How does one find Bible authority? Many have been taught that it is by “command, example, and necessary inference.” While the general thought is true the language is imprecise. Brother Dave Miller has written, “The use of the expression ‘command, example, necessary inference’ is an unfortunate delineation. It’s imprecision has generated an unnecessary amount of ambiguity and misunderstanding” (On Inferring What the Explicit Statements of the Bible Imply: A Paper Presented to the Christian Scholars Conference, A.C.U., July 1990).
I believe that there are still three basic ways to find Bible authority today. Let’s look:
1. Direct Statement (or explicit statement). This is more precise than the word “command.” This is the case, because the command (imperative) is just one type of direct statement. And other types of direct statements are equally binding (for instance, Mark 16:16 is a declarative statement). Brother Thomas B. Warren has written “there are at least six types of statements used in the Bible: (a) imperative, (b) declarative, (c) interrogative, (d) conditional, (e) horatory and (f) account of action… the first five types of statements listed above will be referred to as ‘direct statements’ (When is an Example Binding, p. 39).
Yes, even interrogative statements (1 Cor. 12:29-30; 1 Cor. 1:13; 1 John 3:17) horatory statements (Rom. 5:20-6:1; 1 Thes. 3:11-12); and conditional statements (Rom. 7:2-3; 1 Cor. 15:12-20a; John 3:3-5) can be binding upon man, along with imperative statements (Acts 2:38; 1 Cor. 14:1), and declarative statements (Mark 16:16).
Brother Roy Deaver subdivides the types of Biblical statements this way: (1) Indicative mood (a) declarative (Mark 16:16); or (b) interrogative (Rom. 6:1). (2) Subjunctive mood (a) horatory (Heb. 6:1); or (b) conditional (Col. 3:1); (c) prohibitory; (d) deliberative; (e) final. (3) Imperative mood (a) mandatory (Acts 16:31); (b) mandatory – permissive (Acts 2:38b) ’let every one of you be baptized;’ (c) prohibitory. (4) Optative mood (Rom. 6:2) (Ascertaining Bible Authority, p. 59-60). The point is that the term “command” is a bit narrow.
A direct statement is the first way to find Bible authority. We today live under the New Covenant; so, the first question is, “Is there a direct statement in the New Covenant which authorizes this practice or action that I am considering.
2. Account of Action. This is perhaps a better word than “example”. An example by definition authorizes, but examples are to be found in accounts of action. Brother Thomas Warren, “The question with which this book is concerned… (‘When is an Example Binding?’ – B.H.) would already be answered if these definitions (of the word ‘example’ – B.H.) were accepted. …All ‘examples’ are binding at least in some sense… This problem is avoided when the expression ‘account of action’ is used” (When is an Example Binding?, page 105-106).
“An account of action means simply ‘the description in the Bible of what some individual or group did’ (The historical account of what someone said is included)” (When is an Example Binding? page 106). An account of action would be the disciples coming together to break bread on the first day of the week (Act 20:7).
So when is an account of action, an ‘example’ binding? Brother David Brown gives this guideline, “An account of a action constitutes an example (pattern) that we must follow when we find the church with general apostolic approval and teaching (authority) practicing whatever it may be that is right within itself and essential to Christianity” (2006 Spring Lectureship, p. 33). Brother Thomas Warren wrote, “It is necessary to apply to the description of that action the rules of sound hermeneutics and the principles of logic in connection with the totality of Bible teaching upon the matter in question” (When is an Example Binding?, page 126).
The question we consider secondly is “Is there a New Testament account of action with shows approval of this practice of action?”
3. Implication. Many brethren have used the words “necessary inference” through the years. Perhaps, implication is a better term. Robert Camp has written, “The reason I am bound by God’s Word is not that I have read it but that He wrote it. The reason I am bound by those things implicit in His word is not that I inferred it but that He implied it” (originally appeared in the article “Binding by Implication” which appeared in the July 1970 Spiritual Sword, quoted by Warren in “When is an Example Binding?”, page 94). It is bound on me because it is implied, whether or not I thought in necessary to infer.”
What is implication? Dave Miller writes, “To say that one statement implies a second statement is to say that if the first statement is true, the second must be true.” If a certain explicit Bible statement implies an additional statement, it is impossible for the explicit statement to be true and yet the implied statement to be false” (Scholars Conference, A.C.U., 1990). To say that a thing is implied is not to say that I think it is possible, or I think this hints at the other, or I have an intuition. Instead, it is to say that such is taught, but not “in so many words.”
The following are sampling of things implied by the scriptures: (1) The church is to engage in 5 acts of worship (singing, praying, giving, teaching/learning, partaking of the Lord’s Supper). (2) The church has 3 areas of work (evangelism, edification, benevolence). (3) The church was established on the first Pentecost following our Lord’s ascension. (4) There are six basic steps involved in final salvation (hearing, believing, repenting, confessing, being baptized, living the Christian life). (5) Child abuse is wrong. (6) Abortion is wrong. (7) Jim Jones was a false teacher, etc..
The third question is does the New Testament imply that this practice or action is permitted?
The teachings of the New Testament should guide our lives. We should have authority for what we do. The test is this: “Is there scriptural approval for the thing in question by: (1)Direct statement; (2) Account of Action; or (3) Implication?”