From: Bible Authority and the Role of Silence Return to Home
By Roland H. Worth, Jr. © 2018
ESTABLISHING BIBLE AUTHORITY
THE ROLE OF SILENCE
Roland H. Worth, Jr.
Copyright © 2018 by author
Reproduction of this book for non-profit circulation by any electronic or print media means is hereby freely granted at no cost—provided the text is not altered in any manner.
If accompanied by additional, supplemental material—in agreement or disagreement—it must be clearly and visibly distinguishable from the original text.
more of this book consists of a series of articles published on "Restoring
Biblical Christianity" and began to appear in the Gospel Guardian
I was still using the Revised Standard Version, which was my preferred choice before I started using the New American Standard Version, and decades before I turned to my “ultimate resting place,” the New King James Version of the Bible. The RSV was generally held in bad repute among brethren, but I found it a refreshing taste of modern language: I’m referring to the New Testament portion in particular. Though it has its faults, it was a far more responsible work compared to what their translators did with the Old Testament.
The appeal lay in the fact that it was widely used and that it decisively moved away from both the KJV—which had long ceased to be “living and reading English” any more—and the American Standard Version which struck me as . . . well, dull reading. I won’t go so far as to call it chloroform in print, but I wouldn’t argue passionately against the label either.
I have added chapter headings since the entire text is being brought together in, more or less, a single space. I have rearranged the order of the arguments since the original final section on how the scriptures authorize makes better sense—in hindsight—as belonging at the beginning of the series rather than at the end.
Textual additions and alterations have been made, but not as many as might have been since I had no desire to comprehensively rewrite what had already been done. “Polish” it and modestly lengthen it, yes; a thorough rewrite, no. In all candor, though, I found this limitation harder to hold onto after retyping the early entries. So it ultimately did begin to take on elements of a major “rewrite” after all. Not that my opinions had changed, but I thought I could make the text even more emphatic than I originally had.
I can think of only one place where I changed my argument. The basic premise was still quite sound in one place, but I couldn’t quite figure out how I came to word the details explaining the argument in the way I had. So I replaced it with something I hope will be much clearer.
Chapters Three and Four represents entirely new argumentation. Frankly, I had not even thought of the arguments till the last two years, much less how they could be used to undermine my material on the nature of Divine silence. And they do represent significant arguments and, therefore, a detailed examination was not only appropriate but vital to the completeness of the study.
Roland H. Worth, Jr.
PS: The editor at the Gospel Guardian included this note above the first article: “We are pleased to run this series of a dozen articles or more by brother Worth on the subject of Restoring Biblical Christianity. You will find them all to be worth reading and worth saving!”
How the Scriptures Authorize
A major reason that many are unwilling to accept the principle that God’s silence is equivalent to His prohibition lies in their lack of understanding that God teaches by more means that direct command alone. Most brethren accept this fact and rightly teach that approved/endorsed example and clear inference are equally binding. However, most discussions take this for granted without taking time to clearly show the assumption is accurate. Let us take this opportunity to vindicate the position in detail so that those who doubt its validity can have no further doubts on the matter.
The Authority of Command
The Authority of God’s Commands: The fact that such commands were being obeyed caused apostolic rejoicing: “I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children following the truth, just as we have been commanded by the Father” (2 John, verse 4). In other words, following the truth is a commandment of the father. The NASB rightly makes this clear cut inference explicit by adding the two words: “just as we have received commandment to do from the Father.”
Indeed, such obedience is essential for the true love of God to exist within us and to find expression: “And this is love, that we follow his commandments; this is the commandment, as you have heard from the beginning, that you follow love” (2 John, verse 6). No obedience equates to no love; little obedience to little love. Willful refusing to do what He has ordered equates to willful rejection of His love. Not exactly a prudent life choice!
If we do not persist in our obedience, we do not receive the rewards He has promised. Writing to Jewish Christians who were being tempted back into traditional Judaism, the Hebrews author insisted that they not throw away the “confidence” they had in the Lord (Hebrews 10:35). “For you have need of endurance, so that you may do the will of God and receive what is promised” () and then he quotes the Old Testament on the same theme (-38). He who gives up because of persecution or frustration or any other reason has lost all--both of the time he has spent in this life and his soul in the next.
