The Hebrew/Christian Scripture is a magnificent thing – simultaneously enlightening and misunderstanding. One of those most compelling arguments of the Atheist camp (science aside) is to say ‘There is one book, 30,000+ groups trying to interpret that one book, and all arguing with each other over who’s right!’. And yet, if one believes Scripture, this was somewhat prophetically foretold when Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:27, “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise”. The really smart ‘Pharisees’ just couldn’t see the simplicity of the unmerited Grace of God and had to argue about it.
Yet – one of the most dangerous aspects to this confusion is when I see/read/hear people inferring doctrines or ‘written in stone’ stands based on the inference of example. What do I mean by that? It might be when you hear someone say, ‘Well, we see the example in Scripture…so I’m going to say that it’s absolute.”
Look – I’ll make a definitive statement, and that is very rare for me to do: Scripture is self-interpretive and consistently capable of standing on its own two feet. When I study particular topics, I look (not perfectly but I try…) to the entirety of Scripture, history, and cultural (who wrote it, and who was it written to) reason to flesh out the idea or thought rather than standing on a single verse and inferring a doctrine. This is called ‘cherry-picking’ and it is dangerous and the birthing ground of false doctrines.
A simple example of dangerous inference is found in the neo-classic Holineness movement, now primarily known via The United Pentecostal Church, International, (Though there are other older groups such as the Amish, Mennonite (somewhat)) surrounding the topic of women’s dress codes and wearing ‘pants’, or more importantly, the idea that women should never wear pants, based on the gender-distinctive verse found in Deuteronomy 22:5, wherein the Scripture says;
“A woman shall not wear a man’s clothing, nor shall a man put on a woman’s clothing; for whoever does these things is utterly repulsive to the Lord your God.” ~ AMP
In the modern movements (modern as in the last several centuries of church/human history) holiness movements inferred strict behavior and dress code based on inferred doctrines. Within the aforementioned organization, Deuteronomy 22:5 is explicitly (by this group) translated to say, ‘Women are not to wear pants, slacks, jeans. Those are men’s clothing only. (Read this post to understand the men/women’s clothing issue and why this is not a true doctrine)
This type of inference (Doctrines created by mistranslated Scripture or cherry-picked and incomplete implicit statements) is used by Christian denominations on a grand scale across the breadth of Christendom and so this is not a ‘pick on my denomination’ post. Rather, it is the outgrowth of a thought that was started in me when listening to a message by R.C. Sproul entitled, How to study the Bible.
Implicit vs. Explicit
R.C. Sproul said that if this one method or rule was followed by every studier of Scripture, the false doctrines of inference would be eradicated.
“You cannot interpret the explicit by the implicit, but you must interpret the implicit by the explicit.” ~ R.C. Sproul
implicit: implied though not plainly expressed,
synonyms: indirect, hinted, suggested,
explicit: stated clearly and in detail, leaving no room for confusion or doubt.
synonyms: clear, direct, straightforward crystal clear,
Implicitness is when a statement is vague enough that if not fact-checked, studied and thoroughly understood, it leaves people open to a variety of interpretations or subjective ‘truth’, which often isn’t the truth at all. Explicitness is a statement of fact that leaves no argument as to the intent and meaning of the statement or speaker.
Implicit, vague and obfuscated remarks are made all the time in politics (just watch a Presidential debate if you don’t believe me!) to provide the speaker plausible deniability or to skirt an issue without drawing a line in the sand. Other, bolder types may say, “that’s exactly what I meant!” The Scripture is hard to understand at times, to people without cultural background knowledge of the writers and audience, and often, picking one scripture out of thousands to prove a point ignores the narratives that define the meaning of a statement.
Scripture says what it means, and means what it says!
An implicit statement is likened to a fortune cookie – the saying is so broad, vague and applicable that anyone reading it could apply that to themselves. Other statements are so specific that it would be impossible to apply it unless it clearly directed at the reader. For instance, there are statements in Scripture that clearly identify the intended audience, such as the Book of Malachi. Chapters 1, 2 and 3 all start by explicitly identifying the audience. The nation of Israel, the sons of Jacob, and the Priests of Levi. Because of this explicitness, we know that it was not scripture texts to the New Testament church.
This is NOT to say Scripture is implicit, rather, one verse taken out of time from 2,000 years ago, without corroborating narratives, Scriptures, history, and context is open to any private interpretation, at the irresponsible use of the one using Scripture in this fashion.
