by Dave Brown
Return to the Causes of Common Errors page
Because there is so much to say on this topic we are dividing into two articles, both of which are on this page.
Hasty generalization is the logical fallacy that occurs when a person draws a general conclusion based on insufficient evidence. It is one of the most common errors in reasoning within our society, often creating a false sense of reality. Consider one of the Farlex On-Line Dictionary's definition: "Hasty generalization is ... essentially making a hasty conclusion without considering all of the variables." The common sense term for it is "jumping to conclusions." Or, in other words, not seeking out and considering all the evidence before drawing a conclusions. Many people base their conclusions, even about an entire race of people, on what is called anecdotal evidence ... a limited number of situations that they happened to experience, perhaps not even first hand.
Resolving what is the truth takes time and effort. So, when this logical flaw enters into religion and biblical exegesis, we are not surprised. People who study the bible do not suddenly shed themselves of their logical fallacies and prejudices.
It is important to understand that neither hasty generalization, nor any other logical fallacy. is defined by name in the bible. However, the failure to use our God-given common sense in our bible study is a sin. The following is commanded in 2 Timothy 2:15 "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." God expects us to "rightly divide" or "handle aright" His word. The bible is given to us in simple terminology that is intended to be understood. In addition, we are to use the "whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27), not just a part of it. Many take only one or two verses and make them into their entire bible, and then twist the meaning of very simple passages in order to justify their cherished beliefs. Assuming that they are honest, this logical flaw is one of hasty generalization.
We have discussed this in some detail in the discussion of the need for a comprehensive approach to resolving biblical issues. The two articles below describe the types of religious errors that we are bound to stumble into when a comprehensive approach is ignored. Intentionally or not, jumping to conclusions effectively ignores the major part of what the bible teaches.
Hasty Generalizations Part 1 -- Calvinism
We start with the doctrines of Calvinism because of their heavy influence that the teaching of this man has had upon so many protestant denominations. While we doubt that many of our readers accept all of these doctrines per se, the effect of this influence, called Calvinism, cannot be disputed.
Total Depravity. The bible clearly teaches that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Nowhere does the bible teach the generalization of this fact into the doctrine that individuals are totally incapable of choosing to obey God under any circumstances. While sin separates us from God, the gospel plan of salvation calls upon individuals to make the decision to accept God's grace by meeting the conditions that God has set forth in the gospel (Romans 1:16). This reconciles us to God through the blood of Jesus Christ. We can hardly be called "totally depraved" when we choose out of our own free will to live a life that is dedicated to serving God to the best of our abilities. The apostle Paul urged the Corinthians to keep themselves in God's grace by putting their faith into action. "Now I make known unto you brethren, the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye received, wherein also ye stand, by which also ye are saved, if ye hold fast the word which I preached unto you, except ye believed in vain" (1 Cor. 15:1-2). He also exhorted Timothy to "flee youthful lusts, and follow after righteousness, faith, love, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart" (2 Tim. 2:22). Does that sound like he was talking to people who were totally depraved? Do we all sin? Of course, that cannot be denied (1 John 1:8-10). But taking this to the point of concluding that all of mankind is totally depraved is not only a hasty generalization, it is an insult to our Creator.
Unconditional Election (Universal Predestination). The bible clearly teaches that certain things have been predestined from before the worlds were made (Rom. 8:29-30; Eph. 1:5, 11), e.g., that there would be a group of individuals that would be saved. But to extrapolate this to mean that all things (or even all the saved) are predestined without their will being involved is not taught in scriptures. Further, it defies God's assignment of personal responsibility to individuals for their own sins, which is something that we see from the time of Adam (Gen. 3:17) through every book in the bible, to the book of Revelation (Rev. 22:10-15). We were created after the image of God, and one of the primary aspects of that image is the characteristic of free will. How could a loving and just God hold anyone responsible for their sins if, in fact, every one of them was predestined to be committed before the creation of the universe? While the bible clearly teaches that some things are predestined, to jump to the conclusion that everything is predestined, including who will be saved and who will be lost, is clearly a hasty generalization.
Limited Atonement. The bible clearly teaches that those who do not avail themselves of the blood of Christ will be lost (Jn. 14:6); but nothing in the bible supports the generalization of this to infer that salvation cannot apply to all men everywhere who subject themselves to the will of God (Heb. 5:9; Rom. 5:18; 1 Tim. 2:4; 1 Tim. 4:10; Titus 2:11). The limit is with us, not God. In 1 Timothy 2:3-4 we read: "This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; who would have all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth." The children's song "Whosoever Will May Come" is validated by Rev 22:17 "And the Spirit and the bride say, Come . And he that hears, let him say, Come. And he that is athirst, let him come: he that will, let him take the water of life freely." While it is clear that some will be lost (Rev. 19:12-15), concluding from this that God has set a limit on the number of those who can be saved is a hasty generalization.