The commands of God should take the place of those human passions that would lead us in a different direction: “So as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer by human passions but by the will of God (1 Peter 4:2). Or as the GW renders it: “That way you won't be guided by sinful human desires as you live the rest of your lives on earth. Instead, you will be guided by what God wants you to do.”
Anything that God instructs us to “do’ is a commandment and is, therefore, essential: For instance, repentance (Acts ), without which we are simply baptized pagans instead of converted Christians who have changed their priorities, lifestyle, and behavior.
The Authority of Jesus’ Commands: The command/instructions/orders of Jesus and those of His Father are interlocked and there is no way to separate the two. The Son’s commands are a carbon copy of those of Jehovah. The Scriptures on this are numerous—for example:
John 3:34: “For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for it is not by measure that he gives the Spirit.”
John 5:30: “I can do nothing
on my own authority; as I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I
seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.”
John 6:38: “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.”
John (Jesus explaining why His critics did not accept His teaching): “He who is of God hears the words of God; the reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”
John 14:10: “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.”
John 14:24: “He who does not love me does not keep my words; and the word which you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.”
Hebrews 10:5-7 (citing Old Testament prophecy as evidence that it had to be this way): 5 “Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, Sacrifices and offerings thou hast not desired, but a body hast thou prepared for me; 6 in burnt offerings and sin offerings thou hast taken no pleasure. 7 Then I said, ‘Lo, I have come to do thy will, O God,’ as it is written of me in the roll of the book.”
The relevance of the point can be seen in two facts. First, God through Jesus’ teaching reveals the commands that lead to eternal life:
48 “He who rejects me and does not receive my sayings has a judge; the word that I have spoken will be his judge on the last day. 49 For I have not spoken on my own authority; the Father who sent me has himself given me commandment what to say and what to speak. 50 And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has bidden me. ”
Jesus was not an innovator; He was a relayer (if you will) of what God wanted said. Therefore when we ignore what Christ has commanded, we are simultaneously ignoring what god Himself has commanded . . . that which can save us. The “flip side” of this is that to ignore Jesus’ commands is to endanger our eternal salvation.
Second, he or she who does not do the will of God will be condemned in the Final Judgment. Since the will of God and of Christ not only overlap, but are identical, it follows that he who ignores the commands of Jesus will be condemned in that Judgment (Matthew 7):
21 “Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.”
The complete authority of Jesus’ teaching also rests on the fact that the Father has bestowed His son complete power over spiritual affairs on earth, yea, over all the affairs of this planet: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). This indicates that Christ has the authority of a king now and that, because of this, no individual can escape the obligation of obeying Him.
It was on the basis of this regal authority that Christ gave His Great Commission in the verses that follow: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (28:19). A grand mission to the Gentiles, not a mere occasional (even accidental) encounter that resulted in such was an approach dramatically different from anything in their experience. Gentiles were something to be endured rather than converted. But because of His royal power He instructs them to act dramatically different from what they would have on their own.
The Commission ends with a royal order as to what they were to share: “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (28:20). Though they were ethnic Jews, the distinctive teaching Jesus had given them also had useful, important, and even vital guidelines for their behavior. Hence it was to be regarded as obligatory on them personally as well as others.
The knowledge of Jesus (and, by implication, of what He teaches) is of value only if we cling to it throughout our life, from the point of conversion onward. The apostle Peter expressed the point in this manner (2 Peter 2):
20 For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overpowered, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21 For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22 It has happened to them according to the true proverb, The dog turns back to his own vomit, and the sow is washed only to wallow in the mire
The “knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” envolves not just the fact He is such (verse 20), but also the knowledge of “the holy commandment delivered” to the wavering Christians (verse 21). They knew what He taught and claimed to embrace Him. Therefore they were morally and spiritually obligated to be faithful to Him by being obedient to the will He had the apostles teach.
