(Author’s note: This is the updated and rewritten version of an article that I wrote in the early 2000s. The information contained therein is based largely on the booklet entitled, Hermeneutics: How to Understand the Scriptures by James Scott Trimm [http://www.nazarene.net or http://www.lulu.com/shop/james-trimm/nazarene-jewish-manifesto/paperback/product-403845.html], although I have added many of my own fresh insights and some new information to the original material.)
The “Science” of Argumentation
Throughout Scripture one finds arguments used to prove theological points. An argument in Scripture is not referring to a heated discussion between two parties, but rather to the putting forth of series of points which lead to a conclusion, which is the point the author is trying to make or prove.
An argument generally has two parts: the premise and the conclusion. A premise is a proposition (i.e. the point to be discussed or maintained in the argument, usually stated in sentence form near the outset of the argument) antecedently supposed or proven as a basis of argument or inference. It is something assumed to be true or taken for granted. Sometimes an argument can be simple with one or two points leading to a conclusion. Other times an argument is a complex series of steps often containing points and subpoints or mini-arguments (as in some of Paul’s writings) eventually leading to the conclusion. These can be hard for the untrained mind to follow. Paul was a theological lawyer and formulated some pretty complex arguments which, as Peter noted, were hard to follow and easy for unlearned individuals to twist or distort (2 Pet 3:16).
An argument can usually be laid out laid out in an “if-then” format. If the premise is true, then the conclusion must be true. In scriptural argument, the words if and then are not always used.
Some of other words that have the same meaning as if are since, because, for, as, in as much and for the reason that. Words that have the same meaning as then would include therefore, hence, so, consequently, it follows that, we may infer that or we may conclude that.
All arguments are either deductive or inductive. Deduction is deriving a conclusion by reasoning, or inference in which the conclusion follows necessarily from the premises. James Trimm gives the following example to illustrate this point:
- All prophets spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet 1:20–21).
- Enoch was a prophet (Jude 1:14).
- Therefore, Enoch was moved by the Holy Spirit.
Induction is the act of bringing forward or adducing a proposition (i.e. the point to be discussed or maintained in an argument, usually stated in sentence form near the outset of the argument), or the process of reasoning from a part to a whole, from particulars to generals, from the individual to the universal. Trimm gives the following example of an inductive argument where the reader is lead to a conclusion through inference:
- Abel obtained a good report by faith (Heb 11:4).
- Enoch obtained a good report by faith (Heb 11:5).
- Noah obtained a good report by faith (Heb 11:7).
- Abraham obtained a good report by faith (Heb 11:8).
- Therefore, all of the elders of the Tanakh (i.e. the Hebrew Scriptures or Old Testament obtained a good report by faith (Heb 11:2, 39).
A proposition, usually stated in sentence form near the outset of the argument, which is widely accepted on its intrinsic merit as self-evident truth, Trimm writes, is called an axiom. In biblical interpretation (or hermeneutics), any proposition that comes directly from the text of the Scripture is called a proof text. One utilizes a proof text or axiom as the premise for an argument. If the proof text is in context and is a valid axiom (and is therefore regarded as true), and if the argument made is valid, then the argument (or exegesis) is sound and the conclusion is therefore true. Using a valid proof text to formulate an argument and prooftexting are two different things. We shall discuss prooftexting below in the section Examples of Common Logic Errors.
When formulating arguments or interpretations from Scripture, Trimm gives the following pointers:
- Don’t sacrifice objective understanding to make your point.
- Superficial study can be worse than no study.
- Spiritualizing and allegorizing should be avoided. When the allegorizing of Scripture should be used to illustrate a point from the objective meaning of that passage and be confirmed by the objective meaning of one or more other passages as well.
- When studying Scripture, keep in mind the Rule of First Reference. This refers to a concept or term in the Scriptures where it is defined by its earliest usage and that definition is then applied to later readings.
Examples of Common Logic Errors
When one starts with a conclusion (i.e. one owns opinion about something) and searches for “proof texts” to support that conclusion or opinion, this is an eisegetical interpretation.
Here is an example of prooftexting that occurs in mainstream Christianity:
Conclusion: According to the mainstream church, Sunday, the first day of the week, and not the Sabbath or seventh day of the week, is now the day that the New Testament declares is the day of worship and rest for Christians.
The following prooftexts are used by many Christians to support this (unbiblical and false) conclusion:
Act 15:20 — Christians no longer have to observe the seventh day Sabbath since there is no mention of Shabbat here as being a requirement upon New Testament believers.
Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood. (Acts 15:19–20)
Colossians 2:16–17—This scripture proves the Sabbath is no longer obligatory upon Christians.
So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. (Col 2:16–17)
Romans 14:4–6—Christians can keep any day of the week as a rest day that they like.
Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. (Rom 14:4–5)
Matthew 28:1 and Mark 16:1—This proves that Jesus rose on Sunday making it the “Lord’s Day,” and thus is another “proof” that Sunday has replaced the Sabbath.
Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. (Matt 28:1)
None of these Scriptures actually state that Sunday has replaced the seventh day Sabbath or that the Testimony of Yeshua (or New Testament) in any way invalidate the numerous commands in the Torah for the saints of Elohim to observe the Sabbath, even though this is what mainstream Christianity teaches.
Here is another example of prooftexting that occurs in mainstream Christianity:
Conclusion: Christians are no longer obligated to follow the biblical dietary laws as outlines in Leviticus 11.
Many Christian use the following prooftexts to support this (false) conclusion:
Mark 7:19—When he declared that all foods are clean, Yeshua freed Christians from having to keep the Old Testament food laws.
Thus He declared all foods clean. (Mark 7:19, NASB)
Luke 10:8—Yeshua freed his disciples from having to observe the Old Testament food laws when traveling.
And into whatsoever city ye enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you. (Luke 10:8)
Acts 10:15—Elohim has now freed his disciples from having to observe the Mosaic food laws.
And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. (Acts 10:15)
Romans 14:14—The Bible no longer considers any food to be unclean.
I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean. (Rom 14:14)
1 Timothy 4:4—The Old Testament dietary laws are no longer a requirement for New Testament believers.
For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving. (1 Tim 4:4)
1 Titus 1:15—New Testament Christians can now eat whatever food they want.
Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled. (Tit 1:15)
After a casual reading, these scriptures verses may appear to invalidate the Torah’s dietary laws pertaining to the eating of clean and unclean meats. However, when they are read in context of their surrounding verses as well as the context of biblical linguistics and against the backdrop of the Hebraic culture of the day as well as against the contextual backdrop of the entirety of Scripture, they in no way annul the biblical dietary laws.
Often Christians (who do not know their Scriptures very well) will simply use single words or phrases cherry-picked out of Scripture (and out of context) to prove a false conclusion. For example, in an effort to prove that the Torah-law of Moses or elements thereof are no longer authoritatively binding upon Christians, the following prooftexts phrases are often used:
- “Christ is the end of the law.” This is based on a false understanding of Romans 10:4.
- “Christ fulfilled the law.” This is based on a false understanding of Matthew 5:17.
- “The law ended with the prophets.” This is based on a false understanding of John 1:17.
- “We are no longer under the law.” This is based on a false understanding of the several places where Paul uses the phrase “under the law.”
- “The law was nailed to the cross.” This is based on a false understanding of Colossians 2:14.
- “The law was only a schoolmaster or tutor until Christ.” This is based on a false understanding of Galatians 3:24.
- “Anyone who obeys the law puts themselves under a curse and Christ redeemed us from that.” This is based on a false understanding of Galatians 3:10–13.
- “The biblical feasts and Sabbath were only until Christ.” This is based on a false understanding of Colossians 2:16–17.
This is the idea that the premise is only true if the conclusion is true. The following is a notable example of circular reasoning that has become a foundational premise of mainstream normative Christian theology.
It is the premise of most New Testament Christians that they are “under grace” and no longer “under [Torah-]law,” and that grace and law are mutually exclusive concepts. This in reality is a form of circular reasoning. If Christians are “under grace” (i.e. unmerited pardon) and not “under the law,” which defines sin (1 John 3:4), then how is it that they are now free to ignore the law and call it grace, when violating the law is the definition of sin and the reason why they needed grace or free unmerited pardon in the first place?
Paul addresses this form of circular reasoning, which was evidently making the rounds in the church at Rome, when he asks and answers the rhetorical question, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Rom 6:1–2). In other words, what he is asking is this: “Because we are under grace, shall we continue to violate the Torah-law (i.e. sin)? Shall we who died to sin (i.e. to violating the laws of Torah) continue to violate the laws of Torah, which define sin? Of course not, for this makes no sense and is not logically possible.” Yet this form of circular reasoning is exactly what mainstream Christianity has been teaching for nearly 2,000 years!
A false conversion is the mistake of presuming that if a proposition is true then the reverse of that proposition must also be true.
