The Golden Isles church of Christ

Weekly Bulletin

Volume 3, Number 4

January 26, 2003

Necessary Inference - Part 1

by Mike Johnson

We are governed today by three forms of Bible authority. These are direct command or statement, approved example, and

necessary inference or conclusion. Most are willing to accept direct commands or statements as forms of Bible authority. Some may question the concept of approved example, but there is a growing number who challenge the use of necessary inference as an acceptable form of Bible authority. Necessary inference has been challenged on the basis that it involves the use of the human mind -- that logic is necessary to draw the inference, and it has been called a "clumsy interpretative procedure."

It is important to understand that the Bible must be understood in the same way as any other written message. We read it, translate the words into mental images, accumulate information, and draw conclusions.

We may often use necessary inference when interpreting the Bible without even realizing it. For example, no statement in the Bible is addressed specifically to us. It was Saul who was told, "And now why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins. . . ." Yet most would (correctly) necessarily infer that this command is also for them since people today live under the same law, and since God does not show partiality (Acts 10:34).

Further, people reason by inference every day. It would be difficult to conduct our life without this mode of thinking. It is absurd to think that necessary inference cannot be applied to the interpretation of the Scriptures.

What Is Necessary Inference?

Information can be conveyed in an "explicit" way or in a way that is "implicit." Explicit means that nothing is implied; the subject is clearly expressed and fully stated. Implicit, on the other hand, means that something is not expressly stated; it is without detail, something that you imply instead of directly say. If a person takes what he hears, puts "two and two together," and draws a conclusion it could be said that his conclusion is implied. Another word for "implicit" is "inference." An inference is simply a conclusion that is reached from the premises. (The premises are the two's in the two plus two.)

More specifically, a necessary inference is one in which "a conclusion is drawn because the evidence demands it." It is a conclusion that unavoidably follows from the premises. A conclusion must be NECESSARILY inferred. As stated, the evidence demands the conclusion! Necessary inference is not a hunch or a guess.

Consider some examples from everyday life. Suppose that a person is driving down the road, passes a baseball field, and notices that the field is wet. He might infer that it has recently rained, but he could not necessarily infer this. He would be unable to necessarily infer that it had recently rained because of the possibility that someone may have just sprayed the field with water to keep it from being so dusty. On the other hand, a person might wake up one morning and see that the countryside is covered with snow. Upon seeing this, he might necessarily infer that the temperature is, or at least has been, that which is necessary to produce snow. Consider a few simple biblical examples. On the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), some people, after hearing the apostles speak in foreign languages, inferred that they were drunk (v. 13-15). Their inference was clearly wrong. In Acts 16:15, we read where Lydia and her "household" were baptized. Some have inferred that this serves as an example of infant baptism. A person might infer this, but he cannot necessarily infer it because all households do not have infants. In John 9, the healing of a blind man is recorded by Jesus. The healed man concluded that Jesus must be a prophet (v. 17) and must be "of God" because, as he said, "Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind. If this man was not of God, he could do nothing" (vs. 32, 33). He eventually concluded that Jesus was the son of God (v. 38). The healed man drew "necessary" inferences.

Examples in the Scriptures

To begin with, note two simple examples. Genesis 12:10 states that Abraham and Sarah went down to Egypt. Earlier, Lot was with them, but we are not told that he went with Abraham and Sarah to Egypt. However, Genesis 13:1 says, "And Abram went up out of Egypt, he, and his wife, and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the south." It did not say that Lot went down to Egypt, but we would necessarily infer that he did since he came up out of Egypt. The second example involves Jesus's baptism. Matthew 3:16 says, "And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water. . . ." The text does not say that Jesus went down into the water, but it must be necessarily inferred that he did since he "went up straightway out of the water."

The Sadducees were a group of people who did not believe in the resurrection. They also did not believe in consciousness after death. In Matthew 22:23-33, they questioned Jesus about the resurrection. In response, Jesus said, ". . .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." Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had been dead for around four hundred years when God made the above statement to Moses (Ex. 3:6,16). When God spoke of the three who were dead, He spoke of them in the

present tense. He did not say "I was" their God, but "I am" their God. Thus, God IS the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; God IS the God of the living, not of the dead. The necessary inference that Jesus expected the Sadducees to draw was that the three, though physically dead, were alive as spirits.

Consider Luke 15 where the parables of the lost sheep, lost coin, and lost son are recorded. The publicans and sinners had drawn near to Jesus to hear him. Meanwhile, the Pharisees and scribes "murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them." For Jesus to get his point across to those who murmured, they had to draw inferences from the three parables presented. They should have inferred this point: "As you would seek and receive a lost sheep, coin, or son, so will I seek and save a lost sinner." This point is not specifically stated, but it is the necessary inference that He expected his critics to draw.

In Acts 10 and 11, we can read of the conversion of Cornelius and the Gentiles. Cornelius saw a vision, and an angel told him to send for Peter, who was in Joppa. Peter, in the meantime, fell into a trance and saw heaven opened and "a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth." Within were all kinds of unclean animals. Peter was told to rise and eat, but he refused to do so, even after being told two more times. Peter was not sure of the meaning of this vision. The Spirit told him to meet the people who had arrived and go with them. Peter went with them and when he got to Caesarea, he said to Cornelius and those gathered, "... Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean." God did not tell Peter this by direct statement or by example, but He gave Peter the information so that he would have to draw that conclusion. The vision, and the Spirit telling him to go, forced Peter to draw the inescapable conclusion that he should not call any man common or unclean! He thus went, taught the Gentiles, and they became Christians.

Hebrews 7:17 cites a prophecy from Psalms 110:4 about Christ. Verse 17 says, "For he testifieth, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec." From this passage, the author necessarily infers three facts: 1. There was to be a change in the priesthood (v. 12a); 2. There was to be a change in the law (12b- for a change in the priesthood necessitated a change also in the law) 3. Perfection was not to be obtained through the Levitical priesthood (v. 11- for had it been, there would have been no need that another priest should arise after the order of Melchisedec).

(this article will be con’t in the next issue of THE BULLETIN, Lord willing)....

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Have we been reading the Bible lately?

God speaks to us today through His Word (Heb. 1:1ff)

God is talking...are we listening???

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