The Three Methods of Argument to Establish

Divine Authority and the Three Arguments in Acts 15(Part III)

D. E. Koltenbah
Muncie, Indiana


III. The Argument by Paul and Barnabas

1. The first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13 & 14): The Jewish Mission. The second speech made at the Jerusalem conference 7as a summary of the journey across Cyprus and the circuit through Asia Minor. Luke, with characteristic brevity, summarizes the speech in a single verse (15: 12), but because of his likewise characteristic clarity the main argument of the two apostles (14:14) is vivid. As before, it will prove useful to review briefly the circumstances of the events alluded to, and this for two reasons: it is a requisite to our study of chapter 15, and also it will exhibit some of the principles discussed above about necessary inferences.

Barnabas and Saul had been separated by the Holy Spirit for the work whereunto they had been called (13:2) and had been sent away with the Godspeed of the church (v. 3) on what is generally called Paul's first missionary journey. It is not generally realized by Bible students that this journey commenced as (as some might call it today) a Jewish mission but then rather abruptly took on the character of a Gentile mission upon the removal from Cyprus to the mainland. It was at the juncture of these two aspects of the journey that John Mark, who had accompanied Barnabas and Saul, defected and returned to Jerusalem (13:13). At about this time in Acts another significant event took place: Luke changes the apostle's name from "Saul" to "Paul," and the order "Barnabas and Saul" thereafter becomes (usually, not invariably) "Paul and Barnabas." The Latinization of the apostle's name and the inversion of the order of names at this point was in keeping with the changing scope of the mission.

The work on Cyprus was apparently almost entirely a Jewish work. At the first city they reached on the island, Salamis, Barnabas and Saul preached in the Jewish synagogue, and it is precisely at this point and in this connection, and not before, that mention is made that Mark had accompanied them as "their attendant" (13:5). Luke tells us, "when they had gone through the whole island" they encountered the Jewish false prophet Bar-Jesus (Elymas), and the implication of this quotation is that they toured the Jewish synagogues on the island. (See Sir William Ramsey, St. Paul the Traveller and Roman Citizen (Baker Book House, reprinted, 1951), pp. 70-73.)

Were there Jewish Christians on Cyprus prior to the arrival of the apostles? It is quite possible (see 11:19), but that is immaterial here. The point here is that apparently - at least in so far as Luke's record is concerned, and this is all we have to go by - the only preaching to Gentiles on Cyprus was at Paphos to the proconsul Sergius Paulus, and at that, it was by this ruler's own insistence (v. 7). The story of the opposition of Bar-Jesus and his punishment by the first supernatural act by Paul on this journey (so far as the record reveals) is particularly interesting to us here because it was in connection with the preaching to, and conversion of, a Gentile, viz. the proconsul himself (13:12). Thereupon the trio left for Perga on the mainland.

Reference was made in the first article to Luke's "almost painful brevity" in his history. Here is an instance of such: Mark's motives for departing from Perga for Jerusalem have not been recounted for us, much to the chagrin of the curious reader. (Undoubtedly just is the claim that such marvelous restraint is an implication of the divine inspiration of the historian.) Conjecture on this matter is not without some profit provided (1) it does not contradict scripture, and (2) it is recognized for what it is - mere conjecture. The deeds of the actors in history are a matter of record, but their motives are often hidden from us. We are tantalized to conjecture upon their motives, nevertheless, in order to discover the causal principles of history that lead backward from consequence to deed, and from deed to motive, from which we may draw implications concerning the correctness of our motives and the probability of the occurrence of certain deeds and consequences following therefrom. Conjecture from history can be plausible, but its conclusions can possess only a probability, not a certainty, of being truth. But revealed divine truth rests not on probability or plausibility, but on certainty, as our own historian has asserted (Lk. 1:4), hence conjecture can never be made the basis for an allegedly divine dogma!

Herein lies the danger in making inferences from Scripture: mere conjecture may be the legitimate batter of the historian's cake, but the bread of life served to mankind which sustains the soul is baked of absolute and certain revealed truth. If our conduct is to rest securely upon divine truth, then it cannot rest upon the plausible, the alleged, or even the probable, much less on the merely asserted or imagined. Inferences drawn from scripture are obligatory only when logically and linguistically necessary; likewise, only those are approved examples in inspired history which are explicitly described, not those passed over in the eternal silence of the historian. The silence of scripture can be construed to define only the unauthorized, for that which is authorized is that which is revealed. These who rest their modern innovations in dogma and deed upon the alleged authorization of the silence of Christ do but admit themselves to the company of King Herod, for whom silence was the tempt! (Lk. 23:9) These walk not with expression of the grandeur of divine conChrist but with Legion in the eternal, dread silence of the tombs (Lk. 8:27) and take the muted shades of darkness for their company and the blackened, silent underworld for their realm! There is darkness in this realm of silence, and there is anarchy there, too, for the reign of authority and law is abandoned. In the realm of light alone rings the certain signal of a "Thus saith the Lord," and here only is safety, life and peace; here alone is friendship with God.

