Hi, this is Lee Webb, developing a Christian worldview to look at all of life through the lens of Scripture. That magazine was Table Talk. I became a subscriber, and 25 years later I haven't missed an issue. I look back and marvel at how God used this one magazine to change my life, to the extent that I'm honored now to be the host of Renewing Your Mind with R.C.
Sproul. If you'd like a free trial subscription to Table Talk, please go to renewingyourmind.org slash table talk. When we read the Bible, sometimes the teaching is clear, but when it's not, we can get ourselves into trouble. The problem comes when we deduce certain things from the Bible from one passage of Scripture that then brings us into direct conflict with something that the Scripture teaches elsewhere very clearly and very plainly. That's what we're trying to avoid, being careful with how we deal with implications.
So how do we do that? How do we avoid the error of drawing something from Scripture that's simply not there? Welcome to Renewing Your Mind.
We are featuring Dr. R.C. Sproul's series, Knowing Scripture. He's giving us time-tested principles that enrich our study of God's Word, and today he's going to point out the difference between the explicit and the implicit. As we continue our series on principles of interpretation by which we can come to a mature understanding of Scripture, what I want to do in this session is to spell out a few more practical principles that we need to master if we're going to be able to understand the Scriptures in a coherent way. You'll recall that in the last session I mentioned the importance of how we relate the historical narrative on the one hand with the didactic literature on the other, the Gospel and the Epistle and so on.
And I mentioned at that time that we have to be careful about drawing inferences from historical narratives that would be in conflict to the clear teaching that we find in other parts of the Bible. Now that really leads us to the next principle, and that is the principle that deals with the relationship between the explicit and the implicit. Now it's an abstract principle, but it's a principle we need to get a hold of, and that is very simply the rule is this that the implicit is to be interpreted in light of the explicit, not the other way around. We are not to interpret the explicit in light of the implicit. Another way of saying it is that the obscure or the difficult is to be interpreted in light of that which is plain and clear, because that's basically the difference between that which is explicit and that which is implicit. An explicit statement is one that is made forthrightly, directly, and clearly. It's what the Scriptures actually say. Something that is implicit is not stated directly, but rather is implied.
We must use our rational powers of deduction to draw inferences from the text in order to find the implications of a given passage. Now, I want to be careful here because I don't want to be misunderstood at this point as if I were saying that we ought never to draw implications from the Scripture, God forbid. No, it's very important and at times necessary for us to draw inferences from the Scripture that are perfectly reasonable and indeed necessary. Maybe you've even heard people say that the Bible doesn't teach the doctrine of the Trinity, and then they point out that nowhere in the New Testament does the word Trinity appear. That's true, but that doesn't mean the concept of the Trinity is nowhere to be found in the Bible. The Bible teaches clearly and explicitly that God is one. There's the unity part of Trinity, which means tri-unity. But it also teaches us clearly that Jesus is somehow God incarnate, that the Holy Spirit is divine, and that the Father is divine. So the church had to develop a doctrine that would make sense out of these different nuances, that God is one, and yet at the same time there's diversity within God. And so the concept comes by necessary inference from the Scripture that there is a Trinity, but the Word is nowhere to be found. The problem comes when we deduce certain things from the Bible from one passage of Scripture that then brings us into direct conflict with something that the Scripture teaches elsewhere very clearly and very plainly. That's what we're trying to avoid, being careful with how we deal with implications. Now, I'd like to take a few minutes to spell out the broad problem of drawing implications from Scripture and then focus our attention on what happens when indeed we bring them into conflict with explicit teaching, one that we find as a result of some reasoning done on Paul's letter to the 1 Corinthians.
