The Construction of Logical Argumentation

I’m taking a little break in the series on the History of the English Bible (the Bishops Bible will appear next week) and adding this post on logic.  Logic is a vital function in both writing and preaching.  It is often ignored and occasionally ridiculed.  I’ve been called a “logic-nazi” (as well as a “grammar-nazi”) in the past, but if one builds a preaching or writing style on logical fallacy, eventually it will catch up with the person.  It is simply a lazy way to present truth.  It may be funny, it may even be compelling, but it won’t stand up to scrutiny and even if the conclusions are correct in a particular case, the power of the communicator is diminished.  I’ve used this material in lectures for 20+ years and I hope some may find it helpful.




When all of the research has been performed the matter of “constructing” the thesis or sermon begins. One of the differ­ences between a poorly constructed paper or sermon and an excellent one is the matter of “logic.” The best of research can quickly become a useless assortment of quotations if there are widespread violations of the rules of logic in the writing. Even good writing skills will cover very little in the way of fallacious logic. Unfortunately, that same cannot be said about sermons or public speaking. A clever or witty public speaker can often cover widespread fallacious arguments with equally witty and fallacious quips. However, long-term effectiveness of a sermon is dependent on the use of solid logic.

The idea of logic is vitally important in both writing and preaching. As Carson points out:

This study is important because exegetical fallacies are painfully frequent among us among us whose God-given grace and responsibility is the faithful proclamation of the Word of God. Make a mistake in the interpretation of one of Shakespeare’s play, falsely scan a piece of Spenserian verse, and there is unlikely to be an entailment of eternal consequence; but we cannot lightly accept a similar laxity in the interpretation of Scripture” (Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, p. 12).

Logic is the science of necessary inference and is founded on the principle of non-contradiction (that is, something cannot be both true and false). Without going into a long explanation of Logic here are the main points as summarized by The Logic Classroom at

What is Logic?

Logic is the science of necessary inference. An inference is the forming of a conclusion from premises by logical methods — the conclusion itself. The adjective necessary in necessary inference or necessary consequence means there is no way to avoid the conclusion of an argument. We define an argument as one or more propositions in support of another proposition. The propositions in support of the other proposition are called premises; the proposition supported by the premises is called the conclusion. More about necessary inference later, but first, what is a proposition?


A proposition is a form of words in which the predicate is affirmed or denied of the subject of a declarative sentence. A proposition is the meaning of a declarative sentence. Declarative sentences are either true or false. Propositions are the premises and conclusions of arguments. Other sentences, in expressing commands, posing questions, or conveying exhortations are neither true nor false. Some questions, rhetorical questions, are intended as propositions; but if a question is not rhetorical, then it is neither true nor false.


Arguments divide into two classes: deductive arguments and inductive arguments. This classification amounts to two different claims. The premises of Inductive Arguments claim to provide incomplete or partial reasons in support of the conclusion. The premises of Deductive Arguments claim to provide conclusive reasons for the conclusion. In Inductive Argument, the conclusion is said to be either probable or improbable. With Deductive Argument the conclusion either follows necessarily or it does not. That is to say, the conclusion is either a necessary consequence of the premises or it is not a necessary consequence of the premises. Another way of stating the same thing: A Deductive Argument consists of a conclusion presumably deduced from premises. The deduction of conclusions from premises is at the heart of logic.


The phrases necessary consequence and necessary implication mean necessary inference . The use of one or the other phrase depends on the emphasis. If one stresses that the premises imply a conclusion, one speaks of necessary implication. If one stresses the conclusion resulting from premises, one speaks of necessary consequence. With either phrase, the reference is a claim of necessary inference between premises and conclusion of a Deductive Argument. If the conclusion of a Deductive Argument is a necessary consequence of the premises, then the argument is valid; otherwise, invalid. Using other words: If the premises of a Deductive Argument necessarily imply the conclusion, then the argument is valid; otherwise, invalid.

Summarizing this section. Logic is the study of the relation between premises and conclusion in Deductive Arguments. If the conclusion follows from premises necessarily (that is, the conclusion is unavoidable), then the argument enjoys valid status; if not (that is, the conclusion can be avoided), then the argument is invalid. Every Deductive Argument is either valid or invalid.


Violations of the Rules of Logic

The violations of logic are most often referred to as “fallacies.” Fallacies will appear in both written and verbal form. Recognizing and avoiding logical fallacies and poor reasoning will increase the usefulness of you’re your spoken and written word. Below are the common types of fallacies with some examples.

Anecdotal evidence

One of the simplest fallacies is to rely on anecdotal evidence. For example:

“I’m sure that speaking in tongues must still be going on today, since my cousin goes to a church where they speak in tongues every Sunday.”

It’s quite valid to use personal experience to illustrate a point; but such anecdotes don’t really prove anything to anyone. Your friend may say he met Elvis in the supermarket, but those who haven’t had the same experience will require more than your friend’s anecdotal evidence to convince them.

Proper research methodology and content will overcome the fallacy of Anecdotal Evidence. It is important to remember that Anecdotal Evidence can only serve to illustrate, it is the weakest possible form of argumentation. If you make Anecdotal Evidence a foundation or pillar of your argumenta­tion you may have some initial success with those who are easily swayed, but ultimately you have built an argument on sand. Anecdotal Evidence should generally be used in a very limited fashion in scholarly writing.

Argumentum ad Baculum (the argument or appeal to force)

An Appeal to Force happens when someone resorts to force (or the threat of force) to try and push others to accept a conclusion. This fallacy is often used by politicians, and can be summarized as “might makes right”. The threat doesn’t have to come directly from the person arguing. For example:

“… In any case, I know your phone number and I know where you live. Have I mentioned I am licensed to carry concealed weapons?”

“…The budget that I have presented should be accepted without any further discussion, I do not need to mention of course, that I contribute more money to this church than anyone else in the membership.”