2. The first journey, continued: the Gentile mission. Luke likewise did not write of the motives of Paul's and Barnabas' hasting through Pamphylia and delaying until their return any preaching here (14:24). It suffices to mention the importance of the great sermon in the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch (13:16-43). Of all Paul's sermons on the first journey this one at this particular place and time must have had special significance to have been selected by Luke for such extended record in a production whose hallmark, as we have before noted, was extreme brevity. This was Paul's keynote address at the very commencement of the first of his great missions to the Gentiles. But, why then, a discourse on the Messianic theme in Jewish history (13:16-41)? Because this was the very course in which God's great redemptive scheme had furrowed its way so deeply in the history of mankind up to the very gate of the Gentiles in Pisidian Antioch! The gospel to the Gentiles was not a sudden mutation, an aborted deformity in the history of religion. It was the consequence of a divine plan given historical realization in God's ancient selection and guidance of Israel, in the nation's promises and prophecies from God a plan consummated in the appearance of Messiah, His death and resurrection a plan executed in the proclamation of the universal gospel.

The salvation of the Gentiles was deeply and inextricably bound up with all of Israel's past and in the nation's Holy Scriptures. How different this from the superstitious concept of the pagans regarding the Divinity's intercourse with humanity - to them it was thing erratic, devoid of purpose, for when the gods came down their manifestation was novel, unannounced, to be viewed in polytheistic double vision. (Cf. the superstition of the pagans at Lystra, 14:11ff.) That this is the sum of Paul's address is evident from the results: the apostles were rejected by the Jews whose racial astigmatism and religious myopia prevented their seeing what some of the Antiochian Gentiles clearly saw - that "light of the Gentiles, that . . . shouldest be for salvation unto the uttermost part of the earth." (13:47) The words "lo, we turn to the Gentiles" (13:46), announced not merely a change in tactics after a local skirmish, but a grand strategy which was to guide Paul the warrior in a lifelong conquest. The course taken was to carry him far past the heated disputations in Antioch and Jerusalem, which we are studying in this present paper, ultimately to the chopping block on the Ostian Way.

The preaching in the next town, Iconium, was attended with great success (14:1), but the unbelieving Jews instigated a persecution and plotted to murder the two men of God, and they were compelled to flee to Lystra (14:1-7). It is important - to note in view of our later examination of Paul's and Barnabas' Jerusalem address, that with the single exception of the blinding of Elymas, which had occurred in connection with the preaching to the Gentile proconsul, the work in Iconium - the first site after the apostles had "turned unto the Gentiles" - was the first instance in which it is explicitly said that signs and wonders were done (14:3). Once again, persecution instigated by the Jews compelled the apostles' evacuation of the city, and they came to Lystra (14:2ff).

Note that at Lystra the work commenced, not in a Jewish synagogue, though this was nearly always Paul's custom, but with yet another miracle (14:8ff). As a result of the healing of the lame man, the men of God were superstitiously thought to be messengers of the gods, as mentioned above. Paul addressed the pagans upon a theme which was to find fuller expression, at least in so far as Luke's account is concerned, in the great speech in Athens (chap. 17). Once again, the work was, attended with significant success but was brought to a premature end by Jewish persecution climaxed by Paul's stoning (v. 19). Here the mention of disciples (14: 20) implies (shall we say, necessarily?) the success of the preaching in Lystra.

The work at Derbe was marked by great success, for they "made many disciples" (v. 21). A return tour through the cities previously visited afforded opportunity to edify the saints and "appoint elders in every church" (v. 23). After preaching in Perga and Pamphylia, a work apparently omitted on the inward circuit, they returned to the church in Antioch of Syria.

