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The Authority of Scriptural Reasoning: "Necessary Inferences"

Indirect Teaching by Logical Conclusions

Authority of Necessary Inference: Indirect Bible TeachingWhat is "necessary inference"? Does the Bible use this method to teach us? Are logical conclusions binding if they are based on Scriptural reasoning that necessarily follows from God's word? Should we accept the "new hermeneutic" that denies that examples and necessary inferences constitute binding authority? Did Jesus or inspired men ever use necessary inferences as evidence? Did they require people to accept the conclusions that follow?

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Most Bible believers admit that God teaches directly by means of direct commands and direct statements.

We sometimes say: "Commands constitute binding authority"; so, people are expected to obey, and those who do not obey in error.

[Examples: Acts 10:48; Matthew 22:37-39; 1 Corinthians 11:23-25; 14:37; John 14:15,21-24; 15:14; 1 John 2:3,4; 5:3; Matthew 28:18-20]

But besides direct, explicit statements, the Bible also teaches by indirect methods.

These methods include examples and "necessary inferences" (or "logical conclusions"). Some people say we are obligated to follow only commands. They deny that example and necessary inference are valid, binding ways to determine God's will. They may even say that using such methods constitutes a man-made creed or a human tradition. (Some even have a name for this view. They call it a "new hermeneutic.")

The purpose of this study is to examine whether or not "necessary inference" constitutes a Scriptural method to learn God's will.

By "necessary inference" we refer to truths that are not directly or expressly stated, but must necessarily follow as a logical conclusion from what is stated. But the term "necessary inference" sometimes confuses people, so we will also refer to that same concept by other terms, such as "Scriptural reasoning" or "necessary, logical conclusions."

We use such methods in everyday life so often that we usually don't even realize we are doing it. If I tell you my age, that is a direct statement. But if I say I was born in October of 1944, you may reason to the same conclusion. That is all we mean by "necessary inference": a conclusion that is not directly stated but necessarily follows from what is stated. Whether a conclusion is stated directly or indirectly, either way it is just as true, just as valid, just as factual.

Many Scriptures show the importance of reasoning about what God's word says.

Isaiah 1:18 - The Lord said, "Come now and let us reason together."

1 Peter 3:15 - Be ready to give an answer to every man who asks a reason for the hope within you.

Acts 17:2; 18:4; 19:8,9; 28:23 - Paul reasoned with the Jews from the Scriptures to prove to them that Jesus was the Christ. [17:17; 18:19; 24:25]

Hebrews 5:14 - We should have our sense exercised to discern good and evil.

Sometimes the Bible does not directly spell out the answer to questions about right or wrong. Rather, we must reason from what the Bible says to reach the proper conclusion about what is right or wrong.

Note that we are not defending any and all kinds of reasoning.

(1) We are not defending the use of "human wisdom" in which conclusions are based on human authority or evidence, instead of on Bible evidence.

(2) We are not defending binding invalid or even possible conclusions that do not necessarily follow from Bible statements. Such instances do not prove a conclusion but simply jump to the conclusion.

What we defend in this study is the practice of using God's word as our evidence and from it reaching conclusions that truly, validly must follow from what is stated.

I. Bible Examples of the Use of Scriptural Reasoning

Consider some instances in which men of God reasoned to conclusions that necessarily follow Scripture, but are not directly stated there. In each case the students were expected to understand the reasoning, reach the same conclusion that the teacher reached, and then accept the conclusion as being the will of God.

Note that Jesus and other Bible teachers used "necessary inferences," exactly as we seek to use them. Note the use of words such as "reason," "therefore," "so then," "evidently," and other such expressions that show a conclusion is being reached.

Fulfilled Prophecy

Acts 17:1-4

Paul "reasoned from the Scriptures" to prove that Christ must die and rise again, and that Jesus is Christ. The "Scriptures" used here were the Old Testament (cf. Acts 28:23).

But what Old Testament passage directly states that Christ must rise from the dead (without reasoning to conclusions)? What passage directly stated that Jesus of Nazareth would be Christ?

