Drawing inference vs. drawing conclusions

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Drawing inference vs. drawing conclusions

Postby apostle » Fri Aug 13, 2010 7:48 pm

Mods: I hope this is the right spot to offer up this topic, if not, please move it to the appropriate forum. Thanks.

I would like to point out a common error that arises in biblical interpretation, and that is not recognizing the difference between drawing an inference and drawing a conclusion. The difference is very important, as one comes directly from what is spoken, and the other takes a much more indirect path to being declared "the will of God".

By definition, we infer that another person has implied something-- that is, that his words include meanings beyond what was said. When Paul calls the priest a "whitewashed wall", he implies that the man is a hypocrite. The actual use of inference from scripture to derive instructions is actually not nearly so frequent as some may think.

What is far more frequently used in the interpretation of scripture is the drawing of conclusions, putatively based upon what we sometimes call the "totality of the evidence". We use informal, often unspoken syllogisms for this. That is, we take information from scripture to create premises and from those premises we draw conclusions. When I hear someone propose a biblical truth that is not spoken in clear text, but rather is being "inferred", the first thing I do is examine the proposition to see if it is even an inference at all. Most often, I don't find inference, but conclusions, based on unspoken syllogisms, often elaborate multiple nested syllogisms. Such syllogisms are not often constructed intentionally, but are the result of earlier conclusions stated as premises. This takes some work to analyze. The more fundamental and commonly-held the underlying conclusion, the harder it often is to identify concisely.

But all such syllogisms must pass logical muster, if they are to be valid. What I often do is try to identify unspoken, informal syllogisms being proposed as "necessary inference" and test them to see if they are valid or fallacious. Basic symbolic logic is a great help here, and IMO should be studied much more carefully by those who would offer interpretations of scripture using traditional reasoning.

Sadly, I find that this vetting process creates more anger and outrage among folks in discussions like this than just about anything else I do. Just identifying unspoken syllogisms can make people angry. When it is suggested that perhaps we have not thought a thing out as thoroughly as we supposed, it strikes at our intellectual vanity. Despite Paul's advice, most of us "think more highly of ourselves than we ought", with me as the chief of sinners in that regard.

As Don Marquis famously said, "If you make people think they're thinking, they'll love you. But if you REALLY make them think, they'll hate you."

Has this topic been discussed here before?
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Re: Drawing inference vs. drawing conclusions

Postby David Hersey » Sun Aug 15, 2010 9:37 pm

There is a difference between an inference and a necessary inference. For instance, Luke's account of the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch. The inspired record never explicitly says that Philip taught the Eunuch that he needed to be baptized. But when the Eunuch requested baptism it is a necessary inference that Philip's teaching of Jesus included teaching of baptism. From this inference, we can draw a conclusion that baptism is part of the teaching of Christ.

Where a necessary inference can be demonstrated to be a part of the will of God, then it would be a transgression of His will to refuse or neglect to obey.
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Re: Drawing inference vs. drawing conclusions

Postby John VanSickle » Mon Aug 16, 2010 7:26 am

Jesus taught that necessary inferences are binding. When asked about the resurrection, He quoted what God had said to Moses from out of the burning bush: "I am the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob." He then stated that God is God of the living, and not of the dead. The necessary inference is that when God spoke these words, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were alive.

Jesus clearly expected His audience to accept that these patriarchs were still alive. Therefore, He affirmed that necessary inferences are as binding as direct statements.
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Re: Drawing inference vs. drawing conclusions

Postby David Hersey » Tue Aug 17, 2010 7:04 am

Necessary inferences cannot be discounted from the Bible. (I don't particularly like the term inference, I prefer conclusion) The New Testament was not written to us. For instance, the Christians at Pentecost were told to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins. Paul was told by Ananias to arise and be baptized and wash away his sins. Neither of these commands were given directly to any of us reading in this forum today. Since we know from Ephesians 4:4 and other places that there is only one faith, then it is a necessary inference, or implication, that we today must be baptized for the remission of sin as well.

There are a number of whosoevers in scripture what obviously apply to all such as John 3:16; "Whosoever believeth". But all of scripture is not written that way. We don't have a whosoever or an equivalent for every command there is.

There is another type of necessary inference as well. There is the necessary inference which excuses us from certain commands such as gender specific commands. Husbands are to love their wives. This command obviously does not pertain to women. It is a necessary conclusion that the command for husbands to love their wives pertains only to men.