Disobedience to His commands makes us “liars” (1 John 2:3-5). If we love Him we obey Him: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John ). Does it require any particular skill at exegesis to answer the application of this principle to the question: “What if you don’t obey Him. . . .”? “He who has my commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him” ().
Those who do His commandments have the right to enter into the “city” of heaven (Revelation ). Since those who obey His commandments are inside, it follows that those who are outside are those who disobey His commandments. “Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and every one who loves and practices falsehoods” (). Hence these are behaviors that violate His instructions and the punishment for engaging in them is absolute exclusion from His presence. Permanently.
The Authority of the Apostles’ Commands: During His earthly ministry, Jesus made plain that what they heard came from the Father. Therefore in repeating its words and substance and implications they were relaying the Heavenly Father’s will and that authority lay behind what they said as well:
John 7:16-18: 14 About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and taught. 15 The Jews marveled at it, saying, “How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?” 16 So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me [Holman: “My teaching isn't Mine but is from the One who sent Me”]; 17 if any man’s will is to do his will, he shall know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. 18 He who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but he who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.”
John 12:49: “For I have not spoken on my own authority; the Father who sent me has himself given me commandment what to say and what to speak.” [NET: For I have not spoken from my own authority, but the Father himself who sent me has commanded me what I should say and what I should speak.”]
John 12:50: “And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has bidden me.” [NASB: “Therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me.”]
John 14:31: “I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. . . .”
John 17:8-10: 6 “I have manifested thy name to the men whom thou gavest me out of the world; thine they were, and thou gavest them to me, and they have kept thy word. 7 Now they know that everything that thou hast given me is from thee; 8 for I have given them the words which thou gavest me, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from thee; and they have believed that thou didst send me.”
Furthermore this “relaying” of the Father’s will continued after His resurrection: God revealed to Jesus, and Jesus through the Spirit, revealed to the apostles. John 16:12-15 clearly points this out:
12 “I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”
They were to teach all people what Jesus had taught them (Matthew 28:18-20, especially): “19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations. . . , 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” [GW: “Teach them to do everything I have commanded you; Weymouth: “teach them to obey every command which I have given you”].
Therefore Paul’s statement in 2 Thessalonians 3:4 is not unexpected: “And we have a confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things which we command.” With the same concept in mind, Paul wrote to a friend: “Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say” (Philemon, verse 21).
Paul seems clearly alluding to the principle found in John 16:12-15 (above), when he speaks of how the commands he provided were authorized by Jesus and revealed the will of God (1 Thessalonians 4:1-3):
1 Finally, brethren, we beseech and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you learned from us how you ought to live and to please God, just as you are doing, you do so more and more. 2 For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. 3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification. . . .
The ambiguous “through the Lord Jesus,” might be downgraded to “only” his apostolic authority that was granted him by the Lord—but what right would Jesus have to even done that unless the Father wanted and authorized it? Furthermore, the prompt addition of the words “for this is the will of God” argues that he is not grounding the authority on any supposed “independent” apostolic authority he might have, but on the basis that both the command and its supernatural authorization goes from those Two. The Thessalonians aren’t doing what Paul wanted; they are actually doing what Deity itself requires.
Apostolic authority rested not on their own wits or wisdom but upon the authority of the One who revealed to them what to say. Hence their teaching was granted both earthly and heavenly backing: “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18).
Inspiration made this possible. That is the reason that their teachings would remain authoritative even if—horrible as it was to think of—that they themselves might apostasize. Their authority came not from arrogance or from internal wisdom or prudence but from the supernatural (Galatians 1:6-10):
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another gospel, but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again, If any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed. 10 Am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still pleasing men, I should not be a servant of Christ.
“Contrary to that which we preached to you” covers the category of anything different: Direct contradiction, providing excuses so that it would not apply to certain parts of the church membership, or outright substitution of a different teaching of any type. Some translations like to bring out that broadness of coverage that is also inherent in the teaching:
Holman: But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel other than what we have preached to you, a curse be on him!
NIV: But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God's curse!
GW: Whoever tells you good news that is different from the Good News we gave you should be condemned to hell, even if he is one of us or an angel from heaven.
