Explicit and Implicit Teaching

“These things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (v. 11).

- 1 Corinthians 10:1–11

Continuing our look at the basic principles for sound biblical interpretation, we will now consider one of the most important rules for identifying the meaning of a biblical text. Whenever we read the Scriptures, it is vital that we keep in mind the principle that the explicit, direct teaching passages of the Bible must control our interpretation of passages that convey their teaching less directly and more implicitly.

As an example of the distinction between passages that teach implicitly and those that teach more explicitly, let us consider what the New Testament has to say about the resurrection of Jesus. The accounts of the resurrection in the four Gospels all describe the event in such a way as to make it clear that a miracle occurred in Jesus’ rising from the grave. The presence of angels, an extremely heavy stone being rolled away, and appearances of Jesus all add up to a miracle having taken place, and since only God has the power to perform miracles, we can draw the conclusion that the Gospels implicitly teach that God raised Jesus from the dead. None of the Gospels, however, at least in their narration of the resurrection events, say directly that “God raised Jesus from the dead.” But, we do find such explicit statements elsewhere in passages such as Ephesians 1:20. That text from Paul’s letter would be an example of a passage that makes an explicit, direct teaching statement.

The implicit teaching passages of Scripture will shape our theology, but if we allow implicit teaching to contradict what the Bible says explicitly and directly, we will draw erroneous conclusions. For example, several passages of Scripture describe the Lord as relenting or changing His mind (for example, Ex. 32:14; Jonah 3:10). If we allow such texts to control our theology and override more explicit teachings found in God’s Word, we will believe that like us, God sometimes encounters new information, unforeseen circumstances, or something else such that He experiences an actual change of mind as we might. Yet, the more explicit and didactic portions of Scripture tell us otherwise. Numbers 23:19 says, “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man that he should change his mind.” Here we have a text that tells us directly that God does not do what certain passages seem to suggest. We conclude, then, that descriptions of God’s changing His mind are anthropomorphic. God relents, but He knew He would do so all along. He does not change His mind like we change ours.

Coram Deo

Cults typically base their doctrine on obscure passages of Scripture and on conclusions they draw from implicit teaching that contradict the explicit teaching of Scripture. We must be careful never to do that. If our belief contradicts an explicit teaching of Scripture, we can be sure that we are believing something in error.

Passages for Further Study

Deuteronomy 4:15–24
Nehemiah 8:1–8
Mark 4:1–20
James 3:1

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