The Authority of the Bible
Various attempts have been made throughout history to undermine Christianity. Among these attempts are the subverting of: Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Bible as the inspired word of God. It is the minimizing of these two fundamental tenets of Christianity that has demanded Christians everywhere to make an extreme effort in defense (cf. 1 Peter 3:15; 1 John 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 5:21; Jude 3). This article is concerned with the latter tenet of Christianity.
It is not the purpose of this essay to prove that God exists or that Jesus is His Son. Throughout the article the following assumptions will be made: (1) God exists and is infinite in all His attributes, (2) Jesus Christ is His Son, and (3) God has revealed Himself to man. The latter is true because God is infinite in all His attributes. An omnipotent God would be able to reveal Himself to man and an omnibenevolent God would desire to do so.
The basic affirmation has been made that the Bible is the word of God and the one and only authoritative standard to which men must adhere. The basic argument in which this conclusion is drawn is as follows (Warren, “Bible is God’s Word” 17-18):
1. If it is the case that the Bible possesses property A, property B, property C . . . property Z (where the total situation involved in having such properties makes it clear that the Bible is beyond mere human production) then the Bible is the word of God.
2. It is the case that the Bible possesses property A, property B, property C . . . property Z.
3. Therefore, the Bible is the word of God.
To establish the truthfulness of any conclusion two conditions must be met: (1) the argument must be valid, and (2) the premises must be true. Since, in the above argument, the antecedent of the major premise is affirmed, the argument is unquestionably valid. Thus, if the premises are true the conclusion must also be true.
In this argument, when reference is made to property A, property B, property C, etc., this means these designations stand for affirmative propositions regarding some fact about the Bible. This article deals with only one of these affirmative propositions; namely, authority. It would be absurd indeed for a book purporting to be the word of God not to possess authority. We would expect any book, demanding man’s adherence, to claim authority. This affirmation may be set out in the form of a hypothetical syllogism as follows:
1. If the Bible claims to possess one particular characteristic; namely, authority, then one of the conjuncts (property A, property B, property C . . . property Z) necessary for the Bible to be a candidate for the word of God has been established.
2. The Bible claims to possess one particular characteristic; namely, authority.
3. Therefore, one of the conjuncts (property A, property B, property C . . . property Z) necessary for the Bible to be a candidate for the word of God has been established.
The antecedent of the major premise is affirmed; hence, the argument is valid. If the premises are true, the conclusion must be true.
For the purposes of this essay, it is not affirmed that the Bible is the one and only standard of authority in religious matters; rather, it is affirmed that the Bible claims to be the authoritative standard in religion.
The method employed in proving the affirmation of this article is threefold. First, the definition and importance of authority will be discussed. Second, it will be shown that all authority ultimately resides in God. Third, it will be demonstrated that the Bible claims to be authoritative by showing: (1) that the Old Testament claims authority for itself, (2) that the New Testament claims authority for the Old Testament, and (3) that the New Testament claims authority for itself.
Definition and Importance of Authority
Authority is defined as “legal or rightful power; a right to command or to act; jurisdiction” (Webster’s 60). Thus, the question of authority is crucial. If no one had “a right to command or to act” a people would be in chaotic condition. Even in something as simple as a baseball game, authority is important. The federal government has established a Bureau of Standards in order to guarantee uniformity of weights and measures. Any variation from this standard must be corrected in order to maintain an accurate scale.
Surely, if authority is crucial to ordinary affairs of life, it is crucial to matters pertaining to religion. Matters pertaining to religion are matters pertaining to salvation. There is no more important question man can ask than the question, “What must I do to be saved?” This is a religious question and as Professor Warren has said, “Merely having some answer to a religious question is not sufficient. One should insist on having the answer . . .” (“Bible is Inspired” 2). Men do not just need answers to religious questions, they need the right answers. “Men need to know what is true, that they may do that which is right. They need some test or standard or court of appeal which distinguishes and enforces the truth; forbids the wrong and commands the right” (Rees 334). This essay contends that the Bible claims to be that standard or court of appeal.
All Authority Inherent in God
Essential to showing that the Bible claims to be authoritative is a clear understanding that all authority inherently resides in God. This is a claim made by the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments (Genesis 1:1ff; John 1:1-3). “He alone is self-existent and supreme, who is what He is of His own right. If God exists, He is the ultimate criterion and power of truth and reality. All truth inheres in Him and issues from Him” (334). God is the One who has the right to command and enforce obedience as F. Norvel Geldenhuys says,
All ultimate authority rests in God. As Creator and Sustainer of the universe he has the absolute right over all created beings and an all-embracing authority in heaven as on earth. This final and supreme authority gives him the unlimited prerogative to command and enforce obedience, to unconditionally possess and absolutely govern all things at all times in all places in the universe. (371)
The Bible’s Claim of Authority
It will now be shown that the Bible claims to have authority from God. This claim will be discussed in three ways: (1) the Old Testament’s claim of authority for itself, (2) the New Testament’s claim of authority for the Old Testament, and (3) the New Testament’s claim of authority for itself.
