Sunday, January 07, 2007

Inclusio unius, exclusio alterius

Continuing sort of in line with a few things we've discussed...

"Inclusio unius, exclusio alterius" is a legal code at least as old as the civil law of the Romans. It means "inclusion of one is exclusion of others". I was brought up with something like that as true as a religious concept, sans Latin -- the specification or inclusion of one thing is the prohibition or exclusion of every other thing. For example, if Jesus commanded His disciples to immerse professed believers, the specification of that thing excludes the sprinkling of professed believers, or the immersion of professed unbelievers, etc., etc.

Do you agree with an "Inclusio unius exclusio alterius" kind of principle in the religious realm? If so, why? If not, why not?


will Fitzgerald said...

One of the interesting and difficult things about scriptural interpretation is to define and defend the rules or methods of interpretation. In some sense, we want to be 'scriptural' when we interpret scripture, but in another sense, we must (per force of logic) come with these principles before we approach scripture.

"Inclusio unius, exclusio alterius" is one such possible principle. One way to judge such principles is to see where they lead--do they lead, for example, to inconsistent beliefs or practices; or to absurd ones; or do they outlaw clearly licit beliefs and practices.

It's clear that standing alone it leads to inconsistencies. If 'love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength' excludes loving things other than God, then we can't love our neighbor as ourselves, but the Lord commands us to do so. It does so in simpler cases as well. The injunction to 'lift holy hands in prayer' interpreted thusly would exclude praying with hands folded, at our sides, etc. The blessing in Rev 1:3 (Bless are they that read aloud, and blessed are they that hear, the words of this prophecy) would imply that silent reading would not lead to a blessing.

I think that especially with respect to ritual/liturgical acts, such as baptism, the clear teaching of scripture is "inclusio unius, non exclusio alterius"--doing things one way does not exclude other ways. By 'the clear teaching of Scripture' I mean Jesus's words of woe to the Scribes and Pharisees, lots of the Sermon of the Mount, the vision of Peter in Acts 10, the warnings of Paul and others about 'works righteousness.' These clear and central teachings of our Lord and his apostles should make us be very, very, very wary of insisting that there is one right way to perform ritual acts.

Bro. Matt said...

So there is more than one way to baptize then? This can't be.

In logic, there are contradictions which limit an approach to, let's say, one of two ways (true or false). However, there are also contrarieties and subcontrarieties which on the surface seem to be contradictions but in actuality are not. Furthermore, superimplications and subimplications can throw one for a loop if not careful. In other words, "off" and "on" are contradictions. So are "closed" and "open." Even if an item is "a little bit" on, or open, then it is still on or open! However, the words "brave" and "coward" are not contradictions, and neither are the words "black" and "white." There is a third alternative such as uncaring or gray.

Having said this, you are correct in saying that without the correct understanding the phrase "love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength" would seem to teach that you can not love anything else. However, we know from scripture that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves (Besides, we can't truly love God will all our hearts unless we obey His commandments like "love your neighbor. Furthermore, we can't "love our neighbors" until we truly love God. It's a circular pattern).

So, getting back to baptism, the greek word "baptizo" means to immerse or dip (So I guess us Baptists can call ourselves the Big Dippers?!?). Relying upon the definition of the word alone teaches immersion. You cannot say baptize means to sprinkle, etc. You either baptize (immerse) or you don't. There is not a third alternative for God has limited many things to His way of doing it, and you either you do it His way or you don't (thus a contradiction not contrariety or subcontrariety). There is no third option. It's either scriptural baptism through immersion or it's not baptism at all. The scriptures teach this through 1) specific command, 2) specific example, and 3) necessary inference.

R. L. Vaughn said...

I appreciate the good posts. I have some comments, but I'm going to wait awhile and give others a chance to put up their thoughts.

Pete Mathewson said...

As one who was "sprinkled" by the Lutherans as an infant; confirmed in the Lutheran faith at 13; later, as an adult, confirmed again by the Episcopalians (something about the apostolic succession) and then finally, as a seasoned adult, come to attendance with the Primitive Baptists, one has to wonder what actual impact all this denominational "Latin" has on "the child of God".

If we are foreknown and predestined before the creation; saved by Christ's sacrifice before time began for us personally; and finally called by the Spirit at some point in our mortal lives, What matters it HOW we are baptized ?? And then if it does matter whether we are baptized at all, is this an issue of eternity or merely one of time ??

Please note - I am not a theologian or qualified to speak like one, so keep it REALLY simple.


R. L. Vaughn said...

This blog is beginning to drop down and no one else had commented, so I'm going to go ahead. Pete and Matt, I will address the first post by Will, and hopefully catch some of your thoughts as well.

