Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 20, 1956
NUMBER 20, PAGE 6-9a

How To Establish Scriptural Authority

Marshall E. Patton, Birmingham, Alabama

Divine authority is the real issue at the base of all religious differences. In our dealings with modern religious cults we must prove that divine authority is established by the scriptures and by the scriptures only. Where there is no scripture there can be no divine authority. Our title assumes unanimity among us on that point. Let us hope that it does not assume too much.

A knowledge of how to establish divine authority; a recognition of the different kinds of divine authority; a clear conception of the nature of each, and a faithful application of such knowledge will necessarily result in our speaking the' same thing with no divisions among us, but all being perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. (1 Cor. 1:10.)

Are there differences among us today? Then someone is at fault in one or more of the above mentioned matters. These faults must be found and recognized, otherwise we will remain hopelessly divided. THE NEED OF THE HOUR IS AN OBJECTIVE STUDY OF THESE MATTERS! When unanimity is attained here, honest brethren will make faithful application to current issues. This will resolve our differences; unity will prevail, and together we tan march on to victory beneath the banner of the crass.

Three Ways

Until of late it has been axiomatic with us that scriptural authority is established in one or more of three ways; expressed statement, necessary inference, and approved example. Recently, however, some have added a fourth way, namely, by "principle Eternal." Then there are some who have not named other ways, but who do affirm that they exist. Those who so affirm should both name and prove these ways, otherwise faithful brethren will continue to deny them. I deny that there is a fourth way of establishing divine authority — by "principle eternal" or otherwise. Any principle to be divine must first be revealed of God. Questions: WHEN, WHERE, and HOW can any principle be revealed unto us save in apostolic days (when), in the scriptures (where), by way of either expressed statement, necessary inference, or approved example (how)? There is no other TIME, PLACE, or WAY for such revelation! If so, let those who so affirm name and prove it. Until this is done, I contend that scriptural authority is established only by one or more of these three ways.

The Following Illustrates The Three Ways By Which Scriptural Authority Is Established:

(1) EXPRESSED STATEMENT — ...this do in remembrance of me." (Luke 22:19.) This expressed statement established scriptural authority for observing the Lord's Supper.

(2) NECESSARY INFERENCE — "And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water:" (Matt. 3:16.) Although the Bible does not say that Jesus went down into the water when he was baptized, it does TEACH by necessary inference that he did just that. He could not have come "up" unless he had been down, and he could not have come "out" unless he had been in. By necessary inference the Bible teaches that the church was established on the first Pentecost after the resurrection of Christ. (Mark 9:1; Acts 1:8; 2:4.) Other examples might be given. Moreover, let it be observed that in order to establish scriptural authority the inference must be NECESSARY. Herein is the mistake made by those who practice infant baptism. In the case of Lydia's household they reason that she MIGHT have been married; PROBABLY had children; if so, it is POSSIBLE that one of them was an infant, and although she was away from home, in all PROBABILITY she had her infant with her. Hence, they conclude that an infant was in her household, and, therefore, infant baptism. Their inference is based upon "might," "probably," "possibly," "probability, etc., all of which amounts to only a reasonable inference based upon assumption. Scriptural authority is NOT established by reasonable inferences — they must be necessary!

(3) APPROVED EXAMPLE — "And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread . . . ." (Acts 20:7.) This approved example establishes scriptural authority for observing the Lord's Supper upon the first day of the week. By approved example I mean Holy Spirit approved action on the part of Christians in the day of the apostles. In this connection the following references should be considered: Hebrews 18:7; John 16:13; Ephesians 3:5; 1 Corinthians 10:1-12; Philippians 4:9; 1 Peter 2:21. Unfortunately, some have begun to question whether or not divine authority is established by approved example. For a more extensive treatment of this particular point the reader is referred to another article in this issue under the heading "When Is A New Testament Example Exclusive?" It will suffice here to observe that "holy apostles and prophets" were "guided" by the Holy Spirit "into all truth." The Holy Spirit guided Luke in revealing Acts 20:7. Unless the practice of Acts 20:7 can be shown to conflict with other plainly revealed truths, we must conclude it to be "truth" into which the Holy Spirit "guided" Luke — therefore, an approved example. Thus we can observe it on this day with ASSURANCE of divine approval. No man knows that the Holy Spirit approves any other day for its observance. To observe it on some other day is to do so without divine authority. This is sinful!

Two Kinds

Most students of the Bible know that there are two kinds of divine authority — general and specific. Yet, a failure to distinguish between the two and to understand clearly the NATURE of each accounts for much of the controversy over current issues. Therefore, it will make for simplicity if we take the time to learn how to distinguish between the two and learn clearly the nature of each.

The Nature Of Each

The word "general" is defined by Webster: "Pertaining to, affecting, or applicable to, each and all of a class, kind, or order; as, a general law." Negatively, "Not limited to a precise import or application; not specific." The word "specific" is defined by Webster: "Precisely formulated or restricted; specifying; explicit; as, a specific statement."

