PRECEPT UPON PRECEPT
How many really know what it means to follow a Biblical precept?
As we begin this article, let me just ask the question; “what does precept mean”? Many of the called out brethren, (COG) once converted (Chosen) and growing Spiritually, came to understand that we are taught in Scripture to go here a little and there a little, (paraphrasing what is found in Isaiah 28) line upon line it says, but it also says “precept upon precept” and this is what we are going to focus on. Why is it so important to understand this method of PRECEPT UPON PRECEPT when we study the Bible and just what does that mean? The whole Bible is the inspired word of God, as Paul writes in 2Tim.3:16-17, so that should give us a clue, but it has been handled by men down through time who have sometimes injected their own reasoning to certain passages by changing or altering slightly some words or phrases. This can change the whole intended meaning, without careful study. That might give some the wrong impression, without doing a thorough study of whatever the subject matter is at the time. I will use one main Scriptural example, associated with others, on this a little later on. This can then be applied in almost any situation or other Biblical subjects and even future prophecy.
One reason for this article is that there is simplicity in this precept upon precept method of studying, for those led by the Holy Spirit. This simplicity will also help to keep us from getting a head full of wrong ideas about what is revealed in Scripture and then possibly teaching error to others, as some are doing today. It helps us use every word in our studying if we are willing—after all—Christ said we are to live by every word of God—Luke 4:4—so we should be willing to study every word to get the right understanding of its proper principle, teaching or precept. However, sometimes these substitutes of the word are not really understood either, (more synonyms are; instruction, rule, guideline) unless explained with more detail. Sadly, even when some of these things are known, they become forgotten or ignored and not applied in some sermons or written articles, based on a Biblical subject. Many false prophets are on the scene today (Matt.24:11-12) and they cleverly misapply some of the precepts of Scripture with full intent to deceive you into believing whatever idea these agents of Satan are promoting. Sometimes we read or listen to something from one of these COG groups and just take it at face value, because it seems right or self-explanatory by the way it sounds or is worded. (I have even done this myself in the past and am now working to overcome that tendency, going back to the Bible to prove all things, so I can hold fast to the proven truth. Rev.3:11) Some even teach error unwittingly because of misunderstanding of wording or definition, found in some KJV & NKJ passages of Scripture. Teaching and believing error will have to be repented of before we can ever enter the God Family. Other newer translations can get you even further off track, depending on which ones you rely on and the subject you are reading about. Of course there are also those today who will basically follow their leaders in whatever they say, or else lean to their own understanding of what the Bible says. None of these approaches are a truly converted way of following the precepts of the Bible.
We have been taught to let the Scriptures interpret the Scriptures for us, (2Pet.1:20-21) clear Scriptures will explain the unclear and this is the method of precept upon precept. We have to search out all the Scriptures that have anything to do with our subject. For this we need a concordance or some other type of Scriptural referencing to easily find the passages on the subject. We check other translations and Bible helps to make sure that the context in certain passages has not been altered by un-inspired word changes. We also find that things seem to be jumbled up—not in proper order or story flow style—some details of the subject matter are filled in from somewhere else, such as later chapters or even in another book. I am sure most long time members of the COG are familiar with all this, as we have all been told this before. Our subject today deals specifically with examples of Scripture and how to determine a “precept”. So what is a “precept” based on what the Bible reveals, besides what we have seen thus far? To go along with what we have already seen, here is another definition of precept that is much closer to the Bible. The American Heritage student Dictionary has this; precept is “A rule or principal of conduct or procedure”— here is another way to view a Bible “precept”, from International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, (pre'-sept): “A commandment, an authoritative rule for action;”--. An “injunction” is the meaning given for “precept” in Strong’s and means order or “command” or “ruling”. The general rule for Bible study is to let the Scriptures interpret the Scriptures and by seeking to understand the wording we find in “line upon line” “here a little and there a little” as seen above. We are to pay close attention to the wording of Scripture. (See also Deut.4:2 & ch.12:32)
Here is an example of Israel not following precept upon precept from God, speaking through Jeremiah; Ch. 11:7-8 “For I earnestly exhorted your fathers in the day I brought them up out of the land of Egypt, until this day, rising early and exhorting, saying, "Obey My voice." 8 Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but everyone followed the dictates of his evil heart; (NKJ) They were following their own human reason without regard to the specifics of the Word of God. Some study the Bible this way today as well, therefore they do not follow the procedure of precept upon precept, line upon line and so on. What are some more examples of this “rule of action” found in Scripture?
Scriptures simply says; “Noah begot Shem, Ham, and Japheth.” (Gen 5:32) So we see Shem, Ham and Japheth as they are listed. All through this chapter 5 and in many other places a precedent is set, a principle or guideline; we read of fathers who “begat” (KJV) or begot (and sometimes “had”, NKJ) a first born and then we read they “begot” or had other sons and daughters, for families of multiple children. This is the normal rule or precept we see about this, found in Scripture. The first-born is listed first, as in Gen.25:13 with Ishmael and his children, and is also seen for Terah and his children in Gen.11:27. So when we come to Noah here in Ch.5, we should expect to see the same “precept” as is recorded elsewhere. (Note; Gen 5:6-7 “Seth lived one hundred and five years, and begot Enosh. 7 After he begot Enosh, Seth lived eight hundred and seven years, and had (begat in KJV) sons and daughters.” (NKJ) There are several examples recorded here and then if we jump ahead to after the flood we see the same thing leading up to the birth of Abram, through the linage from Shem, Noah’s oldest son—which is where there is some confusion among some in the COG, as we are about to see. What is revealed here should be helpful to those confused on this rule of Biblical principle in the wording.