3. The report in Antioch (14:26ff) and the speech in Jerusalem (15:12). Perhaps I have wearied the patient reader unnecessarily in illustrating two facts about the first missionary journey, the two which the apostles emphasized to the ears of the Antioch church. The story of the first journey is so familiar to us that perhaps we unconsciously think the Antioch brethren knew all about it from their last round through a quarterly on the book of Acts! The apostles emphasized two items of virgin interest: (1) God's approval (please. note!) of them, without doubt the signs and wonders performed, although Luke does not mention that explicitly here, and (2) the new direction that the Gospel had taken (not new in the sense that the first Gentiles had been converted, but new in the sense of the magnitude of the opportunity that had been opened to the Gentiles and of the extent of the results). Read it: "They rehearsed (1) all things that God had done with them, and (2) that he had opened a door of faith unto the Gentiles" (14:27).

Now in the speech at Jerusalem the same two points were emphasized: (1) Barnabas and Paul rehearsed "what signs and wonders God wrought them," and (2) they characterized the mission as having been primarily a Gentile work, i.e., a work among the uncircumcised (15:12). Here is an argument by Paul and Barnabas themselves from an approved apostolic example, demonstrating that the preaching to and converting of Gentiles - which the Judaizers had traveled all the way from Jerusalem to Antioch to contradict  had had divine authority. The divine approval was manifested by the miracles at Paphos, Iconium and Lystra (as well as perhaps still others not recorded by Luke). The force of the argument is that the Apostles' approved action was obedient to the Divine will, and this fact  and this is an important observation with modern practical implications that we shall return later  was not contingent upon the Jerusalem churchs having been a party to the Lords instruction to the apostles in this regard. Nor was the expected acceptance by the Jerusalem congregation of the truth evinced by the above argument contingent upon that church's having received a direct statement or command to the effect that God desired the salvation of the uncircumcised.

4. Approved example: conclusion.

Is the application to the modern criticism of the mode of argument from approved apostolic example really necessary? Is it not evident that the inspired apostles themselves employed such a mode of proof to the brethren of their day? And is it not evident from the Jerusalem circumstance that truth is established by an approved apostolic example even in the absence of a direct statement of revelation to those to whom the argument is addressed? Certainly! Divine instructions to the apostles, revealing cardinal principles of doctrine or conduct, the audience to which we have not been party, are nevertheless manifested to us through the approved example of the apostles subsequent to those heavenly instructions! The divine will that the Gentiles receive the word of life was manifested to the Jerusalem church through the supernaturally approved actions of the apostles (cf. Heb. 2:4), even though the Jerusalem church had been no party to the reception of the Spirit's guidance of the apostles unto the heathen.

Let no man blandly counter that the Jerusalem brethren could come to a correct judgment in the controversy because that, in addition to Paul's and Barnabas' speech, there were other sources - direct precepts - revealing God's purpose for the Gentiles. This misses the point altogether, for thus one avers the argument of the two "missionaries" was not independent arid logically self-contained. If so, then it was at best superfluous, and at its worst is emasculated of validity. If the argument was not inherently self-contained, complete and self-consistent, leading validly to an independent conclusion, then it was no argument at all, and one is at a loss to explain its place in the context of the great dispute with the circumcisers! Each of the three arguments of Acts 15 was logically independent of the others, and herein lies one of the reasons for the complete devastation of the opposition. Not one, but "three different, independent arguments by men, of widely separate personality and mentality, were made. These speeches had in common inspiration and truth, for they all were God-breathed utterances, and for this very reason these three arguments stood boldly and independently alone, not hanging weakly on one another for a prop, like so many underfed, panting athletes in a weary, late quarter. Let not the characteristic brevity of Luke mislead the unwary reader of Acts: the speech of Barnabas and Paul was not merely a TV commercial between two great dramas. It was a powerful argument on par with the first and third, or was Paul on this occasion "a whit behind the very chiefest apostles?" If the above was not the significance of the speech, then what was it? Was it merely "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing?"

The preceding paragraph was parenthetical. Let us return to our theme with an illustration. I refer the reader again to the example, in the first article of this series, of the establishment of the time for observing the Lord's Supper by the approved example of Acts 20:7. Who is he that objects to the necessity of observing the Supper exclusively on that day because no direct command to that effect has been given? He it is then that in logical consequence would object to the argument made by Barnabas and Paul! Because no direct statement or command had been given to the Jerusalem church regarding the mission to the Gentiles, had any "of the sect of the Pharisees who believed" a rational right to voice an objection to the conclusion that God condoned the apostles' work among the Gentiles? To reject argument from approved example is to reject an argument Paul and Barnabas employed! Who is that powerful speaker among us who is more forceful than that ancient "Son of Exhortation," and who is he today whose logic is superior to him who was "not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles?" (2 Cor. 11:5) Hear the latter, "But though I be rude in speech, yet am I not in knowledge (2 Cor. 11:6) The combination of Barnabas the orator and Paul the master thinker was rude in neither speech nor knowledge, in neither rhetoric nor logic. I am unafraid to charge emphatically that that modern pop-gun, who denies the use of argument from approved apostolic example, in order to do away with divine patterns for the worship, and work of the churches which conflict with his own innovations, sets himself against this ancient brace of nuclear artillery! He opposes a nuclear blast with the sputter of a soggy firecracker! It is logically futile and spiritually suicidal.

