[Gospel+Way Update1] Authority of Bible Examples - GW Update for March | Gospel+Way

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Mon Mar 10 13:25:20 PDT 2008


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** David E. Pratte
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Bible students,

Authority of Bible Examples
===================

Does the Bible teach only by direct commands and statements, or does it 
also teach indirectly? Does God use examples of conduct, which He 
approves or disapproves, to teach us His will? Should we accept the "new 
hermeneutic" that denies that examples and necessary inferences 
constitute binding authority? Did Jesus or inspired men tell us to 
imitate examples recorded in Scripture? Did they use such examples as 
authority in their own teaching and then require people to obey the 
conclusions that follow?

This is the subject of this month's Bible study article. I encourage you 
to study the article carefully, and I hope you find it helpful. It is 
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                        ++++++++++++++++++++++++++
                        The Authority of Scriptural Examples
                        ++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Introduction:

People who claim to believe the Bible generally agree that God teaches 
directly by means of direct commands and direct statements.
*****************************************************

When the Bible teaches directly, most people agree that they are 
obligated to believe and obey the teaching. We sometimes express this by 
saying: "Commands constitute binding authority." So direct teaching 
reveals God's will, and people who do not obey are in error. For instance:

Matthew 22:37-39 - Love God and love your neighbor are the greatest two 
commands.

Acts 10:48 - Water baptism is a command.

1 Corinthians 11:23-25 - Jesus directly said to remember Him in the 
Lord's Supper.

[1 Corinthians 14:37; John 14:15,21-24; 15:14; 1 John 2:3,4; 5:3; 
Matthew 28:18-20]

But the Bible also teaches indirectly using means other than direct 
statements.
*****************************************************

These methods include examples and Scriptural reasoning (also called 
"logical conclusions" or "necessary inferences").

Some folks deny that examples and reasoning to conclusions are binding 
ways to determine God's will for us. They may say that only commands are 
binding: while we may learn from examples and inferences, they say we 
are not obligated to follow them, and we especially should not say that 
other people are wrong if they do not follow them.

Some teach a "new hermeneutic" in which they criticize those who say we 
must obey commands, examples, and necessary inferences. They say this 
approach to determining God's will is a man-made creed or a human 
tradition. They may even compare it to the Pharisees, who bound what God 
does not bind (as when they condemned Jesus for healing on the Sabbath).

The purpose of this study is to examine whether or not the Bible uses 
examples to reveal binding authority.
*****************************************************

Besides revealing His will by direct commands or statements, does God 
sometimes teach us by revealing an example of someone doing a thing, 
then He expresses His approval or His disapproval of what they did? Does 
He then require us to learn from these examples and do as they did (if 
He approved of their act) or refuse to do as they did (if He disapproved)?

Examples are an extremely common method of teaching in everyday life. 
Good teachers do not just directly state how to do things. Often they 
will also show the student what to do by doing it and letting the 
student observe the example. Then the teacher says, "Now, you do what I 
just did." Or if someone did something wrong, we tell the student not to 
do it that way.

A father may show his son how to work on a car, a mother may show a 
daughter how to bake a cake, or a teacher may show a student how to do a 
math problem. Instances surround us daily.

So common and so effective is this teaching method, that we would be 
amazed if God did not use it in the Bible. Let us see if He does.

I. Bible Passages that Command Us to Follow Examples
 >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Frequently the New Testament directly tells us that Bible characters 
were setting examples for us, and we are commanded to imitate them. If 
we believe in obeying direct Bible commands, then let us obey what the 
Bible says about the following examples:

A. The Example of Jesus
=================

Matthew 16:24 - Jesus said, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him 
deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" - i.e., imitate 
Jesus' example. To deny that examples are binding is to deny that we 
must be like Jesus!

Luke 6:40 - A disciple who is perfectly trained will be like his 
teacher. What does it mean to be a disciple? A disciple patterns his 
life after Jesus' example. He seeks to be like His master. To deny that 
examples are binding is to deny the very meaning of discipleship!

Romans 8:29 - We are predestined to be conformed to the image of God's 
Son. Copies made on a copier must conform to the image of the original. 
So Jesus is the original, the model, and we are to conform to His image.

Philippians 2:5 - Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ 
Jesus. We should follow, not only what Jesus did, but also how He 
thought. This will then reflect itself in our conduct, as the context 
shows.

1 Peter 2:21-23 - For to this you were called, because Christ also 
suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His 
steps. Note: we are called to follow Jesus' steps. To deny that we are 
required to follow examples is to deny our very calling!

