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”.

Yet, sadly, I’m surprised at the number of doctrines that many Bible base on stories.

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.

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 , 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.” ( 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 commit to the following initial assumptions:

  • This statement should be understood as David 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 some people seem to think that we won’t recognize each other in heaven)

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 $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 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

David committed adultery with Bathsheba, then killed her husband, then married her. But 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 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

Or

#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 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 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” )
  • Only descendants of Abraham/Isaac/Jacob go to heaven ()
  • 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 ()
  • Etc (…use your imagination)

Conclusion

This example sufficiently demonstrates that the reader cannot know which propositions are relevant and which are irrelevant to the conclusion at hand. 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.


12:1 And the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.” Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”

Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more. Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’ 11 Thus says the Lord, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. 12 For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun.’” 13 David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. 14 Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child who is born to you shall die.” 15 Then Nathan went to his house.

And the Lord afflicted the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and he became sick. 16 David therefore sought God on behalf of the child. And David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground. 17 And the elders of his house stood beside him, to raise him from the ground, but he would not, nor did he eat food with them. 18 On the seventh day the child died. And the servants of David were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they said, “Behold, while the child was yet alive, we spoke to him, and he did not listen to us. How then can we say to him the child is dead? He may do himself some harm.” 19 But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, David understood that the child was dead. And David said to his servants, “Is the child dead?” They said, “He is dead.” 20 Then David arose from the earth and washed and anointed himself and changed his clothes. And he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. He then went to his own house. And when he asked, they set food before him, and he ate. 21 Then his servants said to him, “What is this thing that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.” 22 He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ 23 But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.”

24 Then David comforted his wife, Bathsheba, and went in to her and lay with her, and she bore a son, and he called his name Solomon. And the Lord loved him 25 and sent a message by Nathan the prophet. So he called his name Jedidiah, because of the Lord.

26 Now Joab fought against Rabbah of the Ammonites and took the royal city. 27 And Joab sent messengers to David and said, “I have fought against Rabbah; moreover, I have taken the city of waters. 28 Now then gather the rest of the people together and encamp against the city and take it, lest I take the city and it be called by my name.” 29 So David gathered all the people together and went to Rabbah and fought against it and took it. 30 And he took the crown of their king from his head. The weight of it was a talent of gold, and in it was a precious stone, and it was placed on David’s head. And he brought out the spoil of the city, a very great amount. 31 And he brought out the people who were in it and set them to labor with saws and iron picks and iron axes and made them toil at the brick kilns. And thus he did to all the cities of the Ammonites. Then David and all the people returned to Jerusalem. (ESV)


23 But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” (ESV)


30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, (ESV)


17:1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”

And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. 10 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, 13 both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

15 And God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16 I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” 17 Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” 18 And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” 19 God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. 20 As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation. 21 But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year.”

22 When he had finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham. 23 Then Abraham took Ishmael his son and all those born in his house or bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and he circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very day, as God had said to him. 24 Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. 25 And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. 26 That very day Abraham and his son Ishmael were circumcised. 27 And all the men of his house, those born in the house and those bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him. (ESV)


7:1 Now when the king lived in his house and the Lord had given him rest from all his surrounding enemies, the king said to Nathan the prophet, “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent.” And Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you.”

But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, “Go and tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord: Would you build me a house to dwell in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling. In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’ Now, therefore, thus you shall say to my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. 10 And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, 11 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. 12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16 And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’” 17 In accordance with all these words, and in accordance with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David.

18 Then King David went in and sat before the Lord and said, “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? 19 And yet this was a small thing in your eyes, O Lord God. You have spoken also of your servant’s house for a great while to come, and this is instruction for mankind, O Lord God! 20 And what more can David say to you? For you know your servant, O Lord God! 21 Because of your promise, and according to your own heart, you have brought about all this greatness, to make your servant know it. 22 Therefore you are great, O Lord God. For there is none like you, and there is no God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears. 23 And who is like your people Israel, the one nation on earth whom God went to redeem to be his people, making himself a name and doing for them great and awesome things by driving out before your people, whom you redeemed for yourself from Egypt, a nation and its gods? 24 And you established for yourself your people Israel to be your people forever. And you, O Lord, became their God. 25 And now, O Lord God, confirm forever the word that you have spoken concerning your servant and concerning his house, and do as you have spoken. 26 And your name will be magnified forever, saying, ‘The Lord of hosts is God over Israel,’ and the house of your servant David will be established before you. 27 For you, O Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, have made this revelation to your servant, saying, ‘I will build you a house.’ Therefore your servant has found courage to pray this prayer to you. 28 And now, O Lord God, you are God, and your words are true, and you have promised this good thing to your servant. 29 Now therefore may it please you to bless the house of your servant, so that it may continue forever before you. For you, O Lord God, have spoken, and with your blessing shall the house of your servant be blessed forever.” (ESV)

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