Old Testament prophecy definitely shows that Jesus is the Christ, but this requires taking passages and "adding them up" to reason to the necessary conclusion that Jesus would rise from the dead and is the Christ.

Note that this was the method Paul "customarily" used to "persuade" people - Acts 17:2.

Acts 2:27-32,36

Peter quoted David's prophecy that "you will not leave my soul in Hades nor allow your Holy One to see corruption" (v27). He reasoned: (1) David said "my" soul, but he could not have meant himself since he did die (v29). "Therefore" (conclusion), the reference must have been to the Christ, David's descendant (v30). (2) And if he did not see corruption, then he must arise from the dead (v31).

Note that Paul and Peter expected people to reach the same inference they reached. They viewed the conclusion as "binding": they believed people who did not accept the conclusion would be wrong. In fact, their souls' salvation depended on it!

Arguing from fulfilled prophecy is worthless unless we draw necessary conclusions.

Dealing with Temptation

Matthew 4:4,7,10 - Three times the Devil tempted Jesus. Each time, Jesus quoted Scripture to prove the Devil was wrong. But the passages (especially in the first two cases) did not directly state that the act Satan wanted Jesus to do was a sin. Jesus' conclusion just necessarily followed from the verses.

Jesus used "necessary inferences," He concluded that certain acts were wrong, and He bound these conclusions both on Himself and on the Devil.

Parables, Illustrations, Symbols, & Figures of Speech

Jesus and His disciples used numerous parables, illustrations, symbols, and figures of speech, which can only be understood by drawing conclusions.

Matthew 16:5-12

Jesus warned about the leaven of the Pharisees. The disciples reasoned incorrectly, and thought He was talking about bread. Jesus rebuked them, not for reasoning, but for reasoning incorrectly. When He gave them more information, they correctly understood that the leaven referred to doctrine.

Note that Jesus never did directly state the conclusion. Yet He said their conclusion had been wrong, expected them to find the right conclusion, and even impugned their faith.

This is just one of many such instances.

All such figurative language requires the hearer to draw inferences. The whole point is that the lesson is implied but is not directly stated. Yet Jesus clearly expected His hearers to get the point, and rebuked them when they did not.

If necessary inferences are not binding, then no lesson taught by any parable or any figure of speech is binding! Yet these are some of the favorite teaching methods of Jesus and the prophets.

[Cf. John 2:19-22; Mark 4:33,34; etc.; etc.]

Divorce & Remarriage

Matthew 19:3-6 - Pharisees asked if a man could divorce his wife for just any reason. Jesus quoted God's original marriage law that a man should cleave to his wife and the two become one.

God's plan ordained two people to be married but made no provision for another marriage partner. Jesus then concluded that divorce was never God's intent (v8), and "therefore" man should not separate what God had joined. This conclusion follows from what is said, but the conclusion itself was not directly stated in the passage Jesus used. And the result is a fundamental moral truth.

The Resurrection of Man

Mark 12:24-27

Sadducees denied the resurrection, because they denied the existence of spirit beings - Acts 23:8. They argued from an inference about a woman marrying men in succession, but Jesus showed their inference was incorrect. Note that Jesus did not condemn reasoning from God's law; what He condemned was reasoning incorrectly. If drawing inferences is not valid, why didn't Jesus just say they should not base doctrine on inferences?

Jesus then reminded them that God said, "I AM the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob," at a time when those men were physically dead. Yet God is not the God of the dead but of the living. "All live to Him" (Luke 20:38). Though physically dead, these men were alive before God. This disproved the basis of the Sadducees' objection to the resurrection: their belief that that man has no spirit.

All this came as a conclusion from a verse that directly said nothing about resurrection or spirits. Note that Jesus reasoned with them about the matter (v28). But He concluded they were "therefore" greatly mistaken (you therefore greatly err - v27, KJV).

1 Corinthians 15:12-19

Paul reasoned with people who say there is no resurrection from the dead. He showed several conclusions that would follow from such a view, all of which contradict the gospel (note his repetition of "then"). He then logically concluded that people who say there is no resurrection are wrong.

