CENI (C=command, E=example, and NI=necessary inference) is an acronym that identifies the three ways the Bible teaches us its truths. The necessity of a necessary inference in this process can be derived from Jesus’ interaction with the Sadducees in Matthew 22:23-33. When the information found in this section is combined with Acts 23:8, which says the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection, angels, or spirits, we better appreciate the nature of this interaction; namely, the Sadducees were not really seeking information but attempting to make Jesus look ridiculous. Nonetheless, Jesus takes the time to inform them that they had made a serious error “not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God (v. 29).
They had missed the necessary conclusion to be derived from the tense of the verb used in Exodus 3:6. Hundreds of years after the deaths of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God said, “I am” their God. Therefore, if these patriarchs were not in some sense still in existence when God said this to Moses, then it would not have been correct for Him to have used the present tense. Instead, it would have been necessary for Him to have said, “I was [past tense] the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”
The necessary conclusion to be drawn from this, and the Lord makes it clear the Sadducees were in error for not doing so, was that the spirits of these patriarchs had survived the grave. Therefore, Jesus made it clear they had failed to conclude something that Exodus 3:6 had necessarily inferred.
Not only this, but Jesus made it clear to these Sadducees that they were expected (i.e., under obligation) to have rightly concluded there was life (albeit disembodied life) beyond the grave. Thus, “I am the God of…” teaches, and this by necessary inference, that there is disembodied existence beyond the grave, one of the very doctrines the Sadducees wrongly, and without any scriptural reason, rejected.
But hold on to your hermeneutical hats here, brethren, for in reference to the actual resurrection of the dead, you “ain’t seen nothing yet”!
So far, we’ve only dealt with the necessary conclusion that there is disembodied existence beyond the grave and not the resurrection itself. In other words, the necessary conclusion that there is disembodied existence beyond the grave says nothing explicitly about the resurrection of dead bodies from their graves.
Therefore, proof of the resurrection based on Exodus 3:6 requires another necessary conclusion, and this based on the necessary conclusion already reached, and all this dependent on the tense of the verb God used in this passage. I can hear some thinking this is entirely too complicated. Well, Jesus didn’t think so, and neither did those who heard Him (cf. Matthew 22:33-34). It is to this necessary conclusion of a necessary conclusion based on the tense of a verb that we now turn our attention.
A Necessary Conclusion Based On A Necessary Conclusion That Is Dependent On The Tense Of A Verb
The fact of creation teaches us that we are, as creatures, contingent beings. This means we are totally dependent on God for our very existence. As created human being, we have been made in the image of God and this means we are spirit (cf. Genesis 1:26-27). At the same time, we are body (cf. Gen 2:7). Thus, the complete or whole man (i.e., man in toto) is body and spirit. Thus, when we think scripturally about man, we should neither think of him primarily as a body that has a spirit nor a spirit that has a body. Instead, we should think of him as a whole consisting of both body and spirit. This means man, who is a unique combination of body and spirit, can no longer be fully man when his spirit is separated from his body. But when sin entered the picture, God subjected man to “death.” No matter what else this death is referring to (viz., spiritual death and eternal death), the death of the body (physical death) cannot be legitimately excluded as being part of the total package.
All of this is further explained in the New Testament. However, the Sadducees were not privy to this. Neither had they been confronted with the “proofs” of Jesus’ resurrection. But they did have available to them in Genesis all that has been mentioned here and this before ever encountering Exodus 3:6. They were aware, from Scripture and experience, that man dies physically and wrongly concluded that the spirit “died,” or ceased to exist along with the body.
Clearly, then, the Sadducees had not understood the first necessary inferences to be concluded from Exodus 3:6, and therefore had not come to understand the second necessary inference, which is the one that directly impinged the resurrection; namely: (1) although the patriarchs had died (i.e., their spirits had separated from their bodies which laid dead in the grave), they continued to live on as disembodied spirits and (2) because man was not intended to be anything other than a whole person (body and spirit), the necessary inference of a necessary inference was that I AM THAT I AM, who is an unlimited-in-His-power God as well as a personal God who very much wanted a relationship with His crowning creature, man, who was uniquely body and spirit, was going to reunite the disembodied spirits of these patriarchs with their resurrected bodies.
“Man,” as God made him, is an “embodied” being. If “man” is to survive as “man” he must be embodied. So plain is this to Jesus and his opponents that all he has to do is show that Abraham has survived death and lives unto God in order to establish the resurrection of the dead” (The Book of First Corinthians, p. 265).
What does all this mean? Simply this: The Bible does not just teach us truth by direct statements and approved examples but it also teaches us through necessary conclusions, even necessary conclusions drawn from necessary conclusions. So, even though the necessity of the NI in CENI continues to catch flack from some brethren, Jesus made it clear it was a legitimate means of understanding Scripture. Undeniably, necessary inferences are part and parcel of the whole counsel of God. Let us, then, “gird up the loins of [our] mind, be sober, and rest [our] hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to [us] at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13).
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself (Philippians 3:20-21).