By Bill H. Reeves
The more brethren move farther away in their practices from New Testament authority, the more we hear aspersions cast on “necessary inference” as a way of establishing biblical authority. Some twelve years ago a brother wrote in his bulletin: “I’m afraid of these inferers. ” He said, “All inferences are human inferences.” And then a little over two years ago in the Nashville meeting, brother Reuel Lemmons asked, in reference to necessary inference, “Necessary to whom?”
The issue raised has to do with how God reveals his will to man in the Scriptures. Is it done by direct command or statement, approved apostolic example, and necessary inference, or not? This is the issue! And inasmuch as there is no apostolic example, or necessary inference, with which to justify some of their present-day practices, some liberal brethren are throwing out these two processes of establishing biblical authority. They stand in the way of their liberalism, and so they have to be destroyed! In essence, the position of these brethren is that God has to reveal his will only by direct statement or command. And, what it all amounts to is that they have presumed to tell God how he has to reveal his will!
Let’s take a case at hand. How did God reveal his will to Paul and his companions as to where to go preach, when they for the second time had left Antioch on a preaching journey and had revisited the newly established churches (Acts 16:6-10)?
They had traveled northwest in their visits, and now were to enter new fields. Where should they go? They decided to go westward to the province of Asia. God had other plans. The Holy Spirit revealed to them that they could not go to Asia, but did not tell them where to go. Their faith (reliance upon God’s will) was being tried. If not westward, since they had come from the southeast, then to the north and northwest, they thought. Traveling thus, again the Spirit of Jesus revealed to them that they could not do that, but did not tell them where to go! The only other direction left open to them (for new fields) was to travel down to Troas. “Where does God want us to go?” is the question on their minds. “We’ll wait for his revelation.”
Acts 16:9,10 brings the answer. A direct command or explicit statement from God? No. Paul was given a vision. In the vision a Macedonian was asking him to come help them. That’s all! God had revealed his will to them. They knew where to go next to preach.
Verse 10 tells us: “And when he had seen the vision, straightway we sought to go forth into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel unto them” (ASV). Let’s notice some facts concerning the case:
1. Paul and his companions had traveled a great distance, knowing only where they were not to go, for the Holy Spirit explicitly had told them. They used their best judgment, believing that God would reveal to them where he wanted them to go. So on they went, over a good period of time.
2. At Troas God gave Paul a vision. He recounted it, and all necessarily inferred the same thing! All came to the same conclusion, and that immediately. There was only one conclusion. What else could possibly be deduced from the implication of the vision?
3. Why had God not told them in a direct statement where he wanted them to go to preach? I don’t know; I don’t know the mind of God (except as he has revealed it, and that hasn’t been revealed to me). I do know that had I, or any man, been in charge, we would have given some specific orders, rather than let our men run around, being told at each turn, “don’t go here!” But God isn’t man, and man is not going to tell God how best to reveal his will!
4. In Acts 16:10, the Greek word for “concluding” (ASV), or “assuredly gathering” (KJV), is sumbibazo. On Acts 16: 10, Thayer says, “to put together in one’s mind . . . conclude,” and the Analytical Greek Lexicon of Harper/Bagster gives two words of definition, “infer” and “conclude,” in that order.
5. Versions are translations, and in the different translations the translators have often used different words in a given passage. We become accustomed to a particular rendition. In the English language the KJV and the ASV (including revisions) are the most customary. They do not use in Acts 16:10 the word “infer,” but there are versions which do use it. When I preach in Spanish, if I quote from the Latin American Version, 16: 10 says “inferring.” In English, the Amplified New Testament says, “confidently inferring.” So the quibble, “Where does the Bible say, ‘necessary inference’?” is based on the fact that the versions in English which are more customary do not use the word “inference,”
6. Note some different translations of Acts 16:10 “concluding,” ASV “assuredly gathering,” KJV “being sure,” Confraternity Version “confidently concluded,” Williams Version “drawing the conclusion,” New World “confidently inferring,” Amplified N.T.
