the need for careful Bible study
an "ed"-itorial written by "Ed" Thomason
LESSON 5

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INTRO

LESSON 1
Basic Study Principles
LESSON 2
Using these study principles in a discussion of salvation by grace
LESSON 3a
Using these study principles in a discussion of "Once saved always saved."
LESSON 3b
Continuation of Lesson 3a
LESSON 4
The apostle Paul used these same study principles
LESSON 5
Putting our beliefs to the test


Please feel free to copy this and use it in your private study or files.
Putting our Beliefs to the test

I Thessalonians 5:21
"Prove all things; hold fast that which is good."

In this lesson we are building on all the previous lessons, in our effort to be "careful Bible students." Jesus taught in Matthew 28:19-20 that we are to "observe all" that he commanded. What did he command? What are we to obey?
 
As Careful Bible students let us seek to prove all things and hold fast that which is good. In other words, Put the things we have learned to a test and prove them. Are we willing to test our beliefs? Are we willing to see if our understanding of God's word is right? (This can become a very difficult task.... yet with a little effort, the use of reason and logic, and a willingness to investigate things, we can prove all things and benefit greatly from the effort.)
 
But to do so properly we need to use our study tools carefully in our search for truth.
· Search for all the truth before drawing conclusions
· Consider context of passage
· Look for direct statements, commandments, examples and inferences.
 
In this lesson we will do several things:
· Look at the types of commandments found in God's word
· Discuss examples... and the difficulty of knowing when one is binding
· Discuss Apostolic traditions.

Lets take a closer look at Biblical commands:
 
As stated previously, there are two kinds of biblical commandments: (Specific and Generic.)
 
A COMMON ILLUS MAKES THE POINT:
 
The owner of a house tells a contractor to: "Go paint the house." THAT'S GENERIC. (It is generic because how to paint, what color to paint, and when to paint is all left up to judgment. As long as the contractor paints the house he has obeyed the wish of the owner.)
 
If the owner of a house tells a contractor to: "Go paint the house this Tuesday using a roller on the walls and a brush on the trim and use white paint on both". - THAT'S SPECIFIC.
 
LOOK AT AN ILLUSTRATION OF A GENERIC BIBLICAL COMMAND
 

Again, this is where God gives a command but not the specific details of the command.
A good Biblical illustration is: Matthew 28:19 which says, "Go..." The specifics of how to go are not specified in that passage.
 
LOOK AT AN ILLUSTRATION OF A SPECIFIC BIBLICAL COMMAND
 
This is where God gives a specific and detailed command. A good illustration is the command God gave Noah when he was commanded to build an ark out of gopher wood. (God was specific about what he wanted Noah to do.)
 
If God had simply said, "Build an ark out of wood" (not specifying the type of wood) then that part of the commandment would have been "generic." A matter of judgment by Noah. But when God became specific as to which wood was to be used, this command eliminated all other types of wood.

In the New Testament we have many specific commands that we are to obey:
 
Some are specific enough
· Repent, Confess Jesus, Be baptized... specific.
· Love one another...
· Rejoice evermore, Pray without ceasing, In everything give thanks...
· Prove all things, hold fast that which is good. etc.
 
But Some times God is very detailed in his specifics:
· The Lord's supper has specified components (bread/ juice) To use any thing else violates the specifics of the command.
 
If an owner tells a painter to: "Paint the room white." He has been specific regarding color. (No other color paint will please the owner.)
 
Similarly, the music the church uses has also been specified by God. In every New Testament passage that refers to the music used in the church, the specification is to: "Sing" (Cf., Ephesians 5:19). If God had said "make music." Then any music would be expedient because the command would have been generic and not specific. But when God said "sing" that eliminated all other kinds of music.
Just as gopher wood eliminated all other kinds of wood, the unleavened bread eliminated all other foods and white paint eliminates all other colors of paint.
 
As careful Bible students we should watch for the specifics and know the difference between a generic command (which allows judgment) and a specific command (which eliminates judgment.)
 
Lets take a closer look at Biblical examples :
 
In the previous lesson we talked a little about examples and inferences. We discussed how important these are to a better understanding of the Bible on many subjects.
 
Biblical examples help teach and illustrate truth. But they can be tricky when we try to analysis which are binding and which are not.
 
Not every example is necessarily binding.

For example: Matthew 28:19 says, "Go into all the world..."
(We previously mentioned how this part of the command is Generic as far as how to go or mode of transportation is concerned because nothing specific was specified.) Yet we have many Biblical examples of the apostles and others going by foot, boat, animal, etc. Are we to bind these as the only way to go? Or is the "How to go" expedient in spite of the many examples?
 
Often many examples appear to be only incidental. (Not meant to be binding as the only way but simply an example of just one of many God approved ways.) But how do we know when an example is binding and exclusive and when it is only incidental?
 
In I Corinthians 11:24-26, Paul discussed the Lord's institution of his supper. In this text, Jesus simply said "Take eat..." (He made no reference as to what "specific" day of the week it should be eaten.) Paul adds "as often as ye eat..." v-26. At this point in one's study of this subject it would appear that the command to eat is "generic" as far as "when to eat" is concerned. One must wonder, Would the example in Acts 20:7 be only an incident giving a possible time among many other times when it could be taken? Or is it an exclusive and binding example, which dictates that this is the only time when the supper is to be eaten? If so why? Why is this example binding, while the mode of transportation related to another generic command is not binding?
 
