"Bible Authority, a Closer Look"


     Bible authority is a subject today about which there appears to be very little knowledge in general and not much interest. The devil has succeeded it appears in convincing the masses that to be aware and sensitive to the teaching of the Bible and possessing a book, chapter, and verse for all religiously believed and practiced is legalism and to be negatively viewed.

     Jesus’ Lordship, however, demands and entails certain matters that require man’s acquiescence and obedience, all the teaching regarding salvation by grace and faith only to the contrary, notwithstanding:

     Luke 6: 46; Matthew 28: 18, 7: 21-29; Hebrews 5: 8, 9; I John 5: 3, 2 John 6; Galatians 6: 2, I Corinthians 9: 21, James 1: 25.

     I recall a few years ago how the Baptist Church in the South was facing serious division. I met and talked with one of the leading Baptist preachers on the board of some of the "unity meetings" and he explained to me that there was a large element in the Baptist Church who concluded, "How can we respect Jesus’ Lordship and not obey him and does not such show that obedience is required for salvation?" "We acknowledge Jesus as Savior but do not we need to also recognize him as Lord?" they asked. Such almost totally split down the middle one of the largest denominations in America. Believing as these thinking people were, put in jeopardy standard Baptist doctrines such as salvation by faith only, the imputation of Jesus’ personal righteousness, and once saved always saved (life lived is irrelevant to salvation). It is time that people returned to considering what the scriptures teach regarding such pertinent subjects as biblical love and obedience. Consider Jesus:

     "21: He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. 23: Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. 24: He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father's which sent me" (John 14).

     In view of the biblical concept of "obeying the gospel" and correct doctrine is vital, it behooves us to "handle aright the word of truth" (Rom. 10: 16; 6: 17, 18; 2 Tim. 2: 15). Having Bible authority for all believed and practiced is, therefore, necessary (cp. I Thes. 5: 21, Rom. 12: 2, I Pet. 4: 11). However, the Bible must be intelligently approached and considered. There must be method or system to a rewarding consideration of the teaching of the Bible. One proposed method of arriving at what the Bible teaches is "command," "example," and "inference." (See addendum 1.)

     In this age of lawlessness and resentment for and toward authority, even Bible authority, not a few are severely averse to any thought as to Bible authority. One wrote the following:

     "Many sincere students of the Word approach the New Testament as if it is a codified, legal document that requires the use of certain rules which, allegedly, lead the "honest" student into the correct understanding of any and all Bible issues. This would be a good idea if the New Covenant was, in fact, a codified, legal document and not "the perfect law of liberty." This would be a good idea if God's called out people were under law. Rom. 6:14, 7:6, and Gal. 5:18 testify that we are not under law. Why then, would anyone wish to be bound up under law? We are under faith – a system of faith.  The New Covenant is not a legal system with codified laws; or worse yet, a legal system with camouflaged directions which require legal specialists with special tools to unlock and make known what God expects of us. The tools under consideration are 1) direct command, 2) approved example, and 3) necessary inference. These tools are the instruments of sincere brethren who wish to be in bondage to law and to bring everyone else under bondage with them and thus lay heavy burdens on them. This method of discovery is a basic part of the unwritten creed of many conservative, denominated churches which, as a condition of salvation, demand allegiance to and membership in their association…" (Neil Griffin).

     When one is truly seeking how to form a systematic way to ascertain the will of God for man today, one encounters "command," "example," and "inference." For instance, Peter commanded Cornelius to be baptized (Acts 10: 48). Hence, the need of baptism in coming to God. Paul told the Philippians to follow his example in service to God (Phili. 4: 9). The inference is seen in Jesus’ refutation of the Sadducean belief of no life after death (Matt. 22: 32). Jesus’ use of the inference showing that since God is not the God of the dead but of the living and since God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, they must then be alive (conscious) was so powerful that the Sadducees were, "…astonished at his doctrine" (Matt. 22: 33).

     A closer look at "command." The one seeking to determine the teaching of the scriptures must establish the applicability of the considered command. For instance, Exodus 20: 8 says, "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy." Are we today to obey this command? When texts and teachings such as Colossians 2: 12-16 are considered, it becomes evident that the Law of Moses that contained the Sabbath Day law is not applicable. That law and system applied to the Israelite Nation (Deut. 5: 1-3). To attempt to bind the Law of Moses or any part thereof results in, "…ye are fallen from grace" (Gal. 5: 4, see addendum 2).

