Syllogisms in the Bible

There are some Christians who would like you to believe that there are no logical syllogisms in the Bible. One author, for example, wrote,

My students are often reminded that there are no syllogisms in Scripture. Actually, this is not quite true, but it does capture something I hope to impress upon you now even if you have never thought of it before. Popular apologetics involve syllogisms, often lengthy and complex syllogisms, in an effort to persuade non-Christians to embrace the existence of God. The Bible never presents anything remotely similar to this method of showing that God exists.

The problem, however, is that this statement is false. Not only is the belief that there are no syllogisms in the Bible “not quite true,” but it is demonstrably false (that is, there is no sugar-coating it: we ought not tell people there are no syllogisms in the Bible). The Bible in many, many places contains syllogisms, even if they are not explicitly in syllogistic form (P1, P2, Conclusion, etc.). Allow me to explain what a syllogism is, describe types, and show you a few examples. Syllogism: A syllogism, broadly defined, is an argument that appears in deductive form where, if the premises are true and the form is logically valid, the conclusion therein is true. Types: Syllogisms take various forms. Categorical syllogism:

All Ps are Qs All Qs are Ss Therefore, all Ps are Ss

Disjunctive syllogism:

Either P or Q Not P Therefore, Q

Modus Ponens:

If P, then Q P Therefore, Q

Hypothetical syllogism:

If P, then Q If Q, then S Therefore, if P, then S

Now, there are a variety of ways that these arguments may be formulated and some of them may be formulated validly or invalidly (note my use of a categorical quantifier here: ‘some (arguments)’). Some arguments may even be missing premises (wherein the missing premise is an implied premise). These are called enthymemes. I think the biggest mistake folks unfamiliar with logic make is in thinking that logic is just for philosophers. The fact of the matter is that we all think either logically or illogically. We use (il)logic in our everyday conversations and thought-life.

P1: Either I will go to the store or I will go to the movies. P2: I will not go to the store. C: Therefore, I will go to the movies.

Let us now take a look at a few arguments that we see in the Bible. Examples: Jeremiah 18:7-8, “If at any time I declared concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it.” Modus Tollens

P1: If a nation turns from its evil, (then) I will relent of the disaster I intended. P2: I did not relent of the disaster I intended (toward Israel). C: Therefore, a nation (Israel) did not turn from its evil.

Joshua 24:15-16, “And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. Then the people answered, ‘Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods …’” Disjunctive syllogism

P1: Either you will serve the gods of the region beyond the River, the gods of the Amorites, or the Lord (but only one). P2: We will serve the Lord. Implied C: We will not serve the gods of the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites.

Lastly, consider a categorical syllogism for the deity of Christ, published by Francis Beckwith in the Journal of Evangelical Theology:

P1: Yahweh is the only one who participated in creation (Isa 44:24). P2: Christ is the one who participated in creation (John 1:3, Col 1:16). C: Therefore, Christ is Yahweh.

As it pertains to the existence of God, it is true that Jewish culture merely took it for granted that God existed. After all, it was YHWH who appeared to the Patriarchs and guided the Israelites through various miracles. Today, we make all sorts of inferences about the Creator from his design (Psalm 139:14), the origin of the universe (Genesis 1:1), and morality (Romans 1:18-32). To the trained mind it becomes evident that the Bible has many syllogisms. Identifying the syllogisms, how they function, and what conclusions they lead to has numerous theological implications, including our attitude toward God’s use of rational thought in the Scripture.
Kurt Jaros is the Executive Director of Defenders Media and the host of the Veracity Hill podcast.