This only shows the difficulty in determining what is a binding example and what is not. I Thessalonians 5:21 says, "prove all things." (Put your tools to the test and see if they are right and consistent.) Honesty demands that we do just this.
 
Often in discussions about taking the Lord's Supper every Sunday we point people to the example of the early Christians taking it on Sunday and the clear implication from Acts 20:7 that this was a regular custom of the church and had the approval of the apostles.
 
But it is this very point... the point that we are talking about an apostolic approved custom or tradition that we really need to stress. We are not only talking about an example or illustration of a command being carried out... but this is more than an example. It is also an Apostolic tradition.
 
Biblical examples illustrate great truths and shed light on our understanding of many subjects. But trying to decide when an example is exclusively binding or not binding at all is tricky at best and subject to dispute. (The waters are muddy and unclear.) But when we search for the apostolic traditions, we find we are standing in clearer water. And can be clearer in our understanding and presentation of scriptures.
 
Lets take a closer look at Apostolic traditions:
 
Apostolic traditions might be defined as: A practice by the church that was authorized and approved by the apostles by word of mouth or epistle. Cf., 2 Thessalonians 2:15.
They were practiced by all the churches. And they were to be kept and continued to be practiced by each generation.
  
Remember that the apostles were guided by the Holy Spirit (John 16:13) and bound that which heaven revealed (Matthew 16:19). There were many traditions that were practiced in the church because the apostles taught and instructed the churches to do these things.
 
The Lord's supper being taken each Sunday was one such tradition. How do we know?
  
Consider the evidence:
· The first day of the week had significance to Christians:
· It was the day Jesus arose... On that day of resurrection, Jesus was declared to be the Son of God with power. (Romans 1:4.)
· It was the day the church began. The first day was significant to Christians like the Sabbath day was to the Jews.
· But there is more. There is the compelling evidence in scripture that Christians met on this day regularly (each week).  Paul command in I Corinthians 16:1-2 clearly implies that the assembly on the first day of the week was commonly practiced by Christians in every region. This is why Paul could command that the offering be collected on this day.
· But Acts 20:6-7 is the clincher. Paul waited 7 days before meeting with the church when he was in a hurry to travel on. Why wait? Because he waited for the 1st day of the week when the Christians commonly assembled for a specific purpose that Paul wanted to share in. Obviously, there was a standing practice in the early church of assembling on the first day of the week each week for the specific purpose mentioned in Acts 20:7 - "to break bread."
· The supper itself has great meaning to Christians. It is eaten "in remembrance of Christ."
· Add to all this evidence the secular historical evidence of 1st and 2nd centuries. Historians and early church leaders wrote that the Christians meet each Sunday and partook of the LORD'S SUPPER each Sunday.

Second century quotes:2
 
· DIDACHE 14:1 (written 100 AD)
"Come together each Lord's day ... break bread and give thanks"
 
· BARNABAS 15 (100 AD)
 "We keep the eighth day (1st day); for joy, on which also Jesus arose from the dead and when he appeared ascended into heaven."
 
· JUSTIN MARTYR (110-165 AD)
"On the day called Sunday there is a gathering together in the same place of all who live in a city or rural district." (Then he gives an account of a service which included scripture reading, preaching and prayer and then he adds:) "When we cease from our prayer, bread is presented and wine mixed with water. The president of the brethren in the same manner sends up prayers and thanksgiving according to his ability, and the people sing out their assent saying the Amen. A distribution and participation of the elements for which thanks have been given is made to each person." A contribution is collected, and then ... "We all make our assembly in common on the day of the Sun, since it is the first day, on which God changed the darkness and matter and made the world, and Jesus Christ our savior arose from the dead on the same day."

Why partake of the LORD'S SUPPER each week? Because it was an apostolic tradition and apostolic traditions were binding and still are binding upon Christians today. 

Lets go back to a previous illustration: Suppose an owner told his contractor: Install blue carpet in my new house (specific). And paint the house (generic). But suppose the owner added these words to the contract: "Follow the traditions of my superintendents." (A superintendent is one who had direct communication with owner. One who knew exactly what would please the owner.) The contractor wishing to please the owner and fulfill his contract tried to locate one of the owner's Superintendents but none were around to consult. Suppose he then went out and visited all the houses the Superintendents had overseen. And he noticed that each house had white walls painted with rollers and trim painted with brushes. It would be obvious what the tradition of the
Superintendents was. (It is not hard for anyone to figure this out.) So if he wished to please the owner what should he do? Shouldn't he paint the house white using rollers and brushes? Why? Because that was the tradition.
 
Our Superintendents that we are to consult are the apostles. They communicated with the owner. They knew what pleased him. We have several specific commands from the owner (our Lord) and several generic commands. But we also have the command to follow the traditions of the apostles. So, as we look at the scriptures we find much evidence "that the walls are to be painted white" (i.e., the Lord's Supper was eaten each Sunday and elders were appointed in each church... etc.) We know when follow the apostolic tradition in these matters we are pleasing the owner!
 
The discussion as to when an example is binding or not binding is not the proper discussion to undertake. 

What we must look for are the apostolic traditions that are revealed within the scriptures. They may not be clearly stated as such, but they are there nonetheless and if we are careful Bible students, we will discover them.
 
My thanks to an article by Everett Ferguson, Gospel Advocate June 1991 p. 52ff.
Keep studying the word.
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