Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
November 2, 1961
NUMBER 26, PAGE 5,13a

The Authority Of Apostolic Precedents

L. A. Mott, Jr., Las Vegas, Nevada

Since the beginning of the present controversy among the churches of Christ, much preaching, writing, and discussion has been brought forth on the subject of the examples of the apostles. It is not difficult to determine what has occasioned this issue. I believe some brethren who occupy the liberal position outwardly are actually conservative in their views concerning the authority of God's word and are just mistaken. But then, clearly, some are decidedly liberal in their basic outlook. These have very little respect for the Scriptures as an authoritative pattern. Realizing that present practices are not in harmony with apostolic precedent, they have been driven, sometimes all too willingly, to call in question the authority of apostolic action. The response of conservative brethren to this position supplied the remaining ingredient necessary for a debate on this issue, and much discussion, as above stated has ensued.

The Pattern Idea

The "pattern" concept was most pointedly indicated in God's instructions to Moses when, as he ordered the construction of a tabernacle, he said, "According to all that I show thee, the pattern of the tabernacle, and the pattern of all the furniture thereof, even so shall ye make it." (Ex. 25:9) Further, in reference to various specific vessels of the tabernacle, Jehovah said, "And see that thou make them after their pattern, which hath been showed thee in the mount." (v. 40) Compare also 26:30 and 27:8. Moses was given a pattern for the tabernacle with all of its vessels of ministry, and ordered to follow the pattern. He was not at liberty to modify it in any detail but was to follow it exactly.

In The New Testament

Reference is made to this occasion at least twice in the New Testament. In Stephen's sermon in Acts 7 he said, "Our fathers had the tabernacle of the testimony in the wilderness, even as he appointed who spake unto Moses, that he should make it according to the figure he had seen." (v. 44) Then in Hebrews 8:5 we have ".... even as Moses is warned of God when he is about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern that was showed thee in the mount."


"Figure" in the first instance and "pattern" in the second are each translated from the Greek noun typos which, according to Joseph Henry Thayer, is from tupto, to strike, smite, beat, and means the mark of a stroke or blow; print; then, a figure formed by a blow or impression; hence universally, a figure, image; and thus comes to have the significance of an example; the pattern in conformity to which a thing must be made; an example to be imitated.

The Apostles

But the really interesting and pertinent application of this concept is yet to come. It is reached when we read Paul's statement in Phil. 3:17, "Brethren, be ye imitators together of me, and mark them that so walk even as ye have us for an ensample." "Ensample" is also from the word tupos. The very significant and cogent point I want us to see is that the apostles are here set forth as a "pattern" which is to be followed. Just as Moses had a pattern which was to be followed in the building of the tabernacle, so we have the same sort of pattern to be followed by us in religious service, namely, apostolic precedent. The point is confirmed by Phil.,4:9 where the Philippians are commanded to do not only what they heard in Paul but also What they saw in him. Finally, the point is put completely beyond the realm of what is still in question when Paul writes, "I beseech you therefore, be ye imitators of me. For this cause have I sent unto you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, who shall put you in remembrance of my ways which are in Christ, even as I teach everywhere in every church. (1 Cor. 4:16-17, cf. 11:1)

A Case In Point

Most of what has been said previously is not new to most of us. But though it may be only because of my own ignorance I have yet to see brought into the discussion of this question what seems to me to be one of the most significant and forceful passages pertinent to the subject, Gal. 2:1-3. In the first verse Paul writes five words, The tremendous significance of which appears in what follows: "Then after the space of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus also with me."

The trip to Jerusalem mentioned here and through the first ten verses of this chapter is the same as the one Luke records in Acts 15. The issue discussed in Acts 15 is the same one that is discussed in the book of Galatians. Judaizers had crept in and were contending that faith in Christ was not sufficient for salvation; one must also be circumcised and keep the law of Moses in order to be saved. Galatians was written to refute this doctrine. The conference of Acts 15 met in order to render an apostolic decision against this error.

At the conference, the Judaizers contended, "Except ye be circumcised after the custom of Moses, ye cannot be saved," (Acts 15:1) and, "It is needful to circumcise them, and to charge them to keep the law of Moses." (v. 5) Paul and the "pillars" of the church stood stedfast against this position and insisted upon freedom from the law.

To this conference Paul had taken with him Titus, an uncircumcised Gentile, who becomes the case in point. Practically the whole argument seems to revolve around this individual. Whatever is done with him will be the precedent which must be followed in all other cases. The Judaizers insisted that he must be circumcised; Paul insisted that the opposite was true. What was the outcome? Paul writes, "But not even Titus who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised." (Gal. 2:3) This settles the question once and for all as to whether Gentiles must be circumcised. Woe be unto the man who teaches or acts contrary to this apostolic action! The point I want to call attention to is that the example of the apostles in this matter is an authoritative pattern which must be followed by the church in all ages.

Therefore, let no one who professes to believe the Bible call in question whether apostolic examples are authoritative and binding. What the apostles did with the approval of the Holy Spirit is what we can do with the approval of the Holy Spirit. We cannot do otherwise and be approved.