Exclusions and Hypothetical Arguments
“The same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Him and asked Him, saying: ‘Teacher, Moses said that if a man dies, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were with us seven brothers. The first died after he had married, and having no offspring, left his wife to his brother. Likewise the second also, and the third, even to the seventh. Last of all the woman died also. Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had her’” (Matthew 22:23-28).
Arguing by Exclusion
False doctrine often slips in under the guise of exclusion. A person will prove that a particular action is required from the Scriptures but then concludes that it is only this way. For example, advocates of salvation by faith alone will cite verse after verse where faith is a requirement for salvation and then in their summary state, “You see, salvation is by faith alone.” The problem is that they have not proved their point. To prove something exclusively exists, you must show one of two things: 1) a direct statement of exclusiveness or 2) a complete lack of any other means of obtaining the desired goal. In the case of faith alone, the first does not exist. There is no statement in the Bible that states salvation comes by faith exclusively. That faith is required for salvation is easily proven, but the exclusion of any other requirements is not. In fact, there is only one first that discuss faith in the exclusive sense and that is James 2:24, which contradicts the faith alone position.
The psalmist stated, “The entirety of Your word is truth” (Psalm 119:160). Truth is found by considering the whole of what God said. When you only consider a portion, you can arrive at the wrong conclusion. When making a claim of exclusion and lacking a direct statement proving your point, you must examine every verse concerning the topic and show that it only happened in that manner. Since there is no statement stating that salvation is by faith alone, the supporter must show that every instance of salvation came only by faith. If you think about it, this is a tall order. There are a large number of passages dealing with salvation. The one in opposition is in a better position. To prove the supporter wrong, he needs only to show one verse where there was a requirement of something in addition to faith in order to obtain salvation. Passages such as Acts 2:38 and Acts 22:16 easily establish that faith is not the only requirement for salvation, therefore salvation is not by faith alone.
We must remember this when presenting the gospel to others. Arguments of exclusiveness are difficult to prove and easily defeated. When dealing with someone unfamiliar with the Bible, you are asking a lot for them to except an “only” position based on one or two verses. For example, we understand that the New Testament authorizes singing in worship and that instrumental music is excluded. Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 show that singing is required, but they do not show that it is exclusively singing. That argument can only be proven by examining every place where music is mentioned in the New Testament and showing that it was only done with vocal music. This not as difficult as it might sound. There are only a few places where music is discussed in the New Testament. However, it is necessary to show these verses to properly prove the point. It is improper to ask others to accept arguments that we find unacceptable when applied to other topics.
A more subtle exclusive argument is to state that the truth must be one of two choices, then proving one choice isn’t true so concluding it must be the other. This method of proof only works if the two choices do not overlap and if the two choices are the only two possible choices. For example, I could state “Either it is Tuesday or it is raining. It is not Tuesday, so it must be raining.” The argument fails because it can be Tuesday and raining and it can be another day of the week and not be raining.
The Pharisees of Jesus’ day frequently attempted to trap Jesus between two seemingly conflicting positions. “Teacher, we know that You say and teach rightly, and You do not show personal favoritism, but teach the way of God in truth: Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (Luke 20:21-22). If Jesus stated that taxes should not be paid, they would turn him over to the governing authorities for rebellious statements. If Jesus stated that taxes should be paid, the Jews would turn on him because the Romans were an unpopular occupying force in their country. Jesus’ answer showed that there was an overlap in the two positions. “‘Show Me a denarius. Whose image and inscription does it have?’ They answered and said, ‘Caesar's.’ And He said to them, ’Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's’” (Luke 20:24-25). The Jews accepted and used Roman coinage in their daily transactions. Those coins were back by the power of the Roman government. It was inconsistent to both deny the government and benefit from the government at the same time.
Another example is found in John 8:3-5. “Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, "Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?’” The law of Moses did command that adultery be punished by stoning (Deuteronomy 22:22). However, the Roman government at that time stated that only a Roman official could impose a death penalty. If Jesus indicated support for God’s law, he would be in violation of man’s law. However, Jesus pointed out a third position. These men had broken Moses’ law. Read Deuteronomy 22:22 carefully and you will find that both the man and the woman were to be stoned, yet the Pharisees only brought the woman, though they claim they caught her in the act of adultery. Where was the man? This is why Jesus’ simple statement, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first” (John 8:7), had such a devastating effect on the accusers. They knew they were wrong by accusing the woman while allowing the man freedom.
We must be careful not to make similar faulty arguments. For example, I could claim, “We can’t both be right. You’re wrong. Therefore, I’m right.” The style of argument is called “black or white arguments.” What is being ignored is the possibility that we both could be wrong. Most black or white arguments break down when it is shown that more than the two possibilities exist.
Several times we have shown the danger in arguing from the conclusion of an “if-then” statement. One point might be the natural consequence of another point, but to then assume that because the conclusion is true, the premise must be true is a falsehood. I could argue, “If it is raining, then the streets are wet. The streets are wet; therefore, it is raining.” The fault lies in the fact that streets can be wet for more reason than that it is currently raining. Just because one thing leads to another does not imply that it is the only thing that leads to the conclusion.
Arguing from Possibilities
Some become bent out of shape when you prove their favorite belief is not correct – especially if it is an action in which they have been involved. The argument thrown back is that it could have happened that way and if you deny it, then you are limiting the power of God. I have been told at one time or another, each of the following:
• Jesus could save by faith alone, so to deny it means you are limiting God’s power.
• God is able to perform miracles if He so desired, so if you deny that they are occurring, you are trying to limit the power of God.
• God could have used evolution to create the world, so to argue against it is to limit how God works.
Taken at face value, the argument is worthless. No matter how I might present a case, I cannot limit God. “For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.’ Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?” (I Corinthians 1:19-20). The reality is not whether some man has placed a limit on the power of God, what we must recognize is what God has stated He has done and will do. The point is not whether God could have saved men by faith alone, the question has God done so? (And the clear answer is “no” – James 2:24). It is not a question of whether God could do miracles today, it is whether we will acknowledge that God said the miracles would cease (I Corinthians 13:8-10).
Which of you would like to be tried for murder and have the opposing lawyer argue that you could have pulled the trigger; therefore, it doesn’t matter whether you actually did so or not. I could argue that yesterday it could have rained. Whether the possibility existed or not, the truth is that it did or did not rain. Possibilities do not establish the truth.
While God is infinite in power, He has told us that there are things He cannot do. God cannot sin (I John 1:5). God’s promises cannot change (Hebrews 6:17-18). He cannot lie (Titus 1:2). He cannot deny Himself (II Timothy 2:13). Perhaps some would claim these are limits on the power of God. Yet, these are fundamental characteristics of God. If God could do these things, then He would not be the Almighty God that we worship.
1) Look at Deuteronomy 17:6. Why did Jesus let the adulterous woman in John 8 go, even though he knew she had sinned?
2) What other things can you think of that God cannot do?