IV. The Argument of James

We have already discussed the conclusion to James' speech in the section above on necessary inference (the section on Peter's speech). A word only suffices to deal with the earlier portion of James' address to the Jerusalem assembly. James arose and referred to the initial conversion of the Gentiles, as "Symeon" (as he called him) had recounted. The commencement, as well as the continuation, of the work of salvation among the (uncircumcised) Gentiles was explicitly prophesied by Amos (Acts 15:13-21; Amos

9:11-12). It is unnecessary to deal here with the text and exegesis of the quotation from Amos. Is the conclusion not clear? Surely no one will disagree that it is an argument

by an inspired man from precept, or rather in this instance, from a direct prophecy. Thus

James established divine authority for the apostolic preaching to the Gentiles by a direct statement of scripture.

We trust that we have verified the validity of the three methods of establishing divine authority by an analysis of Acts 15 and related chapters, in addition to the more common inductive method described in the first article.

V. Consideration of Some Objections; Conclusion

Finally, let us honor space for some possible objections. It might be charged that we have in part argued in a circle. To establish the validity of the method of argument from approved apostolic example, we have resorted to that very mode of argument, showing that the apostles themselves argued from an approved example, concluding therefrom that the method is valid for us! If this be circular reasoning which must be abandoned, and with it the conclusion of the validity of argument from example, then all Biblical study must be abandoned, for divine authority can be established upon nothing, -not even upon direct precept.

To demonstrate the validity of the method of establishing divine approval by precept, how can one proceed? To proceed at all, he must resort to the assumption of the validity of the method. Commands of scripture invoke obedience to other commands; statements of scripture teach that other statements must be heeded. The applicability and authority of a first command or statement must be somewhere assumed, i. e. accepted by faith. Reason cannot recede infinitely to prove every premise from prior premises, for it must finally reside in faith upon a select set of axioms. The Christian's mind and heart must rest finally upon the fundamental tenet of faith - the Bible as the verbal revelation of the will of God. He must accept the apostles' words and deeds, the validity of their modes of reasoning, and he must assume the trustworthiness of the mind of the believer under subjugation to God to be able correctly to reason therefrom.

Is not this the truth written by the inspired Exile of Patmos? "Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of the prophecy, and keep the things that are written therein " (Rev. 1:3). The prophecy is legible to the eyes of the mind and audible to the ears of the heart of the one who seeks naught but the blessing, but seek we beyond the prophecy another prophecy to validate the first? Then what prophecy of more fundamental authority validates the second? It is more logical to demand the precept behind the approved example than to demand the precept behind the precept. If the example in Acts 20:7 is to be ignored because there is no express command to emulate that which is exemplified in the verse, then Acts 2:38 may be ignored in the absence of an express command to obey that command! And if that second command is found, it may be ignored until the third is discovered. It is no more logical to demand the verse which reads, "Follow Paul's example and break bread on the first day," than to require the text which reads, "You obey Peter's command to the Pentecost-keeping Jews, and be baptized." The men who are pulling out this thread may find one day they have unraveled the entire suit they are wearing!

If the above analysis of the text be correct, then upon what grounds can this method of argument which the apostles used be denied to believers? Can it be objected that because of their inspiration, or the presence of spiritual gifts in the early church, we today are not qualified in their absence to employ this method of reasoning? The objection proves too much, for it would deny to us all the rules of logic and reason, for the inspired mind of the first century employed such, else it was not inspired. The consequence is to make of Christianity an irrational, non-self-consistent and erratic system, to be subjectively interpreted. Underlying the objection is the old fallacy of believing in the inaccessibility of objective divine truth - every scripture is of private interpretation after all. If we cannot today employ apostolic modes of reasoning, then it must be because we cannot follow such modes of reasoning - either this, or because they inherently cannot be followed. Apostolic thought is inaccessible to us. Those who reject these logical methods of such ancient authority race rampant into the irrational and contradictory extremes of digression and unbelief!

