Several years ago I had a discussion with a brother who rejected CENI (C=command, E=example, and NI=necessary inference) as a “divinely-approved means” of interpreting Scripture. (Note: Doy Moyer likes to refer to CENI as TSI [T=tell, S=show, I=infer] as his chart above reflects. He has done excellent work on this subject. See his Authority Blog by clicking here.) This brother was convinced that what God wanted him to know would be stated “plainly” in either a command or direct statement. Additionally, he argued there was no such thing as a “binding example” to be found anywhere in the Scriptures—not a single, solitary one!
He further argued that if God had wanted His followers to determine what they could and could not do using a binding example, there would have to be not just a binding example found in Scripture, but an example in the Scriptures of a binding example being used as a teaching tool as well. In other words, it was his theory that for a means used to interpret Scripture to be legitimate it must first be found within the Bible itself. It was then, and only then, his theory went, that such could be used as an interpretive tool. His reasoning, of course, was completely circular and thus absurd. But so wedded was he to his own humanly-devised theory that he refused to abandon it even when it was demonstrated that not only do the Scriptures contain binding examples, but they also contain at least one example of a binding example being used as a teaching tool, which, according to the aforementioned brother’s own definition, legitimizes the method. Sadly, he never agreed that such was demonstrated. Instead, he argued most vociferously that such was not the case. What follows, then, is a fair representation of his argument outlined in syllogistic form with my argument to the contrary following.
Major Premise: In order for a hermeneutical tool to be permissible, there must be an example of it being used in the Scriptures.
Minor Premise: But, there are no examples of a binding example being used as a hermeneutical tool in the Scriptures—not a single, solitary one.
Conclusion: Therefore, to employ a binding-example methodology when attempting to correctly interpret Scripture is not permissible.
First, the brother’s major premise is wrong. One does not go to the Bible to learn what means and tools must be applied to properly interpreting the Scriptures. Such an idea is patently absurd. In other words, if such were the case, how could one know he had discovered the right tool for interpreting the Bible without first properly interpreting the Bible? Instead, one comes to the Bible with certain tools already in place. These are the same tools he uses to interpret other forms of communication. These tools (and CENI is part of the package) must be applied to or imposed upon the Scriptures for them to yield their meaning. Apart from direct revelation, this is the only way reasonable and prudent men can (1) conclude that the Bible is what it claims to be and (2) discover the truths contained within its pages.
Second, his minor premise, which claims there are no examples of a binding example being used as a hermeneutical tool in the Scriptures is just not true. In Acts 15, Peter uses the example recorded in Acts 10 of the first case of raw, pagan Gentiles being converted as a binding example to demonstrate conclusively that such individuals did not have to convert to Judaism (viz., be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses) to be saved. By “raw, pagan Gentiles,” I mean those who were not Hellenistic Jews, proselytes of righteousness, or Samaritans—all of which would have been circumcised. That this is undoubtedly true can be seen from all that occurred before Acts 10 and all that took place after that. So, let’s take a quick look, shall we?
The Rule Of The Messiah Would Bring Blessings (Salvation) To Gentiles As Well As Jews
There was never any doubt that Gentiles were to be the recipients of blessings (salvation) under the Messiah. Even so, such was always referenced in connection with Israel. In fact, every OT passage dealing with the blessing of the Gentiles is in connection with the Jews. For example, Genesis 12:3 offers blessings to Gentiles in connection with Abraham and his seed. Isaiah 2:2-4; 11:10, and 49:6 offer Gentiles blessings if they come to know Israel’s God and walk in His ways. Isaiah 66:23 says the blessing of the Gentiles would be withheld if they did not keep the Sabbath at Jerusalem. In Zechariah 14:16-19, blessings on the Gentiles are withheld if they don’t keep the Jewish feasts and worship Jehovah. Amos 9:11-12 speaks of the Gentiles as a possession of the Jews. Zechariah 8:23 mentions Gentiles seeking a blessing by going to the Jews because they were with God. Deuteronomy 32:43 urges Gentiles to rejoice “with His people” (cf. Rom. 15:9-10). Finally, in Zechariah 9:9-10, the offer of Gentile peace must come from a Jewish king who is clearly the Messiah.
Thus, the OT picture is one where the Jew is the channel of blessing for all. It knows nothing of salvation and blessing from God for the Gentiles apart from Abraham’s seed (and this means, in particular, the Messiah). This is what Jesus meant when He said that “salvation is of the Jews.”
Consequently, when the Davidic kingdom was restored on that first Pentecost after the Lord’s resurrection and ascension into heaven, the apostles knew, along with other Jews, that Gentiles were to be the recipients of salvation right along side of the Jews. Thus, they understood that the charge to preach the gospel to “every creature” included the Gentiles (cf. Mk 16:15). They also had to know that disciplining “all the nations” included Gentiles along with the Jews.
Some try to argue that Peter really didn’t understand what he was saying when he taught the promised Spirit was to “as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:39), arguing he didn’t yet realize that Gentiles were to be saved as well as Jews. But this simply can’t be the case, for even without inspiration he would have known what any Jew would have known; namely, that the blessing of salvation was for all mankind—Jew and Gentile alike. But what he and the rest of the Jews evidently did not know was that the Gentiles would be saved apart from becoming Jews. It would be many years before they understood this, which is what Acts 10 is all about.
So, the fact that God would pour His Spirit out upon “all flesh” (Ac 2:17) was never a problem for the well-studied Jew. But that this blessing was to be experienced apart from the Gentiles becoming “proselytes of righteousness” was not something understood until God poured out His Spirit upon uncircumcised Gentiles at the household of Cornelius.
Furthermore, when one reads of the circumstances surrounding this event, one realizes that neither Peter nor the rest of the Jews with him had any idea Gentiles were going to be saved apart from them being circumcised (i.e., apart from becoming Jews). Until this event, it had not been revealed/recorded (cf. Eph. 3:5-6) that Gentiles were to be saved without having to become Jews. Remember, there had been no proclamation of the gospel to uncircumcised men until Acts 10. Thus, the issue of circumcision for non-Jewish, non-proselyted and, therefore, uncircumcised Gentiles had simply not arisen. Consequently, when Peter began to preach the gospel to Cornelius and his household, God made it clear, by bestowing His Holy Spirit, that Gentiles did not have to become Jews (i.e., they did not have to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses) in order to be the proper subjects of baptism.
This, then, was not just an “ordinary,” non-binding example, but very much a “binding” one. And, this is exactly how Peter referred to it in Acts 11 and 15. Listen to what he said in 11:17,
If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave to us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could resist God?
And then in 15:7-11, he said:
Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our father nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.
Thus, it is as clear as clear can be that what occurred at the household of Cornelius served as a binding example that Peter used to teach the previously unrecorded command/direct statement that Gentiles were to be received into the Messianic fellowship without being circumcised and that no other teaching about this could be considered acceptable or sound. This, then, meets the criteria of a binding example and is, therefore, an example in the Scriptures of a binding example being used as a teaching tool.