1 John 2:6 - He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk 
just as He walked. So if someone says we do not need to follow Bible 
examples, does that person abide in Jesus?

So the Bible commands us to follow the example of Jesus. But what about 
the examples set by apostles and other inspired men?

B. The Example of Jesus' Apostles
=======================

1 Corinthians 4:16 - Therefore I urge you, imitate me (or be followers 
of me). This refers to following the example, not of Jesus, but of the 
inspired apostle Paul. By inspiration Paul commands us to imitate his 
example. He was like the father who shows his son how to fix the car, 
then says, "Now you do it like I did it."

1 Corinthians 11:1 - Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ. We 
sometimes talk about "approved" examples. That simply means we should 
follow Biblical actions that God approves - not the ones He disapproves, 
nor ones that just people approve. Paul said to follow Him as His life 
revealed the same kind of life Jesus lived. [2 Tim. 2:15 - approved of God]

Philippians 3:17 - Brethren, join in following my example, and note 
those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern. Again, Paul set the 
example and we are directly commanded to follow that example. We are 
then commanded to follow others who walk (live) as he did. They are all 
a pattern - a model or example - for us.

Note the chain: Jesus set the perfect example. Paul lived by the rules 
Jesus taught. Then others walk or live like Paul did. Then we follow or 
imitate all of them.

Philippians 4:9 - The things which you learned and received and heard 
and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.

Are we required to do the things we learn and hear from the inspired 
apostles? If so, then we are equally required to do what we see in their 
lives! What we see in them is binding on us just as surely as is what we 
hear from them. [Note that we neither see nor hear personally from Paul, 
as though he were living in our presence. We both see and hear from him 
by means of the written word.]

1 Thessalonians 1:5,6 - You became followers of us and of the Lord, 
having received the word. Paul and his companions had lived a way of 
life. The Thessalonian Christians had observed that way of life and had 
become followers of them and of Jesus.

Are we obligated to follow Jesus? Then we are likewise obligated to 
follow inspired teachers to the extent they lived by the same principles 
Jesus followed.

1 Timothy 1:16 - Paul obtained mercy "for this reason": that in me first 
Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are 
going to believe on Him for everlasting life. Paul's conversion was a 
pattern or example showing how God will save us. Even if we have been 
deeply rebellious as Paul was, God will save us if we repent and submit 
to Him as Paul did.

2 Timothy 3:10 - But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of 
life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance. Are we bound to 
follow Paul's doctrine? Then we are likewise bound to follow his manner 
of life.

Hebrews 6:12 - Do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through 
faith and patience inherit the promises. Again, not just Jesus and Paul, 
but all who live so as to inherit the promises become an example to us. 
Note that this involves following even uninspired people, but we follow 
them only to the extent that the Lord "approves" of their example - 
those things that lead to eternal life.

C. Observations
===========

Note that, if we are obligated to follow Bible commands, then we are 
obligated to follow examples, because the commands tell us to follow the 
examples!

Do you believe we are obligated to follow direct commands? Then you must 
believe we are also obligated to follow Bible examples. If you believe 
we are not obligated to follow examples, then you are also disobeying 
the commands, because the commands say to follow the examples! You 
cannot have one without the other.

We may compare it to a person who says: "I believe people must obey 
God's authority, but I don't believe citizens must obey civil rulers, 
wives must obey husbands, or children must obey parents, etc." But God's 
commands tell us to obey the authority of these humans. To disobey the 
humans, then, is to disobey God, because He says to obey these other 
humans. Likewise, to disobey inspired examples is to disobey God's 
commands, because the commands say to follow the examples.

II. Bible Instances Where Examples Are Used to Determine God's Will
 >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

We have studied passages that teach us to follow Bible examples. But 
besides telling us to follow examples, Bible writers sometimes 
specifically taught people what God wanted them to do (or not do) by 
using the examples set by others. The way Bible teachers used examples 
can show us how we should use examples in our teaching.

Let us notice a few of these cases and consider whether or not the 
examples were "binding" - i.e., were people obligated to follow the 
lesson taught by those examples? Were they wrong if they didn't follow 
them?

A. Examples We Should Not Imitate
=========================

These are "disapproved" examples or "bad examples."

Luke 11:47-51; Acts 7:35-53 - People were rebuked for being like their 
ancestors who rejected God's prophets ("as your fathers did, so do you" 
- Acts 7:51).

Luke 17:32 - Remember Lot's wife. Here is an example of one who 
disobeyed God, because she had too strong attachment to this world. We 
are instructed to "remember" her, obviously implying we should not do as 
she did.

