Thursday, August 16, 2007

A Case Study on Jesus' Teaching from Scripture

The Lord Jesus Christ had just devastated the attack of the Pharisees and Herodians in Mark 12:12-17. Then came along the Sadducees and Jesus ended His session with them in 12:18-27 by saying this in vv. 26, 27:
And as touching the dead, that they rise: have ye not read in the book of Moses, how in the bush God spake unto him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living: ye therefore do greatly err.
Our Lord quoted a text from the Old Testament (Exodus 3:6) and then taught from it. I want to examine what He did with this text and show what kind of example His dealing leaves us.

The Background

The Sadducees were the elite, essentially secular Jews. They did not believe in the resurrection, angels, or spirits (Acts 23:8), the anti-supernaturalists, i.e., the liberals. They had a low view of inspiration, even as they respected only the Torah as a basis of authority, so studying the Bible took a low priority for them. They came to Jesus with a question about the resurrection, using a ridiculous hypothetical situation. They had probably used it successfully before against the Pharisees. You could call their hypothetical, 'the seven brothers for the one bride' (not to be confused with seven brides for seven brothers).

Their trick question begins by establishing the Mosaic levirate laws from Deuteronomy 25 (12:19). Each of seven brothers dies and the next in line marries the widow, every marriage childless, until the last of the seven passes away, and then she dies in the end. The question: In the resurrection, which of the seven sons will be married to the woman? This question was intended to embarrass the recipient who believed in the resurrection.

The Lord starts by rebuking the Sadducees for their lack of knowledge of Scripture (12:24). Jesus then relied on His own Divine authority by declaring some brand new information on the status of marriage in heaven (v. 25). All of this together provides the context for His exegesis in Mark 12:26, 27. The Sadducees didn't understand the very Torah they said that they relied upon as a guide. Jesus, however, did know the Scriptures.

Jesus' Teaching

1. The Lord Jesus Christ exegeted teaching from a text that was not about what He was teaching.

Read Mark 12:26. Read Exodus 3. See any teaching on resurrection in those verses? No, you don't. Resurrection was a distant secondary doctrine in Exodus 3. Jesus brought it front and center. Jesus authorizes this type of usage of a text. God not only permits, but obviously wants us to take teaching from texts that are not about that particular teaching. Everything God says is right and true, so the secondary truths or applications are just as authoritative as the primary ones.

2. The Lord Jesus Christ got teaching from a logical deduction from the text.

The Sadducees were proud of their logic. Their whole levirate marriage question was one of human reasoning that was then shattered by the Lord. Indicating how illogical they actually were, Jesus shows the Sadducees a logical deduction that they had missed. He trades one very fallacious deduction for a valid conclusion from the text. They couldn't deduce a thing about marriage in heaven from laws of levirate marriage. They could, however, conclude something logically about resurrection from a popular passage in the Pentateuch.

3. The Lord Jesus Christ culled His teaching from the mere tense of a verb.

We don't believe in thought or conceptual inspiration, but verbal plenary inspiration. Where would Jesus stand in His teaching from Exodus 3 without the present tense of the verb? When God spoke to Moses from the burning bush, He said literally, "I myself God of your father, God of Abraham,...." Jesus translated that, "I am the God of Abraham." Of course, Abraham had died, so how was God presently the God of Abraham? He was presently the God of Abraham because Abraham was presently alive. Why? He had resurrected.

If God had said, "I was the God of Abraham," the teaching about resurrection wouldn't have been in Exodus 3. God expects us not only to get teaching from individual words and even letters (cf. Galatians 3:16), but He expects us to take doctrine from the tense of verbs. We would assume then that we would still have all the exact tenses of the verbs preserved for us, wouldn't we? Or are we to assume anything from things that God teaches?

Since God takes teaching from the mere tense of verbs, then I would assume that we would also look at the mood of the verbs as well. For instance, Romans 5:1 reads:

Therefore being justified by faith, we have (exomen, present-indicative verb) peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:
If you look at a Westcott and Hort New Testament, which I have on my Bible Works program, it reads differently:

Therefore being justified by faith, we may have (exwmen, present-subjuntive verb) peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:
See the difference that one letter can make---an omega instead of an omicron and we go from assurance of peace to doubt about peace. Some say one small aspect about a verb doesn't matter, but Jesus says that it does.

