How to avoid the superfluous (say that three times fast!!!) distinction fallacy. Enjoy!

Posted by Steve Schramm on Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Bible interpretation is a very important—and very tricky—thing.

In Lisle’s Understanding Genesis, he discusses many fallacies that arise as a result of interpreting the Bible incorrectly. One of these is called the superfluous distinction fallacy.

According to Lisle:

Certain words have distinctions — slightly different meanings in different contexts. As one example, what does the “law” mean when used in the Bible? It is used in multiple ways and may refer to the Pentateuch (John 1:45), the Mosaic administration (Luke 2:22), God’s moral commandments (Romans 2:26), the Old Testament ceremonial commandments (Hebrews 10:1; Galatians 3:24–25), all of God’s commandments (Joshua 22:5), the written text of God’s commandments (John 1:17), the unwritten internal knowledge of morality (Romans 2:15), and so on. We are supposed to distinguish between these various uses by looking at the local context. When the local context does not warrant a distinction, it is fallacious to assume a distinction unless the larger context of Scripture requires such a distinction in order to remain logically coherent. This is justified since God does not contradict Himself. In other words, all distinctions must be justified from the text either explicitly or implicitly from the need for textual coherence.

For example, in Matthew 5:18, Christ indicates that the law is more permanent than the universe. Yet, in Hebrews 7:12, 18–19, we read that the law was changed with Christ. Since God does not contradict Himself, we are rationally justified in concluding that these two passages are addressing two different aspects of the law. Christ speaks of the abiding validity of God’s law in general, with emphasis on the unchanging moral standards of God, whereas Hebrews addresses the Old Testament ceremonial law (e.g., animal sacrifices, circumcision, etc.) that foreshadowed Christ and was set aside in the New Testament. The superfluous distinction fallacy is the failure to follow this principle. It occurs when a person draws a distinction that is not rationally warranted by the Scriptures.

In this video I talk about how we can avoid this basic, and common, error in interpretation.