Irresistible Grace. The bible clearly teaches that God's drawing power is in the gospel of Jesus Christ. In John 6:45 we read "It is written in the prophets, And they shall all be taught of God. Every one that hath heard from the Father, and hath learned, comes unto me." But, it is our responsibility to hear (listen) and learn. Further, our faith comes from this learning of God's word (Rom. 10:17). In addition, the word delivered by the Holy Spirit continues to provide a positive influence on those who are saved (Acts 5:32; Romans 8:1; John 3:24). All of this is good and true, but no passage indicates that the influence of the Holy Spirit cannot be resisted, once again denying our free will. On the contrary, “Quench not the Spirit” (1 Thes. 5:19) necessarily implies that even the Christian can resist the influence of the Holy Spirit. So, while it is true that God's calling power (the gospel -- Rom. 1:16) is of God's grace and essential to our salvation, the conclusion that this grace is irresistible to certain chosen individuals goes well beyond that which is taught, and it thus an unfounded hasty generalization.
Preservation of the Saved. The bible clearly teaches that no outside force can take salvation from us (Rom. 8:37-39). However, it does not say that those saved cannot fall away through their own neglect (e.g., 2 Thes. 2:3; Gal. 5:4), and the continued warnings in dozens of passages throughout the New Testament to Christians to this effect totally refutes the doctrine of “once saved, always saved.” It is clear that the writer of Hebrews was talking about Christians ("we") when he said (Heb 10:26-31): "For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and a fierceness of fire which shall devour the adversaries. A man that hath set at naught Moses' law dies without compassion on (the word of) two or three witnesses: of how much sorer punishment, think ye, shall he be judged worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant wherewith he was sanctified an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know him that said, Vengeance belongs unto me, I will recompense. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." The fact that this is talking about those who were saved is clear from: (1) they had received the knowledge of the truth; (2) they were sanctified by the blood of the covenant; and (3) the writer is talking to and about the Lord's people. So, while it is true that no outside force can snatch us from our Savior's hand (Jn. 10:28-29; Rom. 8:37-39), to generalize this to state that our own sinful actions cannot separate us from God is a gross a hasty generalization.
Faith only. This will be discussed in the second part of this article. We bring it up at this point because it seems to be a derivative of Calvin's teaching, but at the same time strongly contradicts Calvin. While it denies all of the other conditions of salvation given in the New Testament, it does not go as far as Calvin did in saying that absolutely nothing is required on the part of the person that God has chosen to be saved. Thus "faith only" seems to be a compromise to those who recognize that human free will must play some part if we are to believe in a just and loving God. The problem in this case is that faith is perceived to be nothing other than mental consent. The New Testament defines what constitutes saving faith (Hebrews 11 and James 2). Saving faith must be alive. Living faith requires effort (Rom. 10:17), and results in a totally transformed life (Rom. 12:1-2). Dead faith does not lead to salvation (James 2). The satisfaction of God's conditions of salvation are not works of man, they are works of God. They are gifts that God has given us to make our lives as rewarding and as happy as they can possibly be. To view them as meritorious works done to earn our salvation is a contrivance to justify something that the bible says absolutely cannot save us: "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only" (James 2:24).
Please verify the application of all passages given above by studying the context.
What are the conditions of salvation given by Jesus?
Hasty Generalization Part 2 -- Other Common False Doctrines
In the first part of this article we showed how the tenets of Calvinism were largely created and maintained by the logical fallacy of hasty generalization. This flaw of reasoning is caused by jumping to conclusions based on partial evidence as opposed to finding out the entirety of what the bible teaches on a given subject. This appeals to religious people who are looking for quick support for what they want to believe. To everyone we plead – if you want to know the truth, give diligence and study it (2 Tim. 2:15), seek after God (Heb. 11:6), and depend on the whole council of God (Acts 20:27).
Investigate the following doctrines to establish for yourself it they have been based on the logical flaw of hasty generalization.
Faith only. Clearly, we are saved by faith (John 3:16), and we cannot be saved by the works of our own making (2 Tim. 1:9), or those of the Old Testament law (Rom. 3:20; Gal. 2:16). But it is very clear that the bible teaches that faith cannot exist without producing works, and if we have the type of faith that God requires, good works have to follow (Heb. 11). See Rom. 2:6; 2 Cor. 11:15; Eph. 2:10; 1 Tim. 2:10; 1 Tim. 6:18; Tit. 1:16, 2:7, 14, 3:8; Heb. 10:24; James 2:14-26, 3:13; Rev. 2:2, 5-6, 2:19-23, 3:1-15; 14:13; 20:12-13. “Faith only” is an oxymoron – we dare not make it the central pillar of our religion. If we take the necessity for faith only to its logical conclusion, any good work becomes sinful (i.e., it illustrates a lack of faith in God's promise of salvation by "faith only"). We should not be surprised at those who condemn teachers who encourage obedience to all that God teaches, since to do so is not at all popular. So, Isaiah gives the following warning: "Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil ; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! (Isaiah 5:20)." Are you willing to base your eternal salvation on a doctrine that James said was untrue? -- "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only" (James 2:24)? This verse is hard to misinterpret or explain away. The complaint that this is "salvation by works" is the usual false defense of faith only. Our satisfying the conditions of salvation by the power that God gave us is itself a gift of God and the highest of privileges. To demean them as "works of man" is a lie for which those guilty will have to give an account. So while it is quite clear that faith is a condition of salvation, to state that it is the ONLY condition of salvation is a hasty generalization that is totally denied in scripture.