4. The Lord Jesus Christ inferred major teaching from a text, one not explicitly taught.

The listener infers; the speaker implies. Jesus inferred from Exodus 3:6 the doctrine of resurrection. Do we see resurrection in that text? No. So then, how can we take a teaching, and a major one, from a text that says nothing about it? We can and Jesus illustrates that we can. In doing so, He leaves us an example to follow His steps. He places a logical inference on the same authoritative level as a direct statement of Scripture.

Compromising Christians and new-evangelicals busy themselves developing taxonomies that rank the authority of Christian doctrine by whether the teaching comes from direct statement or logical inference. They say that inferences from Scripture do not have the same authority as Scripture itself. Jesus says they do; they say they don't. New-evangelical Millard Erickson ranks logical inferences below direct statements of Scripture. In his Christian Theology (pp. 83-84), he writes:
Direct implications of Scripture must also be given high priority. They are to be regarded as slightly less authoritative than direct statements.

Even professing "fundamentalists" say that inferences from the Bible do not carry the same weight as the Bible. One writes:

But even very clear inferences are less authoritative than the sacred text. Otherwise, why not add them to Scripture? Shouldn’t there be an eleventh commandment, “Thou shalt not abort unborn babies”? We all believe this is a sound inference, but it does not have the same authority as Scripture because God did not inspire it, and the fact that He did not inspire it means, at best, it has an authority nearly equal to that of Scripture. We may proclaim it as the teaching of Scripture, but we are not free to claim it is equal to Scripture. We may not put it in the mouth of God by claiming “Thus saith the Lord.”
A major step in the development of liberal theology was the rejection of the inferences of Scripture. In "The Growth of Liberal Theology" in The Cambridge History of English and American Literature we read:

We must note, however, as still characteristic even of liberal divines at this time that, while Hampden will rigorously criticise any inferences from Scripture, he asserts without qualification that “whatever is recorded in those books is indisputably true."
Hampden was a pioneer in the Oxford movement (1833-1845) in England, which down-turned Oxford toward liberalism. A primary means was his attack on inferences from Scripture. R. W. Church writes in The Oxford Movement:

Dr. Hampden was in fact unexceptionably, even rigidly orthodox in his acceptance of Church doctrine and Church creeds. He had published a volume of sermons containing, among other things, an able statement of the Scriptural argument for the doctrine of the Trinity, and an equally able defence of the Athanasian Creed. But he felt that there are formularies which may be only the interpretations of doctrine and inferences from Scripture of a particular time or set of men; and he was desirous of putting into their proper place the authority of such formularies. His object was to put an interval between them and the Scriptures from which they professed to be derived, and to prevent them from claiming the command over faith and conscience which was due only to the authentic evidences of God's revelation.

If words mean anything, he had said that neither Unitarians nor any one else could get behind the bare letter, and what he called "facts," of Scripture, which all equally accepted in good faith; and that therefore there was no reason for excluding Unitarians as long as they accepted the "facts." But when it was pointed out that this reasoning reduced all belief in the realities behind the bare letter to the level of personal and private opinion, he answered by saying that he valued supremely the Creeds and Articles, and by giving a statement of the great Christian doctrines which he held, and which the Church taught. But he never explained what their authority could be with any one but himself. There might be interpretations and inferences from Scripture, by the hundred or the thousand, but no one certain and authoritative one; none that warranted an organised Church, much more a Catholic and Apostolic Church, founded on the assumption of this interpretation being the one true faith, the one truth of the Bible.

Ranking inferred teaching below direct statements has been and is a step toward liberalism.

New-evangelicals defy necessary inferences by saying that silence about a particular subject means liberty. If no text explicitly teaches against an activity, then they have license to practice that activity. Where did this rule come from? It originated with them and many of them repeat it regularly. Here is an example of this that is common all over the country and everywhere on the internet and in new-evangelical books:

If you think dancing is wrong, bu (sic) all means, do not dance, but since the bible says nothing about dancing being wrong, do not apply that as sin to someone else. especially if you, for some reason, think that your rules make you "Godlier" than everyone else. For you have crossed the line into being a Pharisee at that point.
Nick Costello writes:

The variety of styles has birthed much controversy and even division among Christians. The issue should never be over a particular 'style', for the Bible doesn't tell us what style God prefers. What if we get to heaven and find out God likes punk or rap worship? His Spirit cannot be placed in a box. We cannot tell others what music will or won't minister to their individual heart. Just like people have varying tastes in food, so do we in music too! (emphasis mine)
Now people think that silence-is-permission stands as the definitive approach to Scripture. Jesus debunks this whole hermeneutic here. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself authorizes doctrine by inference.

