If you’ve been a Christian on the internet you’ve most certainly run into a Biblicist before (and perhaps you yourself are a Biblicist). It is often very frustrating to argue with them because they frequently don’t allow theological categories (derived from scripture) to be brought in and want everything to be proven by single isolated verses without bringing in other scriptures. I’d like to make a biblical case against biblicism, as I think its very clear that the Bible does not not teach us this is the way to interpret it. So first some definitions:
Biblicism is the rejection of everything not explicitly stated in the Bible, and the concomitant dismissal of all non-biblical witnesses (Fathers, Creeds, Medieval Doctors, Councils, etc.). (D. B. Riker, A Catholic Reformed Theologian)1
If you call yourself a Biblicist but this description of biblicisim doesn’t fit you, then fine, know that I am not addressing you. However, also know that this is a common definition of a Biblicist and I will continue to use this definition as a description of someone who denies the doctrine of “Good and Necessary Consequence.” This doctrine gets its name from the Westminster Confession of Faith.2
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: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. (Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 1 Paragraph 6)
So essentially while some things are explicitly laid out in Scripture, other truths are implicit and may be deduced logically from it. With those definitions in place, let’s look at an example of Jesus’ teaching that would condemn Biblicist reasoning.
The same day came to him the Sadducees, which say that there is no resurrection, and asked him, Saying, Master, Moses said, If a man die, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother. Now there were with us seven brethren: and the first, when he had married a wife, deceased, and, having no issue, left his wife unto his brother: Likewise the second also, and the third, unto the seventh. And last of all the woman died also. Therefore in the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven? for they all had her. Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven. But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. And when the multitude heard this, they were astonished at his doctrine. (Matthew 22:23–33 KJV)
Jesus’ argument is simple. Since it says in Exodus 3:6 that God *IS* the God of Abraham, this implies their existence did not cease after death. He still is their God. Thus, the whole belief system of the Sadducees, that existence ends with death, is refuted. And if He is their God, He will certainly make good on His promises to give them the land He promised them, which means they must be raised from the dead. Now if it weren’t for the fact that Jesus says that this quotation proves there is a resurrection, how many of us would have realized this passage taught it? And yet, it is there.
So why do I say this a rebuke of biblicism? Look how Jesus speaks to the Sadducees: “have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God?” They were the Sadducees. Of course they had read the book of Exodus! So why this verbal slap in the face? Because the resurrection is a truth so basic, that it’s even implied in one of God’s most known titles. Jesus insults them because they hadn’t drawn the proper logical deductions from the text.
If you think it would be a good argument to say, “That passage doesn’t use the word resurrection, therefore it shouldn’t be used in any discussion of the resurrection,” you’re implicitly siding against Jesus. Same with “That passage isn’t talking about the resurrection in context, so we shouldn’t use it to inform our view of the resurrection.” It doesn’t matter if it’s directly addressing the subject or not, it implies that the resurrection is true. And we should listen to our Lord when He teaches us that we should use the scriptures in this way. We do not want to have a hermeneutic other than the one He had and if we do, we should not be surprised to receive a similar rebuke to the one He gave the Sadducees.
Nowhere does the Bible have a warning for those who would attempt to derive implicit doctrines. Since there is no warning, the only option would be to try to derive it by implication, but that would contradict what it means to be a Biblicist. The Bible does, however, have an implicit warning for those who failed to understand all that the scriptures teach, even if implicitly. Often time the Bible’s teachings against the doctrines of men are conflated with the doctrine of Good and Necessary Consequence. Because the Bible doesn’t explicitly lay out the doctrine in a single verse or passage, it’s claimed that the doctrine must be a tradition of men. But this is not so. Not all doctrine has to be laid out in a single passage of scripture, and to reject logically deduced truth is to reject God’s truth. And in fact, it may be an implicit teaching of scripture that helps us overturn an unbiblical tradition we have (including biblicism).
- I normally like to be able to procure the original source of a quotation before using it. In this case I wasn’t able to before publishing this blog post. If the quotation is slightly off, I apologize, although I do think this is a good definition of biblicism regardless.
- While I actually think the language the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith employs of “necessarily contained” is slightly more helpful than “good and necessary consequence” that the Westminster uses, the latter is what is normally used in discussions, so I quote from the Westminster here.