Jesus the Logician (1 of 4)Logic & Rhetoric — By Joe Carter on February 12, 2007 at 4:08 am
[Note: Two years ago I started a collaborative blog project titled "Jesus the Logician." Although a number of bloggers made invaluable contributions, the idea never caught the imagination of "godbloggers" as I hoped it would. Since I'm working on a writing project that incorporates this theme, I thought it might be worth attempting to relaunch the project anew.]
“The scandal of the evangelical mind,” historian Mark Nolls notes in his book of the same name, “is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” Almost ten years have passed since “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind” sounded a wake-up call to thinking Christians and over that time significant progress has been made. Though much work remains, evangelical Christians have regained much of the intellectual ground we have lost.
The real scandal, however, is that evangelicals fail so miserably in their commanded task of “putting on the mind of Christ.” As a group we should be fertile ground for producing intellectuals. After all, we are disciples of the greatest thinker in history – Jesus Christ.
In his essay, “Jesus the Logician”, philosopher Dallas Williard writes:
There is in our culture an uneasy relation between Jesus and intelligence, and I have actually heard Christians respond to my statement that Jesus is the most intelligent man who ever lived by saying that it is an oxymoron. Today we automatically position him away from (or even in opposition to) the intellect and intellectual life. Almost no one would consider him to be a thinker, addressing the same issues as, say, Aristotle, Kant, Heidegger or Wittgenstein, and with the same logical method.
Williard’s article not only explains why Christians should consider Jesus the foremost thinker in history but outlines how he was a formidable logician. All Christians (but especially bloggers, a group which spends considerable effort in expressing opinions) have a duty to think as logically as possible. It is our duty to think like Christ.
For some, logic appears to be a daunting philosophical subject. Others fear it is a form of mathematics, an area in which they lack ability. But a person does not have to be versed in logical theory or know how to draw Venn diagrams, however, in order to think logically. What it requires is the ability to understand and recognize logical relations and to have the will to be logical.
The ability to understand and identify logical relations, particularly implication and contradiction, is an essential component of logical reasoning.
Implication – A implies B; If A, then B; B follows from A.
Example: If Socrates is a man then he is mortal.
Contradiction — A cannot be not-A
Example: Socrates is a man, therefore he is not immortal.
These relations can be combined in numerous ways but I want to focus on one form that was often used by Jesus. (See “Jesus the Logician” for a detailed example.)
If you analyze the discussions Jesus had with the scribes and Pharisees, you’ll recognize that one of the most recurring rhetorical devices he used was the enthymeme. Enthymemes are a manner of presenting a deductive argument in which one of the elements is left unstated.
There are three particular forms that an enthymeme can take:
1. Major Premise plus minor premise: All men are mortal and Socrates is a man.
2. Conclusion plus major premise: Socrates is mortal because all men are mortal.
2. Conclusion plus minor premise: Socrates is mortal because he is a man.
Jesus used enthymemes because they are an especially effective form of argument. In most cases, it identifies the conclusion that is to be accepted and then goes on to identify what it to be argued for (the minor premise). This form, as Williard notes, “enlists the mind of the hearer or hearers from the inside, in a way that a full and explicit statement of argument cannot do.”
Rather than force a particular conclusion upon someone by the sheer weight of logic, Jesus would allow his audience to “connect-the-dots” and discover the insight on their own. This is another example of Jesus’ profound understanding of human nature. People are often resistant to accepting “foreign” ideas but are less hesitant when the conclusion is deduced from their own thought processes.
Jesus purpose was not to score points in a debate or to earn a hollow victory for his position. “Jesus aim in utilizing logic is not to win battles,” says Williard, “but to achieve understanding or insight in his hearers.” By having a thorough understanding of logical relations and implementing them in an effective rhetorical form, Jesus words transformed the world. If our words are to do the same, we would do well to imitate the methods used by Christ.