I recognize that now antagonists of this thought on inferences will think that "this is an inference made by Jesus, which makes it authoritative, but does not assume that our inferences are authoritative." We can and are to follow the example of Jesus (1 John 2:6). He will enable us by His Spirit to do "greater works" (John 14:12). We are to imitate what Jesus did (1 Corinthians 11:1).

I love this material from John Dick in Lectures in Theology (1850) about drawing inferences from Scripture:

It has been a subject of controversy, whether it is lawful to draw inferences from Scripture, and what authority should be assigned to them. It is not easy at first sight to conceive, why there should have been a diversity of sentiment upon a point which seems to admit of no dispute; for nothing is more plain than that, when a proposition is laid down from which certain inferences naturally arise, it is the office of the understanding to draw the conclusions, and to rest in them with equal confidence as in the premises from which they are deduced. . . . Had every thing, which it is necessary for us to know, been delivered in express terms in the Scriptures, the Bible would have been too voluminous for general use; and besides, such minuteness was not necessary. God does not speak in it to children, but to men, who are capable of reasoning on the common affairs of life, and can use this power in matters of religion.


Bill Hardecker said...

I have heard Matthew 23:23 used in the justification that some matters of the Law are more important than others, hence there are varying degrees of doctrine in the Bible (I guess they are inferring that there is such a thing as 'primary' and 'secondary' doctrines in the Bible). Your thoughts please on the 'weightier matters of the law' phrase.

BTW, Your article is thought provoking. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

One of my favorite things to do is to look up and see what John Wesley, or Calvin, or even Martin Luther wrote sermons about, it is so easy with the inventing of the computer. I also respect the time period they were from. Women and children were not heard from. Today 6-7 year olds have the potential to have more knowledge than their great grandparents.
John Dicks statement "God does not speak in it to children, but to men, who are capable of reasoning on the common affairs of life, and can use this power in matters of religion." in todays world is totally wrong. God speaks to everyone -even children in the Bible. Adults put way to much theoloy into what they believe the Bible says - If you ask an adult if abortion is murder the answer 9 times out of ten will be no-a fetus is not a human being; but ask a 6 year old is the baby in mommy tummy is living and the answer is yes. The reason is that children see everything in black and white, adults have all kinds of gray areas. Jesus himself said not to straddle the fence; do not be luke warm. Maybe this is what he meant when he said to be child like. Lisa

Joel Grassi said...

Regarding points #1 and #4 -

What do you think of the "law" of authorial intent (like the "law" of first mention)? Authoritative truth or scholarly myth?

Kent Brandenburg said...

I'm on the run, so just Bro. Bill first. Bro. Bill, look at:

on May 15. I answer that question there. If not, tell me how I didn't and I'll consider that. Thanks.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Lisa, thanks for reading the blog; some interesting observations about children. Thanks.

Bro. Grassi,

Thanks for visiting again. If I'm following you correctly, you are saying that we have a hermeneutical law with Jesus teaching, that is, the law of authorial intent. I've never heard that law. What I'm thinking might be more simple. If the passage teaches it, that is, you can make a necessary inference from the passage, a logical inference, then that inference is God speaking to us. Jesus shows that is the case here. The passage in Ex. 3 teaches resurrection, whether it says anything about the resurrection or not. We have Scriptural authority in the matter of inferences, per this text, based on Jesus' example.

What say ye?

reglerjoe said...

This is a great topic to hash out.

Could we not say that if something is believed to be inferred, yet it contradicts a clear statement in the Bible, that it is a false inference.

In that sense, doesn't the clear statements of the Bible have more authority than inferred doctrine.

Kent Brandenburg said...


For sure, we can't infer something that contradicts a statement in Scripture, since the Bible is consistent in it's teaching. We would say that the Bible will not infer anything that contradicts itself, but that doesn't mean that inferences have less authority than the statements themselves.

I also don't think that this is the point that Millard Erickson is making. He is saying that inferences themselves have less authority than statements, as if we are less required to believe or practice inferences. This is not a practice of historic Christianity.

Jeff Voegtlin said...

