Have you ever been part of a conversation that went something like this:
Parent: “Go wash your hands.”
Child: “My hands are clean.”
Parent: “Did you use soap?”
Child: “Well, no.”
Parent: “Why not?”
Child: “You didn’t say to use soap.”
In these conversations, what normally happens? Well, the parent ends up a little aggravated, and the child re-washes their hands, with soap. Why does the parent get aggravated? Isn’t the child right? The parent didn’t specifically say to use soap, so what was wrong with the child just using water? What if the child had used hand sanitizer and not used soap or water at all? Either way, the parent would have been aggravated because when they said, “Go was your hands,” they implied that the child needed to use soap and water to ensure clean hands.
This process is called a “necessary inference” and we use it every day of our lives without giving it a thought. It’s just good old fashioned common sense, and this is the next method of teaching we are going to look at that is found in the Bible.
A lot of people want to dismiss necessary inference as un-authoritative. The problem with this however, is that it is basically saying we are to use common sense in every aspect of our lives except Bible study. How illogical! There are many concepts in the Bible that are taught without a specific, “Thus saith the Lord!” But Christ considered them no less authoritative.
For instance, divorce and remarriage tends to be a very controversial issue in the church today. Even so, the Bible’s teachings on this matter are very clear through the use of necessary inference. Matthew 19:9 reads, “And I say to you; whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” This passage specifically states that to divorce your spouse and marry another is to commit adultery, except in the case of unfaithfulness on the part of your spouse. But what it implies is that if your spouse is unfaithful to you, you are within your Biblical bounds to divorce them and marry another without being guilty of adultery. To refuse to use necessary inference is to refuse to acknowledge half of what God is saying to us through this passage.
We also have examples of Jesus expecting his disciples to use necessary inference. In Mark chapter 12:18-27 we see Jesus using an inference from Exodus 3:6 to teach his disciples about the resurrection. Exodus 3:6 reads, “And he said, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’” From the present tense verb in this passage, Jesus inferred that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were still alive though their bodies had, at the time the passage was written, been in the grave for many, many years. By this, Jesus proved that there will be a resurrection when our earthly lives are over. Did the passage in Exodus actually say, “By the way, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are still alive even though they no longer walk the earth.” Not at all. Did that change the fact that God expected the people hearing and reading the book of Exodus to understand that the patriarchs were still alive? No. Did it change the fact that Jesus expected His disciples to understand the same thing? No. In fact, Jesus says that the Sadducees present who failed to grasp this fact from this passage were “greatly deceived” (12:27).
A great example of a necessary inference that directly affects us is whether or not a woman can serve as an elder. There are many people in today’s society that would have absolutely no problem with it. And the truth is that the Scripture does not specifically forbid a woman to serve in the capacity of an elder in the church. There is no Scripture that says, “The Lord God does not permit a woman to be an elder.” But the question we have to ask ourselves is, “What does the Scripture say?”
I Timothy 3:2 says, “Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife…” As a woman, is it possible for me to be the husband of one wife? No! Therefore it is implied in Scripture that it is unacceptable for a woman to serve in the capacity of an elder because it is impossible for us to meet all of the qualifications. Once again, to refuse to acknowledge this teaching is to do a great disservice to the Scriptures, and to put our souls in a perilous position!
It is such a sad truth that so often today people want to have one set of rules for living their everyday lives, and another set for their Christianity. It is easy to understand the necessity of things like the prohibition or permission given by silence (which we will look at more later) and necessary inference in our daily lives as we interact with our friends, family and co-workers. So why do we so often forget the same rules of logic when it comes to understanding Scripture? Just as there are some things implied by the parent with the child, there are things implied by God with us. When the child ignores the inferences of the parent, it causes aggravation. Likewise, when we ignore the inferences that God has made, we place ourselves at best in ignorance and at worst in disobedience. If we expect our children, who are much younger than ourselves, to be able to discern our implications, should not God be able to expect the same from us?
What we have to remember is that God never intended His holy Scriptures to be a nebulous, impossible to understand book. The Bible was written for us, for our own benefit. Even though it is the Word of God, it was given to us through men who think and act just like we do. It is our job to read it as such, and to do our very best to use all that God has given us, including our common sense, to understand what He is telling us. May we each strive to do this better every time we open His Word.