People say we must not bind inferences or tell others they are wrong because they draw different conclusions from ours. Yet, that is exactly what Jesus and Paul did, and they did so regarding some of the most basic doctrines of the Bible.


Like fulfilled prophecy, the whole purpose of miracles demands that people draw conclusions. Every miracle required people to reason to the conclusion that the man through whom the miracle occurred was a messenger from God.

John 9:29-34 - A man was born blind, but Jesus healed him. He reasoned that Jesus' miracles proved who He was. "If this man were not from God, He could do nothing" (v33). Then he expected the rulers to reach the same conclusion, and rebuked them when then failed to do so.

Miracles prove nothing unless a person is willing to reason to the conclusion that necessarily follows.

[Cf. Isaiah 41:21-24]

Salvation for Gentiles

Acts 11:1-18 (10:9-35,44-48) - Jews questioned Peter for teaching the gospel to Gentiles. He proved he had done right because:

(1) He had a vision showing he should not consider things unclean if God had cleansed them.

(2) The Spirit told him to go with the messengers from Cornelius.

(3) An angel had told Cornelius to send for Peter.

(4) Cornelius received Holy Spirit baptism as Peter preached to them.

Peter and the Jews concluded that the Gentiles had been granted repentance to life (note "therefore" and "then" - vv 17,18). (Cf. Peter's conclusion in 10:28.)

Here is one of the most important doctrines of the New Testament; yet the practice was begun on the basis of evidence, none of which directly stated the conclusion. Should we conclude that this is not a binding doctrine?

Circumcision and the Old Testament

Acts 15:17-19

When disagreement arose about circumcision, brethren determined it was not binding under the gospel. The evidence for this conclusion was: (1) Vv 7-12 - the examples of Peter and of Paul and Barnabas, and (2) Vv 13-21 - An Old Testament passage said the Gentiles could be called by God's name, but that passage says nothing about circumcision (v17).

The inference was drawn that circumcision is not binding (note "therefore I judge" - v19). This conclusion was viewed as binding - i.e., those who taught otherwise were said to be in error. And all this relates to one of the most important, basic doctrinal issues in the New Testament.

Hebrews 7:11-15

Christ fulfilled Old Testament prophecy that He would be a priest after the order of Melchizedek (v17). But all Old Testament priests were of the tribe of Levi, whereas Christ would be a descendant of David of the tribe of Judah. The conclusion is that this required a change of the law (v12).

Note that the writer proves the Old Testament has been removed by using a passage that said nothing directly about that subject. This was "of necessity": a necessary inference (v12). The conclusion is evident (v14). And it is clearly binding, since the author expected all readers to accept the conclusion.

If we are wrong to use Scriptural reasoning to reach conclusions as the basis of doctrine today, why was it clearly done in case after case in the Scriptures?

Rhetorical Questions

These are questions for which the hearer is expected to understand the answer without being told it. See 1 Corinthians 1:13; Luke 10:36f; Mark 8:36f; 1 Peter 4:17f; etc.

All these instances require the student to reach conclusions that are not directly stated. If inferences are not binding, then inspired writers should never have used rhetorical questions, or we could never bind any lesson taught by rhetorical questions. Yet again, this was one of the favorite teaching methods of Jesus and other inspired men.


"Necessary inferences" are a valid Bible teaching method.

The Scriptures themselves show that it is proper to draw conclusions that necessarily follow from what the Scriptures state. It is proper to base doctrine on such conclusions and to believe that people who do not accept those conclusion are wrong.

What's more, this is not some rare, isolated practice. Rather, it is one of the major teaching methods of the Bible. To deny the validity of necessary inferences would be to indict God's faithful preachers and teachers throughout the Scriptures.

We all use inferences every day.

Using necessary inferences is like using your hand. We may have trouble explaining how the hand works, but we all use it. So everyone uses necessary inferences, but they are easier to use than they are to explain!

Inferences are so common that everybody uses them, including people who object to them! Listen closely and you will find that people, who oppose the use of examples and inferences, often argue against them by using examples and inferences!

In fact, the belief that it is wrong to bind inferences is itself an inference! Where is the passage that directly states it is wrong to bind inferences? It does not exist. So, the only way to argue against the use of inferences would be to use inferences! If the position was valid, no one could afford to defend it, for they would violate the rule just by defending it!

