Monday, August 25, 2014

The Inspiration of Unspoken Premises

A miscellany from February 23, 2014.

In Matthew 23:23, Jesus says this to the scribes and Pharisees: “You tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law.” For some reason, reflecting on this verse got me thinking about some of the commonsensical, and yet theologically-informed, hermeneutical principles that we often naturally apply when reading the Bible.

One thing Jesus teaches us here is that there are some matters of the law that are weightier than others. But strictly speaking, Jesus never says that. He does not say, “There are some matters of the law that are weightier than others.” But he does clearly assume that such is the case. Since Jesus was God, we know that he was never mistaken about anything; and this means that neither were any of his assumptions mistaken. So if ever we see Jesus assuming that x is true, we can confidently affirm that x is indeed true, based on God’s word. This is a basic example of one way that we arrive at biblical truths by good and necessary consequence. Scripture is not limited to teaching us things only through gift-wrapped propositions. It can speak in manifold ways, and it’s our responsibility to listen carefully.

What about when the one speaking isn’t Jesus? Are we likewise to say that all of the apostle Paul’s operating assumptions are true when he’s writing Romans, Ephesians, or 2 Timothy? After all, unlike Jesus, Paul was a fallible man, and throughout the course of his life, I’m sure he was mistaken about many things. I imagine he held all sorts of beliefs and assumptions that were in fact erroneous. Yet we believe that when he wrote his Spirit-inspired letters, everything he said was true. Infallible. Inerrant. But informal argumentation often contains unspoken premises – things that must be true in order for an argument to make sense, but are seen by the author as being unnecessary to express. And I think it’s important to recognize that inspiration extends not only to what Paul explicitly stated, but also to everything his statements assumed.

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