7. The phrase “necessary inference” has been in use in the English-speaking brotherhood a long time. Let’s suppose that the idea had originated in another phrase. Suppose that the phrase had been “necessary conclusion,” and that the KJV and the ASV had chosen the word, “inferring” for the Acts 16:10 passage. Then the quibble would have been, “Where do you get that gnecessary conclusion’ bit?” Sophistry expresses itself in many different ways, among them in dealing in technicalities, and in play on words. But in substance, sophistry is hollow, a simple dodge or evasion of the facts.
8. “All inferences are human inferences,” we’re told. Of course they are! God intended for them to so be. God’s statements which imply are given to man for him to do the inferring. We are made in God’s image; he expects us to use the mentality which he gave us. Of course infering is something man does, just like repenting is something which man does (or believing, or being baptized, or praying). Does that simple fact make these actions wrong, or of no worth? Did Paul and his companions, when they made that “human inference,” do wrong?
9. Note that the vision was given only to Paul (and that in it the Macedonian said to Paul, “you” singular, in the Greek -come over), yet inference was drawn by the entire group. “When he had seen the vision . . . we sought to go forth . . . concluding. ” Everybody (Paul, Silas, Timothy, Luke, and any others in the company) made the same inference. How could this be? Simple; it was a necessary inference. No other conclusion was admissible.
10. Do any of these brethren, who are “afraid of inferers,” really believe that Paul and his company would have been guiltless had they come to some other conclusion and had gone rather to Athens? Would they have been obeying the Lord in what he had revealed to them (not by direct command)?
11. Brother Lemmons’ question, “Necessary to whom?” is another display of sophistry, of human wisdom. It is designed to get one’s attention off the issue. That question does not touch the issue. It is not a question of “to whom,” but of “to what”! Whether or not an inference is a “necessary inference” depends upon that which is implied, and not upon the hearer or reader. If that which is implied admits of no other conclusion, or inference, then the inference is necesary, in the sense that it is the only inference admissible. Let me ask: to whom was the inference necessary in Acts 16:10? Could Luke have inferred that they were to go to Macedonia to preach, and Paul inferred that they were not necessarily obligated to go there, and so they could go rather to Athens (and that with impunity)? To whom was that inference necessary?
The problem consists in that some are wanting to tell God how he must reveal his will to us. In essence they are saying that he cannot do it in certain ways which they have decided are not acceptable. So, for them, out goes “approved apostolic example” and “necessary inference.”
But need I remind us all that God is not limited, how much less ordered, by man?
“Necessary inference” is found on nearly every page of the New Testament. Some seventeen years ago I began marking in the margin of the pages of my Bible “Nec. Inf. ” at those pasasages coming to my attention where statements appear with certain implications, demanding that the reader make the necessary inference. Before, I never looked for them in particular, but since being challenged in the matter, and being conscious of the matter, I find them popping up everywhere!
I urge the reader to also be more conscious of the matter. Want a simple example? Well, of course at Acts 16:10 I marked “nec. inf.”, and on the opposite page I marked “nec.inf.” at 15:28. That verse states a fact which reveals a truth. That truth is deduced, or inferred. The Gentile brethren would necessarily infer that circumcision was not necessary to salvation, since “no greater burden” was to be laid on them beyond the things mentioned in verse 29. Now the statement of verses 28 and 29 did not specifically prohibit circumcision as being necessary to salvation, nor even mention circumcision. But the “necessary inference” drawn from the statement excluded circumcision as being necessary to salvation.
I can just hear the Judaizers saying, “Where do you get that ‘necessary inference bit?,”‘ or “Necessary to whom?” It certainly wasn’t “necessary” to them, but it should have been!
Everyone, and rightly so, uses the process called “necessary inference,” just like everyone uses adjectives, tenses and the subjunctive mood, although many may not know why such are so called. We all use necessary inference every time we properly understand a parable, or figurative language. In fact, even specific commands in the Bible require it, since they are not addressed directly to us (our names aren’t in the Bible!).
The younger generation among us needs to be well grounded in this matter, lest it be lead astray by the sophistry of men.
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 7, pp. 200-201
April 4, 1991