Sometimes people argue against the use of inferences by bringing up inferences that they say we don't follow.

Suppose someone could prove that we are guilty of failing to properly follow an inference. That would not prove we are wrong when we say that inferences reveal God's will. It would only prove that we need to do a better job of following them.

The same can be said for Bible commands. Surely we agree that we should follow Bible commands. Suppose someone could prove there is a command in the Bible we are not properly following. Would that prove commands are not binding authority? Of course not. It would only prove we should do a better job of understanding and following the commands. The same applies to examples and necessary inferences.

II. Issues that Can Be Resolved Only by Necessary Inferences

Below is a list of practices for which we can learn the truth if and only if we use Scriptural reasoning (sometimes in conjunction with examples). For none of these is there a direct statement saying whether they are right or wrong. If we can say things are right or wrong only if we have a direct command or statement, then we could never know the truth about any of these practices!

Do You Have a Conviction About Any of the Following Practices?

Can you prove your conviction using only direct commands or statements, without using examples or inferences? Try it. You cannot use examples and you cannot draw conclusions that are not directly stated.

1) Miracles for today
2) Modern-day prophets and revelations
3) Sprinkling or pouring for baptism
4) Alien sinner saved by prayer (before baptism)
5) Infant baptism
6) Animal baptism
7) Postponing baptism till a later service
8) Purgatory
9) Indulgences
10) Praying for the dead
11) Praying to saints and Mary
12) Burning incense in worship
13) Confessing sins to special priesthood
14) Successors to the apostles
15) Lord's Supper on weekdays
16) Annual or quarterly Lord's Supper
17) Literal body and blood in Lord's Supper
18) Hamburger and Coke on the Lord's Supper
19) One elder over a congregation
20) One bishop over several congregations
21) Earthly head or headquarters for the church
22) Church missionary/benevolent societies
23) Calling a preacher "Reverend"
24) Church support of entertainment/recreation
25) Church-owned businesses
26) Church-owned colleges, schools, day-care
27) Instrumental music in worship
28) Fund-raising by rummages, bake-sales, etc.
29) Weekday collections
30) Denominational names (Baptist, Methodist)
31) 1000-year reign of Christ on earth
32) Religious holy days
33) Gambling
34) Dancing
35) Drug dealing
36) Cheating in school
37) Abortion
38) Publishing/selling pornography
39) Religious holy days
etc., etc., etc.

Even when people deny that examples and inferences are binding, they still hold strong views regarding some of these practices. But to prove their conclusions, they must use examples and inferences as binding authority! To be consistent, they must recognize that examples and inferences are binding, or they must give up their position regarding all these practices!

Denial of Examples and Inferences Leads to All Kinds of Error.

This is not an imaginary problem. Many people in the Lord's church have denied that examples and necessary inferences are binding. Invariably they either repent of this error, or they increasingly accept and fellowship all kinds of errors like those just listed. When you cut the ropes that anchor the ship, there is no way to stop how far it will drift. This is why we must not let these doctrines infiltrate the church.

I can name many people whom I have personally known in the church who began to deny that examples and necessary inferences constitute binding authority. The end result in every case has been an inevitable departure into denominational error of all sorts. 

The doctrine has very real and serious consequences.


Making proper applications of God's word can be difficult, whether from commands, examples, or inferences. But Jesus, His apostles, and other faithful teachers have always used necessary conclusions from Scriptural reasoning to show what was right and wrong.

To be true to God today, we too must make proper applications from examples and inferences, as well as commands. To deny these are binding is to inevitably end up in denominational error.

(C) Copyright 1989 & 2007,David E. Pratte;
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Topics for further Bible study

How to Study the Bible
Divine Authority vs. Human Authority in Religion
Why So Much Religious Confusion and Disagreement?
The Importance of Bible Knowledge
The Preservation of the Bible
The Bible vs. Denominational Creeds
Must We Keep the Law of Moses Today?
The Inspiration of the Bible
Can We Understand the Bible? - Return to the Gospel Way home page.

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