Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
January 26, 1950

Imperfect Reasoning

Robert C. Welch

Many times truths are determined by the combination of two or more other truths which have already been ascertained. Such a combination with the conclusion is called logic, or reasoning. The statement of such a process is called an argument. The basic means of producing an argument is the syllogism. If an argument is correctly stated it can be reduced to a syllogism or series of syllogisms. If the conclusion is wrong it is due to an error in the combination, or in the statement of one of the premises. Many truths of God's word are ascertained by this process of reasoning. Denominational preachers are frequently guilty of imperfect reasoning. Sometimes preachers of the gospel are not careful about their own reasoning. Some of us younger preachers have heard the older men present matters not intended to be logic, but persuasion, and we have started using it, thinking that it is perfect reasoning. I intend to point out some of these imperfect reasonings.

Illustration Is Not Proof

This is a common rule of argumentation, but often we use an illustration as if we thought it to be the law and the gospel. Its rightful place is to persuade the hearer to accept the logic elsewhere presented. It may prove that a certain statement is possible, but it does not prove that the statement must be so. In discussing the time of faith with reference to repentance, Baptists declare that repentance comes before faith. Gospel preachers have pointed out a common expression in reply. People say they put on their shoes and socks, but it does not mean they put on their shoes before their socks. That illustration is used in discussing the passages which mention repentance before faith. It is true that in point of time, faith comes first, but the "shoes and socks" illustration does not prove it. It shows the possibility that faith could come first though not mentioned first in the passages. Other proof must be given to show that faith must precede repentance.

When certain brethren contend for one container for the fruit of the vine by saying that the Lord took "the cup," it is not enough to say that he was using metonymy, then give an illustration of metonymy. "The kettle boils," means that the contents of the kettle boils, but the illustration does not prove that when the Lord took "the cup" he referred to the contents. There is ample proof (e.g. "And drink the cup.") that it is metonymy, but the illustration does not prove it.

Overlooking Facts In Proof Texts

Premillennialists overlook some of the facts in one of the proof texts they use in one of their premises. They use the twentieth chapter of Revelation as a premise that there will be a thousand year reign on the earth. The chapter does speak of a thousand year reign, but they overlook the fact that their textual premise says the participants will be the souls of those beheaded for the testimony of Jesus.

A gospel preacher was once heard discussing the matter of giving. He said some teach that Christians are not to contribute unless a need for the contribution is stated. His argument was that Christians are to give as they are prospered, whether the need for it is known or not. His proof text for the premise was 1 Cor., chapter sixteen. He overlooked the fact that the text for his premise stated the need for the contribution commanded. His conclusion may have been correct, but he used the wrong text in making his premise.

Failure To Present One Of The Premises

A common error is to draw a conclusion from one premise only. It may be due to the fact that the unused premise is so well fixed in the mind of the one making the argument, that he thinks it unnecessary to mention it. Others for whom the argument is intended may not know it so well. The following example of such omission has been heard; "The gospel was preached—first on Pentecost, therefore: the church began on Pentecost." The conclusion is correct, but one or more other premises must be stated to make proof for the conclusion.

Recently, brethren have concluded that since both schools and orphanages are institutions, they are parallel in every other respect, particularly in the matter of receiving funds for operation from churches. They need another premise before concluding that the two are parallel in every respect. They need to remember that if it can be shown that they are not parallel in every respect, the conclusion concerning the receiving of funds from churches may be altered. If they are not parallel in every respect, it may be possible that one may be rightfully supported while the other cannot be supported scripturally by the churches.

Rules Applying To Other Subjects

A well known law applying to logic is that the rules applying to one subject are not to be used in another. Aristotle, the ancient logician, stated the rule in his Posterior Analytics, a part of which is here given, "Hence it is clear that not every question will be relevant to geometry, not to medicine, not to any other science: only those questions will be geometrical which form premises for the proof of the theorems of geometry or of any other science, such as optics, which uses the same basic truths as geometry. Of the other sciences the like is true." Is it possible that the rules applying to mathematics will apply to spiritual matters? In the first and second chapters of Ephesians we are told that the church is the body, and that to be reconciled in Christ is to be reconciled in the body: thus, to be in Christ, we must be in the church. Sometimes, then, the preacher applies the rule of mathematics, "Things equal to the same things are equal to each other." It is a good illustration but not a real argument.

"He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." (Mark 16:16.) In discussing this passage in connection with Baptist teaching on the subject of salvation, gospel preachers often use a mathematical demonstration. They say, "Faith plus baptism equals salvation," but that Baptists teach, "Faith equals salvation plus baptism." Then they use numbers instead of words to demonstrate the impossibility of harmonizing the two statements. Baptism is essential to salvation, but this does not prove it. The mathematical demonstration serves as a forceful illustration, but it is not the exact proof. Equations have to do with mathematics. God's teaching on spiritual matters is given in words and sentences, in language, rather than in equations.