The Authority of Examples
The Example of God To Be Imitated: Ephesians 5:1 sums up the principle quite concisely: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.”
The principle is applied to a variety of attitudes and behaviors, such as these:
* Imitating God’s moral character of holiness (1 Peter -16): 15 but as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” [NIV: Follow God's example, therefore, as dearly loved children.]
* Which means such as things as . . . . Our imitating God’s example in extending mercy (Luke ): Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
* Extending love in act to our co-religionists (1 John ): Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
. . . and even to evil men (Luke 6:43-48:) 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. 48 You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
* Forgiveness (Ephesians ): And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
* Treating all the same even though the position of one in a given society may be master and that of another slave (Ephesians 6:9): Masters, do the same to them, and forbear threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.
Need we make the list even longer?
The Example of Christ To Be Imitated: Both Peter and John stressed that He is an example of the kind of moral conduct that we should exhibit in our own lives: “He who says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 John 2:6). “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). NIV’s rendering of Paul’s words: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”
Jesus Himself made that same point: “For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you” (John ).
Jesus is repeatedly presented as our example to imitate in a wide range of areas. For example:
* Of serving God rather than our own desires (Romans 15:3): For Christ did not please himself; but, as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached thee fell on me.”
* Of love (Ephesians 5:2): And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
. . . (1 John ): By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.
. . . which Jesus Himself spoke of having done (John 13:34): A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
* Of restraint (2 Corinthians 10:1): I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ. . . . [WEB: Now I Paul, myself, entreat you by the humility and gentleness of Christ. . . .]
. . . (Matthew ): Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
* Of enduring mistreatment and persecution in order to fully serve God (1 Peter -23): 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly.
* Of humility (John ): For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.
* Of forgiveness (Colossians 3:13): Forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
The Lord lived in the manner He did not just to be doing that which His Heavenly Father desired, but also to set us an example of how to live and act. In other words, His examples were designed to provide moral guidelines and precedents.
The Example of the Apostles to Be Imitated: Paul wrote on this theme in broad terms on several occasions: “What you have learned and received and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9). “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). “I urge you, then, be imitators of me” (1 Corinthians ).
To point out only four specific examples of how he tied that broad principle into specific behaviors:
* He was an example of the proper Christian lifestyle (Philippians ): Brethren, join in imitating me, and mark those who so live as you have an example in us. [NIV: Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.]
* Of enthusiasm for the gospel of Christ (1 Thessalonians 1:6-8; Paul had been an example to them [verse 6] and, in turn, they became examples to others as well [verses 7-8]): 6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit; 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedo′nia and in Acha′ia. 8 For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedo′nia and Acha′ia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.
* Of helping the needy (Acts -35): 33 I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. 34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities, and to those who were with me. 35 In all things I have shown you that by so toiling one must help the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” [GW: I have given you an example that by working hard like this we should help the weak. We should remember the words that the Lord Jesus said, ‘Giving gifts is more satisfying than receiving them.’]
* Of economic self-reliance rather than needlessly relying on others (2 Thessalonians 3:6-111): 6 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, 8 we did not eat any one’s bread without paying, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not burden any of you. 9 It was not because we have not that right, but to give you in our conduct an example to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: If any one will not work, let him not eat. 11 For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work.
Clearly, the apostles were supposed to not only believe but also to act in such a way as to be living examples of true Christianity and, when they departed from this role were rebuked for so doing. (As Paul rebuked Peter in Galatians 2:11-14).
The Authority of Inference
Inference is readily used in our secular life in our attempt to made sound decisions and to reach truth and justice. When two people are alone in a room and one walks out with a gun in his hand, while the dead body of the other is lying mutely on the floor, it is virtually an inescapable inference that one shot the other. If the door was locked or if there were no other entrance to the room than through the corridor where you were standing, it would become even stronger—a necessary and inescapable inference. (Unless you are writing "locked room" murder mysteries of course!)
An extreme example? Yes, but it illustrates the point that in this life inference is both necessary and conclusions reached with them can be so clear that any other conclusion becomes obvious “special pleading” to avoid the obvious.