Will, I agree with you that "inclusio unius, exclusio alterius" standing alone leads to inconsistencies. I believe it is not something that can be understood as a universal principle. I believe your examples of 'love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength', the injunction to 'lift holy hands in prayer' and the blessing in Rev 1:3 show the problems of an inexperienced approach of "inclusio unius, exclusio alterius".

I nevertheless cannot agree with your conclusion that, with respect to ritual/liturgical acts, the teaching of scripture is "inclusio unius, non exclusio alterius" -- doing things one way does not exclude other ways. First, it seems that Jesus's words of woe to the Scribes and Pharisees and much of the Sermon of the Mount teaches the opposite of your explanation. As far as I can tell, Jesus never condemned an honest keeping of the law of Moses. He did condemn strict law-keeping that excluded love, mercy, justice, etc (e.g. Matthew 23). Another issue that drew strenous condemnation of the religious leaders was that they had applied their own traditions and added them to the law of Moses. To me, this tends to condemn man adding his own variations and traditions to those taught by Jesus and His apostles. For this reason, I think that ritual/liturgical acts are likely a place where this principle most consistently applies. So, for example, the command to immerse believers wouldn't exclude having a Thursday night fellowship supper, but would exclude sprinking believers, immersing unbelievers, etc. Rather than being a moral precept (like 'don't steal'), baptism/immersion of a believer in water is a positive institution that finds its validity in the authority of the one who commanded it. Therefore, it would seem to me that it is only valid when performed as commanded. Baptism is an obligation because God has made it so.

Will Fitzgerald said...


I like a good, clear disagreement, especially when it's discussed in cordial and respectful tones. This discussion is worth pursuing--at least for me--but probably not in this comment forum. If I could ask for your indulgence, I would be glad to have any pointers you have to a defense of 'baptism must mean immersion.' (You have my email address). And I hope to more carefully describe what parts of the Sermon on the Mount, etc, lead me to 'baptism does not necessarily mean immersion.'

Pete Mathewson said...

Will and Robert - If you want to discuss this outside of this forum OK, but I would appreciate a summary of where you wound up and some comment on my question of timely vs eternal.


R. L. Vaughn said...

Pete, it's getting late, so I'll try to get back to this tomorrow.

In the meantime, on your question of timely vs eternal, are you asking whether baptism only relates to us in our time here on earth between birth and death as opposed to having any relationship to anything that is eternal (or something like that)? Or perhaps, if baptism has nothing to do with our eternal salvation, what import does it have in the eternal scheme of things?

R. L. Vaughn said...

Will, because of Pete's interest, I'm going ahead and posting this here. But we can discuss it via e-mail as well.

As far as a defense of 'baptism must mean immersion', I doubt I have anything beyond what most folks haven't already heard, for example:

The meaning of baptizo, translated baptize in most English Bibles
That Greek language had/has other words that mean sprinkling and pouring
Some of the practices as noted in the Bible (John baptizing in Jordan and at Aenon because there was much water there, Philip and the eunuch going down into the water)
Paul equated baptism with burial and planting, etc.

In context of this blog, my main point is that if, according to Jesus' command, baptism is immersion, to do something else is to change what He has commanded (and therefore excluded).

Pete Mathewson said...

That is my question exactly, Robert. What does the lack of an immersion baptism cut us off from - A salvation won for us thru Christ's "finished work" for the elect or the companionship of like minded believers in this life ??


Bro. Matt said...

Lack of baptism shows a lack of obedience. Not being baptized does not affect your relationship with God but it does affect your fellowship with God. (Just like a disobedient child is not in full fellowship with his/her parents, but he/she is still their child.)

R. L. Vaughn said...

Pete, concerning baptism as an issue of timely vs eternal, I'll attempt a few comments that may or may not be helpful or worthwhile.

We are aware that there are some groups denominated Christian who believe that baptism does affect one's eternal standing before God. For those of us that hold that baptism has no effect whatsoever on being born of the Spirit of God it is easy to question whether this is really important at all, since it isn't important in the eternal scheme of things. A phrase often used in debate against Baptist doctrine by the Church of Christ (Yes, the two groups still like to debate!) is "it is easier to go to heaven that join a Baptist church" (that is, according to our own doctrine).

So what import does baptism have in the eternal scheme of things? I'd have to say none. I should also mention that in the ecclesiology of some Baptists, baptism does affect the heavenly status in that those who are in the church are the only ones in the "bride of Christ" and therefore have some "higher" standing in eternity. I don't agree with that, but it is a position some hold.

So, if baptism doesn't have anything to do with our eternal standing, does it matters HOW we are baptized? Or even if we are baptized at all?

You asked that I/we keep it simple. Not a problem, because that is all I am capable of here.