The Old Testament claims authority for itself. When God first entered into convenant with Israel and gave them His laws, He inscribed them on “tables of stone, written with the finger of God” (Exodus 31:18). Not only did God reveal His will to man directly, He revealed it through His spokesmen, the prophets. “A prophet is primarily a spokesman for another person (Exodus 4:10-16; 7:1). Through him God revealed his will in the Old Testament period (Hebrews 1:1)” (Lewis, Minor 9). The expression “Thus saith the Lord” (made by the prophets) occurs more than two thousand times (cf. Lewis, “What” 26). The account of the fate of Manasseh is introduced in 2 Kings 21:10 as, “And the Lord spake by his servants the prophets. . . .” Moses the prophet, wrote all the words of the Lord after having told them orally to the people (Exodus 24:4). “The word of the Lord” came to God’s prophets (Hosea 1:1; Ezekiel 1:3; Joel 1:1; Micah 1:1; Zephaniah 1:1; Zechariah 1:1). Isaiah, the prophet, is commanded: “Write it before them in a table . . .” (Isaiah 30:8).
Important in showing the Old Testament’s claims of authority is the expression, “Thy word.” This phrase is very prominent in Psalm 119. The words of David in the Psalms claim to be by the “Spirit of the Lord” (2 Samuel 23:1-2; cf. Matthew 22:43). Hence, the Old Testament claims to be authoritative.
The New Testament makes the claim of authority for the Old Testament. Throughout the entire New Testament the claim that the Old Testament is authoritative is undeniable. Jesus made this claim when He said “scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). The Lord responded three times to the temptation of the Devil by saying “it is written” (Matthew 4:1-11). Jot or tittle would not pass from the Law until all things were fulfilled “which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning Me” (Luke 24:44; Matthew 5;17, 18). J. Patterson Smyth points out that no Jew of Jesus’ day believed more firmly than Jesus of Nazareth that all of the Old Testament of the Jewish church was to be received as inspired teaching from God (211).
The apostle Paul made the claim of authority for the Old Testament when he said, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God . . .” (2 Timothy 3:16). The word inspiration is from theopneustos which literally means “God-breathed.” Paul claims that the Old Testament is from God and therefore the claim of authority is made. Peter made the same claim when he said, “. . . [H]oly men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 2:21). Furthermore, the Hebrew writer made the claim of authority when he noted that “God . . . spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets” (Hebrews 1:1). Although some sections of the Old Testament are not explicit in their claim of being spoken by God, its totality is regarded authoritative by Jesus and the apostles (Lewis, “What” 27).
It must be demonstrated now that the New Testament claims authority for itself. It has already been shown that all authority inherently resides in God. In the Old Testament, God gave His will primarily through the prophets. In demonstrating the New Testament claim of authority it should be noted that all authority in Heaven and on Earth has been given to Christ. After Christ arose from the dead He gave the Great Commission. He began by saying, “All power [authority] is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Matthew 28:18). He is “the Son of God with power” (Romans 1:4). Therefore, it is Christ whom we must hear (Acts 3:22-23; Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Matthew 17:5). Christ is God’s spokesman (Hebrews 1:2).
While on Earth, Christ delegated authority to His apostles. After His ascension into Heaven they were guided by the Holy Spirit as Christ had promised (John 14:26; 16:13). The apostles were “endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). They received this power when the Holy Spirit came upon them (Acts 1:8; cf. 2:1-
4). The apostles had the power to convey measures of the Spirit to others to make them prophets (Acts 8; 1 Corinthians 12-14). The apostles and the prophets, both inspired by the Holy Spirit, have given God’s will to man (Ephesians 3:5; 2 Peter 1:20-21).
This will was first delivered orally by these inspired men. An example of this is the preaching of Peter on Pentecost. The oral word was regarded authoritative. When the Thessalonians received the word which they heard, they received it as the word of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13; cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:10). Later, the will of God was delivered in written form (2 Thessalonians 2:15). The written word of inspired men was regarded authoritative. The things Paul wrote to the Corinthians were the commandments of the Lord (1 Corinthians 14:37; cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:4-6, 11). Thus, the New Testament claims authority for itself.
It has been demonstrated: that authority is crucial in all matters, especially in matters pertaining to religion; that ultimate authority resides in God; that the Bible claims to be authoritative. Therefore, one of the conjuncts (property A, property B, property C . . . property Z) necessary for the Bible to be a candidate for the word of God has been established.
David L. Lipe studied Philosophy of Religion and Apologetics under Thomas B. Warren at Harding Graduate School of Religion. He earned the Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and was a Professor of Bible and Humanities at Freed-Hardeman University for twenty years. He also served as Director of East Tennessee School of Preaching and Missions (now Southeast Institute of Biblical Studies). He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Geldenhuys, F. Norvel. “Authority and the Bible.” Revelation and the Bible. Ed. Carl F. H. Henry. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1958. Lewis, Jack P. The Minor Prophets. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1966).
- - -. “What the Old Testament Claims for Itself.” The Spiritual Sword. Vol. 5 (October 1973): 24–27.
Rees, T. “Authority.” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1939.
Smyth, J. Patterson. How God Inspired the Bible. London: Sampson, Low, Martson, n.d.
Warren, Thomas B. “The Bible is God’s Word—The Meaning of and Basic Argument for this Claim.” The Inspiration of the Bible. Ed. W. B. West, Jr. Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1971.
- - -. “The Bible is Inspired and Authoritative—Our Basic Argument.” The Spiritual Sword. 1 (1970): 1–3.
Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary. Springfield: G. and C. Merriam, 1961.