Better Bible Study Tip #56: Avoid Conclusions that Overstate the Evidence

Several of these Bible study tips have focused on the need for clear thinking and good logic when it comes to our Bible study. This is critically important, and unfortunately, it is often overlooked.

If we are in a regular routine of studying our Bible, we will occasionally make some interesting observations that maybe we haven’t noticed before. But before drawing a conclusion from our observations, we need to make sure we’re not using poor logic to overstate the evidence.

Here’s some examples:

  • In the Old Testament, God’s people used instrumental music in his worship to God, therefore God is pleased when Christians use instruments in their worship.
  • Phillip had four daughters who prophesied, therefore the Bible endorses women teaching men in a the public assembly.
  • Jesus praised a centurion for his faith, therefore Christians can join the military and kill their enemies during time of war.

Each of these statements begin with an accurate biblical observation, and then suggest a conclusion that extends beyond what the text actually states. Yes, we see numerous examples of God’s people worshiping with instrumental music in the Old Testament, but we also have to remember that they didn’t choose to worship with instruments out of personal preference. Instrumental music was specifically prescribed by God (for example, 2 Chron. 29:25). They were concerned with worshipping God according to how they had been commanded to worship him, and we should worship with that same concern. The question is, how are God’s people under the new covenant expected to worship?

Yes, Philip had four daughters who prophesied. But the text never specified how they went about doing this, or in what setting they shared their prophesies. Simply observing that women prophesied doesn’t automatically lead to the conclusion that there are no guidelines to the roles filled by men and women in worship (see 1 Tim. 2:12). If we are going to draw that conclusion, we must develop a much stronger argument than simply pointing to Phillips daughters.

Yes, Jesus praised a centurion for his faith without adding one word of disapproval about his role in the military. But he also didn’t voice any words of approval of the wicked and idolatrous actions that a Roman military leader would be expected to fill. Jesus frequently interacted with sinners without commending on whether or not he approved of their sin. In John 4:16-18 Jesus spoke with a Samaritan woman who had been divorced five times and was living with a man she wasn’t married to. Jesus never rebuked her or told her to leave the man she was living with. Does this mean that Jesus approved of her marriages, divorces, and remarriages? Certainly not!

I’m not suggesting that there aren’t good questions that can be raised about these issues and others. I’m suggesting that when studying various issues, we need to be careful not to make a quick observation from the text, and then draw conclusions that overstate the evidence. When we study scripture, we will see things in the text. Every conclusion we draw should have a direct line back to the text. If it doesn’t, there is a very real possibility that our thinking could extend beyond the text.