Modern day miracles. The bible clearly says that we are to pray today, and that God does intervene. But these divine interventions are not provably supernatural manifestations; we call them the providence of God. On the other hand, the bible in general and the New Testament in particular was written during a time when provably-supernatural-caused events were necessary to produce and confirm the new information that was being revealed (see Hebrews 2:1-4). Some have hastily concluded that such events still continue. The totality of biblical teaching on the subject shows that this is not so. The cessation of new revelation is prophesied in 1 Corinthians 13, which comes between two chapters that also discuss various aspects of supernatural spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12 and 14). If provably supernatural events (as exemplified by those in the New Testament) occurred today, they would cause such a sensation that we would quickly learn of them from our 24-hour news sources. Miracles were never intended to be hidden – they were performed openly to reveal and prove the truth. The miracles of the New Testament WERE the proof -- no on had to prove or testify that they occurred -- they could not be denied (see John 11:47 and Acts 4:16), and no one would dare to deny the obvious. The burden of proof is on those who claim new revelation to perform miracles to prove it by clear demonstrations. So while the miracles described in the New Testament clearly occurred to prove the new revelations in the first century, to conclude from that they they are proving new revelation today is a hasty generalization that is supported neither by our obvious perception nor by scripture.
Bible complexity. There are certainly some difficult books and some passages in many books of the bible that are difficult, and Peter even talked about some of Paul’s writings being difficult to understand (2 Pet. 3:16). It is a hasty generalization, however, to conclude that the entire bible is this difficult. Paul and the Hebrews writer wrote about the simple milk of the word and the more difficult meat (1 Cor. 3:2; 9:7; Heb.5:12-13). We are encouraged to read and understand it (Ephesians 3:4), starting with the milk and building our understanding from that (1 Peter 2:2). The motive of those who start with unsupported interpretations of the meat and then twist the milk of the word to fit these interpretations is to confuse and enslave their listeners. Those who teach that the bible is difficult for the "ordinary person" to understand should be extremely suspect. To conclude that just because a small part of the bible is difficult to understand that we cannot understand any of it is clearly a hasty generalization. For more information along this line, please click here.
Judging others. The often quoted Matthew 7:1 (“Judge not, that ye be not judged ...”) is often used to prove that we should not judge at all. However, a reading of the next four verses shows that this command is given to those who have no right to judge others since they are in worse sin themselves. Jesus said in John 7:24: “Judge not according to appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” Here “according to appearance” refers to hasty conclusions without full investigation, i.e., hasty generalization. Christians are commanded to exercise church discipline (e.g., 1 Corinthians 5), and this requires us to judge, but we must do it motivated by love and according to biblical principles (e.g., see Mt. 18:15-17; 2 Thes. 3:14-15). It is an oxymoron for those who claim that they do not judge to turn around and judge others to be wrong in making the types of judgments that God has commanded of His people. To conclude that Jesus condemned all judgments based on the fact that he condemned improper judgments made by those who were worse offenders themselves is clearly a hasty generalization.
Racism. Very closely associated with judging others – when we judge an entire race, nationality or other group based on the actions of just a few of them, this too is the result of the logical error of hasty generalization. The racial distinctions between Jew and Gentile in the first century was one of the largest issues in the first century church as illustrated in Act chapters 10, 11, 15, and also in many of Paul's subsequent writings on the subject (e.g., in the letter to the Galatians and many others). Racial differences are extremely deep-seated, and to deny that they are not relevant in our churches today is just naive. God is not a respecter of persons (Acts 10:34), which means and is defined in the context that He judges each individual on that individual's qualities, and He does not judge people based on group nationality, ethnicity or race. There are evil people in all racial groups. When we judge an entire race (or any other group) by the evil actions of a few of their members, we are guilty of hasty generalization.
These are just a few examples of false and misleading practices that originated because of the logical flaw of hasty generalization. It is imperative if we are to understand God’s word that we do not jump to conclusions based on a single passage or a few verses, but that we see the entirety of the biblical teaching on the subject, and thereby teach and practice “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).
What are the conditions of salvation given by Jesus?