Scripture is not all of the same ilk. It is not all conceived the same, as though God were saying, to each biblical author, “Write X, and it will be a scriptural directive” for each sentence in the Bible, with equal weight.
The last post listed a few slogans that relate to scripture. Another slogan I waited until now to mention is “command, example, and necessary inference.” The implications of this phrase are a) substantial and b) numerous. I’ll return to this saying below, but for now, please notice that it refers to different types of scriptural (supposed) injunctions. I think this general idea of differentiating is very important.
It takes but a cursory look at, for example, a Psalm and a parable, to realize that the two are very different.
Compare an epistle and a passage from Exodus or 2Kings.
Then stroll over to Ezekiel, and compare it to a narrative in Mark’s gospel — which is quite a hike away, although a few apocalyptic images might be shared.
The following passage is taken from Book 2 of Greg Fay’s monograph about scripture and its mishandling/handling in the current day:
As you read and explore books of the Bible, it becomes obvious that the Bible contains different types of literature. This is because, like a small library, the Bible is a collection of writings from a span of 1,500 years. Containing such types as historical and theological narratives, legal and genealogical documentation, songs and poetry, proverbs and wisdom sayings, prophecy and oracles, parables and short stories, letters and speeches, among others; the Bible incorporates a wide variety of literary styles and types. We call these differences in type of literature “genre.” The genre naturally affects the way you read a particular book or document — if you are familiar with the type, that is. You don’t read an internet blog in the same way you read a published autobiography. You don’t read a romance novel the same way as you do a medical textbook. They are just different, and we make natural mental adjustments to get what we’re supposed to from the different kinds of texts.
Because the Bible is full of different genres and sub-genres, and some of them are unfamiliar to us, it’s important to appreciate the impact of the literary type on the shape and content of a book.
Greg Fay, PhD, Inkblotitis: Christianity’s Dangerous Disease. Book 2: Rediscovering the Books of God (2013), p. 124.
Above, I mentioned a tripartite quasi-slogan that became the marching orders of some hermeneuticians of the American Restoration Movement: “command, example, and necessary inference” (CENI for short). The common application of this trifecta, based on my observation of certain writings as well reactions to those writings, is that every command, every example, and every inference (that someone deems “necessary”) is to be read and acted upon equally. In other words, if . . .
- Jesus said to John, “Love one another,” and
- John went fishing, and
- Something John said seemed to imply that something else was false, . . .
. . . then each of those items was to be treated with equivalent follow-up actions. Now, #1 is a command (imperative). #2 is an example. #3 involves an inference. So, as these hermeneuticians had it, I must love others, and I must go fishing, and I must “necessarily infer” what John was viewing as false, labeling that same thing false, in the here and now.
But problems with the CENI paradigm occur right away:
- Not every command is equal.
- Not every “example” appears to be intended for following.
- Not every implication leads to the same inference. (Not to mention that the “necessary” of the “necessary inference” is prepended by someone, and I don’t trust all the someones to determine what is necessary and what isn’t! Neither should anyone else.)
Differentiation among various types (types of statements, types of genres) is important.
In seeking to interpret scripture, we need to understand and differentiate among literary genres experienced in all the books/documents, and we also need to discern, for instance, the difference between a command and an implication — and whether that implication might or might not be culturally/historically transitory.
Brian Casey, 2/2-10/15