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Command, Request, or Invitation?

April 12, 2008

One reason for the inadequacy of the Command, Example, and Necessary Inference hermeneutic is that it does not make any distinction between commands, requests, and invitations. Anything of the grammatical form of a command is presumed to be mandatory, and failure to comply is seen as disobedience.

A Greek verb in the imperative mood can be a command or prohibition, a request or entreaty, or reluctant permission. Commonly cited examples of these different uses of the imperative mood are:

  • Command: Mark 2:14 Follow me!
  • Request: Matt 6:11 Give us today our daily bread.
  • Permission: 1Co 7:15 But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so.

In particular, when the imperative mood is combined with the aortist tense, the sense is often as a request or an entreaty, or an invitation. Let’s look at a few more examples.

Joh 21:12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.”

Here Jesus was inviting the disciples to join him for breakfast, using the aortist tense and the imperative mood to convey an invitation.

In the next example, Lydia invited Paul and his companions to stay at her house:

Act 16:15 When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.

Again, the invitation was in the aortist tense and the imperative mood.

Jesus invited the weary and burdened to come to him to find rest for their souls:

Mat 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
Mat 11:29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Mat 11:30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Jesus invited the weary into his rest, using the aortist tense and the imperative mood.

A similar invitation is extended by the Spirit and the bride (the church):

Rev 22:17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.

The invitation to take the free gift of the water of life was extended using the aortist tense and imperative mood.

Paul used the same kind of verb to appeal to the Corinthians to accept him.

2Co 7:2 Make room for us in your hearts.

Paul is urging and pleading — not commanding. Again, the verb is in the aortist tense and imperative mood.

Now let’s look at another often-discussed passage:

1Th 5:26 Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss.

Once again, the verb is in the aortist tense and the imperative mood. Paul is making an appeal or perhaps an invitation to greet one another with a kiss. It would hardly make sense to say “Kiss one another or face the consequences!” Instead he is urging them to show affection — implying that they should feel affection for one another. To greet with a holy kiss without that affection (obedience “because I said so”) would be hypocritical. Instead the Thessalonians were being urged to have affection for one another, and then to show it.

The last example we will examine is just a bit different from the others:

Php 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

Here, rather than aortist imperative, Paul used the present imperative. Still, it makes no sense to say “Rejoice or face the consequences!” This was an invitation, not a mandate.

These examples illustrate that the scriptures convey a lot of shades of meaning. There surely are mandatory commands in scripture. But not everything in the form of a grammatical command is intended as a mandate. Sometimes God is giving us an invitation rather than a law. The context often supplies the answer directly. But in other cases, it is not so obvious. Understanding the meaning of scripture requires spiritual discernment. What is God’s nature? What kind of relationship does he seek with us? And therefore, what is he trying to say to us in these passages?

1Co 2:14 The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.

Without spiritual discernment, we will miss the point. And sometimes we have done just that.

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7 comments

  1. I have been spending some time reading your articles on CENI. I had a few observations:

    You refer to CENI as a “hermeneutic.” The problem with this is that “CENI” is NOT a hermeneutic. It is not a way of interpreting scripture. It is the foundation to all communication. God, just as any person, communicates His will by telling us what He wants and showing us what He wants. He also gives us the ability to take what He is communicated in these ways and then make implications about His will for us. This is the way a parent tells their child what they want, a teacher gives instruction to a student, etc. Once again, CENI is not a way of interpreting scripture, but the way God communicates His will to us, and one cannot reject CENI (or better: tell, show, imply) without telling, showing, or wanting the person you are disagreeing with to imply something. You will communicate your disagreement in one of these three ways.

    Regarding Silence – Those (people or churches) who want to do things in worship and/or work that God has not told them or shown them in His word that are pleasing to Him are playing Russian Roulette with their relationship with God. There is no way to know whether something is pleasing to God (or displeasing to God) if He has not shown us or told us that it is. God’s silence neither prohibits or permits. It is silence. Just assuming something is good or pleasing to God does not prove that it is. If we do something that we deem “good” or “from God” when God has not spoken on such or told us to do such, then we are doing what we want, not what God wants.

    If Regarding Patterns in Scripture: If we love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, even as we see examples (or patterns) in God’s word, our response as His sheep should be to do what we know is pleasing to Him instead of asking “is this pattern binding?” This is comparable to asking, “Do I have to follow what God shows us is pleasing to Him?”