I'm thinking of the 11th chapter. In the 10th verse of 1 Corinthians 11, we have this very strange passage, for this cause ought the woman to have a covering on her head because of the angels. Now in this section, Paul is talking about whether women should come to church with their heads covered or uncovered, with a veil or without a veil in terms of the worship experience, and he adds this particular reason. He said that women ought to have their head covered because of the angels. What do the angels have to do with it? I mean, why does Paul make a statement about the angels here? I have seen at least 20 term papers written by students arguing that angels have a peculiar weakness, particularly male angels, namely that male angels are often tempted to thoughts of lust and even beyond that to even contemplating rape at the sight of beautiful women, particularly beautiful women whose hair, for one reason or another, is particularly enticing to the angelic beings. And so Paul is saying, look, in this passage you want to be careful, be sensitive towards this inherent weakness in the angelic host there. Ladies, keep your heads covered because that just really gets the angels worked up, and they're liable to come down here in the middle of the church service and rape you. Can you think of anything more outrageous than that in terms of biblical interpretation?
But as I said, I've had at least 20 term papers arguing that thesis. Where does it come from? Well, it comes on the basis of implications drawn from this text and from another. If we go back to the beginning of the Old Testament, and we read of the creation of Adam and Eve, then of the story of the murder of Abel at the hands of Cain, and then we read that Adam and Eve have another son, Seth, and then we have this very strange passage in the opening chapters of Genesis where we read, and the sons of God intermarried with the daughters of men, and it produced kind of a grotesque race of people. Now you look at that and you say, who are the sons of God? Is this not an allusion to angels? Isn't the author of Genesis telling us that angels actually began to intermarry with human women and produce this hybrid of half angel, half human as a result of their intermarriage?
Again, that's a possible inference drawn from the text. However, we see that the phrase son of God in the Bible is not used merely for angels, but its primary use has to do with those who are of a particular stripe of obedience, that sonship is defined in terms of obedience. And a more logical, I think, inference from that passage is we see traced in the earlier chapters of Genesis two lines of descendants. There are the descendants of Cain and the descendants of Seth. And if you read the line from Seth, it brings us down to Noah and those who are mentioned in that catalog of people, for the most part, are godly, righteous, heroic people. But the line who descend from Cain reads like a rogue's gallery, one vicious sinner after another. And it's very possible, as many commentators suggest, that the designation sons of God refer to the descendants of Seth and that the daughters of men refer to the descendants of Cain, so that the godly line and the ungodly line intermarried and thereby the whole world fell into corruption which was manifested at the time of Noah. Now, I particularly prefer that interpretation, but I have to grant that it's not one that we must handle. But the point is, be careful of the speculation because the other school of thought says, ha, this must refer to intermarriage between angels and human ladies. And Paul says over here, women ought to keep their heads covered because of the angels. And then from there comes the further inference is that the thing that Paul's worried about is a repeat of this rape of the human women by the angelic hosts that is recorded for us in the early chapters of Genesis.
Ladies and gentlemen, that thesis is made at least 98% out of whole cloth and is implication built upon implication, inference built upon inference with precious little foundation. But it is passed off to us at times as if it were the clear, unambiguous teaching of sacred Scripture. But as I said earlier, it's not just the problem of fancy for irresponsible implications drawn from the text that we ought not to draw, but it's a particularly problematic area when we draw implications that are directly in conflict with something the Scriptures specifically teach elsewhere. For example, one of the most controversial issues in the history of the Christian church has to do with this question, does man in his fallenness, in his sinful condition after the fall, does he have within himself the moral capacity without any help from God the Holy Spirit or from God the Father or from God the Son? Can natural man in his fallen state, does he have the moral ability on his own to choose Jesus Christ?
Does he have the moral disposition, the necessary faculty to choose Jesus Christ? As I say, that is one of the oldest and most bitter points of controversy in the history of the church. Now I'm going to present two verses that are often used by the various combatants in this particular controversy.
If I've heard it once, I've heard it a thousand times that John 3.16 says, for God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish but have everlasting life. Now the question is, what does that verse teach about fallen man's ability to believe on Christ without any assistance from God? What does it say explicitly? Now I think we can answer that without bias, without prejudice by strictly applying the formal laws of immediate inference to the text. Dear friends, that text says nothing explicitly about who will believe or who will not believe, about who can believe or who is not able to believe.
Now it certainly leaves us with the impression when the statement is given universally, whoever believes, you know, it suggests that anybody can believe. It doesn't say that, but it does suggest it. And it leaves us with that possibility as an inference, but it's not a necessary inference.
