I had to take a couple weeks off of our Fallacy Fridays series due to the holidays and my recent trip to visit my grandmother. But I’m ready to dig back into some more of the fallacies that are listed in Osborne’s The Hermeneutical Spiral.
This week we’re looking at a fallacy known as The Misuse of Parallels. This fallacy actually has many offshoots that connect with it’s fundamental flaw. You see, if we’re pursuing truth and attempting to research through sources, we need to properly weigh the evidence that is available. But a statement like that presupposes that all of the evidence is considered, or at least there’s an intention to follow the evidence where it may lead. Sadly, many scholars, pastors, and students of Scripture only consider some of the evidence. Often, the only evidence allowed to “speak” is the evidence that supports already-held conclusions. For example, if someone already believes that the Bible teaches that Jesus was not God incarnate, they may only read sources and evidence that supports that conclusion. The same is true for some who believe that Jesus is God. If they fall into the error of only considering Scriptures that support that conclusion, they won’t interact with sources or texts that speak on the humanity of Jesus. These are not legitimate methods of studying.
The Misuse of Parallels is related to this problem because it only takes into consideration parallels that support a conclusion, rather than all of the parallels. Osborne states that this is when scholars only choose “only those parallels that would support their preconceived notions” (p. 91). He goes on to write,
“Instead of a comprehensive study of all possible parallels in order to discover which best fits the context, scholars will select only those most favorable to the thesis and ignore the others. Further, they will often accumulate numerous examples in order to overwhelm the reader with volume.” (ibid.)
We must take a moment and recognize the value of parallels though. It may be easy to see the danger of misusing parallels and to assume that perhaps it is best to just avoid the fallacy by not using them. But this would fall into another hermeneutical error. We must see the value of studying and weighing parallels! Osborne is stellar on helping point out their importance:
“It is critical to recognize the relative value of parallels. For instance, when studying Paul’s use of dikaiousthai (“justify”) in Romans 3:24, we must consider several levels. First, the passive voice verb rather than the noun or adjective is truly relevant. Second, Paul’s use elsewhere in Romans is more important than his use elsewhere. Third, the use of dikaioun and cognates elsewhere in the New Testament does not tell us how it is used in Romans. All the latter can do is expand the semantic field and provide possible meanings from the use of the term in the early church. Fourth, we must ask whether there is a direct allusion or indirect influence from the Septuagint or the Old Testament. Fifth, we must study extant Greek literature for other possible semantic parallels.” (ibid.)
Furthermore, he writes,
“Most important, we must search for true parallels rather than be satisfied with seeming or potential parallels. The difference is not always so simple to detect. We must consider the whole semantic range and compare the contexts behind the possible parallels before deciding. Then we must chart each occurrence and see which uses of the term elsewhere have the greatest degree of overlap with the use of the term in the particular context we are studying. Any individual occurrence is no more than a possible parallel until it has been shown to have a higher degree of semantic overlap (that is, it corresponds to the biblical term at several levels) than the other possibilities, even if the parallel is found elsewhere in the same book or section. We need to remember that we often use the same word with slightly different nuances only a couple sentences apart and think nothing of it.” (p. 92)
Take Osborne’s advice. It’ll help your research more than you realize, and will keep you from being a poor student of God’s Word.
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.