So far, we have introduced the concept of good and necessary consequence arguments (GNC) in Scripture. We have also seen how Jesus used these arguments to prove the resurrection and that he is the Messiah from Scripture.
Today, we will look at what the Reformed tradition has had to say about these kinds of arguments.
Principally, I will outline Turretin’s argument in favor of GNC and how that shapes our approach to Scripture.
GNC According to Turretin
Francis Turretin (1623-1687) was a Swiss-Italian Reformed theologian who taught at the Academy of Geneva, the school established by John Calvin. His systematic theology, The Institutes of Elenctic Theology, was standard reading at Old Princeton which trained many Presbyterians. Charles Hodge used Turretin’s work as the basis for his systematic theology courses.
In vol. 1 of his Institutes, Turretin writes
Are the doctrines of faith and practice to be proved only by the express word of God? May they not also be legitimately proved by consequences drawn from Scripture? We affirm the latter.
He describes why doctrines may be derived by GNC from Scripture.
First, that in the history of the church, it has been the argument of heretics to say that doctrines must be expressly stated in Scripture in order to be established. The Arians stated that since the idea that the Son was of the same substance as the Father, since homoousion was never expressly used in the Scriptures. Second, that other heretics who have denied the divinity of the Spirit did so because Scripture does not explicitly say that the Holy Spirit is God. Maximus notes in his “Orations” that the Apollinarians and Monophysites did the same.
He goes on to say that something in Scripture may be found in two ways: 1) by being expressly stated; 2) by being implicitly stated and “as to the sense”. Turretin argues that all things are contained in Scripture according to the second way. Of course, some things are contained in Scripture expressly, such as the command “thou shalt not kill”. But not all things are so expressly stated. As such, whatever can be logically deduced from Scripture is contained in Scripture.
Now, what limits us from making wild deductions from Scripture which it does not teach? Turretin says we can think of consequences in two ways. He states that some conclusion “proximate, necessary, and plain; others remote, probable, and obscure. We speak here of the former, not of the latter” (Inst., vol.1, QXII, p.39). Turretin is saying that just because we find an obscure meaning, that doesn’t make it sufficient for establishing doctrine.
What does then? First of all, its plainness as stated above. Second, that the evidence – and not the conviction of the arguer – establishes the consequence. What’s his point?
When we look to Scripture, if the texts yield a closeness to the express meaning, are made a necessary conclusion from the text, and are plain after a full review of the evidence, then matters of faith, piety, and practice may be established by them.
It is also important to note, that when it is demanded that a doctrine be found expressly in Scripture (“show me the verse”), then we are calling into question the sufficiency of Scripture. Why?
Because all true doctrines are established positively by Scripture. However, not all heresies and errors are condemned by name.
For example, we see evidences throughout Scripture that the Father and the Son share the same substance (more on this in a future post). However, the error that they are not of the same substance is not expressly stated. Therefore, positive doctrines, when stated in Scripture, by consequence deny the errors that are opposed to those doctrines.
It should not surprise us that one of the key arguments against the Reformation principle of Sola Scriptura that was made by the Church of Rome was that many of the doctrines of the Reformation were not expressly stated in Scripture. Roman Catholic theologians would ask that the Reformers cite verses. When the Reformers argued the evidence by consequence, the Roman Catholic theologians would point out that such arguing proved that Scripture was insufficient to establish all doctrine. The Reformers insisted that Scripture not only had an express sense but also an implicit sense by which doctrine could be established.
This should give us pause. Certainly, men may err in their use of consequences. However, if we continue to demand express witness in Scripture to establish doctrine, we make the same error as the heretics and as the church of Rome.
In our next post, we will continue our discussion of the right use of consequences from Scripture.