Hugh Fulford: Another Look at CENI – commands, examples, and necessary inferences

It has often been pointed out that God communicates in Scripture through commands, examples, and necessary inferences. This tripartite formula has been reduced to an acronym — CENI. By many in churches of Christ it has been viewed as a hermeneutic (a way of interpreting the Scriptures). While there is hermeneutical value to be derived from recognizing commands, examples, and implications from which we draw certain necessary inferences, it is my contention that CENI are not themselves a hermeneutic, but ways, means, or avenues by which God has set forth His will in Scripture and to which a valid hermeneutic must be applied.

“Command” does not really capture the fullness of what one intends to convey with this term. A more accurate way of stating the matter is to say that God communicates His will through various kinds of statements. Some statements may be declarative, such as the beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12). These are not commands per se, yet all understand that Jesus expects His followers to possess these qualities. Other statements may be interrogative, hortatory, or imperative (having the force of a command). Of course, direct commands also are found in Scripture (cf. Matthew 22:37-40; Acts 10:48; I Corinthians 14:37; II Thessalonians 3:6; et al). #more

Examples likewise are used by God to communicate His will to humanity. When God was ready to deliver His ultimate Word to mankind, He incarnated (made flesh) that Word in Jesus of Nazareth (John 1:14). “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him” (v. 18). Literally, the word “declared” means “explained” or “exegeted.” Thus, through Jesus Christ, God exemplified Himself so fully that Christ could say, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Christ served as the perfect example of who God is and what He is like, and He serves as the example by which we are to live (I Peter 2:21). Paul urged: “Be followers of me, just as I also am of Christ” (I Corinthians 11:1). There are numerous precedents and examples found in the New Testament that God expects His children to follow today (cf. Acts 2:42; 20:7; I Corinthians 16:1-2).

God also implies certain truths in the communication of His will to man. For instance, an orderly universe implies (and we infer) the existence of an all-powerful, all-wise and beneficent Creator (Romans 1:19-20; Acts 14:14-17). In refuting the Sadducees’ lack of faith in the resurrection, Jesus pointed out that God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but that He is not the God of the dead but of the living (Mark 12:24-27). Therefore, the Sadducees could necessarily infer that those patriarchs were alive.

Thus, through direct statements, examples, and implications, God has communicated His will to us. However, direct statements, examples, and implications—what others label as CENI—do not constitute a hermeneutic! It is after we have read the various kinds of statements, examined the numerous examples, and considered all the implications that we find in Scripture that the diligent work of interpreting God’s word and properly applying it to our lives then begins.

In recent years it has become fashionable among those who want to incorporate practices into the church not authorized by Scripture to denigrate and to attempt to dismantle what they refer to as “the CENI hermeneutic.” In so doing they attack a “straw man.” I repeat: In my judgment, CENI is not a hermeneutic! To the statements, examples, and implications of Scriptures we must apply a valid hermeneutic. But we must respect what the Lord has communicated to us by means of direct statements (including commands), examples, and implications—and not add to, take from, nor substitute for that which He has revealed. “If any one speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God” (I Peter 4:11).

hugh’s news & Views

Hugh Fulford
March 22, 2011

#bible, #biblical-interpretation, #ceni, #hermeneutics