Will the longsuffering reader permit me to pursue this further? One proves too much who asserts that the presence of living vessels of inspiration and spiritual gifts in the first century made the situation at the Jerusalem conference unique and therefore of no applicability for us. In this case the Pentecost scene or the Sermon on the Mount may as well be relegated to the trash heap. It should be noted that the apostles in Acts 15 appealed to the intellect and good conscience of the brethren in establishing divine authority for their preaching to the Gentiles, in the same way in which gospel preachers today appeal to their contemporaries. The presence of inspiration and spiritual gifts in the early church did not nullify the need of the human, heart and mind for valid argument. To the contrary, as said the prophet, "Come now, and let us reason together, saith Jehovah . . ." (Isa. 1: 18). This is not to deny that men need faith, for it is false reasoning which is without faith; but unreasoning faith is no faith at all, for "belief cometh of hearing," and the faith which gives assurance is the faith which is also convicted (Rom. 10: 17; Heb. 11: 1). Is it not clear that inspiration assured that the arguments employed by the apostles rested on true premises and were validly concluded, and signs and wonders committed in the past commended their speech to their auditors?

Not only so, but quite evidently signs and wonders were exhibited by the apostles with a certain economy. They never performed more miracles than sufficient to produce the result required - to evince their divine commission and the supernatural origin of their message. Sometimes my brethren are nostalgic for the ancient days of miracles, suggesting with a sigh that were the living, inspired apostles and spiritual gifts among us, all controversy among us would be instantaneously settled. This is naive. At Jerusalem in the conference, no miracle was worked to convince the Pharisaic brethren of their error, for none was necessary. Rather, argument was resorted to referring to the supernatural evidences of past apostolic history and to the ancient prophecies. Note that no new revelation was delivered on this occasion; all arguments were based on that already revealed by the Holy Spirit in the words and deeds of the past. (This is not to say, of course, that the apostles spoke without divine inspiration in Acts 15.) Judging after the fact, the need on that occasion, as now, was not for a novel word from the Lord or for additional supernatural evidence  the need was for a study of the scriptures already given and for an analysis of the implication of apostolic history. The fact that the apostles were divinely inspired did not remove the necessity for rational argument based on past revelations and sacred writings; rather, divine inspiration insures to their addresses the highest rationality.

The patient reader should note, too, that the lack of inspiration on the part of (presumably) the majority of brethren present at the Jerusalem conference, and on the part of the Judaizers in particular, was no handicap to their reason. Inspiration was not a suspension of logic, and revelation was not non-reason. Inspiration revealed the divine reason, and that revelation was to guide the noblest employment of uninspired human thought. The three modes of argument employed by the apostles, although they originated in the invisible recesses of the inspired human mind and in the mind of God, were not ecstatic oracles or celestial reasonings unintelligible or unadapted to the intelligent uninspired mind. The Divine Word was always given in the words of men and adapted to the intellectual structure of the creature's mind. The Creator was also the Revealer. Inspiration was required in the original utterance of the gospel; inspiration is unnecessary in its reception and application. The human mind meets the mind of God upon the pages of the Holy Writ. Only the omniscient Spirit of God could provide a vehicle of communication which would bridge the infinite distance between the two minds.

But a last word of caution is required: at this sacred meeting ground the human reason must bow to the Divine reason. In contemplating the Word of God, the human mind must be neither through indolence inactive on the one hand, nor because of unbelief in rebellion against God's council on the other hand; reason at all times must revere revelation. The need of the church today is not for less reason - for doing away with modes of rational arguments which the apostles themselves employed and which were commended to the minds and hearts of the uninspired of the first century. The need is for the refinement of reason and for its elevation to the alpine heights for which it - for which man - was created in God's own image; the need is for man to think God's thoughts by bowing before His Word in the faith that continues to hear, and with the hearing that consequently obeys!

(A footnote to the reader-who is a student of Restoration history: We noted in the first article that the justification of the three methods, of argument, by what we have termed the inductive method, has long and widely been employed. It would be interesting for some one to attempt to find by what process the first Restoration preachers arrived at an understanding of these three methods. Was it by the process of inducing the truth from their study of many texts related to the doctrinal problems they pondered, or was it by an analysis of the methods of argument by the apostles of old, as from Acts 15? Or both? Were they possibly led by suggestions in early Reformation literature? Would this not make an interesting investigation? Perhaps it will help to clarify the present doubt in the minds of some as to the validity of some of these methods, as I have sought in this present paper. Perhaps someone more familiar with Restoration and Reformation history and literature than this writer will shortly favor us with just such a study and thus add a significant page to the history of Biblical Hermeneutics.)

TRUTH MAGAZINE, XI: 11, pp. 11-17
September 1967