Another example of this would be Mark 16:16-18
16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;
18 .They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

This was obviously not written to us today. While the teaching on Baptism absolutely applies to us today, Christians who drink poison and get bit by deadly snakes don't fare well at all. We know from other scripture that the age of miracles has ceased (1 Corinthians 13:8-10), therefore it is a necessary conclusion that things following verse 16 do not pertain to us today. It is important to keep in mind that when drawing necessary conclusions or inferences, we take into account the totality of God's word. Any conclusion or inference drawn from scripture cannot cause a contradiction with the word of God. It must not allow for the circumvention of God's will on any point, and it cannot cause a condition in the kingdom which would have to exist contrary to the nature or will of God.

Many people today draw conclusions or inferences from scripture which are not valid such as salvation by faith alone. John 3:16 is a big one used by many to infer salvation by faith alone. They do this in the face of clear scripture which says otherwise. One of the most direct ones is Matthew 7:21. If salvation were by faith alone, then what Jesus said in Matthew 7:21 cannot be true. That is a direct conflict which invalidates the inference drawn about John 3:16.

Necessary conclusions are authoritative as any direct command so long as the conclusion is necessary and is supported by the totality of scripture that comes to bear on it.
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Re: Drawing inference vs. drawing conclusions

Postby apostle » Tue Aug 17, 2010 9:07 pm

I think that it is important to differentiate between implication /inference and conclusion. The reason is quite simple: when the writer actually implies a thing, I think we are free to see this as a part of scripture. Inference says, "This is what the writer implied in his words." When we draw a conclusion, no matter how well-reasoned, we are offering our interpretation of scripture. Conclusions say, "This is what the writers mean."

IMO, for a thing to be truly inferred, it should be inarguable. (High standard for those of us who are pretty argumentative!) This is pretty limiting, honestly. A good inference, when denied, makes the sentence implausible. Paul said he was "a day and a night in the sea" when his ship went down. We can infer that he got wet. To deny this is to say that Paul spent a good 24 hours in the ocean but may have stayed dry. Not a plausible position.

The term "necessary inference" is, if you think about it, a redundancy. Like "baby puppies". If we infer it, we are claiming the writer implied it. Such a claim should cleave tightly to the text itself, and not range into the field of drawing conclusions.

More often than not, what has been traditionally called inference is not inference at all. When we acknowledge this, it should hopefully help us put on a bit more humility when we teach the scriptures. When we teach something and tell our brothers that this is what we conclude from reading the scriptures, we are being honest brokers and allowing other believers the same privilege we have enjoyed ourselves: to study the bible and freely draw their own conclusions from what they read. If, in so doing, the Holy Spirit reveals the same thing to them as He has to us, we are encouraged, they are strengthened, and we glimpse the fulfillment of that glorious prophetic word--
No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the LORD.
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Re: Drawing inference vs. drawing conclusions

Postby apostle » Thu Aug 19, 2010 9:53 am

David Hersey wrote:There is a difference between an inference and a necessary inference. For instance, Luke's account of the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch. The inspired record never explicitly says that Philip taught the Eunuch that he needed to be baptized. But when the Eunuch requested baptism it is a necessary inference that Philip's teaching of Jesus included teaching of baptism. From this inference, we can draw a conclusion that baptism is part of the teaching of Christ.

Where a necessary inference can be demonstrated to be a part of the will of God, then it would be a transgression of His will to refuse or neglect to obey.


To be slightly technical, I think the Ethiopian's question implies that he understood water baptism to be called for, and that he had discussed it with Philip, and that it was important enough to the eunuch to stop right there in the road. So, yes, that's a solid inference. To deny this implication would make the "water" reference come out of thin air for no plausible reason. Further, the Ethiopian implies a request to be baptized when he says, in essence, "Why can't I be baptized?" So we can infer that he believed he should be baptized, wanted to be baptized, and asked to be baptized. Further meanings gained from his question are, as you suggest, conclusions.

I'm not so sure about the distinction you are making between an inference and a necessary inference, David. If a thing is not necessarily inferred from the speaker's words, how is it that we claim the speaker implied it at all? Seems to me we would be saying, "The speaker was really saying so-and-so, but not necessarily." What's the point of a statement like that? I can more readily understand our saying, "While this is not directly stated, from this passage and my personal reasoning I conclude that..." I still think much of what is called "inference" is simply the conclusions we have drawn, correctly or incorrectly. I am not saying we are wrong to draw conclusions from scripture. Just that honesty and humility requires us to acknowledge that this is what we are doing. 0819100940
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Re: Drawing inference vs. drawing conclusions

Postby David Hersey » Sun Aug 22, 2010 8:04 am

An inference is a conclusion or deduction arrived at from reasoning based on the available evidence. A necessary inference is one that is demanded by the evidence. God gives us an example of a very simple one in Hebrews 3:4, "For every house is builded by some man". It is a necessary inference or conclusion when we see a house that it was built by someone. A house does not just happen. We know this from evidence gathered from other sources. By a process of reasoning, we can infer from the evidence we have that when we see a house, someone had to build it. Someone cut the lumber and assembled and erected that structure. Someone laid the foundation, built the walls, roofed it and did whatever to it to make it a house.