Okay, I read the article yesterday and you've really got me thinking. Maybe I misunderstand, but it seems to me that if you believe this, anything (everything) can be placed under the title of expositional preaching as long as the inference is seen by the preacher and the teaching is biblical.

I think I'm a purist, but if that's true why worry about studying the text? Whatever I think of while I'm reading, is "fair game" for a topic.

Also, the example is the Incarnate Word of God. He can say whatever He wants and that is the Words of God. We are preachers of the Word. What if I the listener don't see the inference that the preacher sees. How are two Christians to tell whose inference is the correct one, or the one that is really there?

At first, I like the idea, but now, it really scares me. Honestly. Maybe I'm not following the thoughts completely....

Kent Brandenburg said...

DR. V,

The teaching must be inferred by the text, also known as a "necessary inference." This is not something in the realm of speculation, but an actual inference. I'm not talking about inference. The point of the text there wasn't resurrection, but the passage taught ressurection. He presently was the God of Abraham even though Abraham had died, therefore, Abraham must have risen from the dead. That was a logical inference. We can't logically infer just anything. I think you are jumping to something entirely different when you say that preachers can preach any old message that they want from a text.

We want to understand what the passage says, but we take our doctrine from inferences too. Just because it isn't the major teaching of the verse, doesn't mean that it doesn't add something to our theology. For instance, I preached Isaiah 42:1-4 today. In v. 4, we read "his law," and we know "his" to be the servant, so that the text says that the law is Jesus' law. This testifies to the Deity of Christ. Is the passage about His Deity? No. But it teaches it.

Joel Grassi said...

Bro. Brandenburg,

Sorry for my lack of clarity.

Actually, I'm following along with your inferred point, which I perceive to be that the Bible is trouble for all of man's so-called sciences, including his "laws" of hermeneutics. Your point is that Moses the writer of Exodus 3:6 did not intend for his audience to see a point about the resurrection when they read that verse, but the Lord Jesus did make that very point with that very verse. A student in a hermeneutics class might lose points if he did that. A student in a hermeneutics class might lose points if he sees Jesus of Nazareth in Hosea 11:1. But what if Matthew 2:15 sees Him there? So maybe these hermeneutical "laws" which are elevated on par with the Bible should actually be made subject to the Bible? Not trying to sound radical here, but it seems like your article is saying that the Bible should interpret itself.

Good article. It provoke some other thoughts and questions if you want them.

Kent Brandenburg said...

I get it now, Bro. Grassi. You were being subtle, and figuring I would get it, but it missed me. Very good. Once I read your explanation, I even got a laugh. I agree with you. Come with more observations and questions.

By the way, I'm writing another article right now which is one I've announced is coming. I hope I can have it out there in a couple of days, but until then...

Anonymous said...

How does the hermeneutic law of authorial intent square with I Peter 1:10-11 which clearly state that the human penmen were not even aware of the intent of the words God was giving them?


Kent Brandenburg said...

It's true Vic. That was the point, Bro. Grassi was making in a subtle way. He was saying the opposite of what it seemed. He thinks that hermeneutical laws should be subject to Scripture.

Stephen Garrett said...

A good writing and one I will have to "chew on" awhile. However, let me offer a couple initial comments.

First, I too believe in valid "logical deductions." I also believe in the "law of non-contradiction," and that the Lord does not contradict the basic laws of reason in his teachings.

Second, I believe that Jesus' teaching, in the conversation with the Sadducees, gave greater weight to the inference or logical deduction by his express statements.

I think Jesus fulfilled the prophecy in Isaiah 42 that the Messiah would "magnify the law and make it honorable." He magnified the words of God "I am the God of Abraham..." He enlarged upon those words.

Jesus could have cited express bible passages to prove the resurrection, but he did not, in this instance. I think you are right that Christ was meeting them on their own terms.

God bless

Stephen M. Garrett

Fresh Dirt said...

I do need to correct you in a small detail. The Sadducees were conservatives in their day... they only believed in the five books of Moses as the Word of God. Since these books do not really discuss resurrection, etc., they refused to believe in such doctrines. They were literalists. The Pharisees were the liberals. The idea of resurrection had become increasingly popular since the 3rd century bc, and the use of other books, especially Isaiah and Jeremiah had become popular as well. The Pharisees were highly popular with the people, but the Sadducees were not. As a result, the Sadducees die out within a few centuries.