The Appeal to Force can either be direct and physical or indirect intimidation. For instance, to bolster an otherwise bad argument a person may resort to intimidation by mentioned that they graduated from a prestigious seminary or university, or have written some number of books.  Often that is an indirect appeal to force, in other words, “How dare you question me.”  Normally, this type of fallacy will not find its way into open scholarly work, but can more than often appear in internal memos and often in sermons.

Argumentum ad Hominen 

Argumentum ad Hominem literally means “argument against the man.” There are two types: abusive and circumstantial.

If you argue against some assertion by attacking the person who made the as­sertion, then you have committed the abusive form of argumentum ad hominem. A personal attack isn’t a valid argument, because the truth of an assertion doesn’t de­pend on the virtues of the person asserting it. For example:

“Atheism is an evil philosophy. It is practiced by Communists and murderers.”

Sometimes in a court of law doubt is cast on the testimony of a witness. For example, the prosecution might show that the witness is a known perjurer. This is a valid way of reducing the credibility of the testimony given by the witness, and not Argumentum ad Hominem. However, it doesn’t demonstrate that the witness’s testimony is false in this particular case.

In scholarly work it is also a valid point to demonstrate that a particular author’s work has been criticized or proven to be inaccurate in the past, this again is not Argumentum ad hominem.

While this sort of evaluative criticism is a valid approach it also cannot be the key point of your presentation. You must argue the facts at hand

If you argue that someone should accept the truth of an assertion because of that person’s particular circumstances, then you have committed the circumstantial form of argumentum ad hominem. For example:

“It is perfectly acceptable to kill animals for food. How can you argue otherwise when you’re quite happy to wear leather shoes?”

This is an abusive charge of inconsistency, used as an excuse for dismissing the opponent’s argument. The fallacy can also be used as a means of rejecting a particular conclusion. For example:

“Only those who reject the Bible accept modern translations instead of the King James Version.”

This particular form of Argumentum ad Hominem, when you allege that someone is rationalizing a conclusion for selfish or manipulative reasons is also known as Poisoning the Well.

A special form of the Argumentum as Hominem is know as the Tu quoque or the “you too” fallacy. It occurs if you argue that an action is acceptable because your opponent has performed it. For instance:

“You’re missed the entire point of the passage.”  “So? You’ve mishandled the text before too.”


Argumentum ad Ignorantiam

Argumentum ad ignorantiam means “argument from ignorance”. The fallacy occurs when it’s argued that something must be true, simply because it hasn’t been proved false. Or, equivalently, when it is argued that something must be false because it hasn’t been proved true.

Note that this isn’t the same as assuming that something is false until it has been proved true; that’s a basic scientific principle.

Here are a couple of examples:

“Of course evolution is true, no one has proven it to be false.”

“Paul did not write the Pastoral Epistles, we have no original copies with his name on them.”

Note: this fallacy doesn’t apply in a court of law, where you’re generally assumed innocent until proven guilty.

Also, in scientific investigation if it is known that an event would produce certain evidence of a particular occurrence, the absence of such evidence can validly be used to infer that the event didn’t occur. However, inferences are not conclusive evidence.

For example:  “A flood as described in the Bible would require an enormous volume of water to be present on the earth. The earth does not have a tenth as much water, even if we count that which is frozen into ice at the poles. Therefore no such flood occurred.”

In science, we can validly assume from lack of evidence that something hasn’t occurred. We cannot conclude with certainty that it hasn’t occurred, though. This type of fallacy also often combines with the failure to consider other options and assumes facts that may affect the whole.

Of course, the history of science is full of logically valid, but terribly wrong conclusions. In 1893, the Royal Academy of Science were convinced by Sir Robert Ball that communication with the planet Mars was a physical impossibility, because it would require a flag as large as Ireland, which it would be impossible to wave. In a National Geographic article in the early 1920’s a noted physicist “proved” that what appears to be a curveball from a baseball pitcher was an “optical illusion” that it was impossible for a man to spin a baseball hard enough to produce an alteration of trajectory.

The burden of proof is always on the person asserting something. Shifting the burden of proof, a special case of Argumentum ad Ignorantiam, the fallacy of putting the burden of proof on the person whom denies or questions the assertion. The source of the fallacy is the assumption that something is true unless proven otherwise.“OK, so if you don’t think the gray aliens have gained control of the US government, can you prove it?”

Argumentum ad Misericordiam

This is the Appeal to Pity, also known as Special Pleading. The fallacy is committed when someone appeals to pity or emotion for the sake of getting a conclu­sion accepted. For example:

“I did not murder my mother and father! Please don’t find me guilty; I’m suffering enough through being an orphan.”

“Certainly you cannot be upset with us for going to the faith healer, my father is suffering ter­ribly and we just had to try something.” 

Argumentum ad Populum

This is known as Appealing to the Gallery, or Appealing to the People. You commit this fallacy if you attempt to win acceptance of an assertion by appealing to a large group of people. This form of fallacy is often characterized by emotive lan­guage. For example:

“Everyone agrees that the NIV is the best translation of the Bible.”

This type of fallacy is typical of newspaper and television news, as well as most advertising. Any statement that includes such expressions as “most scholars,” “many economists” or a “majority of Noble prize winners” and such things are always suspect.

Argumentum ad Numerum

This fallacy is closely related to the argumentum ad populum. It consists of asserting that the more people who support or believe a proposition, the more likely it is that that proposition is correct. For example:

“Recent survey’s show that 90% of the adult population believe they have encountered angels. Conclusion (stated or unstanted): Angels must be real and active today.”

The argumentum ad populum and argumentum as numerum are closely related to the No True Scotsman Fallacy. 

Argumentum ad Verecundiam

The Appeal to Authority uses admiration of a famous person to try and win support for an assertion. For example:

“Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos says to be a winner you must eat your Campbell’s Chunky Soup.”

This line of argument isn’t always completely invalid; for example, it may be relevant to refer to a widely regarded authority in a particular field; but only if you’re discussing the subject where the authority in question has legitimate expertise. For example, we can distinguish quite clearly between:

“Dr. John MacArthur has stated that the Bible is inerrant and infallible.”


