Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Negative Inference Argument

“The mission and death of Christ is restricted to a limited number—to His people, His sheep, His friends, His church, His body—and nowhere extended to all men severally and collectively. Thus Christ is called “Jesus” because He shall save His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21). He is called the Saviour of His body (Eph. 5:23). The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep (John 10:15) and for His friends (John 15:13). He is said to die “that He might gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad” (John 11:52). It is said that Christ “hath purchased the church with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). If Christ died for every one of Adam’s posterity, why should the Scriptures so often restrict the objects of His death to a few? How could it, with propriety, be said absolutely that Christ is the Saviour of His people and of His body, if He is the Saviour of others also?”

In other words, since Christ dies for His sheep, it cannot be true that He dies for both the sheep and the goats. This argument is more elegantly seen in the text of John 10 itself, so we’ll use that to construct our syllogism:
P1: Jesus laid down His life for His sheep (John 10:15).
P2: The Pharisees are not His sheep (John 10:26).
C: Therefore, Jesus did not lay down His life for the Pharisees.


This is a Negative Inference Fallacy. The presence of a positive statement doesn’t allow the logical deduction of a categorical negative. Here’s a clearer example of the error:
P1:  John loves his wife.
P2: John’s daughter is not his wife.
C: Therefore, John does not love his daughter.
In this case the error is obvious: John’s love for his wife doesn’t mean he doesn’t love anyone else, it just means he loves his wife. But although it’s obvious how the conclusion doesn’t follow from the premises in this example, when reading Scripture it’s much easier to make the mistake.
That’s what happened to the Pharisees in Jesus day. After reading Leviticus 19:18 they made an erroneous logical deduction that if there was a category of neighbor whom they were to love, then there was also a category of not neighbor whom they could safely ignore. This meant they could move the goal posts of righteousness closer to themselves by figuring out where the line was between neighbor and not neighbor, and then being kind to some rather than all. That’s why, seeking to justify himself, one of the lawyers stood up and asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). And in response He told them the parable of the Good Samaritan, which exposed their flaw and indicated a Biblical interpretation which limits the goodness of God is not valid.

Another example found in Scripture is 1 Cor 7:1, 8, 26. Careful to ensure the Corinthians wouldn’t fall into the negative inference fallacy, Paul points out in the following verses (2, 9, 27) that just because it’s good to remain unmarried doesn’t mean it’s bad to be married. He didn’t want them to deduce the negative statement “marriage is bad” from his positive statement “not being married is good.” But instead Paul wanted the Corinthians to see one state as good and the other as better.

In the same way, the assertion that Christ laid down His life for His sheep cannot be used to prove He didn’t die for the whole world. To make that work John 10:15 must be read with the smuggled assumption that Jesus lays down His life only for the sheep, which would go beyond what is written (contrary to the direct admonition of 1 Corinthians 4:6). That Jesus says He loves His elect with a special love proves only that He loves His elect with a special love; it does not prove that He hates the non-elect, or has declined to provide for them a way of salvation. As Dabney says,
“In proof of the general correctness of this theory of the extent of the Atonement, we should attach but partial force to some of the arguments advanced by Symington and others, or even by Turrettin--e. g., That Christ says, He died "for His sheep," for "His Church," for "His friends," is not of itself conclusive. The proof of a proposition does not disprove its converse. All the force which we could properly attach to this class of passages is the probability arising from the frequent and emphatic repetition of this affirmative statement as to a definite object.”

When Scripture emphasizes how much Jesus loves His people it’s really just emphasizing how much He loves His people. 

Further, not only is there a logical fallacy associated with this argument for the exclusivity of Christ’s atonement, there’s a hermeneutical one as well. To arrive at the conclusion that Christ only dies for the elect when other verses say He dies for the world (John 1:29, John 4:42, etc) requires the reader to adopt a the principle that only the most restrictive sense of Christs death is accepted. That is, every time we see Scripture narrowing the object of God’s love we don’t treat the new category as a subset of God’s existing love, but as the complete expression of it. When we see He dies for the elect we disregard His death for the world.
That gets us over the first hurdle, but once the principle is granted there’s no reason why we should stop there—everywhere we see a subset is we must restrict God’s love further. When we see He lays down His life for current believers (1 John 3:16) we must also throw out those verses which speak to His death for the church. When we see Jesus gave Himself for Paul (Gal 2:20) we conclude the love of Christ was exclusive to him alone. Once we accept the principle that specificity indicates not a special love, but an expression exclusiveness (or more accurately, of lovelessness), then it’s not long until we’ve made Christ’s death meaningless.  