     Regarding "command," one finds that there can be a requirement, but found in a certain climate and milieu. Paul said, "For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn…" (I Cor. 11: 6). Headship is universal but the circumstance being addressed by Paul is not universal. It involved prophetesses at Corinth and how they respected their headship in connection to their male counter-parts, the prophets (I Cor. 11: 3-16). Since there are no prophetesses today, the command to be artificially covered has no applicability today (I Cor. 13: 8-10). However, there are commands that have all the marks of universality and general applicability. For instance, Peter’s command to "repent and be baptized…" in Acts 2: 38. This command was stated in response to the question of, "…what shall we do?" (Acts 2: 37.) The question pertained to their salvation and Peter’s answer is for all men, Jew and Gentile, First Century and present century (see Acts 2: 39, 40).

     It must also be acknowledged that a command may be germane, but contain particularity that is time dated and limited. Jesus emphatically taught that man is to forgive man’s personal trespasses (Matt. 6: 14, 15 cp. Matt. 5: 23, 24). Notice, though, that resident in Jesus’ teaching is time dated matters:

     "23: Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; 24: Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift."

     The altar of the Christian is not that of the Jewish Temple or animal sacrifice (Heb. 13: 10). However, Jesus lived and died under the Law of Moses; thus, his teaching was issued in that environment (Gal. 4: 4). The command to forgive is also seen as conditional, when all relevant teaching is introduced (Luke 17: 3, 4, see addendum 3).

     To further fine turn "command," there can be instances in which a command is observed and it is obviously relevant, but involved in the command is particularity that was expressed in the then setting and culture. I refer you to the teaching of Jesus found in John 13: 4-17. Humility and hospitality are certainly set forth in scripture as static traits of the Christian (cp. Jas. 4: 6f.; Heb. 13: 1). Jesus used both command and example to teach humility in John 13; however, the particular, foot washing, does not have the meaning in our culture as it did then, in view of their feet constantly exposed to the hot desert sands. Hence, there are current ways today of expressing humility and hospitality.

     The very idea of "express command" (the term commonly used) needs to also be addressed in more detail. There is now the teaching that the word "command" must be present and in the imperative mood; hence, what some mean by "express command."

     Example: The Greek word for repentance (metanoesate) in Acts 2: 38 is grammatically broken down as:  2 person, plural, aorist 1, and imperative mood (cp. The Analytical Greek Lexicon, pg.266).  Hence, repentance is a commandment (required). The Greek word for repent in Luke 13: 5 is metanoesete and is grammatically, 2 person, plural, aorist 1, and subjunctive mood (cp. Ibid.).  Notice that Jesus' statement, "I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish" is not in the imperative mood.  Also appreciate that the word "command" is not in the verse.  Is "repent" any less a requirement in Luke 13: 5 because it is not in the imperative mood or the word "command" is not present?

     Consider the teaching of such verses as Colossians 3: 1, 12, 13, 15, 16, 18, 19, 21, 23. Case in point:

     "1: If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God" (Col. 3).

     Is not this a "command"? A command is simply a requirement. The "things which I say" are commands or requirements (Luke 6: 46). In order to establish a command, one can ask if a given action is required. Consider:

     "3: Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace…." "11: For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another" (Eph. 4: 3; I John 3: 11).

     Notice that the word "command" is not present and that the imperative mood is also lacking. However, striving for unity and having brotherly love are not optional matters (cp. Matt. 5: 9; I John 3: 11). Even without the additional teaching of Jesus and John regarding unity and brotherly love, respectively, the language of Ephesians 4: 3 and I John 3: 11 should be understood as matters to be respected and obeyed.

     Let us now examine "example" with more focus. First, the example must be "approved." We find an example in Galatians 2: 12 of Peter being a racist. This example is not to be mimicked and Peter was publicly rebuked by Paul. Hence, in Peter’s case it is not an "approved example." How can one determine if the example is approved? Consider the example, its nature and substance, and the related context. Also, when possible, examine related teaching, remote context, regarding the action involved in the example.