  2. Jason, thanks for sharing your point of view.

    CENI is a hermeneutic. It describes a set of principles by which some people try to discern the intent of a passage. The scriptures themselves don’t explicitly state those principles. Fallible people have inferred CENI from scripture. There are other sets of principles inferred by other readers. Which principles more closely match God’s intent? That’s worth discussing. But to say with certainty that you fully understand God’s intent is going too far.

    I look at the results of CENI and conclude that it is flawed, at least as commonly practiced. The results speak for themselves. God cannot be pleased with the division and Pharisaical legalism that has resulted. As Jesus said, by their fruits you will know them.

    Editing to add: This article gives a more detailed explanation of the problems caused by the way conservative churches of Christ have practiced CENI.

    https://christianunityblog.net/2006/02/28/the-big-squeeze-silence-and-ceni/


    • Just calling CENI a hermeneutic does not make it so. CENI (or better: tell, show, imply) is fancy talk for the basic principles of communication — what we use anywhere at any time for everyone. When you want to make your will known, how do you do it? Can I suggest that you either tell it, show it, or you imply something you expect people to get. When people disparage CENI, I don’t think they’ve really thought this point through. Attacking CENI is attacking the foundation of communication. And it won’t logically stand. The whole principle is SELF EVIDENT. Anyone who wants to deny this is free to try it. But if you do, please do not tell me anything about it, show me anything about it, or imply anything about it. To do so would be self-defeating. In other words, “tell, show, and imply” is logically necessary. It is the way we communicate anything.

      In my opinion, our mistake has been that we haven’t explained that fundamental communication process — we’ve skipped right to the fancy talk and left people wondering, “where do you find that the in Bible?” You find it right where you find it anytime someone communicates anything. It is a fundamental starting point, and I don’t believe anyone can logically deny it without defeating their own denial.

      It seems you are really against the applications of CENI, not necessarily CENI itself. Those who you talk about in your CENI articles misunderstand CENI, not understanding that it is the foundation for all communication. Many of these people also are legalistic, depending on what you mean by legalistic. I would much rather, because of my love for God, obey Him and follow the examples He gives me in scripture. I know those things are pleasing to Him.

      Division in and of itself does not prove that something is wrong. Even the truth divides.


      • I’ve done more than just calling CENI a hermeneutic. I’ve explained how it fulfills the definition of a hermeneutic.

        http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hermeneutic

        If you’ll re-read the first sentence in the article I linked in my previous comment, you’ll realize I’m not attacking CENI itself… but rather, the way it is commonly applied, and particularly the way it interacts with the silence of the scriptures and (ie the regulative principle).


  3. “I’ve done more than just calling CENI a hermeneutic. I’ve explained how it fulfills the definition of a hermeneutic. If you’ll re-read the first sentence in the article I linked in my previous comment, you’ll realize I’m not attacking CENI itself… but rather, the way it is commonly applied, and particularly the way it interacts with the silence of the scriptures and (ie the regulative principle).”

    I will try to use your communication above to me as an example:

    Are you expecting me when I receive your response:

    1.) to listen to what you are telling me?
    2.) to look at the examples that you are giving me about what a hermeneutic is?
    3.) to infer certain things from what you say?

    If so, you are communicating using CENI. How I interpret and apply what you communicated to me has nothing to do with CENI. I do not use CENI to interpret. CENI is used by the one _communicating_ the information, not the one receiving.

    When it comes to silence, if you are not speaking to me, you are not using CENI to communicate to me, thus any discussion about how your silence interacts with CENI is not needed. CENI does not interact with silence. CENI is communication that can be received. Silence is not communication. The “applications” you are dealing with have nothing to do with CENI. How to handle silence, in my opinion, is a different debate altogether.

    I can see that you are not attacking CENI itself, I am only trying to show that it is not a method of interpreting scripture, just as it is not a method of interpreting what you are communicating to me. You just assume when you write that I am going to receive what you tell me or show me as what you believe about these things. It is a logically self-evident truth that you and I cannot communicate without. That is the point I am trying to make.


  4. I’m not using CENI because I’m not commanding anything. I don’t have any expectations that you’ll follow my example. And I don’t expect you to infer some mandatory action from what I write. I’m explaining, not commanding, and not mandating.

    There’s no point in arguing semantics. The issue is whether Christians can have an honest disagreement and still accept one another.


  5. Very interesting subject, many thanks for sharing.



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