What Is a “Necessary Inference”?
“I frequently hear ministers talk about a ‘necessary inference’ in connection with the issue of Bible authority. What is a ‘necessary inference,’ and is this a legitimate method of establishing scriptural authority?”
The word “inference” derives from Latin roots that signify “to gather in.” In logic (the science of critical thinking), it suggests the idea of gathering in data from various sources, and then drawing such deductions as are demanded by the evidence.
There are two kinds of inferences. “Reasonable” inferences suggest a likely possibility. For example, if one hears thunder and sees lightning, he may reasonably infer that it will rain shortly. And, based upon that inference, he may wish to take his umbrella when he leaves his house.
On the other hand, if an “inference” is characterized as “necessary,” this means that the conclusion drawn from the facts is irresistible. If there is snow covering the countryside in the morning, one may necessarily conclude that the temperature was below 32 degrees during the night.
Inference has fallen on hard times in the church these days. Those who wish to bring the Lord’s church into conformity with denominational practices suggest that nothing can be made a test of fellowship that is based upon inference. “Inference” restricts these “free spirits” to more rigidity than they can tolerate.
But inference is a perfectly legitimate means of obtaining truth.
There is an example related to Solomon’s dedication of the temple that enables the careful Bible student to derive some information that he could not know but for inference. Look at the following data.
At the dedication of the temple, Solomon prayed a wonderful prayer soliciting Jehovah’s blessings upon the sacred house. An inspired writer subsequently notes that “Jehovah appeared to Solomon by night” in response to the petition (2 Chron. 7:12). The text does not mention precisely how the Lord “appeared.” That leaves the episode clouded in mystery, since there were various ways by which deity could “appear” to men. Other passages, however, allow us to arrive at the full truth relative to this incident.
In a parallel record, a sacred writer says that Jehovah “appeared” to Solomon “as he had appeared unto him at Gibeon” (1 Kg. 9:2). Well, how was that? This text does not specify. In yet another related passage, though, the Scriptures reveal the following: “In Gibeon Jehovah appeared to Solomon in a dream by night” (1 Kgs. 3:5). Putting the related information together, therefore, one reasons:
- If God appeared to Solomon in Jerusalem as he did in Gibeon.
- And he appeared to the king in Gibeon “in a dream.”
- Then it necessarily follows, then, that the Lord’s appearance to Solomon in Jerusalem was in a dream.
Let me cite a couple of examples that help focus upon crucial matters pertaining to Christian practice.
- Since the New Testament teaches that valid baptism requires both belief and repentance (Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:38), and inasmuch as babies can not believe, nor do they need to repent (seeing they have no sin), it follows necessarily that infants are not amenable to baptism. The logical use of necessary inference eliminates the sectarian practice of “infant baptism.”
- The first century church of Christ met each Lord’s day for worship. This is established by the phrase “first day of every week,” as reflected in the Greek text of 1 Corinthians 16:2 (as most of the modern translations reveal; see RSV, NASB, NIV, ESV). The preposition kata in the original text definitely means “every.” (See: Danker, F.W., et al., Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Chicago: University of Chicago, 2000, p. 512).
Additionally, the New Testament record establishes the fact that the main purpose of the Sunday meeting was to celebrate the Lord’s supper. That is established by the infinitive phrase of purpose in Acts 20:7; the disciples were brought together “to break bread.”
Since we know that the Christians met each Lord’s day. And inasmuch as it is clear that the primary purpose of their gathering was to observe the sacred communion. It necessarily follows that the early church, under the supervision of the inspired apostles, observed the Lord’s supper every Sunday. Churches today, therefore, who seek to be biblical in their worship, will emulate the apostolic practice. For further study of this matter, see the author’s commentary, “The Acts of the Apostles — From Jerusalem to Rome”.
The logical concept of “necessary inference” is a perfectly legitimate reasoning device. We use it most every day in common procedures, and it is no less valuable in arriving at scriptural conclusions.
About the Author
Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.