The danger then is leaving all of Scripture at the whim of any who wishes to apply to mean to a verse, and then use that incorrect meaning as a doctrinal position that the interpreter holds others hostage to.
Another Classic Example
One of the most apropos examples (aside from the aforementioned Deuteronomy 22:5 misunderstanding) is another coming from the Holiness movement – that is, being Anti-Jewelry. There are so many abstinence arguments in the Holiness movement, such as pre-marital sex (can be argued in Scripture), or the drinking of Alcohol (can’t be argued as condemned via Scripture but abuse is clearly warned about) that have no explicit foundation in Scripture, but there is room for argument.
The Jewelry thing (the abstinence doctrine) is a very implicit argument that requires the believers to ignore the entirety of the Bible, and even the words of Jesus, the culture of the people in question and the documented and archeological history of the audience to which this was written, and re-interprets the explicit meanings and statements therein to fit their implicit narrative.
Where does this implicit inference come from? Paul reflected to Timothy his desire for public worship and the order of things, as he was well known to do. And in 1 Timothy 2, he declared;
Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves modestly and appropriately and discreetly in proper clothing, not with [elaborately] braided hair and gold or pearls or expensive clothes, 10 but instead adorned by good deeds [helping others], as is proper for women who profess to worship God.
I cannot take the time to completely undress this topic but some have taken the “not with braided hair and gold or pearls” statement found here to indicate the complete condemnation of wearing Jewelry. And, they have made explicit statements regarding this verse and doctrine;
- The wearing of any Jewelry violates the teaching of Scripture and is unholy
- While this verse speaks of ‘women’ explicitly, the law (implicit meaning) is for men as well
- This verse may be speaking of public worship and prayer (church) but it is implicated for a total lifestyle requirement
- This verse also indicates the wearing of expensive clothing to be forbidden (if that is what it means at all) and yet often times the teachers of this doctrine ignore that explicit reference
Scripture is replete with mentions of Jewelry as being fit for God’s people, Jesus himself spoke of the ring being placed on the finger of the Prodigal Son. David, the man after God’s own heart, in Psalms 25:12 compares earrings decorating the ear to an ear that receives wisdom.
And for those opposed to these modern trends, like nose rings, reading Scripture might change your mind. In Genesis 24 Abraham sent his servant to find his son Isaac a wife, and when he had done so, he placed a ring of gold in the nose of Rebekah, a bracelet upon her wrist and then worshipped God. So you see, the danger of inferring a doctrine from Scripture forces the adherents to ignore Scripture – which, is the deadliest atrocity to the Christian life.
The Most Dangerous Inference
The final and most critical example of errant doctrines being born from inferred Biblical example is that most important topic of all to the Christian faith. Salvation. Undeniably, the way in which a person ‘is saved’, and for the Armenian circle of Christendom, how to ‘stay saved’ has been the paramount topic of philosophical and scholarly study for nearly 2,000 years. And, ironically, it is also one of the most explicit topics of Scripture.
I would be ignorant to say I could enumerate all the ways in which Christianity has muddied the waters of this topic through the years due to private interpretations. One needs only to go to http://www.google.com and type in ‘Can a Christian’ and let all the suggestions pop up. This will highly how divergent the beliefs really are. Is baptism required? Is full immersion required? Is church attendance required? Can I be saved and get a tattoo? Can I be saved and …
I can only speak to the experiences and knowledge that I do have, and that comes primarily from the heretical Oneness Pentecostal doctrine of the New Birth (New Issue) doctrine, or Acts 2:38 message that they have proclaimed as being the only way to be saved since around 1970s. While the United Pentecostal Church, International officially formed in 1945, the merger of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ (PAJC) and the Pentecostal Church, Incorporated (PCI) left two bodies in one church and not all of the brethren (not even a majority) believed Acts 2:38 was the ONLY way to be saved.
The Acts 2:38 (new issue) of Salvation doctrine formed in the Oneness or Apostolic Pentecostal circles is that the Acts 2:38 implicit narrative to a group of Jews gathered at the feast of Pentecost, and then never reiterated again by Paul, was the only prescription for wich and whereby a New Testament believer could be saved from the sickness of sin.
