(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.Continue reading