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Necessity of Necessary Inference


When studying hermeneutics, the study of interpretation, many people are often confused by the topic of “necessary inference” or just “inferring”. Some associate these words with a highly technical and specialized rubric for extracting dubious meaning from the Bible, originating in human reasoning. But, whether we realize it or not, we all make implications and expect others to “read between the lines”, to understand things not explicitly stated. This is a basic element of all human communication. More importantly, Jesus, His apostles, the prophets, and other inspired writers regularly demonstrated not only a frequent usage of necessary inference, but an expectation that others also do so.

The word, “necessary”, emphasizes the validity and surety of the conclusion. In such a case, the conclusion necessarily follows logically from the facts and premises (for example, Hebrews 7:12). We are not considering opinions, speculations, and scruples that cannot be maintained from Scripture in the face of Biblical cross-examination (for example, Romans 14:1-ff).


Inspired Examples of Necessary Inference

The following inspired examples of drawing necessary inferences from existing Scripture provide a pattern for us. Some examples are simpler to unravel than others, but if we bend and twist our minds until we are able to derive the same conclusions as did Jesus and others inspired, will not our thinking be straight? The more inspired examples we consider, the more challenges we resolve as did those inspired students before us, the greater our confidence will be in the functioning result. Asked another way, if Jesus showed us how to reason and draw necessary inferences, and if He demonstrated the expectation that we do so, who are we to say we cannot or should not? Moreover, if Jesus expected it of us, should we not expect it of each other?

Each of the following examples provide the original source passage from which the inspired person worked as well as their final conclusions. The additional passages are not necessary to derive the same conclusion, rather they corroborate the explanation of the intermediate inference process. The inspired examples of inference independently stand on the cited source passages and a self-evident basic understanding of God’s nature from creation (Romans 1:18-22).

Resurrection of the Dead (Matthew 22:23-34; Mark 12:18-28; Luke 20:27-40)

Have you ever heard or thought, “The Bible cannot be used to ’proof-text’”? With this question in mind, can you see how Jesus reached the following conclusion from this Old Testament source?

Moreover He said, “I am the God of your father – the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God. (Exodus 3:6)

Then some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Him; and they asked Him, saying … Jesus answered and said to them, “Are you not therefore mistaken, because you do not know the Scriptures nor the power of God? ”For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. “But concerning the dead, that they rise, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the burning bush passage, how God spoke to him, saying, ’I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? ”He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living. You are therefore greatly mistaken.“ (Mark 12:18-27)

“But even Moses showed in the burning bush passage that the dead are raised, when he called the Lord ’the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ (Luke 20:37)

Jesus directly states that the “burning bush passage … showed … that the dead are raised”. This is the very definition of “proof-texting”, using a Scripture to prove a significant doctrine from a single verse! No where does the original verse, Exodus 3:6, explicitly state “that the dead are raised”; however, Jesus declares that the verse “showed” it. Furthermore, He rebukes the Sadducees with the rhetorical question, “Have you not read in the book of Moses?” This was something they should have understood from reading the Bible! Moreover, Jesus states that they were “therefore greatly mistaken”. This was not an insignificant blunder of academic minutia. It was a major blunder without excuse. Therefore, would it not be an additional mistake for us to dismiss this example as something that only Jesus could do as God? Jesus expected the materialistic, wicked Sadducees, who would soon help crucify Him, to have inferred this conclusion. Are we worse than they? If they were capable of seeing this truth, then what is our excuse?

How can we draw the same conclusion as did Jesus from the original verse? First, please note the present verb tense for God’s relationship with the patriarchs (“I AM, not “I WAS). Wherever Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were, Jehovah was still being their “God”.

Second, God acknowledged them. He claimed them. Therefore, we could expect God, being their God, to continue to protect them, take care of them, even defend them as corroborated by Psalm 69:17-18; 86:1-4; 143:11-12. However, it is self-evident that death is the ultimate defeat if life ends there. (Only the resurrection can reverse that defeat, 1 Corinthians 15:51-57.)

Third, being “the God of the living”, as evidenced by His creation from nothing and His previous provision of life from death (Genesis 2:7; 18:9-15; 22:6-12; Romans 4:19; Hebrews 11:11-12), we can necessarily conclude that God would not leave His servants in the grave to suffer this ignominious defeat.

The present tense of God’s relationship to the patriarchs implies they still existed, that there was life beyond death. That the “God of the living” still recognized Himself as their God demanded a bodily resurrection for them, one day eventually triumphing over death, being raised from the dead, victorious with their God!

