Negative Application of the Rules of Affinity (1)

These guidelines test the “distance” between a given theological proposal and the actual textual references alleged to lend them authority.  As already mentioned in previous posts, all the major non-negotiable doctrines of the Christian Faith have a strong affinity with the wording of the biblical text.  Under the “Grid of Category Formulations” of these “Rules of Affinity” all these first level doctrines are C1 and C2 doctrines.  Doctrinal propositions which are arrived at by the consent of several converging biblical texts to bring about an “inference to the best explanation” are C3’sC3’s are open to revision if better scriptural conclusions from clear texts are forthcoming.

The two other categories in the Grid which reveal little or no affinity between the words of Scripture and the doctrines supposed to be borne out of it are C4’s or C5’s.  These categories are heavy on inference and light on affinity.  They are chock full of human reason and empty of clear, definable connection to the verses which are being unfairly summoned to support them.

Bad Features of C4’s and C5’s

1. Another feature of C4’s and C5’s is that they often come into contention with clearer verses which contradict them (C1’s & C2’s).  Why then, are they allowed to stand?  It is because of our faith in our own rational faculties.

2. Yet another interesting fact about doctrines based on C4’s and C5’s is that they usually command large areas of systematic theology.  For example, “the covenant of grace,” which as defined by covenant theologians (or the limp “Edenic covenant” of Confessional dispensationalists like Scofield and Chafer), enjoys no C1 – C3 support.  Moreover, the texts used in support of it are not talking about it at all, but about biblical covenants like those with Abraham or David.

3. This brings up the third interesting feature of C4 and C5 formulations; because they are formulated by human reason they are already believed before the search is made for scriptural support-texts.  That is to say, the doctrine is already in hand and cherished so the Bible must be ransacked for any verse which might give the impression that it supports the cherished teaching.

4. A fourth negative characteristic is that C4 and C5 formulations highlight the fact that doctrines have been manufactured not unusually from other doctrines.  Although this may lend them a certain logical coherence, which can in itself be deceptive, it does nothing to show that the doctrine in question is built up from the clear statements of Scripture (C1’s – C3’s) which the fundamental doctrines are.

Still another item of notice is that even fundamental doctrines can be supported by texts with weak affinity to the proposition under scrutiny.  This does not invalidate the doctrine.  it does, however, encourage the theologian to look for better and clearer passages.  But we shall consider this aspect in another post.

Here are some important theological propositions which, in fact, lack affinity with the Scriptures used to validate them: Continue reading “Negative Application of the Rules of Affinity (1)”

Positive Application of the Rules of Affinity

See ‘The Rules of Affinity’ post

These “rules” are only rules to the degree that one allows them be rules or ground-rules.  Ones hermeneutics will tend to determine how friendly they will be toward these ideas.   All the doctrines listed below can be established via C1 or C2 formulations, with some C3’s supporting.  Even if, due to a blind spot, I may be inferring more than is there in the text, I can be corrected with these same rules.  None of the major biblical doctrines are established with C4’s or C5’s!

The propositions below are examples of what might be predicated of each doctrine in an evangelical Statement of Faith.

The Inspiration of ScriptureProposition: “The Scriptures come from the God who breathed them out and caused them to be inscripturated through men who were ‘borne along’ by the Spirit.  That is what makes them Scripture.” – 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:20-21; Matt. 4:4; Jn. 17:17; Psa. 119:89-91

InerrancyProposition: “The inspired Scriptures are the Word of God before they are the words of men.  They must be up to the job of transmitting truth from He who is True.  This truth will be as reliable in one area of knowledge as in any other, even if exact precision is not necessary.” – 2 Tim. 3:16; Psa. 12:6; Jn. 17:17; 2 Pet. 1:19-21

Only one GodProposition: “God the Creator is the only existing God and the only God there has ever or will ever be.” – Deut. 6:4; Jer. 10:10; Exod. 20:3

The TrinityProposition: “God exists as one substance yet in three distinct yet eternally inseparable ‘Persons.’  Each ‘Person’ is co-equal and divine yet existing in distinguishable intra-relationships and functions with one another.  God is one yet three, though in different modes of being.” – Deut. 6:4; Matt. 28:19; Jn. 1:1-3, 18; 14:15-17; 20:28; Acts 5:3-4; 2 Cor. 13:14; Heb. 9:14, 10:28-29

Creation ex nihiloProposition: “The Triune God created the heavens and the earth out of nothing.” – Gen. 1:1f; Isa. 40:28; 45:12; Jer. 10:12; Jn. 1:3; Col. 1:15-16; Heb. 1:2; Heb. 11:3; Rom. 11:36

Mankind made in God’s image and likenessProposition: “After God had made the world and the plants and animals He created man and woman in His image and likeness.” – Gen. 1:26-27; 9:6; Jam. 3:9

