Thursday, June 10, 2010

Inferences in Scripture: A Proper Basis for the Establishment of True Doctrine

One of the items that has come under debate is whether it is valid to establish doctrines via inferences drawn from Scripture. The answer is clearly yes. This was widely recognized by the Lutheran Confessors and by the Orthodox Scholastics. The two chief places one can find the defense of this methodology are in Gerhard's Confessio Catholica pt. 1 and Chemnitz's Examination of the Council of Trent pt. 1(Chemnitz lists "inferences of doctrines not actually spelled out in Scripture, but implied" as being one of the 7 valid forms of traditio).

If one doesn't make this move, a lot of doctrines of historic Christianity go by the way side. For example, where in the Bible does it say "God is one nature and three persons." That's not a specific Bible verse. But the Bible does say the Son is God, so is the Father and the Holy Ghost. Then it say, there's only one God. Combine this with the fact that each addresses the others as personal "Thous" (so Modalism is ruled out) and you've got the doctrine of the Trinity.

Also, the enhyposthesis-anhyposthesis Christology that EO, RC, Lutherans, and Reformed all accept. Where in Scripture does it say "Christ's divine nature is the person in which the human nature, (which is not person, and therefore anhyposthesis) subsists"? No where. But, Son is again and again described as the subject of the Incarnation- therefore it's a logical inference to have an enhyposthesis-anhyposthesis Christology.

Remember, during the Seminex debates, the liberals attacked the confessionalists by saying that one could not establish doctrines by inference (they were addressing a number of issues). That's one of the reasons why Robert Preus in the first volume of Post-Reformation Lutheran Dogmatics, so vigorously defends the idea when dealing with the prolegomena to dogmatics.


  1. This is, of course, very important. I sympathize, however, with another view, which is that we try to speak as Scripture speaks as much as possible. Also, that we be very careful not to let our logic go beyond the sense of Scripture, and certainly not against it.

    The point of the "Trinity" debate is not just that the Church found a framework consistent with Scripture, but that it understood that Scripture was really teaching this doctrine all throughout, without formalizing it.

    Underlying all of this is the realization that Scripture is not a book of doctrines, but the living Word of God. Therefore, as we study and understand God's word, we can formulate terminology and ways of speaking which help us keep the preaching of the Church pure.

    In addition to "Trinity" I challenge you to find "means of grace" in Scripture -- yet that is clearly what Scripture teaches.


  2. Good point George regarding terminology. Luther thought that that was very important.

    Of course, when our opponents pervert the use of a particular term, the Church needs to invent terminology that will make it's position clear in relationship to how the Bible word is being perverted. For example, the use of the word homoousia in the Trinitarian debates. Or one could also point to Luther's insertion of "alone" into the passage in Romans about justification by faith.

    I've also noticed this in our sacramental practice. My pastor says "the true body of Christ given for you." It's not enough to say "the body of Christ" since other groups have perverted the meaning of the simple words. Therefore, you get the meaning of the words of institution as Jesus meant them by inserting "the true."

  3. Gerhard on the perfection of Scripture:
    "we are not calling Scripture "perfect" in this sense that all the things necessary for faith and behavior are present in Scripture literally and in just so many words. Rather we are saying that Scripture contains some matters explicitly and some implicitly so that we can deduce from Scripture the legitimate and immovable consequence. The fact, therefore, that Bellarmine in the passage we soon are going to cite, and the Jesuit Bailius, catech., treatise 1, q.10, deny that Scripture contains all things expressly which are necessary for salvation; I say, that fact we concede if we take that as meaning the sound of the words; but if the mean the truthfulness of the matter, we deny it. We say with Nazianzen, orat.5, de theol.: "There are some matters which, although Scripture may not say then word by word and expressly, we nevertheless conclude from them that they necessarily cause and prove that.""