“Patterns” in the Scripture

by Phillip Owens

In the Old Testament

Early in Scripture we learn that God placed a premium on obedience and punished disobedience (Gen. 2:16-17; 3; 4; et al.).

God expected His people to do things exactly how He said to do them. He told Moses, “And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them. According to all that I show thee, the pattern of the tabernacle, and the pattern of all the furniture thereof, even so shall ye make it” (Ex. 25:8,9). At the conclusion of those instructions, God warned, “And see to it that you make them according to the pattern which was shown on the mountain” (Ex. 25:40).

The idea of a pattern continued during the days of David and Solomon. About the time David was to die, he gave the instructions for the temple to Solomon. These instructions had been provided to him by the Spirit (I Chron. 28:12), and concerned practically every detail of the temple (I Chron. 28:11-19). God made object lessons out of some who believed they could set aside His word with impunity, even to the point of death (II Sam. 6).

In the New Testament

God still places high value on our following His pattern in the New Testament, though He doesn’t say this in so many words. It is not a “bad” word as some seem to think. Though the English word for “pattern” is used only three times in the King James Version of the New Testament (I Tim. 1:16; Tit. 2:7; and Heb. 8:5), the original word, tupos, is used sixteen times in the New Testament, and is translated by such words as “print” (Jno. 20:25), “figures” (Acts 7:43), “fashion” (Acts 7:44), “manner” (Acts 23:25), “form” (Rom. 6:17), and “example” (I Cor. 10:6,11; Phil. 3:17 et al.). It primarily means “a blow,…impression, mark,… ‘impress’ of a seal,…stamp made by a die, a figure, image,…a ‘form’ or mold, Rom. 6:17” (Vine).

What does it mean to follow the pattern?

The pattern for any subject is found when we consider all God says on that subject! When we learn all God says on a particular matter, that is then the truth, the whole truth, and nothing else is the truth on that subject. John 3:16 is truth, but not the whole truth on our salvation. The same could be said for Mark 16:16 by itself, or Acts 2:38 by itself. However, when we put together all God says concerning what we must do to be saved, then we have learned the “truth” concerning that subject. David said, “The sum of thy word is truth” (Ps. 119:160). This should be our greatest desire – coming to know all God says on a subject. When we learn all God has said about a subject, that is all we can know, but it is all we need to know, and it is the “truth” on that matter. That “truth” constitutes the “pattern” on that subject.

Patterns and apostolic order

For practical purposes, another word that means the same as “pattern” is the word, “order.” The Scripture teaches that there is a “pattern,” or more precisely, “patterns” to follow. The Bible calls apostolic instruction to churches order or arrangement, a prescription. Some plain passages that mention this are:

I Cor. 11:34 – “…and the rest will I set in order (“completely arrange, prescribe,” Wigram-Green) whensoever I come.” It is obvious that a pattern or “order” is important concerning the Lord’s supper. Paul said that it is possible to eat and drink the supper in an “unworthy manner,” and be “guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord,…to eat and drink judgment to himself” (vss. 27, 29). Is there a “pattern” or arrangement concerning the Lord’s supper? Absolutely. What if we are not careful about that order or arrangement? We “eat and drink judgment” to ourselves. Of course all other passages in the New Testament that deal with this subject complement these instructions and complete the “pattern.”

I Cor. 14:40 – “Let all thing be done decently and in order.” Therefore, assembly worship had to have “arrangement” (Strong) or “orderly conditions” (Thayer), and was to be for edification (vs. 26). Certain restrictions applied when the church was assembled such as tongue speakers were not to speak unless an interpreter was present (vss. 27-28), they were to remain silent while others spoke (vs. 30), and women were not to address the assembly at all (vss. 34-35). That specific precedent was rooted in the very distinction God made between the sexes from the beginning (notice marginal readings for verse 34 and how “the law” usually refers to Gen. 3:16). Further, these instructions were “the commandment of the Lord” (vs. 37). Obviously, assembly worship had arrangement, order, or a “pattern.”

I Cor. 16:1-2 – “As I gave order (completely arrange, prescribe, same as in ch. 11:34) to the churches of Galatia (meaning first day of week contributions were not limited to Corinth, but were taught universally by Paul and other apostles), so also do ye. Upon the first day of the week…” This “order” is also defined, “to arrange thoroughly, institute, prescribe,…appoint, command, give, (set in) order, ordain” (Strong). If we understand that Acts 2:42 and the word “fellowship” likely included a common treasury (but was not limited to that), then I Cor. 16:2 stated when and how Christians were to give. At least that much is part of the “order.” The fact that churches had money to send to those in need (Acts 11:27-30) as well as to evangelists (Phil. 4:15-16), necessarily implies that Christians gave into a common treasury. I Cor. 16:1-2 gives the order as to when and how. This and other passages would indicate those for whom it was intended. Money contributed on the first day is not at the disposal or whim of brethren. There is a divine “order” as to what to do with it. There is a “pattern” concerning it!

Titus 1:5 – “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that were wanting, and appoint elders in every city, as I gave thee charge.” This was a “charge” from Paul, a command, and there was an “arrangement” which Titus was to “set” in the churches on Crete. In essence, local churches were not left in a “free for all” fashion to do whatever they pleased. Things were “lacking” or “wanting,” and needed “straightening” out (most lexicons on the word “order” found here). Obviously, whatever the apostles taught constituted the pattern or “order” on that matter.

From the above examples we learn that there is a pattern for the Lord’s supper, assembly worship, giving on the first day of the week, and organization or government for local churches. Other passages supplement related questions to each specific area above such as what all can be included in assembly worship (Acts 2:42; I Cor. 14:15; Acts 20:7; et al.), the elements of the Lord’s supper (Matt. 26:26-28), qualifications of elders (Tit. 1 and I Tim. 3), etc. Therefore, a casual reader of the New Testament can understand that from the above passages a particular order, arrangement or “pattern” was given by the apostles and was implied to be kept.

Patterns can be found

The Bible teaches throughout that “truth” is “knowable” or obtainable (Jno. 8:32; Eph. 3:3-5). These efforts to destroy the idea of a “pattern” imply that “truth” is “unknowable.” Further blurring the issue is a statement many use: “Good and smart brethren differ.” Implied is that if these differ, then how can anyone else ever know what is right? The unstated but implied conclusion to the argument is that truth is simply unobtainable. However, just because someone may be mistaken on some things, whether intelligent or not, doesn’t mean we can’t know truth on anything! Jesus said we can know truth. “No pattern” theologians deny what Jesus affirmed!