How the First Century Church Established Bible Authority

You’ve likely heard that there are three means of accurately establishing Bible authority for all that we believe, teach, and practice. By direct commandments, by approved examples, and by necessary inference (a conclusion we are forced to make by the scriptures). Now, some have mocked these means of establishing authority from the bible for what we believe, often citing that they haven’t found a verse in the bible that says that we must use direct commands, approved examples, and necessary inference. These are the same folks, by the way, whose practices often have no resemblance to the practice of the New Testament church. But they are right, in that, there is not one single verse that commands all three of these things together. But seeing as there are over 31,000 verses in the bible, it appears that God never purposed to explain authority to us in a single, self-contained verse. We are deceiving ourselves when we look to single out a verse, whether on authority, salvation, or worship, and take it as the only verse we need to follow on that subject, even though God has revealed so much more about all these subjects throughout His word. The only reason I believe that there are three means by which we recognized what God has authorized for us, is because these are the three ways that continuously pop up throughout the Bible. So, while there are many texts that we can go to in order to see these things, I would like to use Acts 15:6-21 as an example for all three of these things.

Acts 15:6-21 demonstrates how the apostles (who were inspired by the Holy Spirit) and the first-century church established God’s authority for their teaching and practice when sufficient revelation had already been made. In this chapter, a dispute among the brethren arose as to whether the gentiles were to be circumcised in order to be saved. It is interesting that the apostles do not turn to the Holy Spirit for direct revelation on this matter; instead, they rely on the revelation that had already been provided previously by the Spirit (just like we are to do today). So how did they go about determining the truth? Peter, in verses 6-11, makes his point on the basis of necessary inference. Notice the three facts that Peter makes use of to properly understand what God would have the Gentiles do: 1) Peter points out that earlier he was sent by God to preach to the Gentiles. 2) God acknowledged the gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit even as He did to the apostles back in Acts chapter two. 3) God made no distinction between the Jews and the gentiles as to their salvation.

With these three facts laid out, Peter draws the necessary conclusion: “Now, therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they” (10-11). Even though God did not specifically say that the Gentiles did not have to be circumcised in order to be saved, Peter was able to infer (out of necessity) that they were not under such a requirement because of the facts of how God went about saving Cornelius and his household.

Paul and Barnabas are next to speak in the chapter, and they take up after Peter using the idea of approved examples. An approved example is not something that we, mankind, have approved, but examples in the scriptures that God has approved as the right way of thinking or doing something. Paul and Barnabas begin by telling of their experiences in preaching among the Gentiles, and that God performed miracles through them as they preached the gospel to them. Their preaching did not speak of requirements of circumcision or anything else that can be found in the old law, and yet God showed his clear approval through the miracles which they performed.

In verses 13-21, we see the use of direct commands (i.e. “book, chapter, and verse”) in scripture where God plainly approved the acceptance of the Gentiles. It is unusual for most people to reject the idea that direct commands are not important in establishing what has been authorized by God. It seems like the approved examples and necessary inference is where the struggle is. But have we ever taken a look at the laws of the land? Have we read through some of them? It is easy today to get our hands on that information through the internet. The laws of the land are listed and numbered, precept by precept. A reading of the Bible will show that God did not provide us with a book of just direct laws, one after the other, but rather He chose to establish his authority through other means as well, giving us examples to follow, and recording information and accounts that would lead us to one and the same conclusion by absolute necessity. These are the things that we saw in Acts 15, and the rest of the bible will consistently show the same things.

Article by Tanner Campbell