“Ignorance Versus John Murray” by Joel McDurmon

“Shortly after finishing my book Biblical Logic: In Theory and Practice, I became more sensitive at spotting logical fallacies all around. Not that I take pride in doing so — it just happens. Since I had just spent the better part of nine months writing sections on dozens of informal fallacies out there, I was kind of in “fallacy detective” mode, sniffing out disturbing claims left and right.

One such disturbing claim appears in the book The Law Is Not Of Faith: Essays on Works and Grace in the Mosaic Covenant, particularly in the chapter entitled “Abraham and Sinai Contrasted in Galatians 3:6–14, written by T. David Gordon. Gordon, you will remember, is the guy who has attacked theonomic thinking with the harshest language possible, once calling it “the Bible-thumping error par excellence,” and the doctrine of the “never to be wise.” Not content to trash theonomy, Gordon has now singled out one of the stalwart Reformed theologians whom he disagrees with, John Murray. Well, I will leave the details of the chapter aside for another time (I have covered some of them in three successive radio talks on The Gary DeMar Show, May 20–22, 2009); here I would simply like to highlight a classic logical fallacy, the Appeal to Ignorance. One page 253, Gordon claims that to his knowledge, “Murray never wrote so much as a paragraph about the Galatian letter,” which letter Gordon himself emphasizes as “fatal to Murray’s thesis” about the covenants. The fallacy appears in footnote 18 on page 253, where Gordon mounts an Everest of arrogance:


According to the bibliography published in volume 4 of the Collected Writings of John Murray… from 1931 to 1973 Murray wrote 221 reviews, articles, essays, and books. Not one of these addresses Galatians generally, nor a particular passage within Galatians specifically. Considering that Murray was both a New Testament scholar and a professor of systematic theology, it seems odd that he would publish nothing about what many consider to be one of Paul’s most important theological letters. Luther, for instance, was less squeamish than Professor Murray, and was quite willing to write a lengthy commentary on the letter. But then Luther was willing to recognize the covenantal contrasts in Galatians, and so was happy to write about it.

Amidst all of this insinuation and outright trash talking about a deceased man who cannot defend himself — does Gordon really believe Murray was “squeamish” about Galatians? — stands one big Appeal to Ignorance. Gordon’s claim essentially amounts to this: “Murray never wrote on Galatians; therefore he was squeamish about writing about it.” You can’t base a positive claim on what you don’t in fact know! The fallacy gets exposed by the fact that you can prove anything with this type of “logic.” I think Murray thought the Galatian letter was so sacred that he dare not add his own commentary to it, and therefore he never wrote on in. Highly unlikely, but just as logical as Gordon’s undisciplined claim. I think that every time Murray began to write on Galatians, the Holy Spirit personally redirected him elsewhere as He did Paul on occasion (Acts 16:6). Hardly. But just as logical as Gordon’s argument.

Further, if Gordon’s logic applied here, it would apply to every person who never wrote on Galatians. R. C. Sproul never wrote a commentary on that letter. Is he squeamish about it? Gordon’s buddy Michael Horton, to my knowledge, has never dealt at length with Galatians. Is he also squeamish? We could add the Hodges, Warfield, and most contemporary Reformed New Testament scholars and Systematics professors: few if any have published much on Galatians in detail. The whole Reformed world must be squeamish about Galatians. T. David Gordon alone (with Luther!), apparently, has the courage to exegete this high-wire of a “theological letter.”What we really learn from Gordon’s logical knot is that Gordon simply doesn’t like Murray’s view very much. As a result, he crosses the line between professional criticism (in which he is weak) and childish mud-throwing (in which he has an established history). In the paragraph in question he spills how his conclusions really rest on his desires (as opposed to facts). Of Murray’s not writing on Galatians, Gordon opines,


He could have made no sense of the letter, and anything he might have written about it would therefore have been obfuscatory in the highest degree [another fallacy: hypothesis contrary to fact, which he implicitly admits with the word “speculate” in the next sentence]. We can only speculate as to why such a prolific writer as he never wrote about it, and I would like to think that he was, at some level, aware of his incapacity to make any sense of it.… I like to think that he was aware that he was entirely flummoxed by Paul’s reasoning, and that he therefore determined not to write anything about the matter until he could make sense of it.

The “I like to think” claims say it all. Gordon has said nothing about Murray and a whole lot about his own desires—desires which, well, leave little to be desired. Why doesn’t Gordon “like to think” something much more charitable about Murray’s view? Good question. To argue based on fallacy is bad enough. To argue fallaciously for the “incapacity” and “flummoxed” mind of one of the greatest of the twentieth-century Reformed theologians is to expose oneself as careless, classless, and graceless.

I just wish I had not already completed the indexing on my book dealing with fallacies. Gordon’s article would make a fine addition to the examples therein. Perhaps it’ll make it in the second printing—or so I would like to think.”




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