What do we learn from Jesus’ handling of Scripture? Is it inspired? Has it been preserved? Can we draw conclusions, make inferences from it? Can we even use it for “proof-texts”? In all these questions, Jesus demonstrates the answer, yes.

This one example is sufficient to prove the point. Jesus clearly endorsed the power of Scripture and the expectation that we carefully observe it, inferring whatever implications are embedded in it. Even some of the most wicked people in history were capable of seeing these truths, if they had been willing. The remaining examples simply deepen our established conviction, helping us to better understand how to make the inferences that Jesus expects.


One Man, One Woman, For Life (Matthew 19:1-6)

Please consider the following conclusion Jesus drew from this original Old Testament passage:

So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (Genesis 1:27)

Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24)

The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?” And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ’made them male and female,’ and said, ’For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and *the two shall become one flesh’? ”So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.“ (Matthew 19:3-6)

Again, Jesus begins His answer, “Have you not read?”. Therefore, He expected them to have already answered this question, if they had been reading their Scriptures. (Again, this raises the standard for how carefully I read the Bible. How about you?) How did the creation account of man and woman prove God’s original design and intention for marriage to forbid divorce?

First, note that the marriage union was outlined by God’s design, “made them male and female”. Second, the original intention was also stated, “joined … the two shall become one flesh”. Jesus stated this plan represents “what God has joined together”, which is a fairly straightforward inference since God was their Creator, and since Moses wrote by God’s Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20-21). But, less obvious, how does this observation prohibit divorce? Where does Genesis explicitly condemn willful dissolution of a marriage?

Third, only in recognizing the authority, wisdom, love, and power of God (Acts 14:15-17; Romans 1:18-22) will man infer or conclude to “not separate … what God has joined together”. Only God Himself is authorized to dissolve this union (Romans 7:1-3; Matthew 5:31-32; 19:7-9; Ezekiel 44:1-3). Furthermore, please notice the use of the word, “therefore”. It is undeniable that this judgment against divorce is a logical conclusion, not an explicit statement or command, and yet Jesus expected even the blind Pharisees, who would soon be crucifying Him, to have understood this. (Notice the rhetorical phrasing, “Have you not read?”). If inferring this truth was expected of them, why would it not be expected of honest, godly Christians today, benefiting from all of Scripture, not just the Old Testament?

This along with other inspired examples of respecting God’s silence implicitly require inference based on the nature of God and His Word.


Unnecessary Circumcision of Gentiles (Acts 10, 11, 15)

The early church was slow to accept Gentiles into the church. Even then, many required that the Gentiles be “circumcised according to the custom of Moses” (Acts 15:1). Persuading them otherwise was an extended process. First, the Lord used a symbolic dream to communicate to Peter:

The next day, as they went on their journey and drew near the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour. Then he became very hungry and wanted to eat; but while they made ready, he fell into a trance and saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth. In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. And a voice came to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.” And a voice spoke to him again the second time, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” This was done three times. And the object was taken up into heaven again. Now while Peter wondered within himself what this vision which he had seen meant, behold, the men who had been sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon’s house, and stood before the gate. And they called and asked whether Simon, whose surname was Peter, was lodging there. While Peter thought about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are seeking you. Arise therefore, go down and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them.” (Acts 10:9-20)

What had God communicated to Peter? On the surface, it may not seem like much, and certainly Peter himself was confused at first by it. So, not surprisingly, we also may be confused at first, which makes it perfect for this study. Looking carefully, we should be able to see at least three necessary inferences embedded in this communication:

First, God’s issued command to “kill and eat” the “common or unclean” animals of the vision necessarily implied that they should now be considered “cleansed”. Notice the past tense usage of “cleansed” in this context. Peter is rebuked for “calling common” what “God has cleansed, past tense. The clear rebuke did not make the common animals clean. It corrects Peter for not understanding that the previous statement, the command to “rise, kill, and eat”, made them clean. However, that conclusion is not explicitly stated. This conclusion can only be derived through a necessary inference, which is built upon an understanding that God is self-consistent. He does not lie (Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18). Therefore, He does not contradict Himself (Acts 15:8). Consequently, if God commands people to perform something that was previously a sin, then it is no longer sin! We have no right to condemn whatever God justifies (James 4:11-12; Isaiah 5:20-24).

Second, the nature of God and His laws are such that they cannot - will not be amended, even by God Himself (Psalm 89:34; Galatians 3:17; 1:6-9; Revelation 22:18-19). Consequently, if God takes one part away, then the entire law is nullified (Hebrews 7:12; James 2:10-11). Necessarily, if the law concerning clean and unclean foods is nullified (Leviticus 10:1-47; 20:25-26; Deuteronomy 14:1-21), then so is the entire Old Law of Moses nullified with it (Romans 7:1-7; Galatians 3:21-29)!

