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How To Establish Bible Authority (2)

As explained in a previous article (see here), our beliefs and practices must be authorized by the Bible, which is the revelation of Christ, our final judge (2 Cor. 5.10). The only way to know whether we are living with God’s approval is through examining his written word.

The Bible sanctions human behavior in three ways:

(1) through explicit statements and commands;

(2) through implication; and

(3) through approved precedent.

In this installment, let us reflect upon the second of these methods of communicating: viz., implication.

What Is An Implication?

An implication is a logical conclusion that can be inferred from something, even though the conclusion itself is not directly stated.

Some implications are unavoidably valid.

If a warranty on a car covers up to 100,000 miles (with no conditions), it necessarily follows that when that car has traveled only 54,323 miles, it is still covered by that warranty. The warranty does not have to provide explicit coverage for each and every mile the car travels — e.g., mile 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. Rather, each mile, from 0 to 100,000 (including mile 54,323) is logically implied in the generic phrase: “up to 100,000 miles.” This conclusion is inescapable.

Other implications, however, are reasonable (perhaps even likely), but not irresistible.

If a tree is wet, it has likely recently rained; it is also possible that a sprinkler has moistened the tree, or that a man has hosed it down, etc. Since there are multiple methods of wetting a tree, to suggest that only one of them occurred requires more information. Still, the presence of moisture on the tree implies some method of moistening.

That said, the explicit statements and commands of the Bible also contain implications. These are just as valid as the explicit remarks themselves, since they logically inhere in them.

The Implications of Bible Statements

Bible writers frequently appealed to the logical conclusions implied by the statements of Scripture (cf. Mt. 22.31-32; 1 Cor. 15.27; Eph. 4.8-10; etc.).

For example, the author of Hebrews argued that Psalm 110.4 implies that the law of Moses would be changed, though it does not affirm that fact explicitly. The Psalm reads:

“You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.

The psalmist here says nothing directly about the law. Yet, the passage speaks volumes about it!

Since the law of Moses required priests to come from the lineage of Aaron (cf. Heb. 7.11; Ex. 28.1ff; Num. 16.40; 1 Chron. 23.13), and since Melchizedek was not of that lineage himself (having preceded Aaron by several centuries), it necessarily follows that if the “priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (viz., Jesus) is going to become a priest, the law must be changed — “for the priesthood being changed [from Aaron to Melchizedek], of necessity there is also a change of the law” (Heb. 7.12). The Holy Spirit thus recognized the validity of necessary inference.

Jesus himself, who is the "priest forever" in the passage, did not come from the lineage of Aaron (he came from Judah, Heb. 7.14), and could not serve as priest according to Moses' law (cf. Heb. 8.4). Thus, he became a priest through the order of Melchizedek, requiring the law to be changed. That is the necessary implication of the passage.

Likewise, in Matthew 22.41-45, Jesus observed that Psalm 110.1 implies that the Messiah is both descended from David and superior to him, a concept which the Pharisees had failed to grasp. Though not expressly stated, that is the logical conclusion of the text.

In Romans 10.13-15, Paul draws a series of conclusions from a single explicit statement made in Joel 2.32. Joel had predicted that “whoever calls on the name of the Lord [i.e., complies with his authority] shall be saved.”

Yet, Paul reasons that in order to call upon his name, they must first believe; and in order to believe, they must first hear; and in order to hear, a preacher must preach; and in order to preach, the preacher must first be sent (Rm. 10.14-15). Though Joel 2.32 did not explicitly authorize these four other items, Paul demonstrates that they are each authorized by the implication of that passage.

In each of these cases, the implicit propositions were treated with equal authority as the explicit statements themselves.

The Implications of Bible Commands

Equally so, certain actions (performed in the fulfillment of a command) may be authorized by implication. As briefly mentioned earlier, some commands are specific as to the overall goal, but generic as to the means of achieving that goal.

For example, the Bible instructs Christians to assemble together (Heb. 10.24-25). Yet, exactly where to meet is never specified. Some brethren met in the temple complex at Solomon’s porch (Acts 5.12); others met at a private residence (Rm. 16.5; 1 Cor. 16.19; Col. 4.15; Phile. 2); some congregations met in a public school (Acts 19.9-10).

This demonstrates that when a command is given which requires some method of execution, and when the method of executing the command is never specified, the brethren were given implicit authority to decide the means for themselves.

Here is another example: after informing his disciples that Lazarus had died, the Lord said: “let us go to him” (John 11.15). The goal is clear — they must move from their present location to Lazarus’ tomb. However, the means is not specified. If some of his disciples walked to Lazarus, while others rode on an animal, they each still fulfilled their master’s instructions — namely, to go to him.

Hence, they were authorized to employ any lawful means necessary to achieve that goal, since the means itself was never specified, and since the goal implicitly required some method of execution.

Of course, care must be taken to ensure that the means of fulfilling the command is itself consistent with the law of God.

For instance, the Lord did not authorize holding someone captive and forcing them, under threat of sword, to drive them in their carriage to Lazarus’ grave. Nor could his disciples steal someone else’s animal for that purpose. Such actions defy the commands of God.

Though the method of “going to Lazarus” was left up to his disciples, those methods were still constricted by principles of sacred morality. The end never justifies the means (cf. Rm. 3.8; 6.1-2).

In short, although authority is required for every decision, one does not need specific authority for everything. Implicit authority is just as valid.

Accordingly, when the Bible commands us to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk. 16.15), even though the Bible says nothing explicitly about cars, airplanes, or the internet, these means of going and preaching are implicitly authorized, since

(1) these commands require some method of execution;

(2) the method is never stipulated;

(3) these means actually expedite the execution of the command; and

(4) these methods are consistent with Biblical morality in general.

Why Is Implication Authoritative?

Sadly, there are a few Christians who suggest that drawing inferences from Scripture is an exercise in “human reasoning” (Lemley, 597) and “the wisdom of men” (Hall, 373). Such individuals are gravely mistaken.

Strictly speaking, no individual living today has ever been explicitly told to do anything by God, for the Bible was not written directly to me or you. Rather, we must use inference for everything the Bible says.

For example: the Bible never says, “Aaron Purvis, you must repent!” How, then, do I know I must repent? Through necessary inference!

(a) The Bible says that God “commands all men (i.e., human beings) everywhere to repent” (Acts 17.30).

(b) I, Aaron Purvis, am a man (human being).

(c) Therefore, I, Aaron Purvis, am implicitly commanded to repent.

Indeed, if Bible implications are not binding on us today, then no passage of Scripture is binding on us today. And if all inferences are “human reasoning” and “the wisdom of men,” then Bible reading itself is an exercise dependent upon human wisdom.

To the contrary, Biblical inference is not human; it is divine. As Robert Camp explained:

“The reason I am bound by God’s word is not that I read it but that he wrote it. The reason I am bound by those things implicit in his word is not that I inferred it but that he implied it” (50).

Thus, to characterize the implications of Scripture — and our inferences of them — as human wisdom is to profane that which is sacred. Biblical implications are no less the wisdom of God than those things which the Bible directly reveals, for it was God who did the reasoning in the first place; it is merely man’s mission to ascertain it!

Read Part Three Here

Camp, Robert. “Binding By Implication,” in The Spiritual Sword, Thomas B. Warren (ed.), July, 1970. 

Hall, Michael. “More On Matters of Faith and Matters of Opinion,” Firm Foundation, Reuel Lemmons (ed.), 1974. 

Lemley, F.L. “The Pattern Concept,” Firm Foundation, Reuel Lemmons (ed.), Sept. 17, 1974.


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