There can be disagreement over whether an inference is necessary or not depending on one's evaluation of the evidence. It is important to keep in mind that there is only one valid interpretation of the evidence. Invalid conclusions are wrong and a multiplicity of them do not validate each other. For instance. We might all look at a house and some conclude that the roof was built before the walls were put up. Or that the foundation was built after the walls were put up. The person's inference or conclusion that the foundation was built after the walls were put up does not validate the conclusion of the other person that the roof was put up before the walls. And sadly, that is exactly what we see happening with the word of God. People are drawing erroneous conclusions from scripture and validating them based on the multiplicity of conclusions drawn by others. A wrong conclusion or inference is wrong regardless of how many other wrong ones are out there. A lie is a lie whether it is by itself or in a group of them.

There is only one truth. The Bible says we can know the truth, "John 8:32" and that some did "1 Timothy 4:3". The truth is far more simple than many people would make it out to be. It's the erroneous conclusions and people's efforts to justify them that cause massive confusion and division within the body of Christ. If I were to try and find one single scripture which defines the truth, I would have to pick Ecclesiastes 12:13, "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man."

It would clear up massive amounts of erroneous conclusions if everybody would harmonize everything around the basic simple concept of fearing God and keeping His commandments. Got a problem with a scripture? Want to know what it means? 50 people have 50 different ideas of what it means? Harmonize it around obedience to God and do it (John 15:14). It is amazing at how simple almost everything becomes. The whole of scripture just seems to fall into place. The mist parts and the light of truth comes shining through in all its glory. Jesus is the author of salvation for all who obey Him. That is truth. That is the core premise of all sound Biblical interpretation and the foundation of every single necessary inference or conclusion drawn from scripture.
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Re: Drawing inference vs. drawing conclusions

Postby Dick Sztanyo » Sun Aug 22, 2010 4:11 pm

All can easily confuse the issue by using terminology not generally used by logicians. "Necessary inference" and "inference" are one and the same, and "necessary" is somewhat redundant. We probably need to use the language of logic.

An argument is valid when the conclusion is demanded by the evidence found in the premises. But, such an argument may not be sound. A sound argument is a valid argument with true premises. All of us want to argue our case without making mistakes and therefore, comitting either a formal fallacy or an informal fallacy. Once that is done, however, and the argument made is valid, the next question is, "are the premises true?" If so, then the argument is sound!

Everyone here has made useful comments. One thing said by apostle is probably good advice: we need to study symbolic logic a little more thoroughly. If any want some powerpoint slides on that subject, they will be found on the Sanudsky school of Biblical studies website this fall when I teach the course.
I am a little reluctant to provide them to any and all until that time, however, I might be persuaded to do so. Scripture contains many such arguments, such as the hypothetical syllogism (both in modus ponens and modus tollens form), disjunctive syllogisms, constructive dilemma, etc. A study of these arguments would be helpful in learning more about impllication.
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Re: Drawing inference vs. drawing conclusions

Postby apostle » Sun Aug 22, 2010 7:09 pm

DavidH wrote:
It is important to keep in mind that there is only one valid interpretation of the evidence.


I'm going to have to disagree here. First of all, we have slipped over from drawing conclusions to interpreting the evidence. The latter is a step toward the former. These are not one and the same. The idea that there is "evidence", and we know clearly what texts to apply to what question, has not been really demonstrated. Also, the idea that there is a "right answer" to every question has not been demonstrated. In fact, Paul deflates that balloon in speaking of observing special religious days. Rather than provide the "one valid interpretation" so all would know whether we should observe the Sabbath, or Sunday, or the Feast of Tabernacles, he simply tells the brothers that each should be convinced in his own mind. David's statement also seems to indicate that for any question to which we apply scripture, the scripture provides a definitive answer. History does not lead me to believe this, nor does the Bible itself make such a promise. If such a promise does exist, it is in Jesus' promise of the Holy Spirit to the believers, not in our own interpretive skills.

I may be reading you wrong here, David, so please correct me if I have, but the sense I get from your post is that our central problem in coming to consensus on the will of God is an unwillingness to obey God. While none of us is immune to wanting our own way, I am hesitant to explain why you may disagree with how I read scripture as a matter of you (or I) being too self-willed to submit to God. That kind of judgment is too easy, and leads us back to that rather malicious accusation that if others would just be willing to obey God, they would see things as I do.
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Re: Drawing inference vs. drawing conclusions

Postby David Hersey » Tue Aug 24, 2010 12:52 pm

DavidH wrote:
It is important to keep in mind that there is only one valid interpretation of the evidence.