It's not something that the words demand we infer. What the text explicitly says is this. Whoever believes will not perish but have everlasting life.
So we can say, set that in logical categories, whoever does A will receive B or avoid B. Whoever believes, if you believe, you can be sure you won't perish and you will have everlasting life. That's what it teaches explicitly. Implicitly it might suggest that anybody on their own steam can believe in Jesus. Then we come over to John, the sixth chapter, and Jesus is talking about this very subject. And Jesus says to His disciples, this is part of His teaching ministry, no man can come to Me unless it is given to him of the Father.
Now let's look at that. What does it teach explicitly? It explicitly says something about human ability to respond to Jesus, to come to Jesus.
And Jesus begins with a statement that we would classify in logic as a universal negative, no man. It uses next the word can. We know there's a difference in our language between can and may.
It's one of the ones we mix up all the time, and mothers are forever correcting their children when they say, can I go outside and play this afternoon? Mother says, I'm sure you can. The question, however, is not can you, but the question is may you? Are you allowed? You certainly have the ability to go outside and play this afternoon, but what you're asking me is for my permission. And so there is that difference between can, which refers to ability, and may, which refers to permission.
This text is dealing with ability. No man can, no man is able to do what? To come to Me, Jesus says.
Now let's just take that one. No man is able to come to Jesus unless, alright, there's something that has to happen before anybody can come to Jesus, and what is that something that has to happen? Unless it is given to him by the Father. Now here's what I think that passage teaches. I think that passage teaches explicitly that man in his fallen state is unable without some kind of help by God to come to Jesus Christ.
The passage teaches that explicitly. passage in John teaches that if God gives that ability then whoever exercises that ability to come will indeed be saved. But John only tells us that whoever believes will be saved. He also says in chapter 6 that nobody can believe unless it's given to him by the Father. So you see that we have to be careful not to set those two in opposition or to subordinate an explicit teaching of Scripture.
No one can come, and yet I hear preachers all the time saying, everybody can come. That's in direct conflict, and they argue on the basis of implications drawn from other portions of Scripture. That is a misuse of the Bible.
Our implications must always be measured by and made subordinate to what the Scriptures explicitly teach. Alright, now there's another problem that I'd like to go over very quickly, and that is that as we study the Scripture, we need to be very careful of words. Again, any written document is made up of paragraphs. Paragraphs are made up of sentences. Sentences are made up of clauses.
Clauses are made up of words. And word meanings are very important obviously to our understanding to what is being said. There's a real tricky problem that we encounter frequently in our attempts to interpret the Bible.
Here's what happens. We go to the Bible. Suppose we read the Bible for the very first time, and as we come to the Bible, we're supposed to get our doctrine from the Bible. We're not supposed to take our doctrine and make the Bible fit our doctrine. We're supposed to make our doctrine fit the Bible.
But suppose we come to the Scriptures and we draw out of the Scripture our doctrine, and then when we do that, we create doctrinal meanings to our language. For example, the Bible uses the word to save, to be saved in the past tense, the present tense, the future tense, and a host of tenses in between, past perfect, imperfect, heiress, and so on, all different kinds of ways that we were saved, we were being saved, we are saved, we are being saved, we shall be saved, and so on. And the Bible uses the verb to save in actually more ways than we do in our language.
We talk about saving stamps, a boxer being saved by the bell at a fight. We don't mean by that that his soul is transposed to heaven or he's reconciled to God, but rather he has been spared the calamity of defeat in the ring. We say that an army is saved from destruction or a person is saved by disease.
In the Bible does that all the time. When a person recovers from illness, he experiences salvation. When the armies of Israel win a victory in battle, they experience salvation, not in the ultimate doctrinal sense, but in the very simple earthly sense, avoiding a catastrophe or being spared from some calamity. But then the Bible does teach this high and holy concept of salvation. So now for us in our doctrine, the word salvation has a loaded meaning. And if we take it back and imply that full or doctrinal meaning to every time we see a particular word salvation in the Scripture, we'll make nonsense out of the Scripture. For example, the Bible teaches that women will be saved by childbearing. Also, the New Testament teaches that the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the believing wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the believing husband. So maybe if we look at that and we say, oh, well, wait a minute, the Bible has three doctrines of salvation, three doctrines of justification. On the one hand, it teaches us that justification is by personal faith in Christ alone.
