An Example vs An Account of Action
In the title of the book, “When Is A Bible Example Binding?”, the word “example” is used in a very loose, or general sense. And the writer of the book, Thomas Warren, points out that fact, in the book. And I’ll quote from his book to show this to be true.
Brother Warren writes; “In discussing the problem with which this book is basically concerned, brethren usually use the word ‘example’ when they wish to refer, in general, to some action which the bible describes as having occurred, or to some ‘state of affairs’, which the bible describes as existing, or having existed. It has been suggested early in this book, that it is preferable, in referring to what someone did, to use the expression, ‘account of action’. ”
The reason for this suggestion, is because of the very meaning of the word “example”. There’s actually several slightly different meanings, but here are the three meanings that apply to our subject..
An Example is:
#1. That which is to be followed, or imitated.
#2. A precedent, or a model, or a parallel case.
#3. A warning that is given; Such as.. of punishment inflicted, to serve as a warning.
All three of these definitions, clearly imply the idea of “essentiality”. In other words, if an example falls into any one of these three categories, then it is ALWAYS binding. In the case of meaning #1, that which is “to be followed or imitated”, is binding by it’s very definition.
In the case of meaning #2, “a precedent”, is also, by definition, a binding example. A precedent is a principle, or a rule, which has been established.
And in the case of meaning #3, if an example of punishment being inflicted as the result of a certain action, is given to us as a “warning”, then that clearly implies the necessity of NOT doing, the thing that resulted in the punishment.
And so when the bible gives us a true “example”, it is always binding. Therefore, when addressing the questions that arise concerning correctly interpreting the bible, our objective is mush more clearly understood, when we use the expression “an account of action”, to differentiate from a true “example”. Because that’s really where the division occurs. We’re not divided over God’s instructions to imitate someone’s specific example, or to follow the pattern that they have set forth. But rather, our divisions occur, in trying to decide if a “an account” of what someone did, or of what some group of people did, is meant by God, to serve as an “example” that must be followed.
So then, let’s not concern ourselves with specific examples that clearly set forth a pattern that must be followed. And let’s focus on various “accounts of action” that are recorded in the bible. And simple logic will tell us that only the accounts of the actions taken by Jesus, or His apostles, or possibly, other faithful Christians, need be considered. It should be quite obvious to everyone, that there is nothing that has ever been done by anyone, who in the state of unbelief, that should ever be imitated.
Whose Actions are We to Follow ?
Now allow me to remind you once again, that God has only specified certain people, whose examples are to be followed. One of those persons is Jesus. We are told in 1 Peter 2:21; “For you have been called for this purpose; Since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His footsteps.”
The other people whose example we’re commanded to follow, are the apostles. Philippians 3:17 says; “Brethren, join in my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.”
Now, the reason I said that we might possibly consider the examples of other faithful Christians, is because of what it says in that last verse. Paul tells us to “observe those who walk according the pattern you have in us.” So then we are to “observe” other Christians, who follow the example of Paul and the other apostles, who are following the example of Christ.
Notice though, that God does NOT instruct us, to follow the pattern of EVERY Christian mentioned in the bible. If the scriptures were to offer proof that another Christian was following the example of Christ, or of the apostles, then you might have a case in suggesting that an account of their actions could possibly be binding upon all Christians. But the simple fact that it has been recorded in the bible, that a Christian, or a group of Christians did something, is in no way suggestive, that what they did, would be binding upon anyone else to do likewise.
But remember, we HAVE been instructed by God, to follow the example of Jesus and of His apostles. But also remember this; We are going to be considering some of the recorded accounts, of the ACTIONS taken by Jesus and His apostles. We’re not going to be focusing on what they said, but on what they DID. And the real question is going to be; When if ever, is an account, of what either Jesus or His apostles did, meant by God to be taken as an “example” that is to be followed by EVERY Christian?
