Hasty Doctrines

If we’re going to study our Bibles properly, we have to develop a robust and consistent method of gleaning concise doctrine from the Bible. One fact is clear and needs repeating: you cannot use stories as foundations for a doctrine. Or to use more formal language, you cannot deduce a prescription from a description. Biblical doctrine must be founded on didactic passages, not narrative passages. If we base a doctrine on a narrative passage, we are guilty of the error of hasty generalization – sometimes known as “the fallacy of lonely fact”.

While it’s true that stories, metaphors and parables can be a great way to demonstrate a particular doctrine, the fact remains that you cannot run these stories in reverse, so to speak, and deduce a doctrine from a story unless the story makes explicit reference to parameters of the doctrine. A story does not inform us as to which -if any- of the elements of the story are parameters and required criteria for the doctrine at hand.

Yet, sadly, a number of story-based “doctrines” are hastily preached.

An example

Let’s use the doctrine of infant salvation as an example.

Many pastors and preachers will say that they believe that babies go to heaven. This sounds wonderful. We should all want babies to go to heaven when they die. (Actually, we should all want everyone -even non-babies- to go to heaven when they die). If you ask these folks why they believe in infant salvation, more often than not they’ll answer that when King David’s son died in 2 Samuel 12, David made a statement that seems to indicate that he will see his son in the afterliefe – ie, in heaven:

[+] “…Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” (2 Sam 12:23 b)

Thus they reason that if David’s baby went to heaven, all babies go to heaven.

This hasty conclusion is disturbing on multiple levels, not the least of which is the fact that the Bible is abundantly clear that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God”, “there is none righteous; no not one” and “without faith it is impossible to please God”. These verses (and the many more like them) mention no exception for infants, and this hasty conclusion makes no attempt to a) explain why these infants are exempt from these verses, nor b) explain how or why we should believe that all infants have faith and therefore are pleasing to God. But for now, let’s lay aside these objections.

Where’s the beef?

Let’s look briefly at the alleged “proof” presented in the story of the death of David’s son. To use this verse as proof that babies go to heaven, we also have to -rightly or wrongly- commit to the following initial assumptions:

  • David is actually saying that his son went to heaven
    (perhaps David merely meant that he will ‘go to him’ in dreams and visions)
  • David is correct
    (he could be mistaken about his baby’s destiny. After all, he was wrong about other thoughts and actions, right?)
  • David knew he was also going to heaven, and David knew he could enjoy the presence of his child in heaven
    (we’re pretty sure David went to heaven, so this is a safe assumption ..but I mention this because some preachers seem to think that we won’t recognize each other in heaven. This needs to be factored into the discussion)

These are easy and safe assumptions, so for argument’s sake, we’ll accept the above 3.

So the rationale goes like this:

#1: Baby died
#2: Baby went to heaven
Therefore: all babies go to heaven

But the two-fold $64,000 question is this: how does the reader know that all the necessary and relevant criteria for infant salvation are a) presented in this story and b) properly gleaned by the reader?

If we consider the story by itself, we have absolutely no assurance whatsoever that the criteria for either a) or b) has been sufficiently met. We can immediately see that the reader has chosen the most basic criteria, but what if the doctrine rests on far more complicated criteria and the 2 propositions are insufficient to conclude infant salvation for all babies? For all we know, the reader is guilty of cherry-picking convenient criteria in order to arrive at a preferred doctrine. This is not exegesis, but eisegesis!

Let’s re-read the story of David’s son and pick different set of cherries, so to speak.

Alternative #1: David’s Kid

This story is about David. It could just as easily be the case that *only* David’s babies go to heaven. If this were the case, then the argument would look like this:

#1: David’s baby died
#2: David’s baby goes to heaven
Therefore: only all David’s babies go to heaven

Alternative #2: Prophet’s Kid

David was a prophet. It could just as easily be the case that *only* a prophet’s babies go to heaven.