But if you don't have faith in Christ alone, there's two other ways you can get saved. One is by marrying somebody that's saved because sanctification follows justification. So if a person is sanctified, if an unbelieving wife is sanctified by a believing husband, she'd have to first be justified. So the inference we draw there is that you can get saved by marrying somebody who's saved.
The third possibility is if that doesn't work, the woman at least has another alternative, and that is that she can have a child. And if she bears a child, she automatically is saved. Well, that's not what the Bible is talking about at all. The Bible says a woman is saved through childbirth, not using the word salvation in the doctrinal sense. And when the Bible says that an unbelieving wife is sanctified by her believing husband, it doesn't mean that she is now put into that process of working out her salvation that flows out of justification.
There's a different meaning to the term sanctification. This is where we need our Bible dictionaries and our Bible handbooks so that we can understand that certain words like salvation, justification, sanctification, even the word Lord. The word Lord sometimes in the Bible refers to Jesus' kingly position at the right hand of God, the highest title we can give to Him. There are other times when the title Lord is used as a simple form of polite address, just like we use the English word sir or mister. And so we can't jump to the conclusion anytime somebody comes up to Jesus on the street and says, Lord, that we say, ha, how did that stranger recognize instantly that Jesus was the Messiah?
He may simply have been saying, good afternoon, Mr. Jesus. And so the context has to help us determine whether the exalted use of a word is in view here or a simpler version of it. And by the same token, we have to be careful that we don't read back into the Bible full or doctrinal meanings to particular words when the context of Scripture doesn't warrant it.
Again, the principle is context, the immediate context, but not just the immediate context, but the context of the whole, that every particular passage of Scripture must be measured and interpreted against the whole of Scripture so that we don't be guilty of setting one part over against another. I know sometimes I can lead you to despair by pointing out all the difficulties that are there, but they're not that great. Really, a simple Bible dictionary can be an enormous help to a lay person who's never had the benefit of studying the original languages.
We don't need to despair. I encourage you to continue to study. And the next time that we're together, I'm going to try to point out some other somewhat unusual literary forms and structures that occur in the Scriptures that it would help us if we could recognize them when we see them, and we'll do that then the next time. Well, all of this does reveal the need to study, doesn't it? Reading the Bible is not a casual, passive exercise. It requires diligence. You're listening to Renewing Your Mind on this Wednesday, Bibley Web.
Thank you for being with us. This is just one of 12 messages that Dr. R.C. Sproul taught in a series called Knowing Scripture. Interpreting the Bible is like all of the sciences.
It's governed by rules, and R.C. lays out the basic guidelines for understanding, interpreting, and applying Scripture to show how to find the true meaning. You can request this four-DVD set when you contact us today with a donation of any amount.
You can reach us by phone at 800-435-4343, or you can go online to renewingyourmind.org. We also want you to have the PDF study guide for the series. That provides an outline of each message, study questions, and suggestions for further reading. Once you've completed your request, we will add the study guide to your online learning library. The extra content provides more ways to learn about interpreting and applying Scripture properly. So we hope you'll contact us today to request this series.
Again, our online address is renewingyourmind.org, and our phone number, 800-435-4343. The Psalms and Proverbs are two of the five books that make up what we call Wisdom Literature, and we need to read and interpret them differently than other parts of Scripture. Look at it for what it is, practical wisdom, principles that conserve you in your everyday struggles with life. But don't confuse the Proverbs with moral absolutes. They were never intended to be read that way.
They were never set forth for us as the Ten Commandments were. R.C. will have more to say about that tomorrow, and we hope you'll join us for Renewing Your Mind. R.C. will have more to say about that tomorrow, and we hope you'll join us for Renewing Your
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