False Premises: An Example

There are times when people express arguments for cases that are difficult to respond to, not because they contain a great argument for a worthy cause, but because they contain flawed logic. Last Friday I received just such an argument in the form of a comment to a post from May 6. I might add that the comment had nothing to do with the post, and was pasted into another comment on another older post the following day; interesting.

I bring this up because this week I’m doing a few posts about why Christians argue so much. I began Monday with the weekly podcast, continued Tuesday recalling that troubling conversation I had Sunday evening, and I continue here. I want to make it very clear that I have no intention of calling anybody out or pointing any fingers at anyone. I am sure that the gentleman who wrote the comment is a great guy, good brother in Christ who, like all of us from time-to-time simply made a mistake. The only thing I wish to do here is to use the argumentation as an example to show what sometimes causes us to make such mistakes in the hope that we can avoid them in the future. Because the comment is quite lengthy, I will only quote parts of it here, but you can view the entire comment at the bottom of the comment string after “Jesus is Our Role Model“.

The comment in question is making the following case:

“Which is the most important?
Jesus was asked twice, by two different men, the same basic question about which is the most important or greatest commandment in the Law. Here is how Jesus answered that question:
#1
“One of the teachers of the law… asked him [Jesus],
‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “ is this: ‘Hear, of Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than THESE.” [Mark 12:28-31, Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Leviticus 19:18]
#2
…an expert in the law, tested him [Jesus] with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’”
Jesus replied: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these TWO commandments.” [Matthew 22:36-40, Deuteronomy 6:5, Leviticus 19:18]
But in contrast with Jesus, Paul the Pharisee didn’t know the greatest, most important, first commandment according to Jesus. Paul made up his own rule. Paul wrote:
“The entire law is summed up in a SINGLE command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” [Galatians 5:14, Leviticus 19:18]
And again, Paul wrote:
“He who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not covet, and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this ONE RULE: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” [Romans 13:8-10, Leviticus 19:18]
Jesus said it’s TWO commandments, with the greatest, most important, first command to
.1) first, love God with everything you’ve got, and
.2) second, love people.
Paul said no, it ONE commandment- to love people.
This is very similar to The Beatles- “All you need is love. Love is all you need. Love, Love, Love.” (In other words, the second commandment, the love of man, without the love of God. Love as me, myself and I define love to be, and continuously redefined by sinful men.)
In essence, it is also the same principle as what Eve did in the Garden of Eden, forgetting about the Tree of Life, which is the first tree in the middle of the Garden, and instead referring to the second tree as “the tree that is in the middle of the garden.” [Genesis 3:3 & 2:9 2:17, 3:24]
Kind of like the Pharisees with Jesus, who were pushing the false idea that we can consider ONE commandment in the Law, alone in isolation, to be “the greatest commandment in the Law.”
Or like today, false teachers in the Chrislam – Purpose Driven – Seeker Sensitive – Emergent – Liberal – Ecumenical – New Age – world church movement pushing the false idea that the ONE RULE is “Loving God and Neighbor together.”
The Lord God Jesus the Jewish Messiah, Son of Yahweh the Most High God of Israel, said:
“All the Law and the Prophets hang on these TWO commandments.”
Not one. TWO.
Sometimes, Paul was wrong. Jesus is always right. I’m following Jesus.” sic

In this structure, intended or not, the last line is the conclusion of the argument; it is the Thesis. The middle portion from the Beatles reference through the current people who have it all wrong is essentially irrelevant, and then he goes back to generating his thesis. These structures detract from a clear point, they are distractions. The real issue here is the last line: “Sometimes, Paul was wrong. Jesus is always right. I’m following Jesus.”

With all of the stuff being thrown at the wall so far, a reader may at first miss the fact that our author has committed theological suicide!

As a Christian, when you approach the Scriptures, do you hold the possibility, or even the likelihood that the Scriptures either contradict themselves or that they may be wrong as one of your assumptions? Our author has quoted both Jesus and Paul. Jesus did not write any of the gospels, in the case cited, He was quoted by Matthew. Both Matthew and Paul were Apostles who wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and if they can be wrong while under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, there is no reliable book in the New Testament… and the atheists have been right all along; our faith is based upon a collection of old myths. Do you see why I say this is theological suicide?

In addition, such a false premise appears to negate the necessity to consider context, at least in this case. Jesus was answering a specific question. Paul is being quoted summing up his letter to the Galatians, which you will recall was written to condemn in the strongest terms the re-introduction of the Old Testament legal system into the church by those who taught (falsely) that a Gentile must first be circumcised a Jew before he can become a Christian. Paul asserts that the entire law can be summed up in “love your neighbor as yourself.” He was not asked “which is the greatest of the commandments. Think about it: Can anyone love their neighbor as themselves, without first loving God “with all they’ve got?” It would seem unlikely.

All of this is the result of a presupposition, that the Scriptures can either contradict themselves or contain errors. As a result, context simply becomes irrelevant. That is one major false premise, and may not even be held on a conscious level. This is why it is so important to become aware of our own presuppositions!
There is more to come, but this has become a bit lengthy, so I’ll finish up on Saturday afternoon: See you there!