I'm going to have to disagree here.


Scripture is clear that there is one faith. (Eph 4:4) One doctrine (Romans 6:17), one path to heaven (Matthew 7:14). Look around you. There are literally hundreds of denominations out there, all teaching their own slant on how to get to heaven. We cannot approach God with our own righteousness (Romans 10:3). It must be according to His. The teachings of men bear the consequence of vain worship (Mark 7:7). We are forbidden to go beyond what is written (1 Corinthians 4:6), those who go too far have not God (2 John 9).

We are commanded to rightly handle the word of God (2 Timothy 2:15). The command to rightly handle the word of God directly infers that it can be handled incorrectly. And sadly many do.

First of all, we have slipped over from drawing conclusions to interpreting the evidence.


The bottom line is, we are each individually responsible for our own walk with God (Philippians 2:12) When you stand before the judgment seat, it's not going to be my interpretation or anybody else's that is going to be in consideration. It's going to be yours. Truth is not subjective by any means.

Also, the idea that there is a "right answer" to every question has not been demonstrated.


Common sense tells is that there is only one right answer to a doctrinal question. Baptism is either for the remission of sins or it isn't. One must either repent in order to be saved or they don't. One must either confess Jesus Christ as the Son of God or they don't. One must either have faith or not. There is no middle ground. There is no room for man's interpretations here. These things are absolutes.

In fact, Paul deflates that balloon in speaking of observing special religious days. Rather than provide the "one valid interpretation" so all would know whether we should observe the Sabbath, or Sunday, or the Feast of Tabernacles, he simply tells the brothers that each should be convinced in his own mind.


There is no hint in Romans 14:5 that Paul is referring to Sabbath days or other days observed under the law of Moses. You are reading more into that passage than is there. Paul does refer to the observance special days under the law of Moses in Galatians and they are condemned for it. Galatians 4:10-11

David's statement also seems to indicate that for any question to which we apply scripture, the scripture provides a definitive answer. History does not lead me to believe this, nor does the Bible itself make such a promise. If such a promise does exist, it is in Jesus' promise of the Holy Spirit to the believers, not in our own interpretive skills.


People have been abusing scripture for centuries. That started way before Jesus Christ arrived on earth. The interpretations of those in History are not a sound rule to judge by nor do their errors in any way validate unsound Biblical interpretation today. Truth is truth and there is error. That which is not truth is error.

And the Bible tells us we can know the truth (John 8:32). Those who diligently keep the commandments of God know they are of the truth (1 John 3:19 and context). It's not at all complicated. Obedience, by faith, is the key to everything.



I may be reading you wrong here, David, so please correct me if I have, but the sense I get from your post is that our central problem in coming to consensus on the will of God is an unwillingness to obey God. While none of us is immune to wanting our own way, I am hesitant to explain why you may disagree with how I read scripture as a matter of you (or I) being too self-willed to submit to God. That kind of judgment is too easy, and leads us back to that rather malicious accusation that if others would just be willing to obey God, they would see things as I do.


I am not at all malicious nor trying to be. Obedience to the will of God is a matter of life and death to a faithful Christian. One of the results of the false doctrine of salvation by faith alone is the rise of numerous denominations of people who think they are in a saved state when they are not. The importance of obedience to the will of God is lowered in priority. In the minds of those who believe in salvation by faith alone, obedience to the will of God is not a life and death matter, therefore it is not their priority. They often times give it lip service, but in reality, when it comes right down to it, they believe they are saved by their faith alone and when it comes to a sacrifice, a real sacrifice, they may rest in the false security of salvation by faith alone instead of making the personal sacrifice.

As for Biblical interpretation, the same thing applies. If you approach scripture from the perspective that it will cost you your eternal soul if you get it wrong and that your home in heaven depends on getting it right, then this whole thing of Biblical interpretation rises in importance to a level of urgency. A mistake in interpretation may well land you in the lake of fire for an eternity from which there is no escape. But to the person who believes they are saved by faith alone, getting it correct is not such a matter of urgency.

I used faith alone because this is an interpretation of scripture. It is a conclusion drawn by many, based on inferences drawn on specific passages in scripture. The Bible never makes the statement that anyone is saved by faith alone. In fact it says the exact opposite, denying it in words impossible to misunderstand in James chapter 2. Yet despite such clear language, millions and millions of people continue to hold to this false doctrine which has been inferred from scripture but never taught. And these people are heading to their judgment, believing a lie, and are going to be saddened when they hear exactly what Jesus said they would hear in Matthew 7:21.

If everybody approached the interpretation of scripture with the attitude that it is of life and death importance, and that the failure to correctly interpret it could cost them their eternal souls, I guarantee that we would start seeing denominations disappear and witness a wholesale exodus of people to the truth.
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