“Alec Baldwin says that Jeb Bush will make a horrible president.”

Now while Dr. MacArthur can be viewed as an expert in theological and Biblical matters, and his view on the above statement carries a measure of weight; Alec Baldwin is an actor, so discussing national politics or the relative merit of the candidates is beyond the scope of his expertise; thus his opinion carries, or should carry, no more or less weight than the average person on the street.  Conversely the same is true, if a preacher is speaking out of his area of expertise, his opinion is no more valid than anyone else.

Argumentum ad Antiquitatem

This is the fallacy of asserting that something is right or good simply because it’s old, or because “that’s the way it’s always been.” This is the opposite of Argumentum ad Novitatem. This fallacy often appears in the area of Biblical and theological studies.

“We have always closed the service with a hymn.”

“The Puritans naturally have the best material on this subject.”

Argumentum ad Novitatem

This is the opposite of the Argumentum ad Antiquitatem; it’s the fallacy of asserting that something is more correct simply because it is new, or newer than something else is. This fallacy often occurs in the area of worship and music styles as well as matters related to youth and children ministries.

“This commentary is based on the latest research and clearly supersedes any of the old conclusions of the Reformers.”

Argumentum ad Crumenam

The fallacy of believing that money is a criterion of correctness; that those with more money are more likely to be right. This is the opposite of Argumentum ad Lazarum. This fallacy often appears in the area of political elections, where wealthy and successful people are often viewed as the best selections for solving political problems. 

“Joe here is a banker and quite a wealthy man, I’m certain he would make a fine church treasurer.” 

Argumentum ad lazarum

This is the fallacy of assuming that someone who is poor is somehow sounder or more virtuous than someone who’s wealthier. This fallacy is the opposite of the Argumentum ad Crumenam. It is a populist approach to issues.

“I’m sure that Catholic theology must be correct. I mean look, my priest has taken a vow of poverty and given up all his worldly possessions. No one would do that for something that wasn’t true.”

“He could have made a fortune in private industry but he’s dedicated his life to ublic service instead, so he is the person who should be elected.”

Argumentum ad nauseam

This is the incorrect belief that an assertion is more likely to be true, or is more likely to be accepted as true, the more often it is heard. So an Argumentum ad Nauseam is one that employs constant repetition in asserting something; saying the same thing over and over again until you’re sick of hearing it. This is a key issue in examining Biblical commentaries. Many “true” facts have become accepted simply because they have been repeated year after year from one commentary to another.

The fallacy of Accident / Sweeping Generalization / Dicto Simpliciter 

A sweeping generalization occurs when a general rule is applied to a particular situation, but the features of that particular situation mean the rule is inapplicable. It’s the error made when you go from the general to the specific. For example:

Baptist churches are always congregational in their polity, even though that church calls itself a baptist church, it has elders so it can’t be a real baptist church.

People who try to decide moral and legal questions by mechanically applying general rules often commit this fallacy.

Converse Accident/Hasty generalization

This fallacy is the reverse of the Fallacy of Accident. It occurs when you form a general rule by examining only a few specific cases that aren’t representative of all possible cases. For example:

“Jim Bakker was an insincere Christian. Therefore all Christians are insincere.”

Non causa pro causa

The fallacy of Non Causa Pro Causa occurs when something is identified as the cause of an event, but it has not actually been shown to be the cause. For example:

“ I had a migraine headache, so I took my prescription medicine and prayed. A little later my headache disappeared. God graciously cured me of the headache.”

Post hoc ergo propter hoc

The fallacy of Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc occurs when something is assumed to be the cause of an event merely because it happened before that event. For exam­ple:

“In 1950 we began a bus ministry and the church grew. Therefore if we want the church to grow we should begin a bus ministry.”

“That church switched to elders and they began to grow and be successful, if we want to be successful we need to switch to elders.”

Cum hoc ergo propter hoc

This fallacy is similar to post hoc ergo propter hoc. The fallacy is to assert that because two events occur together, they must be causally related. It’s a fallacy because it ignores other factors that may be the cause(s) of the events.

“We canceled the Wednesday night prayer meeting and the next day the church was broken into.”

Petitio principii/Begging the question

This fallacy occurs when the premises are at least as questionable as the con­clusion reached. For example:

“We know that today we have sufficient tools to understand the Bible without knowing the original languages; therefore seminaries should drop classes in the original languages and focus on more practical issues.”

Circulus in demonstrando

This fallacy occurs if you assume as a premise the conclusion that you wish to reach. Often the proposition is rephrased so that the fallacy appears to be a valid argument. For example:

“The Gospel of Matthew was written originally in Hebrew, so in our exegetical work it is useless to utilize the Greek, since we know it was not written originally in Greek but rather Hebrew.”

“We know that Paul did not write the Pastoral Epistles. In reconstructing an account of the life of Paul we cannot make events mentioned in the Pastoral epistles mesh with the account of the Book of Acts. We should not use material from the Pastorals in creating an account of Paul’s’ life since we know that Paul did not write the Pastorals.”

 Note that the argument is entirely circular; the premise is the same as the conclusion. An argument like the above was actually used by a writer writing on the life of Paul.

Circular arguments are surprisingly common, unfortunately. If you’ve already reached a particular conclusion once, it’s easy to accidentally make it an assertion when explaining your reasoning to someone else.

Complex question /Fallacy of interrogation /Fallacy of presupposition

This is the interrogative form of Begging the Question. One example is the classic loaded question:

“Have you stopped beating your wife? 

The question presupposes a definite answer to another question that has not even been asked. Lawyers in cross-examination often use this trick, when they ask questions like:

“Where did you hide the money you stole?”

Similarly, politicians often ask loaded questions such as:

“How long will United Nations interference in our affairs be allowed to continue?”

Another form of this fallacy is to ask for an explanation of something that is untrue or not yet established.

