How is Bible authority established? It seems clear from the Scriptures that God intends for us to derive our authority for our actions and beliefs in four ways. These are direct command, direct statement, approved apostolic example, and necessary inference. (Sometimes direct command and direct statement are combined.) The forms of authority can be further classified more broadly in two ways: direct (the command or statement) and indirect (approved apostolic example and necessary inference). We will now consider the form of authority known as direct command.
The basic definition of the word command means “to give directions in an authoritative manner, to give orders.” A command can be either positive or negative. It may be “Do this,” or it may be “Don’t do that.” The Ten Commandments found in Exodus 20 illustrate this principle. Of the ten commandments, eight are negative (Thou shalt not . . . ) and two are positive (Thou shalt . . . ).
It should also be understood that all commandments found in the Scriptures are not intended to be applicable today. Consider a few Old Testament examples which are not intended for us today. Adam and Eve (Gen. 2:16-17) were prohibited from eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. This command was intended only for them, was given specifically to them; it was not given to anyone else. While there are lessons to be learned from this commandment, it is not applicable to us in its details. Another example involves God commanding Noah to build an ark out of gopher wood (Gen. 6:14). Again, it is clear that this instruction was given only to Noah and his family. There are also principles for us to learn from this such as each person being under an obligation to obey God. However, the specific details of this command do not apply to us today. A person who goes out and builds an ark out of gopher wood would not be performing an act of obedience before God today. In Genesis 22:1-2, Abraham was commanded to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice. This commandment was given only to Abraham. There is no indication that this commandment was even given to any other person who lived in the same dispensation as Abraham did. It certainly would not apply to us today.
There are also direct commands in the New Testament which would not apply to us today. In I Corinthians 14:1, we are told, “Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophecy” (NASB). In general, the early Christians were to desire spiritual gifts, but more specifically, they were to desire to be able to prophesy. Later, Paul wrote in I Corinthians 14:39, “Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues” (NASB). Are Christians to desire the spiritual gift of “prophecy” today? Is this a commandment for us today? Clearly not, as spiritual gifts were intended for a limited time when there was not a complete revelation, and they were to confirm God’s Word. (Heb. 2:1-4, I Cor. 13, Acts 8:1-25, Jas. 1:25). Today, we have the complete revelation and God’s Word has already been confirmed.
When we are trying to determine whether a command or specific statement applies to us today, we must consider three areas. First, we look at the immediate context (the material immediately before and after the specific statement or command). Then we look at the remote context (all that is relevant to the specific statement or command that is found in the rest of the Bible, other than the specific statement and the immediate context). Finally, taking the total context (the specific statement itself, the immediate context, and the remote context), we can determine the proper application of a specific statement or command.
Consider now some examples of commandments which are applicable for us today. In Mark 16:15, Jesus said to the apostles, “. . .Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” Someone might say that this is stated to the apostles and is not for us. We know, however, from the remote context (Mt. 28:18-20) that the commandment to “go and teach” is a part of what the apostles had been taught, and they were told to teach “all things” that they had been commanded. The command to “go and teach” is certainly for people today, as well. Acts 2:38 contains another direct command. This verse gives two commands (repentance and baptism) as necessary for the “remission of sins.” Further, wives are commanded to submit to their own husbands “as unto the Lord” (Eph. 5:23), and husbands are commanded to love their wives (Eph. 5: 25). We are also commanded to “lie not” to one another (Col. 3:9), to not steal (Eph. 4: 28), to pray without ceasing (I Thess. 5: 17), to give as we have been prospered on the first day of the week (I Cor. 16: 1-2), to repent (Acts 17: 30), to partake of the Lord’s Supper (I Cor. 11: 23-24), and to assemble with the saints (Heb. 10: 25). There are many other examples of commands found in God’s Word. It is clear that these commandments pertain to the dispensation that we live under today; they are a part of the “perfect law of liberty” (James 1:25), the law of Christ, which is for us.
The direct command should be the easiest of the forms of authority to understand. Yet, some will teach the opposite of what the direct command states (note Acts 2: 38). Many years ago, Satan sought to “get around” God’s commandment to Adam and Eve about not eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil by telling them they would not die if they violated God’s command (as God said they would). Many today insult God by doing the opposite of what He commands, and by encouraging others to do the same. We need to adhere to the commands of God’s Word.