And Peter said to them, “Repent [change your old way of thinking, turn from your sinful ways, accept and follow Jesus as the Messiah] and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ because of the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. ~ Acts 2:38, Amplified Bible
It is CRITICALLY important here to note that the above reference is the Amplified Bible version. The Oneness Pentecostal system is a King James Version ONLY system, and while I think all versions are valuable, the KJV is especially fraught with a style of inference that changes the meaning of the entirety of Scripture, purposefully. View the difference between the AMP and KJV Acts 2:38 passages;
Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission [forgiveness] of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. ~ Acts 2:38, KJV
The difference of ‘be baptized because of your forgiveness’ and ‘be baptized for the forgiveness’ is implicative of this doctrine, as they claim you cannot be saved unless you are baptized in the Jesus Name Only formula. That forgiveness of sins is born out by your physical obedience to the ritual and formula of baptism, not that baptism is your response to being forgiven, in direct defiance to Ephesians 2:8.
The prescription is this; that you can only be saved after repentance (all Christians believe this, but the Apostolic church superimposes their Holiness Standards as part of this repentance step, I.e. repent of watching TV, or the movies, or drinking alcohol, or women wearing pants, or jewelry, or…), water baptism (full immersion) is in the name of Jesus Only (cannot be baptised using the titles Father, Son and Holy Ghost as explicitly directed in Matthew 28:19) and that you have received the Gift of the Holy Ghost (initial indwelling of the Spirit of Christ) which MUST be evidenced by speaking in tongues. (Also superimposed by the Apostolic belief as this is neither implied nor explicitly stated)
This heretical inference eradicates the entirety of New and Old Testament Scripture and flat out ignores, re-defines and re-interprets all of Scripture to fit this narrative. If anything blasphemes the Spirit of God, it is to redefine His word. If I took another individual’s book and re-wrote it, I would be sued in the court of law for plagiarism, yet Christians do this wholesale with Scripture.
To conclude this thought the Acts 2:38 doctrine of the Apostolic Pentecostal (Jesus Name/Only) church movement is the highlight of this topic, creating doctrines from implicit or unclear passages of Scripture and denying the meaning of the explicit Scriptures to make allowance for the doctrines being inferred.
For instance, the Apostolic body takes the following verse and describes it completely different than the explicit statement;
For it is by grace [God’s remarkable compassion and favor drawing you to Christ] that you have been saved [actually delivered from judgment and given eternal life] through faith. And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [not through your own effort], but it is the [undeserved, gracious] gift of God; ~ Ephesians 2:8-9, AMP
The words of Paul are clear – you are saved because of Christ. Not by your own abstinence, holy living, righteous standards, deserved and fought for merit, holiness or unholiness. Nay, Paul said explicitly, you are SAVED through Fatih in Jesus Christ and that there is not one thing you could have done to merit or cause this favor to be applied to you. It is applied as a gift, completely undeserved, by God.
Yet, they have said such in past and preset such erroneous and blasphemous things as, “The Grace Paul is speaking of there is only applied AFTER you have obeyed Acts 2:38.” A believer is someone who has obeyed the three-stop program of Acts 2:38 they will tell you. This is the way in which they strive to redefine the explicit words of Jesus when he said that to Believe on Him was to be saved.
Just meditate on the entirety of Scripture (though below is not a complete list of salvation topics, but a sampling of the explicit mentions in Scripture that the way in which we are Saved is not a three-step process, and it isn’t a 2 step process, but it is a 1-step process) to understand if a doctrine is soundly explained explicitly in Scripture. The way in which we are saved was spelled out from the beginning all the way unto the acts of Jesus and the Apostles and yet it has been summarily ignored by some. This is the danger of creating doctrines from inference. To eradicate the majority of Biblical example because of an obfuscated or vague reference that we misunderstand.
Luke 7:50 And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.
John 3:17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. (ESV)
John 10:9 I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. (ESV)
Acts 2:21 And it shall be that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord [invoking, adoring, and worshiping the Lord Jesus] shall be saved (rescued spiritually).’ (AMP)
Acts 16:30-31 And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. (KJV)
John 5:24 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”
Acts 15:11 But we believe that we are saved through the [precious, undeserved] grace of the Lord Jesus [which makes us free of the guilt of sin and grants us eternal life], in just the same way as they are.” (AMP)
Galatians 3:26 For ye are all children of God by faith in Jesus Christ