Hermeneutics and Logic, by Thomas A. Thomas

There is a gross misunderstanding among many fundamentalists about the use of logic in a proper interpretation of the Scriptures. The attitude has been often expressed that a certain doctrine may be logical, but it is not Scriptural. The writer has heard this view expressed on several occasions regarding the doctrine of limited atonement or particular redemption. And Calvinists are condemned as being more concerned with being logical than being true to the Word of God. It is sometimes regarded as being wrong to appeal to logic to determine the proper interpretation of a passage of Scripture. And we have often heard a contrast made between what is called “man’s logic” versus “God’s logic.” Some particular view may be according to man’s logic but not God’s logic. All these objections evidence a complete misunderstanding of the nature of logic, and the relationship between logic and hermeneutics. It is to this we’d like to direct our attention in this brief essay.

In the first place, a contrast cannot be made between “God’s logic” and “man’s logic.” It is difficult to give an altogether adequate definition of logic. Many definitions have been given. But in essence, logic is the study of those methods and principles used to distinguish a correct (valid) from an incorrect (invalid) argument. All these principles and methods are grounded in the mind of God, and are placed by God in the mind of man, His creature, who is created in His image. The logical rules of inference are not something manufactured by the mind of man. This is the way God has created us to think. The broader sense of the image of God in man is that man is a personality, and is thus a rational being. And as a rational being, created in God’s image, man must think according to these God-given rules of inference.

And the fall of man into sin does not prevent man from thinking logically, ie., according to the logical rules of inference. As a sinner he may now make mistakes. Or he will accept false premises–premises contrary to the Bible, the Word of God–and will regard them as truth. And on the basis of his false premises he will arrive at false conclusions. But that does not mean he cannot follow the logical rules of inference. Logic is not concerned with the truth of the conclusion, but with the validity or invalidity of the argument. That is, assuming the premises are true, does this conclusion follow? If so, the argument is valid, even though the conclusion may be false.

This is what the unbeliever does with the Scriptures. He assumes false unscriptural premises because he is spiritually dead and blind in his sins. The result is, his conclusions are false, even though he has followed valid logical rules of inference.

The Christian must also take these God-given canons of logic and apply them in his interpretation of the Scriptures. Not in any sense does logic take precedence over the Scriptures. Rather, the logical rules of inference must be applied to determine what the Scriptures are actually saying, or not saying. If one’s interpretation of a particular passage of Scripture violates the canons of logical inference, then it is not that logic is opposed to Scripture. Our conclusion must be, rather, that the interpreter has misunderstood the Scriptures. He has not properly interpreted that particular passage. To say otherwise is to claim that the Bible violates those standards of rational inference which are grounded in the mind of God.

A commonly misunderstood passage of Scripture will illustrate our point:

“When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously; thou shalt not be afraid of him” (Deut. 18:22).

It is important in properly interpreting this verse to note what it does not say, as well as what it says. If that which the prophet has said does not come to pass, then what he has said is not from the LORD. But contrary to the way this verse has often been interpreted, he does not say that if what the prophet says does come to pass, then his message is from the LORD. That does not follow. Does the fact that something a modern psychic such as Jeane Dixon say comes to pass prove that her prediction was from the LORD? This writer is persuaded that it is from the Devil. In other words, fulfilled prophecy does not prove the Bible is the Word of God. If what the prophet says does not come to pass then it is not of the LORD, for everything God says must come to pass. But the fact that it does come to pass does not prove that it is of the LORD. To say so violates an important logical rule of inference, and is to misinterpret Deuteronomy 18:22. It is imperative that we interpret the Scriptures according to the canons of logic, as God has placed them in the mind of man. Accordingly, we must say, because the Bible is the Word of God, therefore its prophecies will be fulfilled. But we cannot so argue, because prophecy is fulfilled, therefore the Bible is the Word of God. That conclusion does not follow.

[This article has been reproduced from Theology in Perspective, 5.1 (Winter 1982): 7-8, a publication of the (now defunct) Empire State Baptist Seminary, Jamesville, NY.]

Thomas A. Thomas: Dip., Philadelphia College of Bible; A.B., Gordon College; M.A., Syracuse University; B.D., Westminster Theological Seminary; Th.M., Dallas Theological Seminary. He taught for many years at Baptist Bible College of Pennsylvania and later at Empire State Baptist Seminary. He also pastored Bethel Baptist Church in Scranton, Pennsylvania for over 30 years. His book The Doctrine of the Word of God was published in the series “International Library of Philosophy and Theology, Biblical and Theological Studies,” edited by Robert L. Reymond (Presbyterian and Reformed, 1972). Mr. Thomas went to be with the Lord in 1999. This article has been made available on the web by the kind permission of Mrs. Thomas.

[Related link: I’ve run into another, more technical discussion of the question posed above: Richard Pratt, Does God Observe the Law of Contradiction? … Should We? (It’s on the www.thirdmill.org site.)