Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 22, 1955
NUMBER 20, PAGE 10-11a

The Use Of 'Examples' In Bible Teaching

Luther W. Martin, St. James, Mo.

In the study of almost any subject, the student is instructed through the use of three methods of reasoning. (1) Direct command or instruction. (2) By a positive or negative example. And; (3) By either a necessary or reasonable inference.

In this treatise, we wish to consider the use of EXAMPLES in the teaching of the Scripture. Some persons have assumed that the Christian is to be instructed only through the use of positive (approved) examples. However, upon giving the Bible some study concerning this matter, we are sure that any honest investigator will learn that a child of God is taught through the use of both positive and negative (disapproved) examples.

Christ's Positive Definition.

"For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you." (John 13:15.) Herein, Christ defines the positive example as "you should do'. . . . "as I have done".

Paul wrote to the Philippian church . . . "Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample." (Phil. 3:17.) Thus, serving to reiterate the use, value and importance of following APPROVED examples as established by the inspired apostles.

Paul also wrote to the Thessalonian church, commending them for having become followers of himself and of the Lord.. . "So that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia." (I Thess. 1:7.) In his second letter to them, Paul stated: "Neither did we eat any man's bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you: Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us." (II Thess. 3:8-9.)

Paul specifically commanded Timothy . ." Be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity." (I Tim. 4:12.)

James admonished . . . "Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience." (Jas. 5:10.)

Peter wrote . . . ". . . Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps." (I Pet. 2:21.) This in itself serves as an excellent definition of an 'example'.

Again, writing for the benefit of elders over the flock of God, Peter said; "Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock." (I Pet. 5:3.)

All of the above-given references deal with APPROVED examples, wherein the `sample' of conduct was acceptable in God's sight, and was or is to be followed by His children.

Negative Or Disapproved Examples.

Just as lessons are taught by urging the learner to copy the good example of the Master, similarly, lessons are taught in which the faults and failings of those gone before, are the 'types' to be avoided. These are known as'negative' examples, as contrasted with 'approved examples.

In Paul's First letter to Corinth, he reminded the Corinthians how "our fathers were baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea." Paul then relates how they were overthrown in the wilderness, and, for the benefit of the Corinthians, and as many as may read the 10th Chapter today, he stated: "Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted." (I Cor. 10:6.) In the eleventh verse, Paul continued . . . "Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come." Examples? Certainly! Not to be followed, but to be avoided!

In the same way, Paul uses the first part of this same letter, in which he described the factions and divisions in the church at Corinth, as an EXAMPLE to be avoided in the church today. Some of the Corinthians were calling themselves after their preferred preacher . . . Paul, Cephas, Apollos or of Christ. They were pointedly asked by Paul if Christ was divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? By calling attention to this example . . . a negative or disapproved example, Paul taught the lesson of the importance of wearing Christ's name . . . being baptized in the name of Christ, and the fact that Christ is NOT divided.

In the 4th Chapter of Hebrews, the writer tells us . . . "For unto us was the gospel preached as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it .. . Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief . . . Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief." (Heb. 4:1-11.) Obviously, this EXAMPLE is related as a warning to its readers . . . NOT an example to be followed, but an example to be avoided.

Peter and Jude both wrote about the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah serving as examples to be avoided. "And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly; . . ." (II Pet. 2:6) "Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire." (Jude 7.) Here we have two inspired writers ... although one is sufficient . . . referring to the same act of retribution, the destruction of the wicked cities and citizenry, and both writers terming it as an EXAMPLE to those who afterward lived ungodly lives.


The unabridged dictionary provides several definitions for the word 'example'. In the approved sense, it states: " A pattern, in morals or manners, worthy of imitation; a copy or model; one who or that which is proposed or is proper to be imitated." In the negative or disapproved sense, it states: "An instance of something to be avoided; a warning; as, they made an example of the thief."

In dealing with the subject of learning or instruction, this definition is given:

"An instance serving for illustration of a rule or precept; a peculiar case or proposition illustrating a general rule, position or truth; as, the principles of trigonometry and the rules of grammar are illustrated by examples."

Thus, 'general rules' or 'eternal principles' may be established by an EXAMPLE, if the direct command or necessary inference is lacking.