Good Inferential Theology

The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture – Westminster Confession of Faith 1.6

Is it legitimate to make inferences in theology? Covenant theology both Baptistic and Presbyterian makes it a confessional matter. That’s a pretty strong belief in the legitimacy of the practice to include it in your confession of faith. Even more than that, the covenantal theological system has some inferences that are fundamental to it. There is a lot riding on the legitimacy of inferring in your theology for Reformed folks. The million dollar question is, is it legitimate?

To answer that question I have often pointed to the doctrine of the Trinity. It is nowhere stated in Scripture in one succinct passage, it must be understood by putting passages together and inferring the meaning. That’s not a bad argument but I came across another one today. Actually, it is an example of inference being practiced in the Bible.

Abraham was told that the blessings of his covenant would not come through Ishmael, the child of the flesh, but through Isaac, the child of promise. God goes so far as to call Isaac Abraham’s only son. And then God tells Abraham to take this son and kill him. How did Abraham reconcile these two contrary things? He didn’t spiritualize the sacrifice of Isaac, he took a knife in his hand and raised it over his son’s chest with the intent of plunging it in. And yet he’d told his servant “Wait here and the boy and I will return” before taking Isaac up to the place of sacrifice. Abraham inferred that since he must kill Isaac and yet nations would come through Isaac that God could and would raise the dead. God didn’t tell him that, he inferred it. And to double up that inference, the book of Genesis doesn’t tell us that, the author of the Book of Hebrews infers that Abraham believed it.

So if someone wants to deny the practice of inferring by saying that the author of Hebrews was inspired and therefore able to accurately make that inference, fine. But what are we to say about Abraham’s inference? Just because the act is accurately recorded and interpreted in the Bible doesn’t mean that the act itself was inspired. Abraham inferred resurrection based on the fact that God doesn’t lie and that he doesn’t break his promises. And this act of Abraham’s obedience is lauded as a good thing. It wasn’t blind faith or “pan-sacrifice-alism” as in “I’ll sacrifice Isaac and it’ll all pan out in the end.” It was an act of obedience and faith and inference.

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One Comment

  • Great stuff! Thanks for sharing the insight!

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