You may pick up from me that there is a tension between “systematic” theologians and “biblical” interpreters. This is a necessary thing, because we believe the Bible to have a unified message and don’t want texts in conflict.
That said, the desire of systematicians to have everything in its place has caused heartburn to biblical interpreters like me. One of the causes of this is the theological method sometimes referred to as “necessary inference.” This takes a text or multiple texts and draws conclusions from them that seem logical and consistent. However, this necessary inference often goes beyond what any one text says. A good example of this is the whole doctrine of the Trinity, but I will discuss this some time in the future.
Let me give this example, Mark 16:16:
“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (NIV 2011).
There are two problems with this text. First, it is uncertain that it was an original part of the Gospel of Mark, since many of the earliest copies of this book do not have Mark 16:9-20, or have a different ending. Discussing that is also for another time, though.
The more important thing for this post is determining what the text says and what it doesn’t say. Here’s my take. There are two categories represented here. First we have those who are believers and who are baptized. They are given the promise of salvation (“will be saved”). Category two: those who do not believe. They are given the promise of condemnation (“will be condemned”).
And that’s it. What about those who believe and are not baptized? Don’t know anything about them from this text. Actually, there was no one like this in the early church, so the question did not come up. Equally true: what about those who are baptized and do not believe? Don’t know any thing about them from this text, although there were surely such folks in the early church. But to use this text to say that without baptism you are condemned is a conclusion not supported by the wording of the text. At best, it is a necessary inference. But necessary inferences are logical conclusions of human theologians. Even though it has gotten me in trouble many times, I am unwilling to do this. I guess I would be a failure if I ever tried to write a Systematic Theology textbook (which I have contemplated). 🙂