An Exchange Regarding the New Hermeneutic


     The following brief exchange occurred on an Internet discussion list.  The subsequent sets forth the thinking of some relative to the express command or direct statement, approved example, and necessary inference tired and proved method of establishing authority and their desire to replace this method with their "new hermeneutic."   The preachers names (except mine) have been changed so that you will focus on what is said instead of who said it.  (I recommend you first read, "Hermeneutics, Handling Aright the Word," just click on to visit the material.)


John to the list:


In my posts to Don Martin I have mentioned several times that I am not a fan of the CENI (command, example, necessary inference, dm) hermeneutic. I have also made reference to the hermeneutic that I personally employ. I thought that I would use my THIRD post today (Saturday) and share this with you:

The CENI hermeneutic, contrary to the belief of some, did not fall directly from the throne room of God into the hands of men. It is no more "inspired of God" than any other hermeneutic devised by men to aid in the interpretation of a written document. Personally, I think it is greatly flawed, but that is another thread. There are several who have suggested legitimate, and I believe far more valid, approaches to biblical hermeneutics. Brother F. Le Gard Smith, in one of his books, presented just such a hermeneutic. Our own Dr. Don Givens is related to this man, and he may want to expound upon that more. I just mention it here in passing.

Anyway, some have asked on this list for some alternative to the CENI approach to biblical interpretation. I will be happy to share MY approach, one which I believe is just as legitimate as any in use right now, and one which poses far fewer problems, in my opinion, than does the CENI approach. And this is not just "my invention" either; it has been in use in Christendom for quite some time.

It is to approach each "issue" or question or topic or practice or belief by asking how it relates to Scripture; and specifically, which of the following best describes it: (1) Is it Scriptural?, (2) Is it NON-Scriptural?, or (3) Is it ANTI-Scriptural? (and then a sub-question, if it passes the previous tests: Is it Beneficial?).

Let me explain each term. If something is "Scriptural" that simply means it can be found in Scripture; it is thus clearly and specifically stated. Jesus Christ is the Son of God. That is Scriptural. It is clearly stated in Scripture. We are to be immersed. Some don't like to admit it, but it is still "Scriptural" for it is clearly commanded in Scripture. We may argue the significance of it, the timing of it, etc., but it is hard to argue the REALITY of it. It is there, and it is commanded. We are to repent. That is also "Scriptural" as it is clearly commanded in no uncertain terms.

The first question we must pose with regard to anything, therefore, is: Is it Scriptural? Can this practice or this doctrine or this belief be found in Scripture? NOT: can it be inferred from Scripture, or deduced from Scripture, or assumed from Scripture, or wrested from Scripture .... but can it actually be FOUND in Scripture in clear black-and-white?!!! If so, then it is clearly "authoritative" and binding as either a command, a principle, or a Truth. It is the utterance of GOD!!!..... not just an inference or assumption of MEN!!!

If something can NOT be found clearly in Scripture, then it falls into the second category: It is NON-Scriptural. This, by-the-way, is NOT a negative thing necessarily. "NON-Scriptural" does not mean it is thereby sinful or wrong (the "silence is prohibitive" falsehood), it simply means that it is not found in Scripture (as indeed MANY things are not). It simply means God has said NOTHING about this matter one way or the other. It is absent altogether from the text of the Bible. Such neither authorizes nor condemns. It just means God has said nothing about it. Period. One can neither forbid nor approve something simply by virtue of its absence. All one can safely say is that GOD said NOTHING.

If this is the case, then we must ask the third question: Is it ANTI-Scriptural? In other words, does this practice or doctrine, about which God in Scripture has said absolutely NOTHING specific, violate some clearly declared teaching or principle of our God which IS conveyed to us IN Scripture?

For example, wearing a shirt with the word "Budweiser" in large, bright red letters across the front while serving at the Lord's Table during the observance of the Lord's Supper is NON-Scriptural (the Bible says nothing about this specifically), however it would not take one long to demonstrate from God's Word that such a practice violated some of the principles contained in the Word, not the least of which would be the necessity of displaying an attitude of reverence toward the Lord God and His Son, and loving consideration for one's brethren. Thus, this could easily be demonstrated from the Scriptures to be ANTI-Scriptural.