Yet is it also a valid tool in the study of God’s will? Yes, for we have examples of where necessary inference was used by inspired men to vindicate the validity of their teaching.
At least three examples are easily found:
* Necessary inference is used to prove that Christ was greater than the angels in position, power, and nature (for full argument see Hebrews 1:1-13): 5 For to what angel did God ever say, “Thou art my Son, today I have begotten thee”? Or again, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son”? 6 And again, when he brings the first-born into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” 13 But to what angel has he ever said, “Sit at my right hand till I make thy enemies a stool for thy feet”
* Paul uses necessary inference to defend preachers receiving support from those on whose behalf they labor (1 Corinthians 9:7-12a): 7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Who tends a flock without getting some of the milk? 8 Do I say this on human authority? Does not the law say the same? 9 For it is written in the law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? 10 Does he not speak entirely for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of a share in the crop. 11 If we have sown spiritual good among you, is it too much if we reap your material benefits? 12 If others share this rightful claim upon you, do not we still more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.
* Paul uses such inference to show that from our belief in the resurrection of Jesus, the belief in a general resurrection of all mankind is vindicated (1 Corinthians 15:12-19): 12 Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; 14 if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. 17 If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied.
When Are Bible Examples Binding?
By: Clarence R. Johnson
[Worth’s introduction: When I wrote the original version of this extended examination of how Bible authority is intended to be established, it never entered my mind to include the closely related question of: “How do these standards apply in our everyday religious life?” Truth be told, it was wise I had not since I had given far, far more consideration to the foundational issue of how scriptural authority is established and there is no way that the analysis would have been as effective as the material I had already presented.
[As good fortune would have it, as I was preparing to retype and revise the original material, I happened across the following perceptive analysis that had appeared in the same bound volume of the Gospel Guardian, though technically in the previous calendar year’s issue of July 26, 1973. For your consideration I include it here as a good introductory essay on the topic, with the text exactly as it originally appeared, with no changes at all—except to add italics where it seemed appropriate and to break the paragraphs down into more “user friendly” units.]
[Clarence Johnson’s introductory note: I acknowledge a debt of gratitude to brethren Robert Farish and Roy Cogdill, whose writings on this subject have been extremely helpful to me in understanding when Bible commands are binding.]
Paul writes in Philippians 4:9, “Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do; and the god of peace shall be with you.”’ This verse clearly tells us that Bible examples are binding.
Yet we read in Acts 20:7, “And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.
I doubt that many Bible students would affirm that Paul’s example of preaching until is binding on all preachers, in all ages, under all circumstances. No doubt, preaching until is scriptural, but not necessarily binding. There are a number of things that must be true before a Bible example can be considered binding on all Christians.
(1) The action involved in an example must be in accordance with the present law, the New Testament, in order to be considered binding. Commandments and examples of action under the law of Moses or in the patriarchal dispensation cannot be rightly bound on Christians.
Examples of such things as instrumental music in worship, clean and unclean animals, tithes, blood sacrifices, etc., can be found in the scriptures, but none can be found in the present law. Such examples do not even constitute authority for us to act, much less to bind.
(2) Uniformity (sameness) must be present in all examples. Robert Farish has written, “Uniformity in essential details must be present in any example for the action involved to be considered binding. If in the same kind of situation, different actions are taken, no single example of action can be considered as binding to the exclusion of the other examples.”
Neither can any example be bound on men that would restrict the freedom that man has in Christ. For instance, the Lord’s Supper was instituted in an upper room. At first glance, it might seem that this is sufficient grounds to bind upper room observance; however this would place a restriction on the freedom that Christ has already promised in John 4:21-24, “Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem worship the Father.” In other words, Jesus taught that in the New Testament dispensation, the place of worship is immaterial so long as the worship itself is in spirit and in truth.
Any interpretation placed upon Acts 20:7 that would require all worshippers to have access to a three story building would be a clear contradiction of the words of Christ. Worship in an upper room is scriptural, but not binding. Worship in any other place is also scriptural if offered to God in spirit and in truth.