     An example may be approved, but have indigenous features. I refer you again to the example of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples (John 13: 1-17). One does not have to literally and regularly engage in foot washing to be humble and hospitable. Foot washing was a matter indigenous to that culture and way of life. To literally bind foot washing is to miss the point, I submit.

     There can be incidental matters associated with a binding example. In the example regarding the early church observing the Lord’s Supper, we read of them sailing; the upper chamber, and many lights (Acts 20: 7; 6; 8). How about Eutychus? (vs. 9f..) Some persist in binding these incidentals, but to be consistent, they would need a Eutychus to fall asleep and fall out of the third loft experiencing his own demise. Do the mentioned matters contribute to the substance of the particular act or are they merely part of the whole circumstance, is a question to ask and determine. If they are not substantively involved, then they are incidental and not binding.

     Let us now take a closer look at "inference"

     A closer look at "inference."  First, an inference is something that is not expressly stated, it is implicit rather than explicit. As seen in the case of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 22: 32, he did not come out in so many words (explicit) and say that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were in a state of consciousness, but such is necessarily implied and the Sadducees thus understood this. If viewed in binding atmosphere, the inference must be established as "necessary." Case in point: Acts 20: 7.

     "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."

     The "breaking of bread" when used in the setting of public worship refers to the Lord’s Supper, the core part, if you will, of Lord’s Day worship. The early Christians regularly observed this breaking of bread.

     "42: And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers" (Acts 2, it should be noted that they had common meals from house to house and not in the place of worship, vs. 46).

     By example, we observe how the Lord’s Supper was observed on the "first day of the week." Since every week has a first day, they observed this memorial every first day of every week. Such is further strengthened when we realize the nature of the Lord’s Supper (primary reason for assembling on the Lord’s Day) and the stated fact of frequency of observance (I Corinthians 11: 26 does not negate the points just made and does not constitute, in view of what we know, a necessary inference that frequency does not matter).

     Necessary inference is seen throughout the scriptures. May I suggest that Paul taught on giving while at Ephesus. How do I know this? Since we are told that Paul taught all that pertained to the will of God while in Ephesus, I necessarily infer he taught them about giving on the Lord’s day into the treasury (Acts 20: 27, cp. I Cor. 16: 1, 2). I know, in view of the necessary inference, that patience or perseverance is required based on Hebrews 10: 36. The verse does not explicitly teach the essentiality of patience, but does say that having done the will of God, including patience, one will receive "the promise."

     Some are teaching that "approved example" and "necessary inference" are empty without an attached "express commandment." However, while care must be taken not to incorrectly bind an example or view an inference as necessary when it is not, saying that there must be an accompanying "express command" is an interpretive rule that is not tenable. I do grant, though, that establishing the validity of an example or inference is made easier when there is an attendant command.

     Alas, some have progressed to saying that in the interpretive method, "approved example" and "necessary inference" are absent (they have dropped the attached "command" argument). Some are observed as having ultimately progressed. These have arrived at the full consequence of liberalism by saying there is no "approved example," "necessary inference," neither "express command." "The law of love governs all matters"; that and "the law of faith," they are heard saying. While they are averse to "a systematic interpretive approach," they offer empty, inoperative, and incomplete systems.

     The question might be asked, "Would you be open to a method of establishing the teaching of the scriptures other than express command, approved example, and/or necessary inference?" I understand that the just mentioned phraseology is not found verbatim in scripture. However, what method is proposed that is more workable than express command, approved example, and necessary inference? Some who have claimed to have a better organized approach to the scriptures fail to produce. Their system may say much of the same thing, using different language. Often their proposed system is incomplete and obviously flawed, allowing for much error.

