There is, yet, one other aspect of Biblical interpretation and application with which we must be extremely careful; and that is the area of “inference”—“a conclusion reached on the basis of evidence and reasoning” (Inference, 2013), or “implication”—a “conclusion that can be drawn from something, although it is not explicitly stated” (Implication, 2013). This is a “DANGER ZONE” and extreme caution must be used when it comes to those things that seem to be “inferred” or “implied” by a passage of scripture. Perhaps no other aspect of Biblical interpretation has been as hotly contested, or has provided such a seedbed for discord and division, as this one; simply because this area is so prone to human opinion and bias.
The problem is that virtually everyone is socialized to perceive things from a certain paradigm, perspective, or personal viewpoint. And while we all go through an occasional “paradigm shift,” wherein we find our worldview seriously challenged and broadened, still, few people, if any, are ever completely objective and free from bias. The various lenses through which we filter our perceptions of the world, and everything in it, tend to color our interpretations of everything; even the word of God. Thus, what one person believes to be “necessarily” inferred from a scriptural text is not always “necessarily” inferred by another. We’ve all heard the statement: “Well, that’s just your interpretation!” And, quite frankly, it is. That interpretation may be correct, insofar as comprehending the will of God, or it may be way off base. But, either way, our interpretations are colored by our personal background and experiences. Wise is the student of God’s word who understands his or her own frailty, and that of others, when it comes to these matters.
One big area wherein the use of “inference” seems to have taken a rather legalistic toehold has to do with that which we commonly refer to as “the silence or the scripture.” I find it almost comical, if weren’t so sad, that people are forever locking horns in spiritual combat with one another over what the Bible does “not” say — issues, beliefs, or practices that the scriptures simply do not address. Some take the view that the silence of the scripture infers freedom and gives permission for the child of God to believe and practice whatever they want in regard to a given issue. Other take the position that the silence of the scripture infers that the belief or practice is forbidden — since it is not “authorized” by scripture. But I take the position that the silence of the scripture is not some kind of interpretive devise that can be so legalistically applied either way; and that taking either approach is dangerous because it moves the whole issue out of the realm of love and into the realm of law. The silence of the scripture is no more an automatic license to participation than it is an abject forbiddance of participation. Why? Because there are many other factors that come in to play and that must be considered with regard to anything that falls into the realm of human understanding, opinion, interpretation, and application.
Two big factors, that help determine how we might apply the concept of the silence of the scripture to our own personal walk of life, are those of “faith” and “love.” Regarding this matter, the Apostle Paul says:
Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way. I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin. (Romans 14:13-23, NASB)
This incredible passage of scripture reminds us that our Christian walk of life is meant to be “relational” — our faith is founded on our relationship with God and with one another. There are many things — things not specifically spelled out in scripture — that may be considered either “right” or “wrong” depending on one’s own heart and how our participation, or nonparticipation, plays out in the hearts and lives of others. Paul makes it clear that, “to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean” (verse 14) and says, “whatever is not from faith is sin” (verse 23). So, to some degree, my own personal faith determines my level of participation in matters that are not specifically addressed in scripture. However, the final verdict does not rest even with my own faith, for Paul also makes it clear that, if “your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love” (verse 15).
Suffice it to say that, when it comes to discovering and practicing truth, God’s grace is plenty big enough to cover all our “honest” misinterpretations or misapplications. My faith, my love, my submission to the will of God is sufficient to guide me in all matters pertaining to seeking and knowing the will of God; and, praise God, I do not have to be absolutely correct about virtually everything in order to enjoy a personal, life-giving relationship with Him.
This, however, does not excuse my “willful” ignorance or “deliberate” misinterpretations and misapplications that are the result of my wanting the Bible to agree with me, rather than surrendering my heart and bringing my life, and my beliefs, into agreement with the word of God. The Apostle Peter issues a dire warning for those who may be tempted to follow that route, saying:
…and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness. (2 Peter 3:15-17, NASB)
But that having been said, God is not going to leave some critical point of doctrine that is essential to my relationship with Him up to mere human inference. Nor is He going to hold me accountable for what His word does not say or things that the scripture simply does not address. God, through His prophetic word, has shown Himself to be perfectly capable of clearly informing me as to His will in any and every matter that does pertain to my salvation. There are plenty of commands and examples set forth in scripture for me to ascertain the will of God and what I need to believe and practice in order to be pleasing in His sight. I do not have to rely on inferences and implications, based on my own or anybody else’s human reasoning, in order to discern God’s will for my life.
There is simply no substitute for both personal and collective Bible study. Unless one is illiterate, or God’s written word is simply not available to them, why would any child of God today depend solely on someone else to tell them what to believe or practice in order to be pleasing to God? Or, for that matter, why would any group of God’s people choose to rely exclusively on some pastor or priest to inculcate upon them some denominational body of doctrine?
When we, the “ekklesia,”—the “called out” “children of God” (I John 3:1)—those who long to hear our Lord’s voice—draw near to God “with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10:22, NASB), we can be sure of God promise to us when He said, “I will put My laws upon their heart, and on their mind I will write them” (Hebrews 10:16, NASB).
“O God, make my heart Your open slate,”
~ Philip ~