As an example of a false conversion argument, let’s take examine the idea that a saint is a sinner who has been saved. A false conversion of this biblical truth would be that if sinners are saved, then the saved are sinners. In fact this false conversion of this biblical truth can be found on many car bumperstickers that read “I am a sinner saved by grace.” This false conversion flies in the face of the biblical truth that the saved or redeemed are now saints and no longer sinners. As proof of this, in 1 Peter 4:18 we find three categories of humans: the righteous (i.e. the saints), sinners and the ungodly. How can one be a saint and a sinner at the same time? Actually, a sinner is one who maintains a lifestyle of sin or continues in sin and is not referring to the redeemed saint who occasionally sin and then repents (see 1 John 1:9). The Bible teaches that the saint is one who has been transformed from the power of darkness into the kingdom of light (Col 1:13), and is a new creation in Yeshua, and that the old sinful man has passed away (Gal 2:20; 1 Cor 5:7). The Christian no longer belongs to the category of a sinner but is a saint. In fact, the Testimony of Yeshua refers to the followers of Yeshua as saints 62 times! Therefore, the proposition that a Christian is a sinner saved by grace is a false one. The redeemed disciple of Yeshua was previously in the file labeled “sinner,” but was saved by grace and is now in the file labeled “saint.”
This false logic concept affirms that because the majority of people believe something, it must be true. One often hears this idea expressed when someone declares, “Everyone else is doing it, so it must be right.” Should such a belief determine truth? Logically, the answer should be no, it does not.
For example, since when has the majority always been right? At one time, for example, the majority of Europeans thought that the earth was flat and that the sun circumnavigated the earth. Today, the majority of scientists believe that humans and apes shared a common ancestry based on the theory (not a proven idea) of evolution.
In the mainstream church, for example, the majority of Christian erect a Christmas tree contrary to Scripture, believe that Easter replaced the biblical Passover, that Sunday has replaced the seventh day Sabbath, that eating pork and other unclean meats is now acceptable, and believe that the YHVH’s Torah laws have been done away with, and those who adhere to the laws of Elohim are legalists and Judaizers. These unbiblical church beliefs are considered to be normative Christianity, and those who oppose them on biblical grounds are the minority. Even though a majority of Christians believe these unbiblical traditions of men by which the word of Elohim has been made of none effect (contrary to the direct instructions of Yeshua in Mark 7:9, 13), that does not mean that they are in alignment with biblical Truth. So the majority is not always right.
In this error of logical thinking, an argument is accepted or rejected not because it is logically valid, but because of the deeply held belief of the person. This is a form of bias confirmation where one looks for evidence to confirm one’s own deeply held beliefs or biases.
Bias-based deeply held beliefs are not a bad things if they are based on objective truth. However, if one overlooks or ignores this in favor of subjective opinion, then this can be a problem, especially when attempting to arrive at biblical Truth.
There are several ways that one can arrive at false logic or subjective viewpoints, while failing to miss the truth of a matter. This can occur based on one’s family or social upbringing where subjective viewpoints are imposed on a person from a young age and anything outside of this is viewed as abnormal.
One can also be indoctrinated through the powerful psycho-emotional influence of charismatic religious leaders, church denominations, societal trends along with the social pressure that membership in such people groups exert upon an individual to conform to or be rejected by the group. This is the power of social conformity, the influence of group-think or the “hive mind”, and the stigma of exclusion from the group if contrary beliefs are held by any member.
Sadly, most mainstream Christians have fallen under the power of group-think and the need to conform to church traditions that may or may not line up with biblical Truth. On the one hand, while church leaders profess to be following the Bible, many are, in reality, largely adhering to the Bible as interpreted through subjective biases of other church leaders based denominational edicts or church traditions going back to the early church fathers, who have, to one degree or another, changed many Bible truths to fit their own subjective agendas and biases. In this case, we have Christians who have been indoctrinated into modes of bias-based belief systems by those who themselves have fallen prey to circumstantial argumentation.
Yeshua criticized the leaders of his day and warned his disciples about this very problem.
“Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR FROM ME. AND IN VAIN THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE COMMANDMENTS OF MEN.’ For laying aside the commandment of Elohim, you hold the tradition of men—the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do.” He said to them, “All too well you reject the commandment of Elohim, that you may keep your tradition…making the word of Elohim of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.” (Mark 7:6–9, 13)
So what is to prevent one from falling victim to false and unbiblical beliefs and teachings? Simply this. Prove or test all things and hold fast only to that which truly lines up with the word of Elohim (1 Thess 5:21). How does one do this? Be like the Berean believers in the book of Acts who “searched the Scriptures daily” to ascertain if what their Bible teachers were teaching them lined up with the Word of Elohim or not (Acts 17:10–11).
Argumentum ad Ignorantiam
This form of false logic occurs when a proposition is accepted as true solely because it has not been proven to be false. In other words, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
How many times have we heard Christian Bible teachers tell us that they follow the commandments of Christ as opposed to the law of Moses. What they infer is that Christians only need to follow those commands that Yeshua specifically stated. Because he did not specifically command his disciples to keep the seventh day Sabbath, the biblical feasts or dietary laws, this supposedly means that these laws are no longer binding upon New Testament Christians.
