.
Incidentally, more here... http://www.insearchoftruth.org/articles/authority2.html
and here http://www.insearchoftruth.org/articles ... e_sky.html