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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Explicit and Implicit

There is a basic principle of biblical interpretation that, I think, may not be so basic as I'd like to think. Here's the basic principle: Always interpret the implicit from the explicit. What does it mean? Well, in Scripture (as in any writing or communication), you will find things that could logically be implied and you will find things that are stated explicitly.

Let's try something silly by way of example. I say, "The house was unoccupied." One person could read that and conclude, "Well, a house is a place where people live, so it implies that it is occupied. Either the word 'unoccupied' is mistaken or the word 'house' is mistaken and we'll have to figure out which." Another would say, "Well, the text is explicit. It is a house. It is unoccupied. Therefore, we have a building intended to be occupied but is not." The first person in this example decided to interpret the explicit ("The house was unoccupied") by the implicit ("A house is a place where people live"). The second interpreted the implicit ("A house is intended to be occupied ...") by the explicit ("... but apparently this one isn't.").

With that concept in mind, let's look at some biblical examples. Here's an all-time favorite:
God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
What is implicit here? What does almost everyone see as implied in this verse? The phrase, "whoever believes", clearly implies that anyone can. So when someone raises the objection, "Humans lack the natural ability to choose Christ", it's a simple matter to point at this verse and say, "See? John 3:16 disagrees!" And, indeed, such a conclusion is a valid implication, but note that it is not an explicit statement. Nothing in the text says, "Anybody can." All it says is "whoever does." And why would we possibly doubt that implied conclusion? Well, because of the multiple texts regarding Man's inability.
No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him (John 6:44).

No one can come to Me unless it is granted him by the Father (John 6:65).

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor 2:14).
So, while John 3:16 might imply "anybody can", it doesn't actually say it (the explicit) while multiple explicit texts say that not anybody can. So you will need to decide. Will you interpret the explicit by the implicit, or will you interpret the implicit by the explicit?

Or take the topic of Free Will. I don't have to go very far to see multiple commands by God for us to obey. We are told over and over that we are supposed to choose to obey God. One of the most famous "choose" verses is found in Joshua.
"If it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD" (Josh 24:15).
Conclusion? We have Free Will. And, indeed, while there is a minority that might argue we don't, most agree that we do indeed have the ability to make choices. But do we have a "sovereign", unlimited ability to make choices? The Bible indicates something different.
The Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by Him to do his will (2 Tim 2:24-26).

"You do not believe because you are not among My sheep" (John 10:26).

... No one seeks for God. ... No one does good, not even one (Rom 3:11-12).

... Every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (Gen 6:5).

The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps (Prov 16:9).

It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Phil 2:13).
I know that the implication of "Choose this day whom you will serve" is "anyone can", but the explicit texts indicate that humans lack the natural ability (the moral ability) to do so. A command to choose does not require an ability to choose. It implies the ability, but doesn't explicitly state it.

Or, perhaps, have you heard this one? "Love isn't true love unless it is freely given." And they will point to the command to love God with all your heart as proof. Very popular, I'm sure, but, unfortunately, not biblical. This is what the Bible says: "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)" Interesting. Appears to clearly contradict the implied "True love is that which we give freely", doesn't it?

It is good and proper that we should immerse our lives in the Word of God. We ought to "rightly divide" the Word. We ought to be students for life of the Word. But we need to be careful, given the deceitfulness of the human heart, not to get turned around by implications that contradict explicit statements of Scripture. Always interpret the implicit from the explicit. It will work much better that way.

1 comment:

Neil said...

Good distinctions, thanks!