by Dave Brown
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There are three ways that we obtain authority and direction from the bible: Command, Example and Necessary Implication (NI). If the bible necessarily implies something to us, then we can infer from that the truth of the matter. Some also call the necessary inference. (The bible implies, and we infer.) Since they are essentially the same process, just from different points of view, let's just call them both NI.
But just what is necessary implication other than a term that someone came up with? Is it difficult to understand? We will attempt to demonstrate in this article that it is nothing other than common sense.
In our last article (on Biblical Examples) we saw that approved apostolic examples are binding because God commanded us to follow them. This applies to both the examples of Christ (1 Pet 2:21) and the approved examples of the apostles (1 Cor 11:1, Phil 3:17; 4:9). In this article we will show, by example, that both Jesus and the apostles used NI to resolve critical issues of biblical interpretation.
But first, what is it? First recognize, there is nothing complicated about it. We use it every day in our verbal communications. Implications enable us to communicate without having to spell everything (and we mean everything) out in detail.
Consider this example. Dad tosses a $5 bill at Junior and and says: “Please go down to the store and get us some milk.” There are a large number of NIs involved here: (1) that Junior will choose some expedient means of getting to the store, (2) that he will purchase just what Dad told him to — at least with Dad’s money, (3) that he will choose the quantity/type of milk that is appropriate, etc., etc. Now Dad could have specified much more (like whether to take the family car or Junior’s bicycle), and if he did then these things would no longer be within Junior’s realm of judgment. However, no matter how much Dad does specify, Junior will always have to make some judgments on his own. When Dad does not specify a detail, Junior is still authorized (by the inference of the command) to do his best in making these decisions. However, to be a necessary inference the conclusion must be inescapable. It is not enough for it to be a possibility, or even a likely possibility. Here it is clearly inferred that Junior will use good sense in going to a reasonable store, using a safe means to get there, and getting the type of milk that the family typically uses. Again, this is NOT complicated. While these things are not spelled out in Dad's simple command, Junior cannot accomplish the command without doing these things -- so they are necessarily implied even though Junior must use his judgment in complying with them.
Can we abuse NI? Of course, any good thing can be abused. Junior could go out and steal a car and claim that Dad inferred he should to that to accomplish his mission of buying some milk. If an inference leads us to violate another biblical principle, then it is obvious that we have inferred much more than what was intended.
Does God expect us to infer principles from the Bible? Or, as many people believe, is the bible just to be used as a rule book from which nothing but commands are binding? The answer must come from the bible itself.
Recall that we have commands to follow approved apostolic examples. So consider an approved apostolic example of the use of the Old Testament scriptures. Paul gave a scriptural basis for the authority to pay gospel preachers for their services in 1 Cor. 9:9-10: "For it is written in the law of Moses, [then he quotes Deuteronomy 35:4] 'Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn.' Is it for the oxen that God careth, or saith he it assuredly for our sake. Yea for our sake it was written ..."
Now that the Holy Spirit through the apostle Paul has clearly shown it, we understand that the application of the principle behind this Old Testament scripture provides authority for us to pay gospel preachers today.
That is true, but that is not the point of this article. We are interested in the reasoning process that the apostle Paul expected the Corinthian Christians to use. Paul is stating that God expected them to understand that the literal interpretation of this Old Testament scripture, while totally binding, was secondary to the principle behind it. It was written primarily so that we can understand a basic concept of fairness.
It was not that God did not care for the oxen. Of course He did! Otherwise this law would never have been given in the Old Testament. God cares and looks after all of his creatures (Mt. 6:26; 10:29). However, He cares for humankind infinitely more. This is assumed to be known, and I am sure that we all know it. So the concerns that he has for His creatures demonstrates emphatically the concern he has for us. Finally, if He has this concern for us, so we should have the same concern for those who serve us by preaching the gospel!
Does this not educate our souls so much better than: "Thou shalt pay thy preacher!" ... and even then it would not say how much.
Is this too much to get out of Dt. 35:4? Read it again (above). Recognize that Paul was not appealing to his direct inspiration in this reasoning process -- he was appealing to this Old Testament scripture alone. And, he was chastising them (read the context) for not seeing this principle and being able to apply it to the issue at hand (i.e., the support of those who "proclaim the gospel").
The context makes it clear that Paul expected that the Corinthians would understand and come to this very same conclusion based on this biblical statement of fact. This conclusion is not the result of a direct statement or an example; it is the result of taking clear statements and our drawing conclusions from them. That is all that NI is.
As a second example, consider the example of Jesus using the Old Testament for proof when confronted by the Sadducees, none of which believed in any type of resurrection or life after physical death. In Matt 22:31-32 it is recorded that Jesus said: "But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, 'I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not (the God) of the dead, but of the living.' " Jesus was quoting from Exodus 3: 6 and 15, the circumstance being when God spoke to Moses from the burning bush.
The major premise is that God is not the God of the dead (I am sure that they and we totally understand and believe that.) The minor premise is that He was AT THIS TIME, well after Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had long since suffered physical death, still their God. The necessary conclusion that follows is that they were in some spiritual sense still alive, a conclusion that the Sadducees rejected.
The context makes it clear that Jesus expected that the Sadducees and all others would understand and come to this very same conclusion based on this biblical statement of fact. This conclusion is not the result of a direct statement or an example; it is the result of taking clear statements an our drawing conclusions from them. That is all that NI is.
We could go on to give dozens if not hundreds of such examples from the bible. In fact, every command and example has an NI element to it. No positive command or example spells out all of the details. Think of a positive command that you know God has given, and prove this to be the case. Try to think of an exception. If you find one, please let us know ... we know of none.
Now think seriously about this. God gave us brains and He expects us to use them to their full capacity to His glory. Or put another way -- when we are stupid we make God look stupid. God created us for His glory with regard to the use of our intelligence. He did not create a bunch of dim wits -- we have created this situation ourselves by remaining willfully ignorant (Romans 10:3) and we will be condemned for it (2 Peter 2:12).
In fact, we would propose that it takes far more brain power to come up with reasons not to accept NI as a source of authority than it does to accept it just as plain old common sense.
If the bible had to provide a rule to deal with every conceivable circumstance, the world would not be able to contain the pages. Someday go to a law library and you will see a feeble attempt to do just that with regard to man's law -- an attempt that has clearly failed as evidenced by the millions of pages being generated every year to this effect.
Instead of such a quagmire, God gave us a very concise body of literature that thoroughly furnishes us unto every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Inspired by the Holy Spirit, it is written in the best possible way to communicate to us. Isn't the bible wonderful? The rest is up to us.
What are the conditions of salvation given by Jesus?