Ignoratio elenchi/Irrelevant conclusion

The fallacy of Irrelevant Conclusion consists of claiming that an argument supports a particular conclusion when it is actually logically nothing to do with that conclusion.

For example, you may argue that the conclusions of a particular writer are undoubtedly true. But you cannot then proceed to support your assertion by bringing a list of conclusions that have little or nothing to do with the assertion.

This type of argument typically arouses the emotions and clouds judgment that allows the supposed conclusion to have more weight than it should ever receive.

An example of one form of this would be in a recent advertisement for the Los Angeles Times Newspaper. The advertisement encourages people to subscribe to the newspaper; the narrator states that she receives the Times because she “likes to feel informed.” Note that no claim of actual or real information is given, the appeal is entirely emotive and therefore irrelevant to reality.

Equivocation /Fallacy of four terms

Equivocation occurs when a key word is used with two or more different meanings in the same argument. For example:

“What could be more affordable than free software? But to make sure that it remains free, that users can do what they like with it, we must place a license on it to make sure that will always be freely redistributable.”

One way to avoid this fallacy is to choose your terminology carefully before beginning the argument, and avoid words like “free” which have many meanings. In public speaking words that sound the same but have different meanings or different meanings depending of the context should be avoided, for example, “Which witch is which?”


Amphiboly occurs when the premises used in an argument are ambiguous be­cause of careless, convoluted or ungrammatical phrasing. This often occurs in online discussions. People who are careless in writing, spelling, and grammar are simply difficult to converse with because it is generally unclear what they are really saying. And, calling them to account in a discussion will often see the offender rely on ad hominem comments like calling his opponent a “grammar nazi.”

Fallacies of composition

 One Fallacy of Composition is to conclude that a property shared by the parts of something must apply to the whole. For example:

“The bicycle is made entirely of low mass components and is therefore very lightweight.”

The other Fallacy of Composition is to conclude that a property of a number of individual items is shared by a collection of those items. For example:

“A car uses less gas and causes less pollution than a bus. Therefore cars are less environmentally damaging than buses.”

 Fallacy of division

The Fallacy of Division is the opposite of the Fallacy of Composition. Like its opposite, it exists in two varieties. The first is to assume that a property of some thing must apply to its parts. For example:

“You are studying at a rich college. Therefore you must be rich.”

The other is to assume that each item shares a property of a collection of items. For example:

“The man arrested was an illegal immigrant, therefore all illegal immigrants commit crimes.”

The slippery slope argument

This argument states that should one event occur, so will other harmful events. There is no proof made that the harmful events are caused by the first event. For ex­ample:

“If we cancel the Sunday night service people will have to go elsewhere for something to do with their time; if that happens people will find something more interesting than church therefore people might leave the church entirely.”

“A is based on B”fallacies / “…is a type of…“fallacies / Fallacy of the Undistributed Middle

These fallacies occur if you attempt to argue that things are in some way similar, but you don’t actually specify in what way they are similar.


“Islam is based on faith, Christianity is based on faith, so isn’t Islam a form of Christianity?”

“Cats are a form of animal based on carbon chemistry, dogs are a form of animal based on carbon chemistry, so aren’t dogs a form of cat?”

Affirmation of the consequent

 This fallacy is an argument of the form “A implies B, B is true, therefore A is true”. To understand why it is a fallacy, examine the truth table for implication given earlier. Here’s an example:

“You get wet if you are outside in the rain. I was outside sleeping in my hammock and when I woke up I was all wet, therefore it must have rained while I was asleep.”

This is the converse of Denial of the Antecedent.

  Denial of the antecedent

This fallacy is an argument of the form “A implies B, A is false, therefore B is false”. The truth table for implication makes it clear why this is a fallacy.

Note that this fallacy is different from Non Causa Pro Causal That has the form “A implies B, A is false, therefore B is false”, where A does not in fact imply B at all. Here, the problem isn’t that the implication is invalid; rather it’s that the falseness of A doesn’t allow us to deduce anything about B.

“You get wet if you are outside in the rain. Even though I was outside, it did not rain, therefore I am not wet.” (as he wipes himself off)

This is the converse of the fallacy of Affirmation of the Consequent.

 Converting a conditional

This fallacy is an argument of the form “If A then B, therefore if B then A”

“If it’s raining outside and I don’t have an umbrella I get wet. So if I get wet, then it’s raining outside and I don’t have an umbrella.”

This fallacy is similar to the Affirmation of the Consequent, but phrased as a conditional statement.


Also referred to as the “black and white” fallacy, bifurcation occurs if you present a situation as having only two alternatives, where in fact other alternatives exist or can exist.

“Our Sunday night service is only attended by 30% of our congregation. We must have a huge sin problem in the church or people just don’t want to hear the preaching of the Word.”

Plurium interrogationum /Many questions

This fallacy occurs when someone demands a simple (or simplistic) answer to a complex question. “Just answer ‘yes’ or ‘no.”

Non Sequitur

A non sequitur (it does not follow) is an argument where the conclusion is drawn from premises that aren’t logically connected with it. For example:

“Since Egyptians did so much excavation to construct the pyramids, they must have been well versed in paleontology.”

Actually this type of fallacy can be quite amusing, and is really the basis for most situation comedy on television.

Red Herring

This fallacy is committed when someone introduces irrelevant material to the issue being discussed, so that everyone else’s attention is diverted away from the points made, towards a different conclusion. Often this is an ad hominem interjection.

“But pastor, we shouldn’t have this man for our Bible conference speaker. Haven’t you heard about what is going on in the seminary where he graduated from?” [this man graduated from the seminary in question 30 years earlier]

Straw Man

The straw man fallacy is when you misrepresent or caricaturize a position so that it can be attacked more easily, then knock down that misrepresented position, then conclude that the original position has been demolished. It’s a fallacy because it fails to deal with the actual arguments that have been made.

The Extended Analogy

The fallacy of the Extended Analogy often occurs when some suggested gen­eral rule is being argued over. The fallacy is to assume that mentioning two different situations, in an argument about a general rule, constitutes a claim that those situations are analogous to each other.