The problem with this argument is twofold. First, there are many Torah commands that just because Yeshua did not specifically address them does not mean that Christians are entitled to ignore them. For example, Yeshua never specifically spoke against bestiality, homosexuality, incest, witchcraft and many other such evil practices. This, however, does not mean that he approved of them. To say that he did is declaring that absence of evidence is evidence of absence.
At the same time, while many church leaders declare that Christians only have to follow those commandments that Yeshua specifically mentioned, they go on to mandate the necessity of Christians, for example, to pay tithes to the church. The problem with this argument is that Scripture the Old Testament Torah-laws commanded the Israelites to pay tithes to the Levites, not to the church, and Yeshua never specifically anyone to tithe. This fact, however, does not stop church leaders from insisting that their people tithe to them. What we have here is dishonest Christians leaders choosing to obey those Bible commands that suit them, while ignoring the ones that they dislike. This is pure dishonesty, and people need to begin seeing through the lies.
Argumentum ad Verecundiam
This error in logic takes place when an argument or proposition is accepted not because it is true, valid or sound, but because some outside authority declares it to be true.
This argument of false logic is similar to the Circumstantial Argument discussed previously, and is common in many cultic type churches or denominations that looks to a strong or all but infallible leader or group of leaders to determine what is truth or not.
Many many mainstream churches that would not be considered cults actually fall under this category such as the Roman Catholic Church where papal authority trumps biblical truth. The same can be said in Orthodox Rabbinic Judaism where the teachings of the “rabbis,” Talmudic Jewish sages or traditions of the elders take precedence over the Written Word of Elohim.
This occurs when a generalization is usually true but is applied to a special situation in which the generalization is not true for that particular example. Another way of saying this is that there are often exceptions to the rules. One has to be cautious not to abuse this rule, since it can lead to arguments and beliefs that are based on false logic.
An example of this is the fact that Elohim is love (John 4:7, 16). However, on occasion, a person will become so wicked and reprobate that YHVH’s love for that individual gives way to hatred. We see this twice in the Psalms where we read that YHVH hates the workers of iniquity or the wicked (Pss 5:5: 11:5). Just because Elohim loves some people does not mean he loves everyone, and because he hates some people does not mean he hates everyone. (There are logical and justifiable biblical reasons why a loving Elohim hates some people. This type of hatred is actually an aspect of his love, but this is another discussion for another time.)
Another example of an exception to the rule regards Sabbath observance. Numerous scriptures command the people of Elohim to rest on the seventh day (e.g. Exod 16:23–29; 20:8–11; 31:14–16; 35:2). However, work is allowed on the Sabbath if it is to save the life of an animal (or by implication, a human; see Matt 12:11–12; Luke 13:15; 14:5 cp. Exod 23:4–5 and Deut 22:4). Even though the Torah does not specifically state that such work is permissible on the Sabbath, this was the Jewish interpretation of the Torah, to which Yeshua in his statements appealed thus accepting this legal interpretation. Moreover, the Levitical priests were permitted to work on the Sabbath in performing their tabernacle duties (Matt 12:5).
In another instance, David was permitted to eat the Levitical showbread—an otherwise illegal act—in order to save his life and that of his men (Matt 12:4).
The final example we can give is the biblical command not to lie (Exod 20:16); however, the Israelite midwives lied to Pharaoh in order to not commit the greater sin of infanticide by killing the firstborn children and YHVH blessed them for it (Exod 1:19–20).
What we learn from the examples cited above is that at times there are exceptions to some of YHVH’s commandments in certain unique and exceptional cases but not as a matter of course. To violate his commands habitually and for the wrong reasons is sin and violates both the letter and the spirit of the law and is not a legal or logical way of interpreting the Scriptures.
Argumentum ad Baculum (An Appeal by Force)
This error in logic occurs when a proposition is accepted as true not because it is the result of a sound argument, but because of the threat of punishment the propositions are accepted as true.
This is the idea that “might makes right” or that whoever has the most votes (a form of mob rule), the biggest fist or gun or the largest army determines the rules. The fear of humans in positions of authority is the basis of this false logic approach.
An example of this would be the fear of excommunication from a religious system if one fails to tow the party line (John 9:22; 12:42). On the other hand, even when threatened with violence by the Jewish legal authorities, the disciples chose to disobey the illegal commands of the Jews and to obey Elohim instead (Acts 4:18–21; 5:29).
This is the idea that because a statement is true in a certain situation that it is true in all situations.
An example of this is the teaching among certain churches that Christians are to be pacifists in all situations. This idea is based on Yeshua’s teaching to love your enemies (Matt 5:44), to not resist an evil person and to turn the other cheek (Matt 5:39). The problem with this belief is that it overlooks the greater context of Scripture in which the saints are permitted to defend themselves against evil and murderous aggressors, although they are to turn the other cheek when it comes to verbal offenses and bad civil behavior.