The rejoinder is that the actual hermeneutic principle is to read "world" as "elect." But there's a problem with this too, which we'll look at in the next post.


Robert Briggs said...

It would be useful for you to study the use of the word World brother, it does not seem you really grasp it. The word 'World' does not mean 'every single human being without exception' as you are trying to make it say.

Bob Schilling said...

No doubt Philip will be taking up this issue soon, but I would add Robert that we must interpret "world" (or any other word) in context, and our understanding of 1 John 2:2, for example, must first give substantial weight to the only other use of "whole world" in the same epistle, 1 John 5:19, "We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one." The "whole world" in 5:19, is certainly not "elect Gentiles" or "elect" anyone.

As for John 1:29 and 3:16, at least consider the thoughtful discussion by J. C. Ryle in his extended notes as he too defends the broad historic stream in Reformed Theology of an unlimited atonement AND a particular redemption. We don't lose the particularity of God's special love for the elect, nor the procuring of their redemption by the work of Christ. And we also ground the genuine free offer in a real atonement without which such an offer is nullified.

Obviously good men differ in their views of the extent of the atonement but far too many in our day give no credibility to the historic moderate Calvinist position (Davenant, arguably Calvin himself, numerous Puritans, etc.) of a dual intent in the substitutionary death of Christ. And certainly this negative inference fallacy is widely indulged with Owenistic portrayals of Christ's death.

Great post Philip.

David said...

Adding to what Bob says, what exactly is the argument of Robert's response?

Let's grant that kosmos for John does not mean everyone who has lived, lives, and shall live. Let's grant that world for John does not include people who do not yet exist, or even dead people in hell, even dead people in heaven. We can grant that because we know that dead people in hell and dead people in heaven are not under the power of the evil one as per 1 Jn 5:19.

So the questions then becomes, granting all that, how does that inform our understanding of John's use of Kosmos and rebut anything Phil said?

Robert, let's have a conversation and talk about this.


Kyle Fitzgerald said...

Phil, Here is an excerpt from Owens "Death of Death in the Death of Christ." I think it helpfully shows that your argument here, though perhaps from a strictly logical perspective could be fair in some circumstances, it forgets and denies the normal use of language. For instance if we're watching a soccer game and I point to a player and say to you, "That player is my daughter." I technically haven't denied that all the other players are my children, but is not my intention to communicate to you "I have a unique relationship to that particular player", namely father/daughter relationship? I don't have to specify "ONLY that player is my daughter" in order for you to understand the implication of my statement. Just wanted to point that out: Anyway here is Owen:

Argument 4 (243– 45): If in “the eternal purpose of God,” humans divide into two exclusive categories, and if Scripture says that Jesus died for one of these categories and nowhere that he died for the other category, then he did not die for all humans without exception (243). The conclusion is valid because the conditions are true. Scripture distinguishes between two exclusive categories of humans: those God loves and those God hates; those he knows and those he does not know; those appointed to life and those fitted for destruction; elect and reprobate; sheep and goats (243–44). Scripture explicitly says that Jesus died for the former category and nowhere that he died for the other (see argument 5). Some, however, may affirm that Jesus died for the former category, but object that Scripture never says that he died “only” for the former category. This argument, however, is of no value; for is it not, without any forced interpretation, in common sense, and according to the usual course of speaking, to distinguish men into two such opposite conditions as elect and reprobate, sheep and goats, and then to affirm that he died for his elect, [is it not] equivalent to this, he died for his elect only? Is not the sense as clearly restrained as if that restrictive term [“only”] had been added? Or is that term always added in the Scripture in every indefinite assertion, which yet must of necessity be limited and restrained as if it were expressly added? as where our Saviour saith, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” John xiv. 6;—he doth not say that he only is so, and yet of necessity it must be so understood. As also in that, Col. i. 19, “It pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell;”—he doth not express the limitation “only,” and yet it were no less than blasphemy to suppose a possibility of extending the affirmation to any other. So that this exception, notwithstanding this argument, is, as far as I can see, unanswerable (245).