In a recent online discussion about what is sound doctrine concerning the doctrinal importance of narratives in Scripture, I presented the following six examples from Scripture concerning deriving prescriptive statements from narrative passages.
Jesus used information that is given to us in a narrative passage to issue a prescriptive statement based on that information:
Genesis 19:26 But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.
Luke 17:32 Remember Lot’s wife.
The information about what happened to Lot’s wife is given to us in a passage that is a historical narrative of God’s judging Sodom and Gomorrah and delivering Lot and his two daughters from that judgment.
That statement reveals and describes what happened to her, but Jesus issued a command to His disciples that they must learn from that narrative information, keep recalling to their minds what happened to her, and by way of legitimate and necessary implication, not do as she did.
Obviously, it was not very likely that His disciples (or we) would face a situation that was exactly the same as she was in or even closely parallel to it. Nonetheless, Jesus commanded them to profit from that narrative information.
When Jesus issued the command to remember Lot’s wife (Lk. 17:32), He took “descriptive” information from a narrative account in Scripture in Gen. 19:17-26 and used it to utter a prescriptive statement in Lk. 17:32.
Gen. 19:17-26 —> Lk. 17:32 is a biblical example of how something that is given in a “descriptive” passage was legitimately used by Jesus to utter a prescriptive statement.
In 1 Corinthians 10:6, the Apostle Paul uses information provided to us in a narrative passage in Numbers 11 to provide prescriptive teaching to Christians:
1 Corinthians 10:6 Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted.
Numbers 11:4 And the mixt multitude that was among them fell a lusting: and the children of Israel also wept again, and said, Who shall give us flesh to eat?
Because of their lusting after evil things, God judged the Israelites fiercely. It’s important to keep in mind that God has not recorded (as far as I can tell from Scripture) that He had previously provided specific warnings to the Israelites not to do what they did on that occasion. Nevertheless, when they sinned in that manner, they experienced intense divine judgment at the hand of God.
From Paul’s stating that example was provided as an example to us with the intent that we would not lust after evil things, as they did, we see clearly that descriptive information from a historical narrative passage was used in apostolic prescriptive teaching to all Christians.
In 1 Corinthians 10:7, the Apostle Paul cited information from a historical narrative passage to forcefully issue an apostolic command:
1 Corinthians 10:7 Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.
In support of this apostolic command, Paul quoted from the end of a narrative statement in Exodus 32:
Exodus 32:6 And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.
Paul’s use of a descriptive statement about the sinfulness of the Israelites on a particular occasion in a prescriptive command to all Christians plainly shows the use of information from a historical narrative to issue a prescriptive statement to all Christians.
In 1 Corinthians 10:8, the Apostle Paul issued an apostolic mutual exhortation to instruct believers not to be immoral:
1 Corinthians 10:8 Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand.
He used information from a historical narrative passage as support for his exhortation:
Numbers 25:1 And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab. . . . 9 And those that died in the plague were twenty and four thousand.
Paul’s use of narrative information (about the sinfulness of the Israelites on a particular occasion and God’s judgment of them for doing so) in a negative exhortation to all Christians teaches us that he used information from a historical narrative in Scripture to issue authoritative instruction to all Christians.
In 1 Corinthians 10:9, Paul instructed believers by issuing an apostolic mutual exhortation not to tempt Christ:
1 Corinthians 10:9 Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents.
He based his exhortation on a historical narrative passage:
Exodus 17:2 Wherefore the people did chide with Moses, and said, Give us water that we may drink. And Moses said unto them, Why chide ye with me? wherefore do ye tempt the Lord? . . . 7 And he called the name of the place Massah, and Meribah, because of the chiding of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the Lord, saying, Is the Lord among us, or not?
As in 1 Cor. 10:8, Paul’s use of narrative information (about the sinfulness of the Israelites on a particular occasion and God’s judgment of them for doing so) in a negative exhortation to all Christians in 1 Cor. 10:9 teaches us that he used information from a historical narrative in Scripture to issue authoritative instruction to all Christians.
In 1 Corinthians 10:10, Paul commanded believers not to murmur:
1 Corinthians 10:10 Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer.
He supported his command to all believers by referring to information provided to us in some historical narrative passages:
Numbers 14:2 And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron: and the whole congregation said unto them, Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had died in this wilderness!
Numbers 14:36 And the men, which Moses sent to search the land, who returned, and made all the congregation to murmur against him, by bringing up a slander upon the land,
Numbers 16:3 And they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them, Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them: wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the Lord?
Numbers 16:32 And the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods.
Numbers 16:41 But on the morrow all the congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron, saying, Ye have killed the people of the Lord.
42 And it came to pass, when the congregation was gathered against Moses and against Aaron, that they looked toward the tabernacle of the congregation: and, behold, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord appeared.
43 And Moses and Aaron came before the tabernacle of the congregation.
44 And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
45 Get you up from among this congregation, that I may consume them as in a moment. And they fell upon their faces.
46 And Moses said unto Aaron, Take a censer, and put fire therein from off the altar, and put on incense, and go quickly unto the congregation, and make an atonement for them: for there is wrath gone out from the Lord; the plague is begun.
47 And Aaron took as Moses commanded, and ran into the midst of the congregation; and, behold, the plague was begun among the people: and he put on incense, and made an atonement for the people.
48 And he stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stayed.
49 Now they that died in the plague were fourteen thousand and seven hundred, beside them that died about the matter of Korah.
Paul’s issuing a prescriptive statement to all believers that has as its basis biblical revelation provided in various descriptive passages shows the use of information from historical narrative passages to issue a prescriptive statement to all Christians.
Analysis and application of #1-#6
All 6 of these biblical examples of descriptive—->prescriptive have in common divine judgment against human sinfulness, and that judgment was recorded within the narrative passages themselves.
This analysis supports going to other narrative passages that speak explicitly of divine judgment against human sinfulness and issuing prescriptive statements to Christians not to sin in those same ways. Other factors must also be considered in formulating such prescriptive statements from such narrative passages, such as explicit NT teaching that would indicate that making such prescriptive statements to Christians would not be legitimate.
The ultimate justification for formulating such prescriptive statements comes directly from explicit teaching by Scripture about itself that all Scripture is profitable not just for doctrine but also for reproof (convicting us of sinfulness), correction, and instruction in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
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