Several years ago, I had an opportunity to speak with the late William Woodson. As a young preacher student I spoke with him, asking for advice. I asked, what one issue he felt was going to be the most crucial to give attention to in the decades to follow. His response: “the authority of the Scriptures”. I have never forgotten that brief conversation with brother Woodson.
It is a sad commentary on the Christian movement to observe that in many corners among us there is a dismissal of biblical precedents which demonstrate the Lord’s demand that His people be faithful to his word. In an effort to reduce the compelling force of biblical examples, they display their rejection of biblical authority by labeling such examples as mere “pamphlet material”.
We would like to briefly explore this issue of biblical authority and its relationship to biblical precedent.
The Authority of Scriptures
When one speaks of authority, one is speaking of the right to demand obedience. It is this right which inheres in the Scriptures to demand obedience as “the only authoritative voice of God to man”. Since the beginning of time God always communicates His will to his creation with the expectation that His will is to be respected and obeyed.
In Genesis, the Lord prohibits eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2.15-17). At the time, the “law” against eating from this tree was not written, but it was still expected to be obeyed. Also, there was a stated consequence if this command was not obeyed – “in the day you eat of it you shall surely die” (2.17).
This is the first demonstration that the Lord desires for his will to be obeyed by His creation. It is a simple example, but it is multiplied countless times in the Scriptures. This principle does not only apply to the Lord’s spoken commands, but also to His written commands. The principle issue here is authority.
To use a New Testament example, the apostle Paul demonstrates the very nature of the Lord’s sovereign authority. In Paul’s letter to the Romans (9. 20), he epitomizes this right by the illustration of a molder: “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’” So it is with those who respect the Lord and his Word.
When the apostle Paul addresses the topic of the Scriptures in 2 Timothy, he speaks of the “sacred writings” by which one may learn those things which lead to salvation (2.14-15). Paul presses the utility of Scripture further by addressing the origin of these sacred writings. He writes:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3.16-17)
This passage is a statement of not only the richness of the Scripture’s resources to create mature Christians, but it is also a statement as to the origin of the Scripture’s themselves.
The phrase “breathed out by God” (ESV) is a statement of how Scripture came to be. To capture the meaning of “All Scripture is breathed out by God”, it has been given this helpful expanded translation: “Scripture, the writer of which was influenced by God”.
Paul could, therefore, write to the Thessalonians of his joy that they received his message, not as the words of a mere human, but “as what it really is, the word of God” (1 Thess. 2.13). Again, as Paul affirms to the Galatians that he was given a direct revelation of Jesus Christ, it was not a message he received from instruction by those who were heralds of the message before him (Gal. 1.11-12, 15-17). The apostles and prophets where given access to the mind of God, and they revealed it in their preaching and writings (1 Cor. 2.11-13; Eph. 3.4).
Consequently, when we read the inspired teaching of the apostles and prophets, we hear the words of God communicated through these individuals’ vocabulary and style. Nevertheless, as Jesus affirms:
The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me. (Luke 10.16)
It was the Holy Spirit’s work to secure this message and guide the apostles “into all the truth” (John 16.12-15). This truth resides in the complete works of the biblical record; Jesus being the final revealer of God (Heb. 1.1-2).
“This is Just Pamphlet Material”
With the foregoing in mind, those who reject biblical precedent are essentially rejecting Scriptural authority, and this leads to the logical conclusion that one who rejects biblical precedent is also rejecting the Lord’s authority. Granted, we are not speaking of all examples of Scripture but only those which demonstrate the Lord’s desire for imitation or adherence; in other words, examples which are normative for the Christian life.
The New Testament teaches that the Old Testament is a rich resource to learn from (Rom. 15.4; 1 Cor. 10.6); observe, then, some classic examples: (a) Noah built the ark and filled it according to the Lord’s design (Gen. 6.22), (b) Moses was punished for not obeying the Lord’s explicit command to speak to a rock so that the Israelites could have water (Num. 20.2-13), and (c) King Saul failed to obey and completely destroy the Amalekites (1 Sam. 15.1-23).
In every instance acceptance or rejection by God is based upon obedience to His instruction. Where would Noah be if he not done all that the Lord commanded him? Destroyed with his contemporaries. Though Moses is probably one of the most recognizable followers of God, this did not shield him from the consequences of his disbelief, consequently he would not be allowed to enter the promised land (Num. 20.12).
And finally, the great failure of King Saul to completely destroy the Amalekites brings with it the vital lesson that obedience is better than sacrifices, and that rebellion and presumption upon the Lord’s word is regarded as if the king had practiced idolatry or divination (1 Sam. 15.22-23).
Unfortunately, when defending their unscriptural practices and innovations, some dismiss these biblical examples as mere pamphlet material, propaganda – old tract materials that are out of touch with the needs of the “new authentic” Christian era they embrace. They need to read the Apostle Peter’s words regarding God’s judgment upon those who reject God’s authority (2 Pet. 2). Better yet, we all need to listen to Jesus: “Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6.46; Matt. 7.21-27).
- Ramm, Bernard, 1970, Protestant Biblical Interpretation: A Textbook of Hermeneutics (3d revised edtion, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker), 1.
- Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene A. Nida, Editors, 1989, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains (2d edition, New York, N.Y.: UBS), 1:418.
- We encourage you to read Rob O’Hara’s article entitled “Direction Through Examples” on this website.