“I believe that the Inerrancy of the Bible is vitally important.”

“But this would put you at odds with Kierkegarrd who believed that you could come to know Christ only by personal experience.”

“Are you saying I don’t believe in Christ! How dare you!” 

The Argument of Irrelevance

There are often appeals to factual information that is largely irrelevant.  This often occurs in advertising.  For instance a popular car advertisement states that a particular car will go from Zero to 60mph in 4.5 seconds. That fact may be true, but it is irrelevant to the purchase of an automobile because it would be illegal (unsafe acceleration) according to every state vehicle code to perform such a feat.  Or, one could argue that churches today need to deal with heretics the same way the Reformers did. This is another irrelevant point because churches are not able today (and probably never should have) to, burn heretics at the stake.

Audiatur et altera pars

Often, people will argue from assumptions that they don’t bother to state. The principle of Audiatur et Altera Pars is that all of the premises of an argument should be stated explicitly. It’s not strictly a fallacy to fail to state all of your assump­tions; however, it’s often viewed with suspicion.

Ad hoc

There is a difference between argument and explanation. If we’re interested in establishing A, and B is offered as evidence, the statement “A because B” is an ar­gument. If we’re trying to establish the truth of B, then “A because B” is not an ar­gument, it’s an explanation.

The Ad Hoc fallacy is to give an after‑the‑fact explanation that doesn’t apply to other situations. Often this ad hoc explanation will be dressed up to look like an argument. For example, if we assume that God treats all people equally, then the following is an ad hoc explanation:

“I was healed from cancer by the Lord.”

“So, will He heal all believers who have cancer?”

“Well, you must have sufficient faith.”

 Argumentum ad Logicam

This is the “fallacy fallacy” of arguing that a proposition is false because it has been presented as the conclusion of a fallacious argument. It must always be remembered that a fallacious argument can arrive at true conclusion.

“Take the fraction 16/64. Now, canceling a 6 on top and a six on the bottom, we get that 16/64=1/4.”

“Wait a second! You can’t just cancel the six!”

“Oh, so you’re telling us 16/64 is not equal to 1/4, are you?”

The issue here is twofold: (1) to deal with the reasoning that was used to arrive at the conclusion and (2) to demonstrate that even though the conclusion is correct, if this reasoning is allowed to stand and proliferate throughout the paper, the entire thesis could become a “house of cards.”

The “No True Scotsman“fallacy

Suppose I assert that no Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge. You counter this by pointing out that your friend Angus likes sugar with his porridge. I then say “Ah, yes, but no true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge. A variety of this is to say “Reformed Theologians don’t believe in premillennialism, because you believe in premillennialism you can’t be Reformed.”

This is an example of an ad hoc change being used to shore up an assertion; combined with an attempt to shift the meaning of the words used original assertion. You might call it a combination of fallacies.


History of the English Bible: The Geneva Bible of 1560

The most important English Bible, other than the King James Verison of 1611, was the Geneva Bible of 1560.  The Geneva would have an entirely different purpose heretofore from previous (and even subsequent) editions of the Bible.  It was the first true “Study Bible” in history.


When Myles Coverdale reached Geneva in 1558 work was already well underway on what would become the most controversial and at the same time the most popular English translation of the era. The Geneva Bible of 1560 was to be most significant English Bible to date and would remain the Bible of choice for English Protestants for the next 100 years. It was significant for many things, but mainly it was notable for its notes; this would be the first true “Study Bible” in history.

The Geneva Bible is bound up in the work of the famous reformer John Calvin (1509–64) and the city most identified with his life and work, the French-speaking Swiss city of Geneva. Geneva had quickly moved towards the Protestant movement and from 1523 to 1533 there were several uprisings and wars and finally in March 1533 the Town Council agreed to a compromise that made Geneva a “free” city with its inhabitants allowed to practice either Catholicism or Protestantism. By 1536 Geneva declared itself a Protestant republic and Catholicism essentially ceased to exist within its walls. Calvin had been invited back to Geneva in 1541 after the town council had expelled him in 1538 (Calvin had originally come to the city in 1536 and at William [Guillaume] Farel [1489–1565] urging began teaching New Testament). Calvin and the town council had a tenuous relationship at best; while they supported his work in the church they were resistant to allow the essential merger of church and city government that he desired. The struggle between Calvin and the Council lasted until 1555 when French migration into Geneva had given Calvin the majority support and in the elections of that year most of Calvin’s opponents were removed from power.[1]

In 1555 Calvin allowed exiles from England and the Catholic persecutions of Mary to take up residence in Geneva. Led by John Knox (1514–72) and then William Whittingham (1524–79), the English speaking community grew significantly. When Knox left for a short-lived work with the English community in Frankfurt, Whittingham was selected at Calvin’s urging to become the pastor of the English congregation (the fact that Whittingham had married Calvin’s younger sister undoubtedly helped his promotion). In terms of the creation of the Geneva Bible, other than providing a safe haven and whose works provided the basis for many of the notations (especially in the Pauline epistles), Calvin had no significant involvement in the project. Calvin was, quite naturally, more concerned about protestant work in his native France and he had produced a French Bible in 1558. Knox also had little if any, direct impact on the production. By all accounts Knox, while a great preacher, was short on “people skills” and was exceptionally difficult to work with.