From these definitions it is obvious that the differences between the general and the specific is simply this: The general INCLUDES each and all of the class, kind, or order under consideration. THOUGH NOT PRECISELY STATED NOR REVEALED. On the other hand the specific EXCLUDES everything save that which is precisely stated or revealed. The following chart illustrates this difference:

authority. Hence, oak could be either general or specific, depending upon the class under consideration.

God commanded Noah to build the ark out of Gopher Wood. Hence, in relation to "Wood" as a class "Gopher

Chart Goes Here Scriptural Authority_____________ Established By

Expressed Statement - Necessary Inference - Approved Example

Includes Excludes

"Class, kind, or order"

I Cor. 6:12

Choice "Class, kind, or order" 2 Jno. 9

.Expediencies No Choice


A. 'Sing" Memorize

Eph. 5:19 Song Books

C. Whole Assembly G. Music "Teach"

Individuals "Sing"

Matt. 28:20 Class system Eph. 5:19

Private homes D. "Assemble" Seashore

Heb. 10:25 Public hall Meting house a

E. Wood (Ark): "Gopher" Gen. 6:14


B. "Go"

Matt. 28:19


Walk Ride Sail Fly Time (Lord's SP.): "First day"


Acts 20:7

aY aday



H. Cooperation:

Church with *abundance* sent to church An in "want" that there con might be "equality" sp 2 Cor. 8:13,14

Ry Society Attest Tion Ing Church

Remember, according to Webster, general authority includes ALL of the "class, kind, or order under consideration, though not precisely stated nor revealed." This is illustrated under point "A" on the chart. Here "Sing" is considered as a class all to itself — exclusive of other kinds of music. As such it includes many things not precisely stated nor revealed: e.g., singing from memory or from song books; singing either soprano, alto, tenor, or base.

When "Music" is the class under consideration, "Sing" is specific, and is so classified on the chart under "G." As such it excludes all other kinds of music. Thus, "Sing" may be either general or specific, depending upon the class under consideration. "Sing" can never be both general and specific in relation to the same class.

To further illustrate this point let us suppose that God had commanded Noah to build the ark out of oak. Oak would then be specific and would exclude all other kinds of wood. However, oak can not be considered as a class all to itself — exclusive of other kinds of wood. As such it would include Red Oak, White Oak, and all other kinds of oak. These would be included under general Wood" is specific, and is so classified under "E" on the chart. However, God did not tell Noah where to get the wood. Yet it is obvious that he would have to get it from some place. Hence, Gopher Wood in relation to "Place" would classify under general authority. In one instance "Wood" is the class under consideration; in the other, "Place" is the class under consideration, In relation to "Wood," it is specific. In relation to "Place," it is general. We must be careful to identify clearly the particular class under consideration, otherwise confusion will result.

A failure to recognize the INCLUSIVE nature of the general has led some to affirm that we do many things with God's approval for which we have no expressed statement, necessary inference, nor approved example. I deny it! Question: Can expressed statements, necessary inferences, and approved examples be generic? If so, then they INCLUDE "each and all of the class" kind, or order under consideration, though not precisely stated nor revealed." In the realm of the general it suffices only to authorize the class. All that is within the class, though not precisely stated nor revealed is INCLUDED! Upon this basis we claim divine authority for our meeting houses, pews, light fixtures, and other facilities that expedite our assembling together for worship. (See "D" on chart.) Because of this inclusive nature of general authority I contend that expressed statements, necessary inferences, and approved examples, either general or specific, "COMPLETELY furnish us unto EVERY good work." To contend otherwise is to open wide the flood gate of digression. The pattern will no longer be determined by divine authority, but by human judgment. This would make unity impossible. Surely we are not prepared for such a conclusion or its consequences.

Furthermore, a failure to recognize the INCLUSIVE nature of general authority makes "antis" and "hobbyists." They try to make the general exclusive when in reality it is inclusive. This is the mistake of the anti-Bible class brethren. They try to make the general command "teach" exclude the class system. Why? Because it is not specifically authorized. They overlook the INCLUSIVE nature of general authority. A recognition of this on their part would solve this problem. (See "C" on chart.)

On the other hand a failure to recognize the EXCLUSIVE nature of the specific accounts for digression. The idea of exclusion inheres in the very meaning of the word "specific." Yet, our Digressive brethren try to make the specific inclusive when in reality it is exclusive. They would make the specific "sing" include instrumental music. They overlook the EXCLUSIVE nature of specific authority. A recognition of this on their part would solve this problem. (See "G" on chart.) Brethren, here is the truth between the two extremes of digression and hobbyism! Remember, however, that opposing that for which there is NEITHER general nor specific authority does not make one a hobbyist or an anti.

