What Is a Necessary Inference?

Is “necessary inference” a valid method of arriving at biblical truth?
By Wayne Jackson | Christian Courier

No narration available

“I frequently hear ministers talk about a ‘necessary inference’ in connection with the issue of Bible authority. What is a ‘necessary inference,’ and is this a legitimate method of establishing scriptural authority?”

The word “inference” derives from Latin roots that signify “to gather in.” Logic is the science of critical thinking. Within this context, an inference suggests the idea of gathering in data from various sources and then drawing such deductions as are demanded by the evidence.

There are two kinds of inferences. Reasonable inferences suggest a likely possibility.

For example, if one hears thunder and sees lightning, he may reasonably infer that it will rain shortly. And, based on that inference, he may wish to take his umbrella when he leaves his house.

On the other hand, if an inference is characterized as necessary, this means that the conclusion drawn from the facts is irresistible. If there is snow covering the countryside in the morning, one may necessarily conclude that the temperature was below thirty-two degrees during the night.

Inference has fallen on hard times in the church these days.

Those who wish to bring the Lord’s church into conformity with denominational practices suggest that nothing can be made a test of fellowship that is based upon inference. Inference restricts these free spirits to more rigidity than they can tolerate.

But inference is a perfectly legitimate means of obtaining the truth.

An Example of Inference

There is an example related to Solomon’s dedication of the temple that enables the careful Bible student to derive some information that he could not know but for inference. Look at the following data.

At the dedication of the temple, Solomon prayed a wonderful prayer soliciting Jehovah’s blessings upon the sacred house. An inspired writer subsequently notes that “Jehovah appeared to Solomon by night” in response to the petition (2 Chron. 7:12).

The text does not mention precisely how the Lord appeared. That leaves the episode clouded in mystery since there were various ways by which deity could appear to men.

Other passages, however, allow us to arrive at a full understanding of the truth relative to this incident.

In a parallel record, a sacred writer says that Jehovah appeared to Solomon “as he had appeared unto him at Gibeon” (1 Kgs. 9:2). Well, how was that? This text does not specify.

In yet another related passage, though, the Scriptures reveal the following: “In Gibeon Jehovah appeared to Solomon in a dream by night” (1 Kgs. 3:5).

Putting the related information together, therefore, we can reason:

  1. If God appeared to Solomon in Jerusalem as he did in Gibeon.
  2. And he appeared to the king in Gibeon “in a dream.”
  3. Then it necessarily follows, then, that the Lord’s appearance to Solomon in Jerusalem was in a dream.

Inference in Christian Faith and Practice

Let me cite a couple of examples that help focus upon crucial matters pertaining to Christian practice.

Since the New Testament teaches that valid baptism requires both belief and repentance (Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:38). Since babies cannot believe, nor do they need to repent (because they have no sin), then it follows necessarily that infants are not candidates for baptism.

The logical use of necessary inference eliminates the sectarian practice of “infant baptism.”

Here’s another example of necessary inference.

The first-century church of Christ met each Lord’s day for worship. This is established by the phrase “first day of every week,” as reflected in the Greek text of 1 Corinthians 16:2 as most of the modern translations reveal (cf., RSV, NASB, NIV, ESV). The preposition kata in the original text definitely means “every.” (See: Danker, 512).

Additionally, the New Testament record establishes the fact that the main purpose of the Sunday meeting was to celebrate the Lord’s supper. That is established by the infinitive phrase of purpose in Acts 20:7. The disciples were brought together “to break bread.”

Since we know that the Christians met each Lord’s day. And inasmuch as it is clear that the primary purpose of their gathering was to observe the sacred communion. It necessarily follows that the early church, under the supervision of the inspired apostles, observed the Lord’s supper every Sunday.

Churches today, therefore, who seek to be biblical in their worship, will emulate the apostolic practice. For further study of this matter, see my commentary, The Acts of the Apostles — From Jerusalem to Rome.

The logical concept of “necessary inference” is a perfectly legitimate reasoning device.

We use it almost every day, and it is no less valuable in arriving at scriptural conclusions.

  • Danker, F. W., et al. 2000. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Chicago: University of Chicago.