Calvin’s Geneva was a “bubble” in the Christian world, what Bruce called the “most favourable setting for the work of Bible study and translation.”[2] The free city was relatively safe and biblical and theological scholarship was allowed to advance and did so at a very rapid pace. The Geneva Academy under the leadership of Theodore Beza (1519–1605). Beza was one of the “Four” of Geneva famously enshrined in the relief on the “Reformation Wall” in Geneva (from left to right: William Farel, John Calvin, Theodore Beza, and John Knox). While Beza was largely away from the city while the Geneva was being produced, his influence mainly being the contribution of his Latin version of 1556. Also, Beza’s French translation of the Apocrypha was very important. As Greenslade notes:

The translators, Whittingham, Gilbey, and Sampson, had much new work to help them. The foundation of their Old Testament was the Great Bible (1550 edition), which they revised in light of the Hebrew-Latin Bibles of Pagninus (1528, and in Stephanus’ Latin Bible, Geneva, 1557) and Muster (1534/5) together with the more recent Latin versions of Leo Juda (1544) and Castellio (1551) and Olivertan’s French Bible, then under revision at Geneva. They were sufficiently good Hebraists to form their own judgment and they were perhaps the earliest English translators to make first-hand use of Rabbi David Kimchi’s commentary, though they may have known him on through Pagninus. The 1557 New Testament was further revised, with much more attention to Beza’s Latin version of 1556, already used by Whittingham. Their Greek text was that of Stephanus as in the edition regia with its collection of variants (Paris 1550) or in that of Geneva (1551), the first to have verse numbers.[3]

While the whole Geneva Bible was produced in 1560, the New Testament and Psalms appeared as early as 1557. Whittingham was the “driving force” overseeing the work in the New Testament while Anthony Gilbey (1510–85) supervised the work in the Old Testament. Thomas Sampson (1517–89) was the other leading translator. Myles Coverdale joined the project, but to what extent is not clear. He might have been more of what today would be called a “style editor.” However, just the practical experience of Coverdale, who at this time was the most experienced and accomplished English translator living, must have been invaluable. The Geneva Bible, as a project, had more resources (textual, research, manpower, and financial) than any previous English translation project. The entire team under Whittingham also had a unified goal in terms of production, something that was not true of The Great Bible (and later the Bishops’ Bible).

All of the Geneva translators at this time would be classified in the more radical “Puritanism.” All would be caught up to one degree or another in the “vestment controversy” under Elizabeth I and her Archbishop, Matthew Parker.[4] They were also all decidedly anti-monarchial, which would be evident by some notations, and would cause both Elizabeth I and later James I, to oppose its propagation in England. The costs of the project were carried by the English congregation in Geneva, but mostly by the wealthy merchant John Bodley.[5]

The Geneva Bible was unique in the history of the English Bible in several respects. It is often over-rated while at the same time being under-rated. This is largely because the Geneva Bible had a singular purpose entirely different than it’s predecessors, except for the Tyndale. The Geneva Bible was produced, not as a “church bible” for the podium (like the Great Bible had been), it was designed for individual use, printed in a more portable quarto size (about 9 x 11 inches) it was much less expensive. In fact, with the dominance of Knox and Calvin’s Presbyterianism in Scotland, the Scottish Parliament in 1579 passed a law requiring all households “of sufficient means” to buy a copy of the Geneva Bible. The Geneva, printed in Scotland by Thomas Bassendyne, became widely available the same year.[6]

The Geneva Bible introduced several features that are taken for granted in English translations now:

  • When English words were added for clarity they were rendered in italics; that is when a word wasn’t in the Greek or Hebrew, but is necessary in English grammar and syntax for clarity and added by the translators.
  • The chapter and verse divisions of Robert Estienne[7] included for the first time in an English Bible. These divisions, while not always appropriate to the flow of the text, caught on and have remained essentially unchanged.
  • There was also an elaborate system of marginal references and notations for textual variants.
  • It should also be noted that, despite the modern popular legend, The Apocrypha was always included in the Geneva Bible. The myth that the Geneva Reformers did not want to sully their translation with the Apocryphal text is simply untrue and, in fact, it was a superior English rendering. The notes are scant to nearly non-existent in comparison to the Old and New Testaments, but the Apocrypha remained an important part of all English translations well into the 18th century when later editions of the King James Version finally began to drop it.

As Daniell notes:

Two things immediately strike a reader who opens any page of most Geneva Bibles produced in Geneva or London over almost a hundred years: the clarity of the roman type in its little numbered paragraphs, that is, their verses; and the fullness of the surrounding matter. Headings crown each page, italic summaries are at the head of each chapter, and the inner and outer margins have notes, in small roman or italic, all keyed to the text by small letters or signs.[8]

Besides the actual layout and the text-type, the translation itself was clear and exceptionally readable. The basis of the work was Tyndale’s English in the New Testament and Coverdale’s in the Old Testament, although both significantly updated. The English language itself was just beginning an enormous time of transition in vernacular usage. The Late Middle English of Tyndale, Coverdale and Henry VIII was shifting to what would become Elizabethan English (and then into Early Modern English[9]). Whittingham and the other translators were likely influenced by the English usage of the community in Geneva, which was more of the upper business class, than the more formal usage of the academy. In this they were similar to Tyndale in their approach to translation. To use an illustration from two centuries later, it was similar to the popularity of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense of 1775, which sparked the American Revolution and the push for independence. Of Common Sense, Ferling said, “It was free of suffocating jargon and indecipherable Latin phraseology”[10] and thus appealed to and was widely read by the entire literate public, not just the highly educated elite. This was perhaps the main reason the Geneva Bible was so well received. It was rendered in clear, everyday, “market place” English. The Geneva was developed for people to read and study, not, at least primarily, for liturgical use, which of course was the purpose of The Great Bible and would be the main purpose of The Bishop’s Bible.[11]

Beyond the translation, what the Geneva Bible is most known for are its notations. In the original 1560 edition the notes were as Greenslade observes, “are as a whole generally Protestant in intention rather than specifically Calvinist. They do no, for example, stress Presbyterian polity.”[12] The notes of the first edition were certainly most liberally sprinkled with what would become Calvinistic Theology.[13] Bruce also notes that the first edition was, by and large, not doctrinaire,

The notes of the Geneva Bible are famous, largely because the irritated James I so much; yet they are mild in comparison to Tyndale’s. They are, to be sure, unashamedly Calvinistic in doctrine, and therefore offensive to readers who find Calvinism offensive; but for a half century the people of England and Scotland, who read the Geneva Bible in preference to any other version, learned much of their biblical exegesis from these notes.[14]

However, in 1560 the notes were more of a “running commentary on the whole Bible”[15] than a presentation of a systematic theology.