Third, if the Old Law was nullified, then the wall of division between Jew and Gentiles was dissolved (Ephesians 2:11-16). There no longer existed any imperative for the Jew to consider Gentile “unclean” and avoid them, much less deny them the gospel, which had long been foretold as the hope for the Gentiles (Isaiah 11:1-10; 42:1-6; 49:6; 60:1-22; Jeremiah 16:19-21; Amos 9:12; Romans 15:12). It should have become clear at that time that Gentiles should no longer be considered “unclean”, unfit to hear the gospel invitation.

Does this chain of inferences seem like a stretch? It should be no wonder that Peter needed to wonder over the meaning of this vision. However, we do know he arrived at the intended conclusion after a couple of days, when he stood before the Gentile centurion, Cornelius, along with his family and friends:

Then he said to them, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean. … Then Peter opened his mouth and said: ”In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. (Acts 10:28)

How had God shown Peter this truth? Not through command or example, but implication! Even if Peter did not follow through the exact chain of inference above presented, it cannot be denied that he operated from inference, what was “shown” him and what he “perceived”.

Not only was Peter supposed to draw this conclusion, but notice how uninspired, “regular” Christians were also supposed to draw conclusions - not from God’s explicit statements - but from facts presented to them:

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. Then Peter answered, “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to stay a few days. (Acts 10:44-48)

Why could no one “forbid water”, that the Gentiles should not be baptized? Had God explicitly, clearly stated that they were to be baptized? No, but the undeniable, necessary inference was that they should be included, since the Lord included them by bestowing the same gift. Furthermore, when “those of the circumcision contended with him saying, ’You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!’”, Peter rehearsed all of the events “from the beginning”, and he recalled that Jesus was the one who administered baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 11:1-16). After considering this, even the contrary Jewish Christians concluded and exclaimed, Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life (Acts 11:18). To have denied this conclusion would have been paramount to withstanding God” (Acts 11:17), even though the conclusion was never explicitly stated! (Are we not also “withstanding God”, whenever we resist the conclusion that He expects us to draw conclusions based on His own demonstration?)

Finally, please notice how James uses Peter’s story, the prophecies concerning the Gentiles, and God’s own eternal self-awareness to conclude that Gentiles not be required to keep circumcision and the Law of Moses:

Then all the multitude kept silent and listened to Barnabas and Paul declaring how many miracles and wonders God had worked through them among the Gentiles. And after they had become silent, James answered, saying, “Men and brethren, listen to me: Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written: ‘After this I will return And will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down; I will rebuild its ruins, And I will set it up; So that the rest of mankind may seek the LORD, Even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, Says the LORD who does all these things.’ Known to God from eternity are all His works. Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood. (Acts 15:12-20)

Had God explicitly stated that circumcision and keeping the Law of Moses was not required for Gentiles? No, but James, Peter, Paul, Barnabas, and other Christians - even those hostile to this conclusion - could infer it using their minds and the facts, both of which God provided. Independently, the Holy Spirit would additionally verify this conclusion, although it stood on its own merit (Acts 11:23-28).


Superiority of Melchizedek Priesthood and New Law (Hebrews 7:1-14)

The book of Hebrews largely works from existing Old Testament Scripture, and so it provides numerous examples of drawing necessary inferences from careful Bible study. The most elaborate and therefore most persuasive example on this point is found in chapter 7, which will be considered here in smaller sections:

For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, to whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of allNow consider how great this man was, to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils. And indeed those who are of the sons of Levi, who receive the priesthood, have a commandment to receive tithes from the people according to the law, that is, from their brethren, though they have come from the loins of Abraham; but he whose genealogy is not derived from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. Now beyond all contradiction the lesser is blessed by the better. Here mortal men receive tithes, but there he receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives. Even Levi, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, so to speak, for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him. Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron? (Hebrews 7:1-11)

Simply, Melchizedek’s priesthood is superior to Levi’s priesthood, since Abraham was obviously superior to Levi, and Abraham submitted to Melchizedek in both paying tithes and receiving blessing. As goes the priesthood, so goes the laws built around those priesthoods. Therefore, the New Covenant’s law is superior to the Old Covenant’s law, the Law of Moses. The promise that the Messiah would be called a “priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” not Levi, further evidenced the weakness of the Old Law (Psalm 110:1-4). Why replace what was supposedly perfect?

