Bible Authority--

The Commands of God

By David Phillips

As discussed in the previous lesson, God reveals His will using three basic methods of communication: Commands, Examples, and Necessary Inferences. As we continue the theme of authority we will explore each of these three methods and how to arrive at an understanding God’s will from them. 

First we must look at the direct statements or commands. This is the most basic and easily understood method of communication. God directly and specifically says “______” is true or not true. Or He specifically says we must do “______” and must not do “______”. There is no putting the pieces together to draw conclusions. God is specific. In fact, before we can correctly apply the examples of the Bible or draw sound conclusions, we must properly understand God’s commands.


Context is essential. It reveals WHO a command is for, WHY it is important, and HOW it is to be obeyed. God commanded Noah to build an ark (Gen. 6:14). Does that mean we all should be building arks today? No, in the context that was for Noah prior to the flood. Also, God commanded the Israelites to keep the Ten Commandments and the rest of the Law of Moses. Does that mean we are subject to that law today? No, for it is written in the Psalms, “He declares His word to Jacob, His statutes and His judgments to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any nation; And as for His judgments, they have not known them” (Psalm 147:19-20). Also, since Jesus has died and risen from the death, we are now subject to His law and not the Law of Moses. Therefore, Paul said that Jesus “wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col. 2:14).

Context also reveals whether a direct statement is a truth from God or simply a statement made by someone else. Some false statements made by Satan and ignorant men are recorded in the Bible, but that does not make them true. A study of Job requires a firm grasp of this principle, for much of the book records statements made Job and his friends which God calls, “words without knowledge” (Job 38:2).

Specifics and Generics

Also essential for interpreting commands are the principles of specific authority and generic authority.  Specific authority is what God specifically commands us to do. Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them…” (Matt. 28:19). Jesus is specific: Go…disciple…baptizing.

Generic authority is what we are allowed to do, though not specified by God. How must we “go” in order to “disciple” the nations? Jesus did not specify, therefore we are allowed to walk, run (Acts 8:30), ride a chariot (vs. 38), sail in a ship (Acts 27:2ff.), or use any other viable means of transportation.

Point of Reminder: Generic authority can never violate the commands of God.

We are not allowed to do anything that exceeds the specific commands. For example, Jesus identified fruit of the vine and unleavened bread as the elements of the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:19, 20). Paul also specifies these two elements in 1 Cor. 11:23-25. Therefore, when we observe the Lord’s Supper today, we are limited to these two elements. We cannot go beyond and use milk and cookies or chips and soda. That would violate God’s specific command.

Consider this illustration: A mother sent her son to the grocer with a $10 bill. She told him to “Go now. Buy bread, milk, and oil, then come right back and bring me the change.” Her instructions included both specific and generic authority. She specified the objects to be purchased: bread, milk, and oil. Since she specified those three things and told the boy to bring her the change, the boy does not have authority to buy a candy bar or ice cream with the change. Neither does he have authority to buy orange juice instead of milk, or cookies instead of bread. The mother’s commands were specific. However, she did not specify how the boy was to travel to the store. Therefore, he was free to walk, run, or ride his bike.

Likewise, the Bible is given to us in such a way that we must come to understand the generics and specifics of God’s commands in order to do His will.



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