1 Corinthians 10:1-12 - The Israelites give a number of bad examples. 
These are our examples written for our admonition (vv 6,11). They teach 
us to avoid lust, idolatry, fornication, tempting Christ, and murmuring. 
Again, these examples teach us what we should not do. [Hebrews 4:11; 
Acts 7:38-43]

2 Corinthians 11:3 - Paul feared lest the Corinthians be corrupted like 
Eve who was deceived by Satan.

Hebrews 12:16 - Esau profaned His birthright. We should take care that 
no such person is among us (v15).

2 Peter 2:4-9 - Sodom and Gomorrah and the people of the flood are 
examples showing God punishes evil people and spares the righteous. [2 
Peter 3:3-7; Matthew 11:23f]

2 Peter 2:15 - Do not be like Balaam, who is cited as a false teacher 
because, for the sake of money, he put a stumbling block before Israel. 
[Jude 11; Revelation 2:14]

1 John 3:12 - We should not be murderers like Cain.

Bible writers used all these cases to show us examples of how we should 
not act. They directly stated or clearly implied that people would be 
condemned by God if they acted like the people in the examples. In other 
words, the examples were "binding." But if examples are not binding, may 
we conclude that God would not condemn us if we act like these people?

B. Examples We Should Imitate
======================

Note how, in each of these instances, inspired teachers taught people to 
imitate examples that God approved. In fact we will see that Jesus and 
inspired men used these examples in exactly the way that some people 
tell us we today should not use them!

The value of wisdom - Matthew 12:42
***********************************

Jesus said the Queen of Sheeba valued true wisdom (Solomon's). Her 
example condemned the people of Jesus' day, because they did not 
appreciate His wisdom, which was greater than Solomon's.

Note: Jesus Himself said people are condemned when they do not follow 
Bible examples! Where does that leave folks today who say people don't 
have to follow Bible examples?

[The queen herself was uninspired, but her act is recorded by 
inspiration, obviously for the purpose of teaching Bible readers. So the 
fact the Bible writers recorded her conduct with approval means it 
should serve as an example for us to follow.]

Sacrificing our lives for God - Matthew 16:24,25
********************************************

To come after Jesus, we must follow Him. Specifically, we must be 
willing to give our lives for God as He did. What if we are not willing 
to follow His example? Then we will lose our lives eternally!

Note: Jesus' example is so binding that, if we don't follow it, we will 
be eternally lost. [1 John 3:15-18]

Love for our neighbor - Luke 10:30-37
***********************************

Jesus used the good Samaritan as an example of love, because he 
personally helped a needy man. Jesus said to go and do likewise.

Note: Jesus described the example, showed that God approved it, then He 
bound it on others! This is exactly how we ought to teach.

[Again, the Samaritan was not inspired. But when the inspired teacher 
(Jesus) showed that God approved the example and used it to instruct His 
disciples, we should learn that such examples become binding on us.]

Repentance - Luke 11:32
**********************

Nineveh repented at Jonah's preaching. Jesus described this example, 
then bound it on the people. He said they were condemned because they 
would not repent at His preaching like the Ninevites had at Jonah's 
preaching [Matthew 21:28-32].

Note again: Jesus said that people who don't follow approved Bible 
examples are condemned!

[And again, the Ninevites were uninspired. But the inspired record of 
their conduct was written for our instruction.]

Concern for the lost - Luke 15:11-32
*********************************

The father rejoiced when the prodigal son repented, but the brother did 
not rejoice. The whole point of the story is that people should imitate 
the father but not the brother.

People who act like the older son are wrong. And people who do not act 
like the father are wrong. The example is binding. This is the way Jesus 
taught!

Jesus' love for His disciples - John 13:34; 15:12
*******************************************

We should love one another as Jesus loved us. Is that a binding example? 
Note that Jesus commanded us to follow His example of love. He set the 
example; then His command showed that the example is binding. [1 John 
4:16; Ephesians 5:2]

Circumcision - Acts 15:5-29
*************************

Disagreement arose among Christians about whether circumcision is 
binding today. A conclusion was reached based on the following evidence:

(1) Peter, Paul, and Barnabas cited examples in which Gentiles were 
converted without being circumcised, and God gave His approval by means 
of miracles.

(2) James quoted an Old Testament passage which said the Gentiles could 
be saved, but did not require circumcision. The inference was that 
circumcision is not binding.