Man is a sinner (fallen in Adam)Proposition: “When Adam disobeyed the prohibition he plunged not only himself but all humanity after him into sin and misery.  We are born ‘in Adam’ and must be born-again ‘in Christ'” – Gen. 2:17; 3:1-24; Psa. 51:5; Isa. 64:6; Rom. 3:10-18; 5:12-21; 1 Cor. 15:22; Jn. 3:3

The Virgin ConceptionProposition: “Jesus was born of a virgin through the Spirit without a human father.” – Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:23-25; Lk. 1:31-35, 3:23; Gen. 3:15

There is only one SaviorProposition: “God Himself is the only Savior of sinners, especially God the Son.” – Isa. 45:21; Hos. 13:4; Acts 4:12, 17:30-31; 1 Tim. 1:1, 15, 4:10; Jn. 3:16, 20:28-29

Christ died for all sinners (whosoever believes)Proposition: “Christ died for all men (sinners).” – Isa. 53:6; Jn. 1:29; 3:16-17; Rom. 5:6; 1 Tim. 2:4-6; 4:10; 1 Jn. 2:2; Heb. 2:9, 10:29

Christ arose bodily from the deadProposition: “Jesus died on the cross but was raised up bodily and in glory.” – Mk. 9:31, 10:34; 1 Cor. 15; Mk. 16:6; Lk. 24:6-7, 36-43; Acts 17:18, 30-31; Rom. 1:4; Rev. 1:18

Justification by faith (Salvation by grace not works)Proposition: “To be saved from their sin a person must be justified before God.  This cannot be achieved through our own merits, but must be imputed by God to those who believe in Jesus atoning work.” – Jn. 3:36; Acts 16:31; Rom. 3:21-30; 4:16, 26; 5:1; Gal. 2:16; 3:24; Eph. 2:5, 8-9; Isa. 64:6

Christ will return physically in powerProposition: “The same Christ who ascended from this earth will one day return visibly to this earth as Lord of lords and King of kings.” – Acts 1:11; Matt. 24:27, 29-30; 26:64; 2 Thess. 1:7-9; Rev. 19:11f.

Christians shall receive glorified bodiesProposition: “Because Jesus is risen we too shall rise glorified at His coming.” – Jn. 6:40; 1 Jn. 3:1-2; Phil. 3:20-21; 1 Cor. 15:20-23, 35-54; 2 Cor. 5:1-3; 1 Thess. 4:13-17

Now for some more controversial ones:

Christ will rule on this earth after the Second AdventProposition: “Christ will return to rule on His world before delivering it back to the Father.” – Matt. 25:31-34; Lk. 1:31-33; 19:11-27; Acts 1:3,6; Rev. 19:11-20:10; 1 Cor. 15:20-27; Isa. 61-62; Mic. 5:2-4; Zech. 6:12-13; 14:9, 16f.

Israel (as the Remnant) will inherit its covenanted promisesProposition: “God entered into irrevocable covenants with Israel which He must and shall fulfill in accordance with their stipulations.” – Gen. 15; 17:4-9; Psa. 105:6-11; Isa. 9:6-7; Mic. 5:2; Jer. 32:42; 33:14-26; Ezek. 34:11-31; 36:1-37:28; Zeph. 3:20; Zech. 8; Lk. 1:32-33; Acts 1:6-7; Rom. 11:23-29

There will be a temple and sacrifices in the future kingdomProposition: “One of God’s everlasting covenants concerns Phinehas and his descendents (Zadokites).  This requires us to take statements of a post Second Advent temple literally, whatever our present lack of understanding on the subject.” – Num. 25:11-13; Psa. 106:30-31; Ezek. 36:32-38; 37:12-28; 40-48; Zech. 6:12-13; 14:16-21; Mal. 3:2-6

“Heaven” (New Jerusalem) will come to the new earth after the millennial kingdomProposition: “When God creates a new heavens and earth the ‘New Jerusalem’ will descend from God out of heaven to earth and God shall dwell with men.  The gates of the city will be opened to the nations.” – Rev. 20:1-22:5; Isa. 66:22; 2 Pet. 3:13

 There are more doctrines and propositions which could pass muster under these rules, but we have shown above a good specimen of doctrines where the distance between theological assertion and texts used to support them is close.

Negative Application (1) 

Rules of Affinity


What I call “The Rules of Affinity” are a relatively straightforward device whereby a theological proposition (e.g. that a sinner is justified by faith) is compared with the texts of scripture by which it is supported to disclose how closely those passages agree with the proposition in question.

Thus, a theological proposition may be adduced which has either direct “one-on-one” relation to a text of the Bible (e.g. justification by faith, or that God created the world), or strong reasons for deriving the doctrine from certain texts of the Bible (e.g. the doctrine of the Trinity); or it may have little or nothing to do with any scriptural passage brought forth to substantiate it, especially once the passage is viewed within its context (e.g. propositions such as the covenant of grace or infant baptism).