In 1559 Mary I and Cardinal Pole died (within hours of each other) and the Catholic resurgence in England was quickly reduced in the long reign of Elizabeth I (1533–1603, reigned 1559–1603). Elizabeth immediately established the English Protestant church, and like her Father, Henry VIII, made herself the Supreme Governor of it. She was an able ruler and inherited something of her father’s political skill. She was also exceptionally intelligent and was clearly the most well-educated woman of her time. Besides English she spoke the other dialects of the islands (Scottish, Welsh, Cornish, and Irish) with ease and fluidity. She read both Latin and Greek and clearly knew what a good translation into English should be. As we previously noted, she gave license to John Bodley to print and sell the Geneva Bible in England for a seven-year period beginning in 1560 (the title page of the first edition has an elaborate dedication to the Queen). Even her Archbishop, Matthew Parker, who was to shortly begin his quest for a new “church” Bible (The Bishops’ Bible) thought the Geneva a superior work. As Bruce notes:

At the very time Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury, was pressing ahead with a rival version, the Bishop’s Bible, he thought so well of the Geneva Bible that he advocated a twelve year extension of the exclusive right of printing it granted in 1561 to John Bodley. Even if he and his fellow-bishops were specially interested in the Bishops’ Bible, he added, “yet should it nothing hinder but rather do much good to have diversity of translation and readings”—a remarkably enlightened opinion.[16]

Even the notes of the 1560 edition of the Geneva do not appear to have led to significant objection and personal ownership and use of the Geneva Bible, especially in Scotland where by 1579 is was legally required, increased significantly. But even in this time, The Great Bible was still the official text for the actual church services and readings[17], which as Parker noted, apparently was not of great concern.[18]

However, in 1576 there was a significant revision of the Geneva New Testament and particularly the notes, undertaken by Laurence Tomson (1539–1608). Tomson was educated at Magdalen and Oxford and was the secretary for Elizabeth’s secretary of state, Francis Walsingham[19]. He had fled England during the Marian persecutions and was lecturer of Hebrew at the Geneva Academy.

Tomson’s revision of the New Testament included, “introducing still more of Beza’s readings and interpretations from his critical (but sometimes rashly conjectural) Greek text with Latin version and commentary.”[20]   However, it was the notes where the larger changes occurred. Calvinism, as enlarged by Beza, became more evident and more strident than the previous editions. However, it was the emphasis on polity: Presbyterian polity, which was to become the crux of the problems with the Geneva, particularly when James VI of Scotland became James I of England.

Another significant change that Tomson introduced were the notations of Franciscus Junius (1543–1602) in the Book of Revelation and in 1699 (and subsequent editions) Junius’ entire translation and notes were substituted for the previous text. Junius’ notes were “violently anti-papal.”[21] The notations had been notably anti-Catholic from 1560 to 1595 (it was a Protestant Bible after all), but Junius’ notes even in an era not given to civility in written discourse were extremely outlandish. The discussions of individual popes as fulfillments of different prophecies in Revelation, was a move away from a careful explaining the text of Revelation to a rather sensationalistic and propagandist interpretation of the text. Being Anti-Catholic, even “violently” so, wasn’t a significant issue. The various intrigues of the Pope and his declarations against Elizabeth and her reign had the effect of forcing what little Catholicism remained in England completely underground. It was the shift in emphasis on polity that was the most problematic, at least initially, to the rulers of England.

The notes were, in many ways, central to the popularity of The Geneva Bible. So much so, that when it was clear that the King James Bible was eclipsing the Geneva in popularity, an edition of the King James with the Geneva notes was issued. It was an interesting market ploy and it did go through a couple of printings; but by this time Puritanism as a social force was spent (especially under Oliver Cromwell) and the Calvinism represented in the Geneva Bible  was increasingly falling out of favor in England; as it also would in Scotland albeit about 150 years later.[22]



As Ryken states, “Every translation has been clear in its own generation and when judged by the audience for which it was intended.[23] This is certainly the case for The Geneva Bible. While McAfee states that the Geneva, “drove the Great Bible from the field by the sheer force of its brilliance,”[24] it was a completely different Bible in terms of type and purpose from The Great Bible. It was a Bible translation that was unique in church history to that point. It was designed to be affordable and portable. It was produced in exceptionally large numbers and it initially had sufficient political support to gain traction. It dominated Bible sales for nearly 100 at years and was only finally supplanted by the King James Bible.

The temptation is to move directly from the Geneva Bible to the King James, but there were two other translations still to appear, both largely forgotten, one essentially ignored or relegated to a footnote by Protestant and evangelical scholars, the Douay-Rheims Bible of 1609; the other viewed as little more than a vain attempt by the now established English Church to regain its control of the Bible from the “foreigners” of Geneva. However, The Bishops’ Bible of 1568 was much more than that and in many ways without this now nearly forgotten English bible, the King James Bible that we know today may have been completely different.



[1] There are dozens of books and essays on this era from every conceivable angle. It really reaches its climax with the arrest, trial, and execution of Michael Servetus in 1553. In popular circles this established Calvin as the “defender of orthodoxy.” The Servetus affair is exceptionally complex and beyond the scope of this essay to go into great detail (I will say that those who attempt to present this as a simple or straightforward affair, whichever side they are supporting, are the most mistaken). Executions, especially for heresy, were common in that era and Calvin had supported several over the years. In later histories some of supporters proposed the argument that he was not involved in the sentences handed down by the “civil magistrates,” (the City Council and Syndics) but this stretches credulity to the extreme. Some sources assert that Calvin tried to either save Servetus (exceptionally unlikely) or at least have him beheaded (which was quicker, but not a legal option for those guilty of heresy). On the other side some sources indicate that Calvin decreed that “green wood” be used for Servetus’ fire so he would burn slower and suffer longer before he died. The truth is probably somewhere in between.