#1: Prophet’s baby died
#2: Prophet’s baby goes to heaven
Therefore: all prophets’ babies go to heaven

Alternative #3: King’s Kid

David was a king, so….

#1: King’s baby died
#2: King’s baby goes to heaven
Therefore: all kings’ babies go to heaven

Alternative #4: Believer’s Kid

David was a true believer in Yahweh, so…

#1: Believer’s baby died
#2: Believer’s baby goes to heaven
Therefore: all believers’ babies go to heaven

Alternative #5: Adulterous Murdering Believer’s Kid

(I include this one just to show you how crazy things get if our thinking is unhinged)
David committed adultery with Bathsheba, then killed her husband, then married her. But not only was he an Adulterous Murderer, he was also a Believer, so…

#1: AMB’s baby died
#2: AMB’s baby goes to heaven
Therefore: all AMB’s babies go to heaven

As you can see, the various combinations of cherry-picking is vast, and is limited only by the imagination of the reader.

And that’s where the problem lies: the story as presented in in the chapter makes absolutely no attempt to affirm or disavow ANY of the various imagined arguments or their conclusions. As presented, there is no way to determine which set of “cherries” are the correct combination! The first (simplest) conclusion is just as “Biblical” as the last (most ridiculous) conclusion. That’s why this is a flawed method of Biblical interpretation.

But the problem doesn’t end there. The common conclusion of this story also rests on an argument from silence: the story is silent as to whether additional criteria are required for infant salvation.
What if infant faith is required? (without faith, it is impossible to please God).
What if election is required? (Many are called, but few are chosen).
If we add those necessary ingredients to the argument, we get this

#1: Baby had faith
#2: Baby died
#3: Baby went to heaven
Therefore: all babies with faith go to heaven


#1: Baby was elect
#2: Baby died
#3: Baby went to heaven
Therefore: all elect babies go to heaven

Or, as with mature humans, both election and faith could be required

#1: Baby was elect before the foundations of the earth
#2: Baby had faith
#3: Baby died
#4: Baby went to heaven
Therefore: all elect babies with faith go to heaven

Additionally, since we know that not all humans are elect, it is perfectly reasonable to extend this same truth to infants and justifiably conclude that this particular baby was elect and that therefore only elect babies go to heaven. While that idea is unpleasant to our fallen human sensibilities, the fact of the matter is that it more closely matches the rest of Scripture (“all have sinned”, “there is none righteous – no not one”), and this notion is just as unpleasant as the notion of the proverbial “deaf savage in the deepest darkest jungles of Africa who has never heard of Jesus” ..yet is guilty of sin and is therefore hell-bound. And again, because the story of David’s child is silent on these points, there is absolutely no way to know (from this passage alone) if election and faith are requirements for adults and infants alike.

But wait ..there’s more

As complicated as these various permutations seem, the truth is that we’ve only scratched the surface of the wild variety of cherry-picking we could apply to this passage. Here’s just a sample of the additional combinations:

  • Any combination of the 3 initial assumptions could be in error
  • Only babies born in the OT go to heaven (“the times of ignorance God overlooked” Acts 17:30)
  • Only descendants of Abraham/Isaac/Jacob go to heaven (Gen 17)
  • Only babies born during the Mosaic Theocracy go to heaven (“to you and your generation” – Exod 12:14-17)
  • Only babies born to the Davidic line go to heaven (2 Sam 7)
  • Etc (…use your imagination)


This example sufficiently demonstrates that the hasty reader cannot know which propositions are relevant and which are irrelevant to the conclusion at hand. For the “hasty reader”, the first argument (with the most simple set of criteria) and the most complicated argument are all “based” on the narrative and are equally “supported” by the Bible.  Yet their conclusions are inconsistent and, at times, even ridiculous.

Unless a story makes explicit reference to the parameters of a doctrinal position, it is completely illegitimate to use a story as a basis for a doctrinal position. Stories may be used to flesh out a particular application of a doctrine, but the passage(s) used to establish the doctrine cannot be narrative or descriptive in form. They must be didactic and prescriptive.

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