A college Bible professor asks the difference between saying that the New Testament is ‘normative’ and saying that it provides a “pattern.”
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To say that the New Testament Scriptures are normative means to me that these 27 books uniquely reveal the standard by which we Christians all are called to think and to live. In that sense, this second section of the Bible — but especially Jesus himself — provides a pattern for each one of us to follow (1 Cor. 10:11; 11:1; Phil. 3:17; 1 Pet. 2:21).
However, those who focus on the New Testament as a pattern often mean much more than that. They insist that the New Testament provides a picture containing all the external details concerning what the church ought to be in any place and time. Unfortunately, the Bible does not assemble these details for us, or organize them, or put them all in one place, or even clearly label them. If we are to have such a pattern, we must pick bits and pieces, drawing from various commands (some of which apply to us and some of which do not), historical narratives (some of which are intended to be normative and some of which are not) and sometimes what makes sense to our own logical minds (making more, less or no sense at all — depending on whose mind is at work). This is no foundation for Christian unity and it is certainly not a condition of salvation.
One does not need to be an academic Bible scholar, a skilled logician, a lawyer or a masterful debater to decipher the way to the Father. In fact, those approaches sometimes get in the way (1 Cor. 1:26-31; John 5:39-40). The Bible assures us that God desires our companionship and wants us to know him as a person (Acts 17:24-28; Heb. 11:6). Whoever comes to God in humility, seeking to know and to do his will, can find both it and him (John 17:3; 1 Cor. 8:2-3). And that even includes Bible professors and lawyers!