You understand the difference now, between an “example”, and “an account of action”. An “example” by it’s various definitions, is something that SERVES as a “pattern” to be followed. It sets a “precedent”, and sometimes, it serves as a “warning” NOT to do something, that has been done by someone else. And an account of action is simply a description of something that took place.
And there’s one more thing that I want to remind you of. And that is, the very basic and fundamental principle of interpreting the bible, that God Himself commands us to use; “Come now, let us reason together says the Lord.” To reason together with the Lord, is to use HIS word, as the basis for ALL of our conclusions.
In other words, to correctly interpret any verse of scripture, or to identify whether or not an account of action is to be regarded as an example for us to follow, we will have to consider EVERYTHING, that the bible has said on the subject. If we neglect to consider everything that God has said on a subject, then we are NOT “reasoning together with Him”. We’re “reasoning” simply by human reasoning, which isn’t good enough for God. If we leave out anything that God says on the subject, we’re just reasoning with ourselves. We must have the input of everything that God says.
Now I’ve definitely set forth some “rules” here for interpreting the bible, but again, they’re not my rules, but rather, they come directly from God Himself. They’re HIS rules, which we must follow! Without understanding God’s instructions about His word, we’ll never be able to interpret His word correctly.
Obviously our own human reasoning play some part in all of this too. No one can come to any conclusion, without using their own God given ability, to think logically, and to reason. BUT, we should never forget, that our own reasoning must NEVER override what God has plainly stated. To put it another way; If God’s word tells us that something IS a certain way, then that’s the way it is! We don’t have the privilege of saying; “That doesn’t sound reasonable to me. As Isaiah 1:20 says; “Truly, the mouth of the Lord has spoken!”
Consider two “Accounts of Action”
Now then, let’s actually look at a simple account of action, and use the principles that I’ve talked about. We’ll start with something very simple, and go from there. in John 12:12 thru 15, we have an account of Jesus entering Jerusalem by riding on the colt of a donkey. And last week I mentioned that it would be pointless for us to use that as an example, and do the same thing. But if someone for some reason wanted to claim that we need to do that, all we would have to do is show them a couple verses of scripture that explain WHY Jesus did that.
For instance, it says in John 12:14 & 15; “..As it is written; Fear not, daughter of Zion, Behold your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.” That statement is a quote of Zechariah 9, verse 9, Which says; “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you. He is just, and endowed with salvation. Humble, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
So you can see, that the REASON Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, was in order to fulfill the prophecy of God, through Zechariah. Why God chose to have it occur this way, we don’t know that answer for sure. Possibly it had to do with humility. But what we do know, is that since Jesus fulfilled that prophecy, there’s certainly no reason for us to try to fulfill it also. The prophecy wasn’t made concerning us, it was made concerning Jesus.
So then, we reason together with God’s word, and we easily see, that the account of what Jesus did that day when He entered Jerusalem, is obviously not meant to serve as an “example” of what we should do; But rather, it was meant to fulfill scripture.
Now let’s look at an account of what the apostles, Peter and John, did one day. We’re told, in Acts 3, verse 1; “And Peter and John were going up to the temple at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer.” That would have been about 3 PM. Now, Peter and John were members of the body of Christ when they did this. This was after the church had been established. Therefore, is this account of what they did that day, intended by God, to serve as an “example”, and as a “pattern” that all Christians need to follow?
Well, a good place to begin, in answering that question, is with another question. Do we know WHY Peter and John went up to the temple at the hour of prayer? When we considered WHY Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, it became obvious, that that is not an “example’ for us to follow. And so, we need to ask ourselves.. WHY did Peter and John, two Christian “apostles”, go up to temple at the ninth hour?
Did they go there so that they, as Christians, could engage in prayer at that specific that hour? And is it therefore binding upon all Christians to also engage in prayer at 3 PM ? And is it binding upon us that we engage in prayer, in the temple in Jerusalem, or at least in some Jewish temple somewhere? Is that why Peter and John went up to the temple at the ninth hour?
