By Good and Necessary Consequence
Ryan M. McGraw
“Explorations in Reformed Confessional Theology” Series, Daniel R. Hyde and Mark Jones, eds.
Reformation Heritage Books, 2012
If you have defended Christian doctrines such as the Trinity, Christology, baptism, church government, etc., you may have used arguments in Scripture that are not suddenly apparent in the texts themselves. Your interlocutor may have protested at this point with “Show me a verse!” or “You are reading into the text!”
On the one hand, this is a legitimate claim: we have to distinguish between consequences of texts and inserting our own opinions into them. On the other hand, deductions from Scripture are as much Scripture as verses which have a clear and visible meaning.
This kind of argumentation is known as “good and necessary consequence” and a few months ago The Presbytery Inn did a series on this topic which you can read here (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6).
This little book from Ryan McGraw, pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Conway/Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, is a fantastic explanation of this approach to biblical interpretation. The title is drawn from the phrase in the Westminster Confession which states:
“The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture…” (WCF I.VI)
In this study, McGraw begins by setting out the Scriptural foundations for this approach to Scriptural interpretation. He demonstrates not only from the teaching of Jesus but also the example of the apostles in the Book of Acts and the Pauline epistles that this is not just a useful principle but a biblical one. We see that the authors of Scripture themselves, divinely inspired, used this approach to explain doctrine to the church. For example, McGraw notes the following:
“In his Pentecost sermon, Peter asserted the necessity of Christ’s resurrection as an inference drawn from the fact that not every part of Psalm 16 was applicable to David, since his tomb still remained with them. Peter grounded his line of argumentation, in great detail, on the fact that his assertion was not visible on the surface of the text (Acts 2:25-31).” (p. 13)
From here, McGraw provides a succinct, clear, and helpful summary of the development of biblical interpretation from the early church fathers, through the scholastic period, and to the Westminster Assembly. We have often heard that the “literal” or “historical” meaning of the text is the only legitimate form of interpretation in the Reformed tradition. McGraw suggests this is not exactly the case. He contends:
Even though there was one “literal” sense of the text of Scripture, doctrinal formulation as well as application demanded that various theological and practical conclusions could be legitimately drawn from that literal sense. If the only thing a minister or commentator did was to give the people of God the proper literal and historical meaning of the Scriptures, then there would be no theology and no application in the sermon or commentary. (p 25)
McGraw demonstrates that this understanding of biblical interpretation was inherited by the Reformed from Thomas Aquinas (of course, with some modifications).
From there, he explains the importance of GNC for establishing core Christian doctrines. He also takes time to demonstrate its importance for establishing the regulative principle of worship. In a discussion of Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10, he says this:
The failure to draw a good and necessary consequence from God’s action proved fatal in this case. God treated Nadab and Abihu as though the necessary consequences of His words and actions were as binding on the worship practices of His people as His explicit commands. (p.49)
From there, McGraw responds to typical objections to the use of GNC. He then explains the practical implications of GNC for the church, from the New Testament use of the Old Testament, to application in preaching, and our connection to the creeds and confessions of the church.
The book is pocket-sized and 85 pages with bibliography and scripture index for further study. It is currently offered at Reformation Heritage Books for $6. If you put an order in at RHB, considering adding this to it. It is a fantastic little book that is surprisingly comprehensive for its size.
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