About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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20 Responses to False Premises: An Example

  1. fairyneedle says:

    Thanks for this Don! I am becoming increasingly concerned by people who claim to be believers but have no concept of how to read and understand Scripture! A man at my church insists that the Pharisees brought the woman caught in adultery to Jesus because only women can be considered adulterers under the law! We have tried to explain to him the flaws in his reasoning to no avail! I have believed from childhood that Scripture is God-breathed and authoritative; that any seeming contradictions come from my own flawed interpretations not Scripture itself! We have lost and we are continuing to lose something vital in the church. What’s worse is that many pastors seem at a complete loss as to how to deal with this! In my opinion we have neglected the thorough teaching of Scripture in favor of proof texting with nice comfy verses so long that people have lost the skill of rightly dividing the word of truth.

    • Don Merritt says:

      I was trained in communication before I ever seriously studied theology. In fact, i was in the business of constructing political arguments before I studied theology… and I learned something in that field that is at once frustrating and useful: Persuasion does not take place when discussing conclusions, for discussing conclusions only causes dissension. In order for persuasion to take place, we must examine the presuppositions that lead to the conclusion. Mote I said the presuppositions, and not the “evidence” (proof texts). The reason is that the presupposition determines out perception of the evidence, and by dealing with presuppositions, we alter the perception of the evidence, and when we do that, the conclusions change without argument. our entire culture has lost this understanding over the last hundred years or so and you can see the results everywhere.

  2. paulfg says:

    And that is just one of the many reasons I come to this church every day. There is no malice. Thank you.

  3. Naomi says:

    Hi Don,

    When I read through the comment I thought I recognised the writing style. It turns out that the commenter also posted similar statements on my blog recently. I tried to politely inform him that his views are not backed up by scripture but he remained fixed in his views so we got nowhere.

    Glad to see you handled an erroneous viewpoint with grace:

    2 Timothy 2:25
    In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth;

    • Don Merritt says:

      Thanks Naomi, that confirms a suspicion I had…

      Isn’t it interesting how temptation comes to us? We are to have grace, even when someone begs to be “crushed”!

      • Thank you Don for standing up for the whole counsel of God and in the right spirit of charity, “with malice towards none.”

        Since God is love, and all truth flows may flow from that one fact, it is logical that attacks will come upon the Great Commandment. For years the church has put great emphasis on the great commission, almost to the exclusion of our prior mission to love God, love our neighbor and love one another. Christians can therefore argue in good conscience, feeling they are defending the faith. when divisive debates have historically been a form of inter-church warfare, that violates the Great Command.

        The Vertical Church stresses loving God, almost neglecting the second and third dimension of the Great Commandment, We at Horizontal Church stress love for one another, because it is the forgotten command of Jesus. However we hold the Great Commandment has three equally important dimensions. (notice it’s a unity, one command, not two or three) If we exclude any of these dimensions, we lose our balance and skew the truth. The Great Command, we say again, is a unity, not unlike the truth that God is trinity. If we love God and fail to love others (the horizontal dimension), it is not unlike failing to worship God in His full majesty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Blessed trinity.

        “How can we say we love God whom we cannot see, if we hate our “brother” whom we can see.”” ! John 4

        The point you make about scripture is so clear it should not even have to be made. “All scripture is inspired by God,” The principle is similar to the one above. If we teach following Jesus’ teachings and fail to consider obeying the apostles, we get out of balance, since ALL scripture is equally valid..

        Here’s food for thought. If Jesus’ teachings are superior to the apostles, then those first Christians were in error. In his narrative, Luke states that these first believers “devoted themselves to the teachings of the apostles?” (Acts 2:42) Should not Luke have said, the teachings of Jesus?”

        This “Jesus only” doctrine is a form of modalism, a heresy of the early church denying God’s unity, claiming instead God revealed himself in three different forms or modes Modern heresies that deny the unity of God are Mormonism (a kind of triitheism, i.e. God is three separate persons) and Jehovah Witnesses (one God means He is singular not a unity.)

        The point is that unity is a fundamental truth of historic Christianity. Since God is a unity, when He created the universe, the church and inspired the Word of God, it would be odd if we did not find unity in all three.

        Wade

        • Don Merritt says:

          Wade, what a great set of comments! I’m not sure about my horizontals and verticals, but I think you would agree with me that the commands love God, love your neighbor/love one another and make disciples are inseparable, for you can’t do one without doing the other two also.

    • 848comet says:

      Hi Don and Naomi, he posted the same thing on my blog too. Thanks for your reflections Don – I totally agree.

  4. Pingback: Straw Man Arguments | The Life Project

  5. mzpresser says:

    This is great. I think we as Christians are our own worst enemies. I find that we get so caught up in doctrine and over complicating matters that we end up missing the point and at the same time being a terrible witness for Christ. Like I tell my girls in my bible study-It’s all or nothing. Either you believe every word in the bible or you don’t. You can’t pick and choose. I like to keep things simple. I don’t engage in debate over scripture. I tell people, if it’s in the bible I believe it is God inspired. I read it as it is stated. I read the book as a whole. Love God and Love others. It’s as simple as that. Thanks for a great post.

  6. mzpresser says:

    Reblogged this on Work for the cause not the applause and commented:
    Great post on the danger of not seeing every word in the bible as God inspired

  7. Pingback: Straw Man Arguments | A disciple's study

  8. scythewieldor says:

    What does it mean? He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
    What does it mean? No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.
    What does it mean? But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.
    What does it mean? Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you.

  9. wsforchrist says:

    The magnitude of agape love speaks for itself. To share this love with our neighbors is our contribution to world peace. I may be a little off the track you are seeking, but agape love came to mind. The argument is a thoughtful volley.

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