Areas Of Silence

There can be no authority in areas of silence. By "areas of silence" I mean that for which we have neither general nor specific authority. There must be scriptural authority, either generic or specific, for all that we do. Col. 3:7.) A failure to recognize this will lead to the position argued by W. K. Pendleton who led in the digression of nearly a century ago. The motto of the restoration movement, "Speak where the scriptures speak and be silent where they are silent," was based upon 1 Peter 4:11: "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God." In an effort to justify the missionary society, Pendleton interpreted this to mean: "If we want to practice a human opinion, this is our liberty; but if someone wants to force one upon us, we have a right to refuse." In other words, he argued that in areas of silence we must allow liberty to practice human opinion so long as the right to refuse is granted to one holding a contrary opinion. The Digressives placed this interpretation upon the motto "In matters of faith unity; in matters of opinion, liberty" and made their plea for liberty to practice in areas of silence. This concept accounts for every innovation characteristic of the Christian Church. This interpretation broke the dam and the flood of human opinion swept a large element into digression. Hence, to plead for liberty to teach or practice in areas of silence is to make a Digressive plea. LET NO ONE CALL EXPEDIENCIES IN THE REALM OF GENERAL AUTHORITY AN AREA OF SILENCE. We have shown divine authority for these in the preceding section of this article. I Peter 4:11, "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God," is both inclusive and exclusive. It includes all that is in the oracles of God and it excludes all that is not in the oracles of God. This rules out everything in realms of silence!

In the letter written by the apostles and elders of Jerusalem to the Gentile churches concerning whether or not they had sent out men to teach "ye must be circumcised and keep the law," they said, "We gave no such commandment." (Acts 15:24.) Such teachers were without authority, not because they had been commanded not to do it, but because they had no command to do it. By so teaching they were operating in an area of silence. There is no authority in this realm! There must be either general or specific authority for all that we do!

When Nadab and Abihu offered "strange fire" upon the altar (Lev. 10:1) they acted in an area of silence. They offered fire according to their own will, and thereby assumed a prerogative that belonged unto God. Such action has always reflected upon the infinite wisdom, knowledge, and power of the Almighty. "Will worship" has always been offensive to God. (Col. 2:23.) All should remember that "to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams." (1 Sam. 15:22.) Nadab and Abihu were destroyed not for doing what was specifically forbidden, but for doing that which was not authorized. This is the meaning of the statement "which he commanded them not." The fact that they were without authority equaled in force a plain command specifically forbidding it. We cannot act in areas of silence! Liberty in acting is found only in the realm of general authority.

General Or Specific

This raises the question: How do we determine whether it is generic or specific? The answer is simple: When CHOICE is divinely authorized it is general: If no CHOICE is authorized, then it is specific. The meaning of the two words demands this conclusion.

Choice is divinely authorized, first, when something is necessary to execute the divine order, but that something is not revealed. Whatever is used must be a matter of choice, and is, therefore, a matter of expediency. (See "A" on chart.) This accords with the meaning of the word "general": "Including each and all of the class, kind, or order under consideration, though not precisely stated or revealed." Notice, however, that the expediency must be WITHIN the class, kind, or order divinely authorized. This also accords with 1 Corinthians 6:12. EXPEDIENCIES MUST FIRST BE LAWFUL!

Choice is authorized, secondly, when two or more things ARE revealed and one may be chosen to the EXCLUSION of others. ('See "B" on chart.) Such are expediencies. For where choice is expediencies are. And where expediencies are the general is. Thus we determine the general.

Unless choice is authorized, we dare not go beyond that which is revealed. (2 John 9.) There is no choice in the realm of the specific. The specific excludes everything save that which is specified. (See "E" on chart.) For this reason we observe the Lord's Supper on the first day of the week to the exclusion of all other days. This day is authorized by a specific approved example, and is, therefore, exclusive. (See "F" on chart.) For the same reason we oppose the use of instrumental music in worship.

"Sing" is specific, and, therefore, is exclusive. (See "G" on chart.)


The differences among us over the current issue of "Congregational Cooperation" would be resolved immediately, if those promoting the "sponsoring church" type of cooperation would recognize the EXCLUSIVE nature of the SPECIFIC authority that authorizes one church to send money to another church. Like the time for observing the Lord's Supper there is neither expressed statement nor necessary inference authorizing such. Both are dependent upon approved example for authority.

The New Testament examples that authorize such cooperation are SPECIFIC! (2 Cor. 8,9; 1 Cor. 16:1-4; Rom. 15:25, 26; Acts 11:27-10.) It was always a church with "abundance" sending to a church in "want" that "equality" might be established. (2 Cor. 8:13,14.) The word "abundance" is a relative term and does not necessarily mean a wealthy church. Macedonia gave out of "deep poverty." (2 Cor. 8:2.) Yet, they had "power" to give. (2 Cor. 8:3.) Jerusalem did not. Hence, in relation to Jerusalem, Macedonia had an "abundance." The word "want" means inability to perform a work peculiar to the receiving church. "Equality" simply means freedom from such "want." The context demands these conclusions. (See "H" on chart.)

If the authority for congregational cooperation is general, then it is sinful to try to bind one type to the exclusion of others. However, if the authority for such cooperation is specific, then it is sinful to try to make it include any type save that which is specified.