It is understood, of course, that the wrong texts may be mistakenly employed in support of a sound doctrine.  These “rules” will help ferret out such misapplications by highlighting the weak link between text and proposition.  This does not mean the proposition must be discarded automatically.  It may be that other texts of Scripture can be brought forth to fully support the doctrinal proposition.  In which case, ones scriptural case for a certain theological belief will only be bolstered.  On the other hand, if after successive attempts to align the Bible with a given doctrine fail to produce any clear relationship between them, the proposition must be held to suspect or even spurious.

A Positive and Negative Role

This means that the “Rules of Affinity” have both a positive and a negative role to play in formulating and testing doctrines.  In the first place they have a positive function because they display the biblical basis for any proffered Christian belief.  If we take the proposition above about the sinner being justified by faith, this statement can be shown to enjoy the direct corroboration of passages like Romans 5:1: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  (cf. Rom. 3:30; Gal. 2:16; 3:24).  Therefore, our biblical foundation for this doctrine ought in the first place to be grounded in these kinds of passages.  Then other less direct but clear passages can be brought in alongside of these initial “direct” passages (e.g. Rom. 4:1-25; Gal. 3:2; Eph. 2:8-9; Jn. 20:31; Acts 15:7-9).

It should be obvious that many Bible passages support more than one doctrine.  Thus, any text may be viewed as a potential ally to a theological proposition in principle if not in actual practice.  But by passing each proposed doctrine through the “Grid of Category Formulations” set out below, it is possible to identify doctrines which have very clear biblical support from those which depend greatly upon the ingenuity of the individual proposer to tie together via subtle inferences, a proposed doctrine and the text of Scripture.  The negative application of these rules shows up propositions where a high degree of human reasoning is needed to tie the biblical text to the said proposition.  It therefore encourages the formulator of doctrine to “try again” to narrow the distance between the doctrine being proposed and the texts being appealed to.

The Usurpation of Inferred Doctrines over Directly Stated Doctrines

One interesting and noteworthy feature of doctrines poorly supported when seen under the “Rules of Affinity” is that they quite often have a powerful effect upon those who have expended mental energy formulating them.  It is not unusual to discover major planks of certain theological schools having only threadbare support from the passages from whence they are supposed to be inferred.  In such cases it is often seen that rather than the doctrine being formulated from the ground up using the Bible it has instead been inferred from another doctrine and then the search has been made to find the requisite biblical texts to substantiate it.  More often than not it is these formulations which fair badly when tested for their affinity with the Scriptures in context.

Basic Outline of the “Rules of Affinity” and their “Grid of Category Formulations”

In the course of recording and editing seven courses on Systematic Theology (over 200 lectures) for Telos Biblical Institute, I became aware of the importance of measuring what I term the “propositional distance” between any given statement of a doctrine and the biblical passages used to support it.  I wanted a way of checking this “distance” and came up with my (now) five Categories – Category 1 through 5, or C1 to C5 for short.

The Rules of Affinity

C1 = a doctrinal proposition based on a straightforward quotation of Scripture (e.g. special creation; justification by faith; the deity of Christ; the virgin birth; the inspiration of Scripture; the pervasiveness of sin among the human race; the one salvation through Jesus; the bodily resurrection; the physical return of Christ; heaven and hell, etc.)

C2 = a proposition based on a strong inference from the witness of several C1 passages combined, thus producing an inevitable doctrinal conclusion (e.g. the Trinity; the future kingdom of God on earth; inerrancy of Scripture; believer’s only baptism; men only eldership, etc.)

 Please note well.  C1 and C2 formulations, while they may be nuanced and improved, are non-negotiable.  The weight of direct and/or strong scriptural inference in their favor requires that they be held as “fundamental” Bible doctrines.* 


C3 = a doctrinal proposition based upon a plausible inference from the shared witness of the cumulative direction of C1 and C2 texts of Scripture (e.g. the pre-trib rapture; baptism by immersion; single or plural elders; seminal headship of Adam, etc.)

N.B. C3 formulations are inferences to the best explanation based on the evidence of various scriptures.  As such, they are defeasible.  That is, they are open to being overturned if better scriptural arguments for another position can be brought forth. 

Because C1 through C3 formulations can be measured against the clear statements of Scripture without the need for inferring one doctrine from another, these are the only “safe” categories from within which to construct a biblically based evangelical theology.


C4 = a proposition based on a theological inference usually from another doctrine instead of any plain statement of Scripture  (e.g. the covenant of grace, based on ideas like “the one people of God” and “the church as the new Israel”)

C5 = a proposition based on a theological inference which itself based on other theological inferences without reference to plain statements of Scripture (e.g. Sunday being “the Christian Sabbath” and replacing the Jewish Sabbath; infant baptism and salvation inferred from inclusion into “the covenant of grace”). Continue reading “Rules of Affinity”