Lately, SharperIron members have been discussing the question of applying the tool (or tools) of logic to Scripture. Are logical conclusions based on the Word as authoritative as the Word itself? Are they authoritative? If logic is required just to read and understand the messages of the Bible, then we must accept logic. So, how can we then question logic applied to Bible truths? Is the gathering of biblical data subject to the exact same noetic defects as making calculations based on that data? What logical system should we employ? Should laws like non-contradiction be treated as “God’s laws”? Did He create them or did we think them up and impose them on the Word without permission?
I do not believe that we will be able to effectively make an apologetic for some of these problems. Questioning everything can get tedious. Descartes, doubting everything, first had to conclude that he existed because he could think (“cogito, ergo sum”). There is a place in which faith must be exercised. Faith, after all, is “substance” when there is nothing firm to grasp and “evidence” of things outside our observation. So if I have scrubbed myself into a cognitive corner, it will be faith that gets me out the door playing with the other boys. I am simply going to make a couple statements that I believe about logic and the Word. If you agree with me, then come along beside me and let’s play some volleyball; this floor might be clean enough.
- I believe that God used human language to communicate so we would understand that which He wished us to understand.
- I believe that there are levels of authority with regard to reading Scripture. Or perhaps I should call them “levels of confidence” with regard to such authority.
- The true meaning of Scripture. We may or may not know this perfectly. Yet this is our absolute authority.
- Our understanding of primary biblical data. This is our understanding of the meaning of the messages of the Word. It is our highest tangible authority. Yet it is imperfect. It has come through the filters of copying, translation, and our own reading.
- Our understanding of doctrines which are logically derived from the primary biblical data. This also is imperfect, coming through the additional filter of our own reasoning. Doctrine is inferior to primary biblical data because it uses one more filter, but that relationship is occasionally reversed when we allow our doctrine to shape our reading (e.g., The Reformed theologian concluding that “all” doesn’t mean “all”).
- I believe that we must use logic in studying the Word. Yet I admit that I am not comfortable at all with forcing God into human logical “laws.” Is God subject to the law of non-contradiction? We might think so, but maybe not. However, trying to establish the correct logical system will be fruitless–we can’t logically prove one to be right without the correct selection of a logical system already in place. Therefore, my intent here is to try to take a look at how Paul reasoned from the Scriptures and what logic meant to him.
The first set of passages addresses the Paul-vs.-Apollos debate.
For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you…” (1 Cor. 1:11-14, ESV)
For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. (1 Cor. 3:4-5, ESV)
Paul is addressing a controversy between teachers. Some in the Corinthian church were Apollos-ists, and some were Paul-ians. How should Paul proceed to resolve this conflict? Perhaps he should have said, “Listen to me–I’m the apostle! I am inspired, so if Apollos disagrees, he’s wrong.” He could have, but he did not.
First, he reminds them that they are united in Christ. So far as they are both “in Christ,” they are united.
He also tells them:
- We will not have the final answer until the day of Christ.
- Their selection of one human teacher over another is a cheap substitute for following Christ.
- Their selection of one human over another gives boasting to men.
Most significantly for this paper, he gives them the solution to the problem of conflicting human doctrines.
This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.
I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go [phroneo—“think”] beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? (1 Cor. 4:1-7, ESV)
The solution is that neither Paul nor Apollos may go [“think,” TR] beyond “what is written.”
Those words “is written” are used throughout the New Testament to indicate quotes from the Old Testament. The perfect, passive, indicative use of grapho is used exclusively for references to Scripture, except for the names that were written in the “book of life” in Revelation. Prior to chapter 4 in 1 Corinthians, Paul used it in this way 4 times (1 Cor. 1:19, 1 Cor. 1:31, 1 Cor. 2:9, and 1 Cor. 3:19).
With regard to the recent discussion of logic and Scriptural authority, everyone in our forum agrees on some things. As Dr. Bauder said, “A sound inference is always the correct answer–otherwise, it would not be sound, no?” This 1 Corinthians passage teaches us a couple things about situations in which individuals disagree about what is sound.
- We will not have the final answer about which inferences are correct until the judgment of Christ. Paul speaks here of “acquittal,” “judgment,” and “commendation.” We will be held responsible for our mistakes in logic. It is not proper, then, to take an “I’m okay; you’re okay” attitude. In our pursuit of doctrine, there is one correct “answer” to our questions. Note Paul’s words: “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court.” Paul is telling them that they cannot declare the definite, true, final judgment that Christ will make. Also: “In fact, I do not even judge myself.” In fact, Paul himself cannot declare it. That answer has not yet been revealed to us. What we have is the Word of God and our reason.
- The teachings of men are only faithful if they are not “hyper” to what is Written. If there is disagreement, then one or both may have gone beyond what is Written. The teacher and his inferences are subject to Scripture. The same principle for everyone–Paul included–is to evaluate their teachings by the Word. Therefore, Paul does hold the teachings of men to be submissive to and derivative of “what is Written.” Even so, Paul does not desist from making logical inferences (more on that in Parts 2 and 3). Nor does he ask Apollos or the Corinthians in general to do so.
Second Corinthians 10: 1-7 gives us a good look at Paul’s view of logic (logizomai) itself. Paul does not show the reasoning of the Corinthians or his own reasoning, so I won’t quote the passage. This passage does give us some information about how Paul views logizomai:
- It is a thought process that gives a result.
- That process is not infallible; thus, its result could be wrong (it can be thrown down). This is seen here, where Paul is contesting their opinion of him.
- If it is wrong, that is either because of faulty data (or faulty reasoning). In 2 Corinthians 10, it was faulty data.
- If it is wrong, then it should not be merely gainsaid. Nor does Paul want them to discard logic as a tool. Rather, Paul corrects their premises and tells them to repeat their reasoning.
- If one believes his premises to be correct (biblical or otherwise), then logizomai based on those premises should be treated as authoritative. However, this authority is always subject to scrutiny and re-examination. It has two layers of human work–data gathering from the Word and the processing of those data.
Paul would not fit the designation “alogical.” “Analogical” (“with much, repeated, reasoning”) would be better. He doesn’t protest logic. I don’t think anyone does. But we should not be saying, “There—that is SOUND. I’m done. I don’t need to think any more about that—everyone who disagrees is wrong.”
Yes, sound/necessary/God’s-logic conclusions that are based on biblical premises are indeed authoritative. But the answers to the question of which conclusions are necessary are not given to us. Our duty is to try to discern which doctrines fit this description. We hope to be as far along the asymptote to the true line of truth as possible.
And, yes, Paul does respect reason (logic). As we’ll see in Parts 2 and 3, he even treats it as authoritative. But his respect of it does not rise to the level of “what is Written.” There is a distinction for Paul. There is no doubt that Paul submitted to the authority of these conclusions. Yet he always treats his conclusions as authoritative for his reader insofar as his reader reasons along with him based on the Word. If one of his readers disagrees, that does not mean that he’s right in his own way. Paul knows that in the day of Christ, one of them will be judged, and one will be commended.
Dan Miller is an ophthalmologist living in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He received a B.S. in Premed from Bob Jones University in 1991 and an M.D. from The University of South Carolina School of Medicine in 1995. He serves as youth leader and board member at Cedar Heights Baptist Church, also in Cedar Falls. He has been happily married to Jenny since 1992. His opinions are not necessarily those of his church or board.