(3) Before an example can be considered as binding, it must be an example of universal application. Since Christianity is a world-wide religion (Mark ) its requirements must be within the realm of possibility for people in all parts of the world.
For instance, water baptism, a requirement of New Testament Christianity (Mark ; Acts ) is practicable wherever men live. Men will not settle in a place where there is not enough water to immerse a man. Life in such a climate or atmosphere would be impossible for very long at a time.
Jesus admonished his disciples to observe the Lord’s Supper in remembrance of him (Luke ). Again, the things required for this memorial—unleavened bread and fruit of the vine—are within the reach of all men everywhere. Any example in the Bible that made use of something not practical or practicable in any given area where men are known to live cannot be considered as binding.
As we think of the universality of Christianity, it also should be noted that such limitations as the modes of travel in the first century are not to be bound in the 20th century. Statements regulating local customs must not be viewed as binding those customs on all mankind. In Romans Paul admonished, “Salute one another with an holy kiss.” Paul was not binding on them or on us the custom of greeting with a kiss.
They already had such a custom dating back at least to the days of King David. What Paul did so, was regulate that custom—make it a holy kiss. Joab saluted Amasa with a kiss (2 Samuel 20:9) but it was not a holy kiss. At the same instant that he kissed Amasa, Joab stabbed him to death with a knife. Judas saluted Jesus with a kiss of greeting (Matthew 25:49) but it was far from being a holy kiss.
Paul did not bind on them (or us) the custom of greeting with a kiss. They had had such a custom for centuries. Paul did regulate that custom.
[RW: It would, however, seem to be quite fair to argue that the text establishes the propriety and desirability of providing a greeting by whatever means is deemed appropriate and decorous in our specific society.]
An open-minded study of what the New Testament says about foot-washing will exemplify the same principle. In the first century when men walked virtually everywhere they went on dusty, unpaved streets, their feet were almost always tired and dirty when they arrived at their destination. The first step of showing hospitality was to loose one’s sandals and wash his tired, dirty feet.
Today, our travel is seldom of foot, our shoes are more comfortable and offer better protection, our roads are usually paved. We have other means of showing hospitality much better suited to our times and customs. In fact, if I were to enter into a home, and the host should immediately greet me with, “Sit down. Let me wash your feet!” I would probably assume I should have washed my feet before I left home.
In the first-century, Jesus washed tired, dirty feet as an act of hospitality. This does not bind us in the 20th century to wash clean feet as an act of worship. Such first century customs are not binding. The principle of showing hospitality is binding, and should be observed in a way befitting 20th century life.
(4) Limits of application within the context of an example must be observed:
(a) A command or example of individual action does not apply to collective action.
(b) Examples authorizing an action for one purpose (e.g. churches sent funds to other churches for benevolence; does not authorize them to send funds for other purposes such as entertainment, recreation, or even evangelism. When churches sent funds for evangelism the funds were sent directly to the preacher in the field (2 Corinthians 11:8). See Acts for an example of action in benevolence.
(c) Action brought about by an emergency situation does not apply except in a like situation. Peter and John found it necessary to violate the ordinance of men in Acts 5:29 because men demanded them not do the very thing the Lord had demanded that they do in all the world. This is an emergency situation. Under similar circumstances, it is binding on us, but it neither binds nor authorizes us to violate the laws of man under normal circumstances.
(5) Finally, we need to remember that no example is needed to authorize that which has been commanded or necessarily implied. Jesus told His disciples to go, teach and baptize those of all nationalities (Matthew 28:18-20). Even if we could not find an example of their ever doing so, we would know that this is the will of God, and we should go, teach and baptize whether or not there was an example of someone else’s doing so.
We may use any method for going, any arrangement for teaching, and any body of water for baptizing. But we are limited in what to teach (gospel, Mark ) and in organizational structure in accomplishing these purposes (Acts ; 1 Peter 5:1-4). Let us carefully examine God’s word, acting by divine authority in religious matters; neither binding where God has not bound nor loosing where God has not loosed.