OR, did Peter and John go up to the temple for some reason OTHER, than that of worshipping God in prayer? Are there any other verses of scripture that might shed light on why they went up to the temple? I’d say, Yes, there ARE other scriptures that will shed light on this subject, an give us an answer
Now, if we can go to other verses, and corroborate the idea, that Peter and John’s purpose for going to the temple, was indeed to comply with the new testament pattern of worship, then we could reasonably say that ALL Christians are expected to be engaged in this pattern of worship. And then we could also say with confidence, that this account of action, is meant by God to be an “example”, and is thus binding upon all Christians, everywhere, because the apostles would have been setting forth the “pattern” for us to follow. But what if other verses reveal a completely different reason, for going to the temple at the our of prayer? What then?
So then let’s look at some verses that shed light on why Peter and John went up to the temple that day. To begin with, If we read the rest of the account of what happened that day, all of which is in Acts chapter 3, we’ll see that it’s not recorded that Peter and John ever did go inside the temple and pray. What happened was, a particular lame man began to beg alms from them, and Peter said to him; “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have, I give to you; In the name of Jesus Christ, the Nazarene.. Walk!” (Acts 3, verse 6).
And verse 7 says; “And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were strengthened.” Now this caused quite a bit of excitement, and if Peter and John’s purpose that day, had been to go to the temple to pray, it didn’t seem to bother them very much, that they weren’t accomplishing their purpose.
Verse 11 says; “And while he (the man who had been lame) was clinging to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them, at the so-called ‘portico of Solomon’, full of amazement.” So then, what did Peter and John do? Instead of saying, “Excuse us, but we’ve got to get into the temple to pray”, here’s what Peter said, in verses 12 & 13; “Men of Israel, why do you marvel at this, or why do you gaze at us, as if by our own power or piety, we had made him walk? The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and disowned, in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him.”
So Peter, takes full advantage of his audience, and preaches the gospel.
A “Ready Audience”
On another occasion, in Acts chapter 5, the apostles were put in prison, because they kept preaching Jesus, and healing people. But listen to what it says in verses 19 thru 21; “But an angel of the Lord, during the night, opened the gates of the prison, and taking them out, he said; Go your way, stand and speak (now listen to this) to the people in the temple, the whole message of this ‘Life’. And upon hearing this, they entered into the temple about daybreak, and began to teach..”
Why did the apostles go to the temple? Did they go there to engage in new testament worship? No, they went there to preach and teach the gospel. They were commanded to go there by God. After Jesus had chosen His twelve apostles, He gave them this commandment, in Mathew 10:5-6; “Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans, but rather, go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Where did the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” regularly assemble themselves? In the temple, and on the temple grounds; That’s where one could find “a ready audience” to preach the gospel.
Do you remember these words, from Acts 16, verse 13.. “And on the Sabbath day, we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together.” A “ready audience”, for preaching the gospel.
In Acts 13, verse 46, Paul was speaking to the Jews, and he said; “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first..” When the apostles went up to the temple at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer, they weren’t going there to engage in new testament worship. They weren’t even going there to engage in OLD testament worship. They were going there because God had commanded them to go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and to preach the gospel! The perfect audience, of Jewish people, all gathered in one place, was the temple in Jerusalem. (And evidently for some Jewish women, it was down by the riverside) And that’s exactly where the apostles went. Where they knew they would have an audience.
I’ve taken a lot of time here, to describe exactly how we know, that the account of Peter and John going up to the temple at the ninth hour, is NOT intended by God to be an example for us to follow. And it’s not because I’ve heard anyone claim that this IS an example for us to follow. But my purpose for doing this, was to show you precisely, how we can use various verses of scripture, to reason with, and to arrive at a logical conclusion, as to whether or not an account of action, is intended to be used as a binding example.
In this case, it was quite obvious that this account is NOT to be used as a binding example. Other accounts of action aren’t quite so easy to come to a conclusion about. And that’s why we’re studying this. Next week, we’ll look at an account of action, that some people claim IS binding, when it’s not. And we’ll also look at an account of action that IS binding, but which many people believe is NOT binding.