[2] F. F. Bruce, History of Bible in English (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970), 95.

[3] S. L. Greenslade. Cambridge History of the Bible: The West from the Reformation to the Present Day (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1963), 157.

[4] Interesting though, Calvin had advised Knox and the others not to make an issue out of the vestment decree and to submit to the Elizabeth and Parker’s directives.

[5] Bodley’s son Thomas Bodley (1545–1613) was one of the most important men in the history of English scholarship. Growing up in Geneva he studied under Calvin, Beza, Beroaldus, and Chevalier and regularly attended the sermons of John Knox. Upon the family’s return to England, after the death of Mary, he finished his extensive education at Magdalen College. He was a minor official “Gentlemen-usher” to Elizabeth I (who also granted him exclusive rights to print the Geneva Bible in England. Bodley, left political life, taught at Oxford, and ultimately drove the creation of the now-famous Bodleian Library, which was named in his honor.

[6] In fact, Bassendyne died in 1577, two years before the project was completed in whole. He did manage to get the New Testament printed in 1576. Although the “king’s printer”, Thomas Bassendyne, was nonetheless often late on deadlines. The specific printing project for the Geneva Bible, in partnership with Alexander Arbuthnot (d. 1585) specified “nine months” to complete the project, perhaps an indication that Bassendyne’s rather languid work ethic was well known. There is a record dated March 8, 1575 from the Scottish Privy Council instructing every parish in Scotland to advance 5 £ (Scot) to fund the printing project.

[7] Robert Estienne (c. 1507–59), often referred to by his Latin name Stephanus, a Parisian printer and classical scholar. He was the most important printer (“Printer in Greek to the King”) of the era in the most important city for scholarship in the medieval into the Reformation eras. His three sons (Henri, Robert, and François) continued the family business and were all notable printers. There had been attempts at chapter divisions in the past, notably by Stephen Langton (1150–1228), Archbishop of Canterbury, whose system was largely. There was a competing system developed around the same time by Santi Pagnini (1470–1541), but Estienne’s system ultimately proved more popular.

[8] David Daniell, The Bible In English (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003), 296.

[9] The shift in language took nearly 200 years, starting the Late Middle English in the 1500’s to finally modern English in the 1700’s. “Elizabethan English” is more of a transitory phase in the process. Early Modern English (e.g. the King James Bible and William Shakespeare) can generally be read and largely understood by English readers today (although, there are some lexical reverses, phrasing, and often word usage which would be hard or even offensive to the modern ear). An untrained modern reader typically has difficulty reading earlier Tudor era and earlier works. Even the previous Bibles we have examined, Tyndale, Coverdale, Matthews, and the Great Bible, range from quite difficult to impossible for the typical modern reader.

[10] John Ferling, Whirlwind: The American Revolution and the War that Won It (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2015), 142.

[11] It is important to remember that at this time the idea of an individual carrying a Bible to the worship service and following along the sermon is simply unheard of. Likewise the idea that a pastor of that era would say something like, “turn in your Bible to…” would be simply impossible; in fact this would not become commonplace for another two centuries. The Geneva Bible is not particularly “lyrical,” that is while it appeals to the eye in reading, it doesn’t appeal to the ear in hearing as the King James would.

[12] Greenslade, Cambridge History, 158.

[13] For instance, the notes in Romans are quite clear in presenting the Calvinist view. In Rom 9:15 the interpretation of double predestination if affirmed, “As the only will and purpose of God is the chief cause of election and reprobation: so is his free mercy in Christ is an inferior cause of salvation and the hardening of the heart an inferior cause of damnation.” A dubious assertion based on the content of the actual verse.

[14] Bruce, History of the Bible in English, 90.

[15] Daniell, Bible in English, 305.

[16] Bruce, History of the Bible in English, 91.

[17] While Mary I had ordered English text bibles to be burned, this was only applied to Tyndale, Coverdale, and Matthews’ Bibles. The Great Bible remained in the churches and remained in use. Neither Mary, Parliament, nor Cardinal Pole ever made an effort to ban it or remove the royal license of Henry VIII. This did have the overall effect though of making a scarcity of English Bibles available when Elizabeth I took the throne and practically speaking this had a very positive influence on the distribution of the Geneva Bible. In commercial terms there was a great market, and the Geneva was “designed” to fill that market.

[18] Some assert that Parker, while allowing the Geneva on one hand, attempted to thwart it and point to the fact that none were actually printed in England until 1576. But, this is somewhat misleading. They were printed elsewhere (Geneva and finally in Edinburgh) and their sale was not hindered in England. Bodley and his sons had significant enough influence and importance that if their license had been a “sham” as one writer called it, history would certainly have noted their complaint.

[19] Walsingham was Elizabeth’s most trusted minister and most importantly her “spymaster.” Elizabeth maintained an elaborate interior and continental system of spies. The famous “Rainbow Portrait” of Elizabeth with the cloak of “eyes and ears” indicating that she saw and heard everything.

[20] Greenslade, Cambridge History, 158.

[21] Ibid. Daniell gives an entire chapter to Junius (The Bible in English, 369–75) and gives a moderate defense of Junius’ work. Daniell clearly sees the Geneva as the high point of English translations and rises to its defense at every opportunity. However, it has to be remembered that while the Geneva was sufficiently anti-Catholic in its original notes for the first 35 years, the notes of Junius, which most are familiar with, were an addition, and ultimately in terms of understanding the text, not a helpful one.

[22] Even John Knox’s grave today is nearly forgotten as it is underneath a parking lot at St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh. Parking Space #23 has a yellow marker and small plaque commemorating Knox’s final resting place.

[23] Leland Ryken, Word of God in English: Criteria and Excellence in Bible Translation (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2002), 229.

[24] Cleland Boyd McAfee, The Greatest English Classic: A Study of the King James Bible and its Influence on Life and Literature (Champaign, IL: Project Guttenburg, 1999), 54.