In his classic work, Biblical Hermeneutics, Milton S. Terry, one-time Professor at the Garrett Biblical Institute, declared there is a “general harmony” which pervades the entire Scriptures. Consequently, “no single statement or obscure passage of one book can be allowed to set aside a doctrine which is clearly established by many passages” (1890, 449). This procedure is called “the analogy of faith.”
Another expression is labeled the Synthetic Method (cf. synthesis — “to bring together”). This is a study procedure whereby one assembles the relevant biblical information on the same theme, then draws reasonable conclusions of action, based upon a harmonization of the material. This is a form of “Inductive Logic,” which is reasoning from independent but related points, to a general conclusion.
While this mode of reasoning is used by everyone to some degree (though many would not know how to formally identify it), it is a tragedy that this common sense procedure is flung to the four winds when applied to biblical truth — specifically, the components of God’s plan of salvation for humanity.
Let us first consider a number of the terms that are used to depict the “no-longer-lost” state. Here are several: saved, forgiven, delivered, cleansed, blotted out, washed, redeemed, life, set free, etc.
We will now reflect upon a number of New Testament texts in which these various expressions are connected with conditions preliminary to the reception of the associated goal. Along the way, we must remind ourselves that we are seeking biblical harmony among these passages — not contradiction. The Bible, being the inspired word of God, is harmonious. No “interpretation” may be placed on one text that forces it to conflict with another on the same theme. Note the following.
- Belief + baptism = salvation (Mk. 16:16)
- Belief = eternal life (Jn. 3:16)
- Repentance + baptism = forgiveness (Acts 2:38)
- Receiving the word + baptism = saved (Acts 2:41, 47)
- Repentance + turning = sins blotted out (Acts 3:19)
- Belief + baptism = rejoicing (Acts 8:37-39; 16:31-34)
- Repentance = life (Acts 11:18)
- Baptized = washing away of sins (Acts 22:16)
- Faith = justification (Rom. 5:1)
- Raised from baptism = newness of life (Rom. 6:3-4)
- Obedience = righteousness (Rom. 6:16)
- Obedience = delivered from sin (Rom 6:17)
- Belief + confession = salvation (Rom. 10:9-10)
- Washed + sanctified = justified (1 Cor. 6:11)
- Baptism = in one body (1 Cor. 12:13)
- Baptism = in Christ (Gal. 3:27)
- Faith = salvation (Eph. 2:8)
- Washing of water + word = cleansing (Eph. 5:26)
- Washing + renewing = salvation (Tit. 3:5)
- Baptism = salvation and good conscience (1 Pet. 3:21)*
If one synthesizes the data in these texts he can come only to one conclusion. The following conditions are inherent to the divine plan of human salvation — belief, repentance, confession of faith, and baptism in water. The result of submitting to these inspired conditions is — salvation, forgiveness, justification, newness of life, and being in Christ, or in the one body.
In view of the collation of data in these passages, why in the name of reason would one select one item, e.g., “faith,” and contend that belief is the solitary condition of salvation; or worse yet, allege that there are no conditions to salvation (as hardcore Calvinists do).
In contrast to the “synthetic method” of interpretation, there is that procedure that can only be described as the “isolated method.” This misguided effort is very common among those who have but a smattering of interpretative skill. Whenever a situation seems to justify it, they will summon a text from the recesses of their mental theological library and “quote” it with whatever application they wish to assign it, e.g., salvation by “faith alone.”
If one is to argue that salvation is by “faith alone,” why could not the same “logic” be commandeered to “prove” that redemption can be obtained through “repentance” alone, without any conviction regarding Jesus Christ? Or that pardon is bestowed by baptism only, void of either repentance or faith (as in the case of those who practice infant baptism)? Such methods of misinterpretation are serious errors which can lead only to disaster.