     One with whom I debated the "new hermeneutic" on a large Internet list consisting of many preachers said the following:

     "…The CENI hermeneutic (command, example, necessary inference, dm), contrary to the belief of some, did not fall directly from the throne room of God into the hands of men. It is no more ‘inspired of God’ than any other hermeneutic devised by men to aid in the interpretation of a written document. Personally, I think it is greatly flawed, but that is another thread. There are several who have suggested legitimate, and I believe far more valid, approaches to biblical hermeneutics. Brother F. Le Gard Smith, in one of his books, presented just such a hermeneutic. Our own Dr. Don Givens is related to this man, and he may want to expound upon that more. I just mention it here in passing. Anyway, some have asked on this list for some alternative to the CENI approach to biblical interpretation. I will be happy to share MY approach, one which I believe is just as legitimate as any in use right now, and one which poses far fewer problems, in my opinion, than does the CENI approach. And this is not just ‘my invention’ either; it has been in use in Christendom for quite some time.  It is to approach each ‘issue’ or question or topic or practice or belief by asking how it relates to Scripture; and specifically, which of the following best describes it: (1) Is it Scriptural?, (2) Is it NON-Scriptural?, or (3) Is it ANTI-Scriptural? (and then a sub-question, if it passes the previous tests: Is it Beneficial?)."

     It was apparent in the course of the debate that my disputant lacked answers for many pertinent questions and, using his system, was backed into the corner, accepting various errors because of the incompleteness of his proposed interpretive system.

     We are not under a legal system as such, I agree (Rom. 11: 6). However, law and respect for God’s commandments is part of "salvation by grace." Many of the so called "new hermeneutic systems" are designed to admit error. We must realize that grace can be received in vain (2 Cor. 6: 1).

     Arriving at a suitable interpretive system is not an exercise in legality, but an effort to "handle aright the word of truth" and avoid "shame" (2 Tim. 2: 15).

     Express command, approved example, and necessary inference accepts the common sense observations of, "who is speaking," "to whom spoken," etc.

     I shall conclude our study of, "Bible Authority, a Closer Look" by quoting the words of Paul:

     "4: No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier. 5: And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully…. 7: Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things" (2 Tim. 2).

     May we all only attempt to sincerely understand, apply, and teach the scriptures, maintaining with rigor their purity, integrity, and soundness (Rev. 22: 18, 19, Gal. 1: 6-9). (Additional reading would be: "How to Study the Bible," "Hermeneutics, Handling Aright the Word" and, "Have You Not Read This Scripture?" and, "Bible Authority, Practically Viewed")

     Addendum 1:  As stated in this material, "express command," "approved example," and "necessary inference" is not found stated, as such, as the divinely sanctioned interpretive system. Many other methods have been suggested and much terminology has been used to designate these various interpretive methods. However, in the final analysis, "express command," "approved example," and "necessary inference" has stood both the test of examination and time and shown itself to be a complete and viable system to arrive at a thus-saith-the-Lord.

     Addendum 2:  I do not mean to say that the Law of Moses did not contain eternal moral pronouncements that have and continue to be binding. Moral laws are static and not limited by the dispensation in which they are observed. Hence, these laws are consistently observed throughout the Bible (cp. Gen. 6: 9, Ex. 20: 13, Rom. 13: 9).

     Addendum 3:  It should be understood without saying that such dialectic systems as the inductive method of logic are understood as part of the full interpretive method. This concept involves gathering all that is said on a given subject and from this assimilation, extracting necessary conclusions and truths. Any valid method or science involved it a serious study of the scriptures, particularly one that attempts to ascertain authority is one that also recognizes matters such as silence and expediency. When God has specified, he does not need to also state in so many words all the exclusions as a result of the specificity (cp. Heb. 7: 14). A simple example would be that the elements for the Lord’s Supper are unleavened bread and the fruit of the vine (Matt. 26: 17-29). These and these elements only are, therefore, authorized and all other excluded.

     An aid or expedient to carry out and implement a command does not violate the command. Noah no doubt had various tools in the building of the Ark (Gen. 6f.). Such tools did not negate the command to build the Ark. However, since the wood for the Ark was specified, any other wood would have been a violation and without authority. Just as in every case regarding the establishment of Bible authority, though, care must be taken. So many confuse an aid with a substitution. For instance, a song book is an aid to the singing commands found in the scriptures (cp. Eph. 5: 19). 

     However, the introduction of a piano, claiming that such assists in singing is the injection of a different and unauthorized action.  I say this because vocal music is specified; hence, mechanical music is excluded.

     The proper definition of words, semantics, syntax, grammar, context, both immediate and remote, contemporary influences and history, extant culture, rules for the observance of figurative language and figures of speech, etc. should also all be involved and considered in a serious study of the scriptures. All of these matters assist and are components in the express command, approved example, and necessary inference approach.