When you read the story of Abraham paying tithes to Melchizedek, did you catch all that? When you first read that great Messianic psalm, Psalm 110 (Matthew 22:4-46; Luke 20:41-44), did this conclusion jump at you? Not me! But, seeing how inspired men used the Scripture increases not only my faith in God and His word, but in His saints as His regenerated, new creation (Romans 6:1-4; Titus 3:4-6).

For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law. For He of whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no man has officiated at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood. (Hebrews 7:12-14)

Not only does this passage provide another example of honoring God’s silence in Scripture, but it demonstrates additional inferences by concluding that “of necessity there is also a change of the law”. Why would changing the priesthood require changing the law? Could it not be amended or edited? No, God’s laws, promises, and covenants cannot be modified (Numbers 1:50-51; 3:6-10; 16:1-17:13; 18:1-7). Since Jesus was of the tribe of Judah - not the proscribed tribe of Levi - a new law must have been initiated, a necessary inference.


Additional Examples

The following brief examples also demonstrate not only usage of necessary inference, but an expectation that we follow it. Each of these draw conclusions that are not explicitly stated in the source passages or facts. Some of these inferences were based on the behavior of those involved, revealing their inconsistency, hypocrisy, and error. However, in each of those special cases at least two necessary inferences were drawn: Those condemned were not only technically wrong but also morally wrong, hypocritical.

  • Healing on the Sabbath was obviously justified by their own “doing good” on the Sabbath for lesser reasons or subjects (Matthew 12:9-14; Luke 13:14-17; John 7:21-24).
  • Jesus casting out demons was not necessarily by the Devil, since their own sons did the same and were not condemned (Matthew 12:27).
  • Christians must submit to government, because they were established by God (Romans 13:1-7).
  • Based on the nature of the father-child and master-servant relationships, Christians should infer they should also be merciful and holy as is God (Matthew 5:444-48; Luke 6:35-36; 1 Peter 1:13-17; 2 Corinthians 6:17-7:1).
  • Abraham was justified by faith before being circumcised; therefore, circumcision and the Old Law is not necessarily required for salvation (Romans 4:1-5:1).
  • God was “evidently” exempt from submission to Jesus despite God “putting all things under His feet” (1 Corinthians 15:24-28).
  • Laws concerning moral treatment of animals ultimately taught moral treatment for fellow human beings, although never explicitly stated until New Testament epistles. “Is it oxen God is concerned about” (1 Corinthians 9:8-11).



Some young in the faith may be apprehensive, reluctant to make such conclusions, much less demand them of others. First, it should be noted that the Lord provided the church as a support group, filled with older, wiser Christians who can help us use God’s Word correctly (Hebrews 5:12-14; 1 Corinthians 3:1-2):

for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ – from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; (Ephesians 4:12-18)

Second, it will take time, work, and repeated trial-and-error, comparing our conclusions with Scripture as a whole:

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)

and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation – as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen. (2 Peter 3:15-18)

Third, we must be sufficiently self-aware to show others the same patience that we required in growing to understand the full power of the “sharp and living sword” (Matthew 18:21-35; Hebrews 4:11-13; Ephesians 6:10-17). However, we must be careful not to confuse patience with tolerance. All believers must come to this understanding “as we have opportunity” (Ephesians 5:11-17; 2 Corinthians 8:12; Galatians 6:8-10). Who are we to deny the Lord’s expectations of people reading His Word? Instead of being those who are perennially “still studying that”, “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7), we must develop an “assured learning of the Holy Scriptures” and “continue” in it (2 Timothy 3:14-17).



Humility requires submission first to God and Jesus Christ. Serving Him as His children, brothers, and servants require us to not only perform their will but think and behave as Christ exemplified. Some insist that recognizing, following, and even drawing lines of fellowship according to necessary inferences represents human wisdom, displacing God’s judgment with our own. However, if Jesus not only teaches us to make these inferences, but if He also shows us how, and if He expected the most defiled, wicked, and depraved sinners of history - his executioners, the Pharisees and Sadducees - to make these conclusions, then how can we deny our capability and responsibility without rebelling and disdaining Him and His Word? If we fail to warn those around us who are “greatly mistaken” for not observing the power of God’s Word and His expectation of us, then how deep is our love for them, truly (James 5:19-20; 2:15-17)? What kind of servants and watchmen are we (Ezekiel 3:17-21; 33:1-11)? Who are we to ignore the Scriptural necessity of employing necessary inference?



For additional verses and thoughts on related subjects, please see on this site:

Beyond this site, please see the following independently developed articles and sermons:


Unless otherwise noted, all quotations are from the New King James Version, copyright © 1994 by Thomas Nelson Publishers.

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