This listing for Noah’s children is repeated at least four times between the last verse of chapter 5 and the first verse of Ch.10, setting a precedent or precept of placing Shem as firstborn, same precept as many other Scriptures and other individuals. Using this “precept upon precept”, or rule of principle, we see #1, the fact that there is only one “begot” mentioned, which is singular, for three sons; this could indicate that these were triplets, if we apply this to the normal rule in Scripture about “begot” found elsewhere—and #2 is the fact that Shem is truly the firstborn, (Listed first) even if they are triplets. (If these three were triplets, then only one “begot” is all that is necessary and the precept or rule found here remains the same as elsewhere. It also would not change the first-born being listed first, the only difference being one “begat” for all three children. (We find this elsewhere when twins are born.)
The example here is that some today forget or ignore this general rule or precept and end up teaching error. Gen.10, which is a problem for some; V.21 “And children were born also to Shem, the father of all the children of Eber, the brother of Japheth the elder”. (KJV-NKJ) Some do not consider this being out of harmony with the precept of first born/first listed being the elder, indicating in some minds that Japheth was the oldest, and without any more research they teach this. Some may check another translation; Upon checking the NIV, which is a relatively new translation only beginning around 1965 and is not really that reliable, we find this; V.21 (NIV) ”Sons were also born to Shem, whose older brother was Japheth;” ---. This translation seems to agree with the other two and this reversed principle on this subject. However, when checking other sources and more reliable translations, harmony was again found. Those who teach from these specific translations that are in error end up presenting a contradicting precept or rule of principle with other passages that are found, dealing with the firstborn always being listed first. (Remember the clear Scriptures help to interpret the unclear—one vague one does not override 4 or more clear ones or the general “rule of action or principle” in the Bible.)
So, is it an assumption only that Japheth was the oldest (V.21) for those who teach this? Yes! And, without using diligence in picking up on the fact that this has reversed the precept or the normal “rule” throughout Scripture, it becomes error. So to save time, I will just focus on the aspect of their age and who is really firstborn. Above is the example that some have claimed that the youngest was listed first, being Shem, and again later for Abram, two special cases (Again, not the same precept set by so many others) so we need to find out why this “rule” of Scripture (Precept or precedent) has been reversed, if in fact it really has been. If it wasn’t really reversed for one, it probably was not in the other. So the first thing to do is check other translations or find some Bible help to explain this discrepancy. Here is what the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says about SHEM: “The eldest son of Noah, from whom the Jews, as well as the Semitic ("Shemitic") nations in general have descended.” So this agrees with the clear precept or rule found in Scripture that the firstborn is listed first. Furthermore, when more translations are checked which rely on the older manuscripts, such as the RSV, ASV and the older version of the NAS, we find that they are also in agreement with the precept or rule of Scripture that we see in the rest of the Bible on this. Here is the verses from two of those translations; Gen 10:21 ASV “And unto Shem, the father of all the children of Eber, the elder brother of Japheth, to him also were children born.” V.21 (RSV) “To Shem also, the father of all the children of Eber, the elder brother of Japheth, children were born.” And if you have a NKJ Bible like mine with the marginal or center column reference, it will show a note, telling you that Shem is the older brother of Japheth, so the wording is what is reversed in the KJV, NKJ & NIV. So now we can see in this case after getting more facts and a little bit of study these precepts are all the same and the rule of the Firstborn always listed first IS what we have seen proven here. Most likely the same thing applies for the word “begot”, being of the same “rule of action” throughout Scripture. (See our Bible study on ACTS 7 for more dealing with Abram/Abraham, as some are also confused on the proper listing there as well and lead people astray on Abram as not being the first-born.)
To conclude: When studying various Bible subjects, if we remember to be diligent and apply the “Authoritative rule of action” or “line upon line and precept upon precept” principle found in other clear Scriptures, then we will learn more about what the Scriptures actually reveal, without resorting to human reason and getting off track. Heb 5:12-14 (RSV) “For though by this time you (COG members & ministers—in some cases) ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of God's word. You need milk, not solid food; 13 for every one who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their faculties trained by practice to distinguish good from evil.” (Also can be applied to determine right concepts from wrong concepts, using the gift of discernment, (1Cor.12:10) or letting the Holy Spirit be your guide. (John16:13)
(To all Spirit led Brethren, please be reminded; we have been called out to learn to be teachers, which is what we are in training for. Those willing to put forth effort by studying line upon line and precept upon precept, here a little and there a little will always try to make sure that we are understanding the Word of God properly. I hope this has been helpful for you and will help in your next study project. The Bible does have a consistency found all through the many books, chapters, contexts and concepts, and we should see that things are revealed precept upon precept! If not, such as the example I have used here, then we personally have to study that way to find out why, as we have done here. Other-wise we can end up being followers of men and their errors. Editor for TCOGMSO)