Bible authority is necessary for what we teach and practice in religion (2 John 9, 1 Peter 4:11, Col. 3:17). There are specific ways that Bible authority is established and these ways will be considered in this article.
The first form of Bible authority to consider is the direct command or statement. These occur when God, Christ, the apostles, or some other inspired person gives a direct command or statement. There are many examples of this form of authority in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.
Genesis 2:17 records a direct command in the very beginning. In the garden, Adam and Eve were told, “But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” This direct command would have been very difficult to misunderstand. Later, when Satan tried to get Eve to violate this command, he did not even try to twist the words of the command which would have been hard to do. Instead, he tried to accuse God of lying and questioned God's motives.
There are many examples of the direct command in the New Testament. Consider two examples in the book of 1 Corinthians. In chapter eleven, Paul cites the command of Christ relative to the Lord's Supper. It was, “Take eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of men” (vs. 23,24). In speaking of a fornicator who should be withdrawn from, Paul gives another direct command as he says, “ . . . Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person” (5:13).
Hebrews 11:6 is an example of a direct statement. It says, “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he who cometh to God must believe that he is . . . .” This is not a command to believe, but it is clear that if a person wants to please God, he must be a believer. A command is given in Acts 2:38 as Peter said, “Repent and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins . . . .”
Direct statements or commands ought to be the easiest of all the forms of authority to understand. When the Bible says to do something or not to do something, we must abide by what it says. Ye many people teach or practice just the opposite of what a direct statement or command says. We must abide in the doctrine of Christ (2 John 9).
It is clear that all examples are not meant to be patterns for us today. The Bible records sinful actions, and there are other incidents and events that are a part of the historical narrative and have no bearing on our service to God. However, there are other examples that are meant to be followed today.
Consider some principles on the subject of examples. 1 Peter 2:21 tells us that Christ is to be our example, and we know that his life is recorded in the Scriptures. In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul said, “Be ye followers of men even as I also am of Christ.” Philippians 4:9 points out, “Those things, which ye have both learned and received and seen in me do; and the God of peace shall be with you.” They were not only to follow what they heard, but also they were to follow the examples of this inspired person.
Today we observe the Lord's Supper on the first day of the week. Why is this the case? How do we know that the first day of the week is the day that we are to observe the Lord's Supper? We have an example of the early church observing it on that day (Acts 20:7), and this met the approval of Paul, an inspired man, who was there.
Acts 14:33 shows us, by example, that there should be elders in every church. The consistent New Testament example reveals a plurality of elders in every church, not just one.
We also learn by example that the baptism of the great commission (Mt. 28:18-20, Mk. 16:15-16) must be done in water. The example of Cornelius (Acts 10:47) and the Ethiopian (Acts 8:36-39) teaches us this.
There are various principles to consider determining when an example is binding on us today. First, an example must harmonise with other teachings and examples. Exceptions to a given example may show that a particular thing can be carried out in various ways. Also, some examples involve temporary circumstances and would thus not apply to us today (1 Cor. 7:7,8,26). Some examples are incidental to required action (as the kind of water in baptism: cold, hot, running, still) while other examples may simply involve a custom in a given society.
A necessary inference is drawn because the evidence that exists demands it. The conclusion is not based on a maybe, a might, or a probably, but on a must. There are some conclusions that might be inferred, but not necessarily inferred. Thus, we are talking about necessary inference.
Consider some simple illustrations from the Bible. Genesis 13:1 reveals that Abraham and Sarah “went up from Egypt” along with Lot. We are never told that Lot went down to Egypt, but we would necessarily infer that he did since he came up out of Egypt. In Matthew 3 the Bible does not say that Jesus went down into the water when hew was baptised, but we can necessarily infer that he did, since he went up out of the water (vs. 16).
Acts 18:8 is one case where necessary inference can be employed. It tells us that Crispus believed in the Lord with all his house. However, we are not told what produced his faith. Romans 10:17 tells us that faith comes by hearing, so we can infer necessarily that Crispus heard the gospel.
Acts 8:38-39 tells us that the Ethiopian was baptised. We are not told why he was baptised though. However, Acts 2:38 tells us that baptism, along with repentance, is “for the remission of sins. Thus, we can necessarily infer that the Ethiopian's baptism was “for the remission of sins.”
A final example will be taken from the Old Law. Under the Old Testament, they were told in Exodus 20:8 to remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Which Sabbath day were they to remember? God did not say “every Sabbath,” but it is obvious that this is what he meant. There is nothing in the context that would limit it to a particular Sabbath. Thus, sometimes the structure of the language might require a particular conclusion, although the conclusion itself may be understated. It is very important to keep this in mind.
We need to make sure that we understand how to establish Bible authority, and then put our knowledge into practice. A “thus saith the Lord” is essential.