This conclusion, drawn from examples and inferences, was then bound - 
i.e., those who taught otherwise were in error.

Conversion - 1 Timothy 1:16
**************************

Paul's conversion was a pattern or example demonstrating God's mercy to 
those who believe for everlasting life. We often use His conversion to 
teach sinners how to be saved.

Examples in the book of Acts are one of the primary methods the Bible 
uses to show us how to be saved. If examples are not binding, why must 
anyone do what was done in Bible examples of conversion? But if we are 
not wrong in using these examples to teach people how to be saved, then 
why shouldn't we likewise use Bible examples to teach other Bible 
principles of conduct?

Faith
*****

Hebrews chapter 11 with 12:1-4 - This entire chapter contains Old 
Testament examples of people who possessed the kind of faith we need in 
order to be saved.

Clearly the kind of faith illustrated by these examples is bound on us 
as necessary to salvation. If examples are not binding, what is the 
purpose of these examples? [Galatians 3:6,7; Hebrews 6:12]

James 2:20-26 - Examples of Abraham and Rahab are cited to prove that 
the faith that God approves is a faith that works. These examples are 
approved and bound.

Suffering and patience - James 5:10,11
***********************************

We ought to take the prophets as an example of suffering and patience. 
Specifically, Job demonstrates that, if we suffer patiently, the Lord 
will be compassionate and merciful. [1 Peter 2:21-23; Hebrews 6:12]

Power of prayer - James 5:16-18
*****************************

Elijah's prayer is an example to us of the power of prayer.

[Other examples: 2 Timothy 3:10,11; 1 Peter 3:5,6; Acts 20:33-35; 2 
Thessalonians 3:7,9; Philippians 2:5-9; Hebrews 13:2; Luke 4:24-29; John 
13:15; Matthew 10:25; 1 Thessalonians 2:14]

III. Observations
 >>>>>>>>>>>>

Our purpose is to demonstrate that Bible teachers used examples in their 
teaching and viewed the conclusions as binding.
*****************************************************

It is therefore proper for us to use Bible examples as Bible teachers 
used them, and to conclude that people who do not properly imitate those 
examples are in error.

Remember that the examples just listed are not the only examples we can 
use. They simply illustrate the proper way to use Bible examples. The 
inspired men did not just use examples as a teaching method, they said 
that they themselves set examples. We ought to use their lives as 
examples, just as they used these others examples to teach God's will.

Do examples show the ONLY way we can do a thing?
*****************************************************

Someone may ask, if the Bible shows people doing a thing with God's 
approval, is that the only way we can do that thing? However, our 
purpose in this study is to show that examples are binding. It is not 
our purpose to solve all the questions about whether or not any 
particular example is the only ("exclusive") way to do a thing.

But to answer such questions we must use the same means that we use to 
understand any other form of Bible teaching. Specifically, we must 
consider context and other passages, etc.

To illustrate, Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:7). Does 
this prove donkeys are the only way we can travel to preach? No, because 
Mark 16:15 gives the general instruction to go into all the world but 
requires no specific mode of transportation. And other passages show 
various other means of transportation being used. Any means of "going" 
would fit the Bible teaching.

Likewise, we should study and apply Bible examples in the light of other 
Bible teaching - commands, examples and necessary conclusions.

Sometimes people try to argue that examples are not binding by bringing 
up examples from the Bible which they say we don't follow.
*****************************************************

We have proved by numerous Scriptures that God intends for us to use 
Bible examples as a means of determining His will for our lives. Even if 
it could be proved that we fail to properly follow some particular 
example, that would not disprove the evidence that examples are binding 
authority. It would only prove that we need to do a better job of 
following them.

The same is true for following Bible commands. Do you believe in 
following commands? Suppose someone could prove there is a command in 
the Bible you are not properly following. Would that prove commands are 
not valid ways of determining God's will? Of course not. It would only 
prove we should do a better job of understanding and following the 
commands. The same applies to examples and necessary inferences.

Conclusion
========

Sometimes Bible examples are easy to understand and apply, just like 
some Bible commands are easy. Other Bible examples are more difficult to 
understand and apply, just like some Bible commands are more difficult. 
There is milk and there is meat (Heb. 5:12-6:1; 2 Peter 3:15,16).

What we have shown in this study is that God does use examples to teach 
and bind His will for us. And not only are such examples used 
occasionally, but they are a common, frequently used means of Bible 
teaching. Our responsibility is to learn to handle God's word rightly to 
understand all His will.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

(C) Copyright 1989 & 2006, David E. Pratte

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