To me the whole issue is very simple. We SHOULD be baptized be Jesus commanded it, and if the command includes a certain mode that is the only way we should be baptized.

Now of the first issue, I assume that you do probably believe it is a command, so I won't go into that in detail unless you would like to proceed further with it. Matthew 28:19 indicates that Jesus gave it as a command to His church as a thing they should do. Acts 10:48 is a good example of command and baptize being used together. So at least those believers were commanded to submit to baptism. Whether we understand all the import of WHY be baptized, perhaps we can rest in the fact we are commanded to be.

Two other considerations might be:
(1) That baptism is "prerequisite" to church membership and that Acts 2, et al. seem to portray that gospel order "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers." If baptism is in order before one unites with other disciples it would seem to have some relationship to our the companionship of like minded believers in this life.
(2)There are the early verses of Romans chapter 6, though the meaning will be disputed, that imply a relationship between baptism and our walking "in newness of life".

If baptism is a command and regardless of knowledge of details or lack thereof, if we have knowledge of the command we should follow it.

Lastly, if the command includes certain details -- immersion, for believers only, etc. -- then to obey the command it seems we must obey the details. I realize that whether those details are inherent in the command is a question that has been raised here, but I will leave it be and stop here for now. My head's starting to rattle, so I know I'm confused! ;-D

Pete Mathewson said...

Dunno that I feel all that much like Bro. Matt's disobedient child given that I was baptized within the tradition of my former church association, but I can say that I do feel slightly separated from those that I currently worship with.

I did go back and read the citations, Robert, and will read through them again tonight. What you have said largely squares with what I have come to believe in my brief time with the Primitive Baptists.

Back ever so briefly to
the "exclusio" issue, one could (in the extreme) be led to believe that immersion would have to be done in a river and perhaps limited by Christ's example to immersion only in the very stream used by John the Baptist. Carol Selleck often tells me that I should be "river" baptized. As a New Mexican I think she is thinking in terms of the Pecos, but I am sure Texans would have differing opinions.

Thanks for helping me clear some of my thinking on this.


R. L. Vaughn said...

Pete, you mention that one could (1) be led to believe that immersion would have to be done in a river and (2) be limited to the very stream used by John the Baptist.

Quite a few people have come to the first conclusion (though a relatively small number in comparison to the total number of Christians), and I don't know anyone that has come to the second, though someone in their zeal to "be baptized like Jesus" may have done just that.

On the being baptized in Jordan question, I think that falls pretty quickly, in that even John the Baptist baptized in more than one location and other early New Testament baptisms were not limited to that location.

On the first, the terminology I've heard used is "baptism in running water" and I know quite a few "old-timey" Baptists that accept only that and nothing else. Personally I prefer it -- at least the outdoor part -- but don't think that a part of the requirement or the command. I don't read the running water in the command and don't see its necessary utility in picturing anything (such as immersion picturing burial). To me this is a preference because (1) it is outside, visible and public. We often call baptism a "public profession" and then hide it in the privacy of four church walls. (2) IMO, it is good to adopt as much as possible within scriptural limits that is acceptable to the most people. What do I mean by this? Well, for example, I wouldn't adopt sprinkling or pouring because I don't believe it falls within the command. But "baptism in running water", based on NT practice, is obviously well within the command. Now, I've never heard of a church that uses a baptistry rejecting someone's baptism because they were baptized outdoors in a river. But I have heard of churches that baptize in running water not accept someone's baptism because they were baptized in a baptistry. This is not an issue for most folks in most modern churches. But in your case, I could imagine the possibility that you could go to a Primitive Baptist Church somewhere in the southern United States that would not accept a "baptistry baptism". So as a practical matter, I just think it's good to baptize someone with the forms having the most utility within the body they're associated with.

Another thought kind of along this same line: I don't think that most any church that sprinkles or pours would reject immersion (perhaps there are a few?). So why not just immerse?

I'm writing this hurriedly trying to get off the computer and head out, so it may not make a lot of sense. I'll try to clarify later if you have questions about what I've just written.

Pete Mathewson said...

I think you have about got it covered for me with this last post. I guess I did not see the immersion in terms of a burial, but did rather see the water of the stream/river as washing the individual sins way from him - Its a visualization thing.

Are you coming to McMahan for the singing in April ?? If so I will look forward to talking with you there.


R. L. Vaughn said...

Thanks, Pete. I'd like to add that I think the washing away of sins can be and is a proper visualization, as that terminology is used in Acts 22:16 (and perhaps some allusion to it in Heb. 10:22).

Every year it is our desire to attend the McMahan singing. It is one of the best, IMO. I have always loved it as long as I've been attending SH singings. It's not just the singing (though that's great), but also the location, feeling, atmosphere, hosts, etc. I will hope to see you there, Lord willing.