Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 21, 1957

Consistency And The Teaching Of Example

Robert H. Farish, Lexington, Kentucky

Some are objecting to our "view" of the teaching of example on the ground that it is inconsistent. Their contention is that to be consistent we must regard all the examples of action as exclusively binding or all as incidental; that to regard some as binding and others as incidental is inconsistent. This reminds me of the man who went to see his doctor about a pain in his left leg. The doctor told him that it was just old age, to which the man replied, "that can't be doctor, the other leg is just as old as this one and it doesn't hurt." If you had been that doctor, how in the world would you have gone about showing that man that his demands of consistency were unreasonable? Frankly I had rather be guilty of the doctor's sort of inconsistency than that patient's unreasonableness.

But how shall we judge the various possible views of Bible examples? Shall we require that the views which we adopt measure up to an arbitrary consistency? Or shall we be content to allow the Bible itself to set the standard for us? An attempt will be made to help those who are sincerely trying to learn what view God approves. There is little if any external help available for those who entertain prepossessions. Each individual is responsible for his own attitude.

Perhaps the shortest route and the most convincing way to deal with the matter is to allow the apostles by their actions to show us what "view" they held. The way that they followed the example of Christ reflects the apostle's "view." Paul claims that he was an imitator of Christ. (I Cor. 11:1.) The word which is translated "imitator" means "to mimic, to imitate." An imitator is "an actor, mimic." How did Paul re-enact the sufferings of Christ? He claimed to "fill up on my part that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ." (Col. 1:24; II Cor. 1:5-8.) Was it by enduring the same, literal, specific sufferings which Christ endured? The answer to this is learned by studying the list of ways in which the apostle suffered. (I Cor. 4:9-13; II Cor. 4:8-11; II Cor. 6:4-10; II Cor. 11:23-27.) This makes it clear that following the example of Christ did not require that each literal step of suffering endured by him be followed, i.e., crown of thorns, spit upon, spear thrust into side, nailed to a cross. But we turn to other actions of Christ and find that the apostles literally re-enacted his example. When Christ was baptized he "went up straightway from the water." (Matt. 3:16; Mark 1:10.) The specific actions involved in Christ's baptism are involved in the apostle's baptism, "And he arose and was baptized" (Acts 9:18), "arise and be baptized." (Acts 22:16.) These actions in both cases indicate a burial and exclude sprinkling and pouring. Note also the apostle's description of his and the Roman Christians' baptism, as a burial. (Rom. 6:4.) Thus in the case of baptism we have a specific re-enactment, while in the case of suffering we have a general re-enactment. The "view" of the apostles as reflected in their actions is that some of the teaching of example is specific while other teaching is generic. If the apostles' view were judged by the arbitrary rule of consistency contended for by some, the apostles would be found guilty of inconsistency.

The view that all examples are to be considered as incidental can only be entertained by rejecting the claimsmade by the scriptures for themselves. (I Cor. 4:16, 17; I Cor. 11:1; Eph. 5:1; I Thess. 1:6; II Thess. 3:7,9; Hob. 13:7; III John 11.) It also rejects the evidence of the use the scriptures make of examples. The four gospels are devoted to the account of what Jesus did and taught. The contents of the book of Acts fully justifies the name attached to it, and the epistles abound in accounts of actions. How can we account for the prominent place given to examples in the sacred narrative? If example is not a way whereby the scriptures teach, upon what basis can the large place they occupy in the narrative be justified? No casual or frivolous design will suffice. The design assigned to them must conform to the serious primary design of the scripture, i.e., to furnish completely unto every good work.

When it is fully settled in one's mind that the scriptures do teach by example, that one is then in position to attack with decision the problem of distinguishing between the incidental actions and the essential actions. No arbitrary rule of consistency which is contradictory to this conviction will be considered; for this conviction is based on competent and satisfactory scriptural evidence. The main yard stick by which these examples of action will be measured is the revealed characteristic of the gospel. The gospel is harmonious and universal; it is for every race in every place and for every period of time from Pentecost till time shall be no more. The claims which serve as evidence of unity or harmony are found in such passages as: I Corinthians 1:10; Galatians 1:6-9; Ephesians 4:5; Hebrews 13:8; Jude 3; etc. The claims which prove universality are found in: Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-20; John 4:19-24; Acts 1:8; Acts 10:34, 35; Rom. 2:11; Eph. 3:21; etc. Any example which imposes restrictions which do not conform to the characteristics of the gospel are to be judged as incidental. This solves the problem of the local and period, modes of travel, architecture, communication, etc., peculiar to any time, place or race.