Just because something is NON-Scriptural, therefore, does not signify that it is necessarily ANTI-Scriptural. Silence in and of itself is not necessarily prohibitive .... nor permissive.... as some maintain. Merely being NON-Scriptural is not the same as "Sinful." One must rather seek to determine from inspired Scripture itself if the practice or doctrine or belief is ANTI-Scriptural. If it is, then it is sinful and must be avoided. If it isn't "ANTI-Scriptural" it STILL might not be BENEFICIAL to the Body of Christ, however.

Thus, an additional question must be asked of that which is both NON-Scriptural, and yet which is not ANTI-Scriptural: Does this matter glorify God and edify His people? Is it beneficial or detrimental to the growth and edification of this congregation? Paul deals with this very concept in the latter part of Romans 14. He speaks of things which are clearly not in opposition to God's Word, and thus acceptable in and of themselves. However, if the practice of such causes some to stumble or causes division, then those good things must be avoided for the greater good of the Body. You see, Paul was using this same hermeneutic!!! Thus, one is obligated to use the brain God has given him/her, and to exercise good judgment, and to do so with the overall good of the Body of Christ in view.

This is MY approach. What do some of the rest of you think about it? Also, are there weaknesses in it, and if so what do you perceive them to be?


Don Martin to John and the list:


John has repeatedly stumbled regarding such modifiers as "relevant," "absolute," and now it appears he does not accept "approved" New Testament examples. Consider John's answer to my below referenced question:

Once again, I shall try to set the example here for responding to a direct question. Don asked: "John, do you believe that approved New Testament examples are binding on Christians today?"


Now, that should be clear enough!!

Don comments:

Yes, John your answer is clear enough, alas. "No," however, is a consistent answer in view of John saying that he did not believe the Lord's Supper had to be partaken of only on the first day of the week. John does not have the restraints of God's commandments, he is above and beyond, he will be saved by grace, you see.

"How could John affirm and teach the things that he is?," you might ask. I can tell you how: John has embraced the new hermeneutic. A number today in the church, even among men viewed as loyal preachers, have now embraced this new hermeneutic that does away with such matters as "approved examples" such as Acts 20: 7 being binding today. Most of them have also rejected "necessary inference" and many of them are now in the process (such as John, I am afraid) of attempting to do away with "command." When I became a Christian, I consistently heard it said that Bible authority is necessary in religious matters and that we establish Bible authority by, express command, approved example, and necessary inference. This language and concept in now on its way out in many circles. "We must emphasize salvation by grace," they tell us. Of course, their view of salvation by grace is doing away with commands. "Those who teach relevant commandments of God must be obeyed in order for man to be saved" are legalists and modern day Pharisees, according to this new school of which John is a member and practitioner.

Hear John:

In my posts to Don Martin I have mentioned several times that I am not a fan of the CENI hermeneutic (command, example, and necessary inference, dm). I have also made reference to the hermeneutic that I personally employ.

John then provides us with an example of his new hermeneutic:

It is to approach each "issue" or question or topic or practice or belief by asking how it relates to Scripture; and specifically, which of the following best describes it: (1) Is it Scriptural?, (2) Is it NON-Scriptural?, or (3) Is it ANTI-Scriptural? (and then a sub-question, if it passes the previous tests: Is it Beneficial?).....

John then attempts to build interest in his new hermeneutic by saying:

This is MY approach. What do some of the rest of you think about it? Also, are there weaknesses in it, and if so what do you perceive them to be?

Don comments:

I have repeatedly stated that John and I hold antithetical concepts regarding authority, commands, grace, and salvation in general. "How can you and John be so far apart"," some have asked. The answer is not superficial but rather it is because John and I have a totally different hermeneutic (method of arriving at the truth taught in the Bible).

