Last week we discovered that the founders of the first church were characterized by united, fervent prayer. But prayer is not the only thing with which these founders of the first Church occupied their time, and Luke uses the event of choosing Judas’ replacement to highlight the second characteristic of these men.
What was it that motivated them to choose a replacement in the first place? Peter answers this question in the first six words of his address to the 120 gathered believers:
Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled (Acts 1:16).
They had a right understanding of biblical prophesy.
Can you imagine the questions the apostles must have had concerning the betrayal and death of one of their own? Yet they did not worry and they did not question the Lord because these founders of the first Church had a proper respect for the Scriptures.
Here Peter illustrates that they had a right understanding of biblical prophesy. Judas fell away because “the Scripture had to be fulfilled.” God had predicted it in Psalm 69 and 109, which Peter quotes; Christ Himself referred to it even before it happened; and so the apostles trusted that what God had planned had to happen. These men are following the example of Christ when He showed them Himself in the Old Testament before His ascension — they must have searched the prophesies and discerned where they predicted Judas’ betrayal.
The phrase “had to be” is a translation of one word that is connected with the Scriptures and is another theme that characterizes early believers in the book of Acts. Just like fervent prayer and unity are characteristic themes in Acts, so is this understanding that Scripture has a prophetic emphasis that must come to fulfillment.
But what Peter says next reveals a quite remarkable understanding of the doctrine of the Scriptures:
Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas (Acts 1:16).
They had a right understanding of inspiration.
The doctrine of the Holy Spirit and specifically inspiration was one that was not really fully explained until the epistles, and yet it is clear here that these founders of the first Church had a right understanding of inspiration.
First, they knew that it was the Holy Spirit who did the speaking. But second, they understood that the Holy Spirit spoke through men. They rightly understood the doctrine of inspiration. The Bible is God’s Word spoken through men.
They were willing to discern implications from explicit Scriptural statements.
Now, their understanding of inspiration led them to further conclusions about the Scriptures that will have helpful application for us.
There are some believers today who say that if the Bible doesn’t say anything specific about a certain issue, then it doesn’t really matter. They say that logical implications that we draw from explicit statements of Scripture do not carry any weight for us — it is only explicit commands that we need to heed.
For instance, some insist that since the Bible does not really give us any specific instructions about how and when we should have our church services, then it really doesn’t matter. So we could just as well have a pool party be a church service as an actual service with preaching and singing and praying. The Bible doesn’t come right out and say, “This is how churches services should be,” so God doesn’t really care what we do when we meet together.
But that was not the understanding of these founders of the first Church. These men were willing to discern implications from explicit statements of Scripture, and then follow them. Let me show you what I mean.
Their willingness to discern implications from Scripture and then follow those implications is demonstrated in how they decided who would take Judas’ place. Nowhere in the Bible did they have explicit instruction concerning the qualifications for one of the twelve. Yet Peter lists some things that had to characterize the man they would choose to take Judas’ place. (1) He had to be one who had been with them the whole time Jesus was with them. Peter didn’t have a specific command about this, but he used common sense and drew implications from specific instruction Christ had given them. (2) He had to be a witness of the resurrected Christ. (3) There must have also been other unspoken qualities that they based their decision on. Remember, there were 120 believers at this meeting. Assuming that around half of them were men, that’s at least 50 possible candidates for Judas’ replacement. Why did they narrow the possibilities to just two men before they specifically sought the Lord on the matter? Evidently there were other biblical principles that they used to narrow the list to these two men.
These founders of the first Church had a right view of Scripture. They understood that the Bible is authoritative because it is from God Himself. And they understood that it is the responsibility of every believer to study the Scriptures and apply its principles to every situation, even when it does not have anything explicit to say about that situation.
We need to be willing to do this. We must be so familiar with biblical principles that when we come upon a decision that the Bible does not specifically address, we will be able to make the right choice by applying biblical principles. And the fact of the matter is, implications drawn from biblical principles by common sense and logic are just as important and authoritative as the principles themselves. For instance, do you realize that the doctrine of the Trinity is only an implication derived from various statements in Scripture? Nowhere in the Bible does it say, “God is one being in three persons.” But through careful study and logic we have discerned the doctrine of the Trinity, and that doctrine holds just as much weight as the statements upon which it is based.
Or here is another issue that is debated even among believers: Nowhere does the Bible specifically say that abortion is wrong. It says that murder is wrong, but it does not tell us specifically when human life begins, so some would say that there is no clear prohibition against killing an unborn child. Yet we look to passages of Scripture like Luke 1.41 where John the Baptist leapt for joy in the womb, and we infer that only humans can “leap for joy.” We look to Exodus 22.22-15 and infer that since a man is sentenced to death if he causes an unborn child to die, then an unborn child must be a human being. And so by drawing logical implications from various statements in Scripture, we would affirm without question that abortion is always wrong because it is the murder of a human being.
Do you see why we must be willing to draw inferences from Scripture and apply them to our decisions? Peter and these other founders of the first Church realized the importance of this practice, and so must we. We should know the Bible so well that we know the mind of God even in situations that He hasn’t specifically addressed.
Let me give you an example of this: Years ago I remodeled the second floor of our house. We put a bedroom and bathroom up there. As we worked up there, I often had to make decision about how things will look or how to fit things. Sometimes I had to check with my wife about something and get her opinion about how she’d prefer something to look, but most of the time I didn’t have to even ask. We’d talked about the project so much and I knew her so well, that often, even when we hadn’t talked about something, I already knew what decision she’d make without even asking her. That is how we should be with decisions we have to make even when God hasn’t given us specific instruction about it.
So the first characteristic of these founders of the first Church was that they were united in fervent prayer, and this will characterize the early church all throughout the book of Acts. The second characteristic of these founders of the first Church was that they had a proper respect for the Scriptures. They realized that the Bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit and that it was authoritative. And they realized that they must be willing to draw implications from its principles and apply them to their decisions.
Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is on faculty at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He has written two books, dozens of articles, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and two children.