All posts tagged God’s Word
Towards the end of Principles of Biblical Interpretation, Louis Berkhof includes a section on “The Implied Sense of Scripture” in which he discusses the nature of logical deduction when applied to the Bible and man’s writings. On the whole, I found this section to be helpful, although perhaps in need of some clarification and slight revision.
“The Bible as the Word of God contains a fulness and wealth of thought that is unfathomable. This is evident not only from its types and symbols and prophecies, but also from what it contains implicitly rather than by express assertion. Even in the case of human compositions we distinguish between what is expressed and what is implied. In writings of a superior order, it is often found that the language suggests and involves important truths that are embodied in words. Great minds contain a wealth of knowledge, and whatever they communicate of it is related to and suggestive of that vast store, so that it becomes quite possible to read between the lines. And if this is true of the literary productions of men, it applies much more to the infallible Word of God.
There is an important distinction, however. Man only knows in part, and is not always conscious of what he knows. Moreover, he often fails to see the implications of what he says or writes. It is quite possible that his words contain implications which he did not see and to which he would not subscribe. It may very well be that what can fairly be deduced from his explicit assertions, by means of logical inference or comparison, lies entirely outside his range of though and is, in fact, the very opposite of what he means. Hence the rule, so often forgotten in practice, but yet essential to all fair controversy, that “it is not allowable to charge upon an author the consequences of his statements when not expressly avowed or adopted, even although these consequences may be necessarily involved in the statements.” He may not have contemplated nor even seen them, so that he is not responsible for them, but only for the employment of language which unintentionally implies them. For the same reason it is not permissible to infer a writer’s opinion on a certain matter from incidental expressions, used by him when the matter in question was not under consideration. As a rule it is an unwarranted procedure, to ascribe to an author thoughts or sentiments which he did not expressly utter in connection with the matter to which they pertain. He who does this is guilty of consequensmacherei.
While Berkhof’s main point is certainly true, and evidences the need for charity in theological discussions, I disagree with his statement (which I have emphasized in bold above) that men are not responsible for errors in logic which result in doctrinal error. In I Corinthians 3:10-15, Paul writes,
10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. 11 For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. 14 If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
While this passage is commonly understood to refer to one’s works, it must necessarily first be applied to one’s teaching or doctrine. The foundation of Scriptural doctrine has been laid. How one interprets Scripture, and constructs systematic theology, constitutes the “building” on the foundation. In the end, the truth will be revealed, and all error abolished. This is not only referring to fatal heresy, but to any theological error – Note that the one whose work is burned is still saved. In the Last Day, every man’s beliefs will be put to the test. My own errors, small and large, will be burned away, leaving only Truth standing.
It must also be noted that sinful man is capable of lying, even when under oath, and especially when under scrutiny. Thus, in instances of trials in church courts attempting to ascertain a man’s beliefs, it may not always be as simple as getting the accused to verbally confirm a list of affirmations and denials. Certainly, one may knowingly speak with a forked tongue. Thus it is necessary to closely examine the past words of the accused, to see if he is being honest about his own beliefs.
It is possible that Berkhof would have perfectly agreed with what I have just said. I am merely attempting to offer clarification concerning man’s responsibilities.
But in the case of the Word of God, these restrictions do not apply. The knowledge of God is all-comprehending and is always conscious knowledge. In giving man his Word, He was not only perfectly aware of all that was said, but also all that this implied. He knew the inferences that are deduced from His written Word. Says Bannerman: “The consequences that are deduced from Scripture by unavoidable inference, and more largely still the consequences that are deduced from a comparison of the various Scripture statements among themselves, were foreseen by infinite wisdom in the very act of supernaturally inspiring the record from which they are inferred: and the Revealer not only knew that men would deduce such consequences, but designed that they should do so” (Inspiration of the Scriptures, p. 585). Therefore not only the express statements of Scripture, but its implications as well, must be regarded as the Word of God.
Jesus himself warrants this position. When the Sadducees came to him with a question which, in their estimation, clearly proved the untenableness of the doctrine of the resurrection, he referred them to the self-designation of Jehovah at the bush: “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”; and deduced from it by good and necessary inference, the doctrine which they denied. Moreover, he reproved their failure to see the implication of that self-designation by saying, “Ye do err, not knowing Scripture” (Matt. 22:29-32; Mark 12:24-27; Luke 20:37, 38). For other examples, cf. Rom. 4:5-12; I Cor. 9:8-10; I Tim. 5:17, 18; Heb. 4:5-9.
We feel warranted, therefore, in laying down the following rule: “The deductions of doctrine made from its (the Bible’s) statements on a comparison between them, if truly drawn, are as much a part of God’s meaning and of His revelation — being indeed virtually contained in it, — as these statements themselves” (Bannerman, Inspiration of the Scriptures, p. 587). It goes without saying that great care must be exercised in drawing such inferences from the written word. The deductions must be good, i.e., truly contained in the inspired statements from which they are ostensibly derived; and also necessary, or such as force themselves upon the mind that honestly applies itself to the interpretation of Scripture. Cf. Westminster Catechism, Art. VI [pp. 158-160].