I have re-studied and tested the express command, approved example, and necessary example dialectic approach many times. On a few occasions, I have thought I have come up with something in addition only to learn with additional study, the matter falls under express command, approved example, or necessary inference.

My preacher friends, please consider John's thinking, approaches, and consequent conclusions. If you are being influenced by John's new hermeneutics, you will find yourself one day exactly where John is today. I believe I can accurately say, having come out of denominationalism and having attended Baptist Seminary, that John's beliefs and teachings are not seriously and substantially different from the average denominational preacher. Where John is today, please hear and understand, many will be tomorrow!

Steve to Jim and the list:


You wrote:

If I have missed Dungan's narrative, intentional, coherent endorsement of CENI (command, example, necessary inference, dm), in which chapter is it found?

Thanks for pointing out that it is on the Internet. Many, unlike myself can now refer to this invaluable little book in an effort to understand the bible. The answer to the above question is found in chapter IV, entitled "Methods," (page 46).Though Dungan does not call the system CENI, he points to the same methodology in the section entitled "The Inductive Method" starting on page 82 and continuing through page 105. The entire chapter, which begins on page 48, is a thorough investigation of all the known methods of reasoning and Dungan points to the weaknesses of each. He even warns the reader about abuses of the inductive methods but it is quite evident to the conscientious reader that his description is exactly that of the faithful use of CENI. After asking "What is it?" on page 82, Dungan begins to show the prime considerations that 1. the bible does not disagree with itself, 2. It demands that ALL facts be made known, 3. The problem of keeping to that rule, 4. That this method has long been the accepted method of all other departments except theology, 5. That Inference (NI, necessary inference, dm) can be legitimately used in the ascertainment of facts and in the conclusions reached from them. Dungan does not deal directly with the C (command, dm) part but the E (example, dm) part is set forth on page 95 under "(9) Religious truth may be gathered from approved "precedent" ("example," Steve).

Dungan's work stands head and shoulders above any other comparable work. The only weakness, if it can be called that, is that he pays relatively little attention to the "silence of God." Yet on page 88, subsection (B), he notes that all witnesses to any trial are obligated to affirm that they are to tell "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth." It should be pointed out that any effort to induce silence as testimony is the same action as introducing authority where no authority existed. Hence, we can rightly infer, "silence is not authoritative." In fact, "silence is prohibitive" as far as fact (doctrine) is concerned. Jesus noted in Matthew 7:23, "and then I will acknowledge to them, that--I never knew you, depart from me ye who are working lawlessness." The term "lawlessness" is the Greek word "anomia" (a + nomia). It is not only defined as "violating the law,' its first definition is "without law." In other words, it not only deals with violations of written law, it deals with those actions that have no basis in law.

Dungan also has much to say about the charge of "legalism." "(12.) Liberalism is just as dogmatic as the most orthodox creed. They who boast of their liberality are, many times the narrow and unreasonable bigots. They are liberal while the differ from the old church authorities, and, are perfectly willing that you should join them in their new views of inspiration, or of obedience to Christ, but they are unwilling that you should differ from them. Hence it is plain that they have reached their views without the tedium of the introduction of facts and the uncompromising use of logic, but have simply jumped to their conclusion without any such examination, and are determined that the rest of the world shall adopt their views of liberality. And those who are not able to do so are denominated by them (as) "legalists." They may adopt as many forms as any others, and those, too, that are not known to the Scriptures, but when others fail to adopt their liberal ideas and still cling to the word of the Lord and the ordinances as they were first commanded, they are denominated bigots by those who are continually advertising their expert liberality. This is the way that dogmatists deceive themselves quite commonly. With them, the world is perfectly illiberal, because it will not adopt their dogmatic opinions. Dogmatism here is just what it is everywhere else, only the points assumed at the beginning, differ from those which have generally been regarded as orthodox; but the manner of maintain them is just the same." (pg. 78,79).  (Related reading would be, "Bible Authority, a Closer Look , dm.")