Wes Hill, guest posting at Abraham Piper’s microblog 22 Words, writes:
I’ve never understood the phrase, “the exception that proves the rule.”
An exception proves there isn’t a “rule” to begin with, right?
Here was my suggestion:
Ok, try this: The general rule is that ministers of the gospel should get formal training or else their sermons are going to be exegetical bunk.
Charles Spurgeon is the exception that proves the rule, because though, yes, he did not get formal training, he read so much on his own that he effectively did.
I had the same misunderstanding as Wes for a long time until it finally clicked that if something is an exception, it must be an exception to something. Thus acknowledging something to be an exception is a tacit acknowledgment of the rule.
I’d prefer to think about this in terms of math. For example, if you said the rule is: 2 + 2 = 4, than someone could raise the objection that 1 + 1 + 2 also = 4 as an exception; however, this exception just proves the rule because 1 + 1 = 2, which naturally brings you back to the original rule.
There is also a backwards test and that’s when someone claims to have or be an “exception to the rule,” but upon closer examination, the exception just proves to be yet another “exception which proves the rule.” For example, there are many ministers of the gospel with no formal training who have large congregations which “seem” to be healthy, but if you read the sermon outline it would look something like 1 + 1 + 3 + hype + good story = 4, and a closer look at the fruit may reveal a product equal to or less than -5. Therefore, this “so-called” exception also proves the original rule.