Question: What Does The Bible Have To Say About Its Own Authority?
Answer: The main question with respect to the Bible, that has to be adequately answered, concerns its divine authority. What kind of book does it claim to be? Does it make any statements about its own authority? If so, then what does it say?
It is vital to know what the Bible itself has to say about this all-important issue. Therefore, we will begin our course by examining some basic truths. These truths will set the stage for everything else we learn about the Bible and the unique authority which it has.
The Right To Issue Commands Belongs To The God Of The Bible
To begin with, we should define what we mean by the word “authority.” Authority can be defined as the right to issue commands and demand obedience. According to the Scriptures, this is something that ultimately belongs to the God of the Bible and to Him alone. He is the One who is in absolute control of all things.
For example, God exercises this authority, or control, by the way in which He rules the universe. The pagan King Nebuchadnezzar gave testimony to the unique authority of the Lord; the God of Israel. He said.
At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?” (Daniel 4:34,35 NIV).
The Lord does whatever He pleases; no one tells Him what to do.
The Apostle Paul also emphasized that the God of Scripture accomplishes all things according to His will. He wrote to the Ephesians.
In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will (Ephesians 1:11 NRSV).
Final authority belongs to God alone. He is the only Being in the universe that has the absolute right to issue commands. This has to be our starting point when discussing the matter of ultimate authority.
What The Bible Says About Its Own Authority
The claims of the Bible, with respect to ultimate authority of the God of Scripture, can be simply stated in the following four points.
1. The God Of The Bible Has Audible Spoken To Humans
First, the God of the Bible, the only God who exists, audible spoke to certain human beings. We read about this a number of times in Scripture. For example, we find that God spoke to the first human; Adam. The Bible says.
The LORD God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and care for it. But the LORD God gave him this warning: “You may freely eat any fruit in the garden except fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat of its fruit, you will surely die” (Genesis 2:15-17 NLT).
The remainder of Scripture contains numerous examples where God spoke to humans in an audible voice and in a language in which they could understand. In doing so, He has issued commands which He expected to be obeyed.
2. God Chose Certain People To Speak For Him
In addition to God personally speaking to human beings, God also selected certain individuals who would be His designated spokesmen. We find this taught in both testaments.
In the Old Testament, we are told that God spoke through His chosen spokesmen, the prophets. The words of the prophets carried the same authority as if God has personally spoken them Himself; the people were expected to obey their words.
Moses emphasized that his commands were, in reality, the commands of the Lord. He wrote.
Do not add to or subtract from these commands I am giving you from the LORD your God. Just obey them (Deuteronomy 4:2 NLT).
As Moses’ words were the words of the Lord, obedience to these words was required of the people.
In the New Testament, we find that God the Father has once-and-for-all revealed His truth through Jesus the Son. In His prayer recorded in John 17, Jesus said the following to God the Father.
For the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me (John 17:8 NRSV).
Jesus’ words, which were given to Him by God the Father, were passed on to His disciples. This is an indication of the divine origin of Scripture.
These truths were first spoken by Jesus, and then His followers continued to proclaim His Word. Believers were then to obey the words of Jesus’ disciples. Jesus Himself said that the people would listen to the disciples when they taught about Him.
Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also (John 15:20 NIV).
The words of Jesus’ handpicked disciples carried His absolute authority. Their teachings, like those of Jesus, were expected to be obeyed.
Not only were Jesus’ immediate disciples given His divine authority, we also find that God supernaturally gave the Apostle Paul his unique ministry. Paul claimed this in his letter to the Galatians where he said the following.
This letter is from Paul, an apostle. I was not appointed by any group or by human authority. My call is from Jesus Christ himself and from God the Father, who raised Jesus from the dead (Galatians 1:1 NLT).
His words ultimately had a divine origin – they were not merely human words from a human source. He also wrote to the Galatians.
Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. For I did not receive it or learn it from any human source; instead I received it by a revelation of Jesus Christ. (Galatians 1:11,12 NET).
These chosen people, were speaking God’s message – it was not something they have originated. Paul’s words were God’s words. He said elsewhere to the Thessalonians.
And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers (1 Thessalonians 2:13 ESV).
Therefore, it is the testimony of the Bible that God has personally spoken to people, as well as speaking to people through certain individuals that He designated.
3. The Words Of God, And His Chosen Spokesmen Were Written Down
Next we find that the words of God, as well as the words of God’s chosen spokesmen, were written down by divinely-selected individuals whom God supernaturally guided.
For example, in the Book of Jeremiah, we read of God telling Jeremiah the prophet to write down certain things. The following commandment is recorded.
The LORD gave another message to Jeremiah. He said, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: Write down for the record everything I have said to you, Jeremiah” (Jeremiah 30:2 NLT).
God commanded and Jeremiah responded; he wrote down God’s truth. Therefore, there are parts of Scripture that record the actual words that God spoke while other parts record what God’s chosen spokesmen said.
4. The Writings Of Scripture, Being God’s Words, Were Absolutely Authoritative On Every Subject They Covered
This brings us to our final point. These words that have been written down, since they are the words of God, have His absolute authority. We find this to be true in both testaments.
For example, in the Old Testament we find that the things that were committed to writing were understood to be divinely authoritative. We read in Deuteronomy.
Moses commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, saying, “Take this book of the law and put it beside the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God; let it remain there as a witness against you” (Deuteronomy 31:25.26 NRSV).
Moses’ words were God’s words and hence they carried His divine authority.
The same is true for the New Testament. The apostle Paul believed his written message ultimately came from God. Therefore it was authoritative. He made the following claim to the church in Corinth.
If anyone considers himself a prophet or spiritual person, he should acknowledge that what I write to you is the Lord’s command (1 Corinthians 14:37 NET).
Thus, the written word of God is the final authority upon all matters in which it speaks.
While authority comes from God alone, we find that He has chosen to reveal His truth to humanity through human words, and by means of certain human writers whom He selected. From the beginning to the end, the Bible is a book that is divine and human. Divinely inspired by God, but written in the words of humans. It is important that we realize the dual nature of Scripture. The Bible is the Word of God written in the words of human authors. While the words may be human, the message was from God.
Moreover, the Christian faith stands or falls upon the foundation of Holy Scripture. Without the Scriptures, Christians have no basis of authority whatsoever. The psalmist asked the appropriate question.
If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do? (Psalm 11:3 KJV).
The foundation of the Christian faith is that the living God has spoken to humanity and His words have been recorded in the Bible. In the entire history of the church, Christian teaching and preaching has been based upon the belief that the Scriptures are of divine origin. Humans spoke, God spoke. Therefore, when we speak of the authority of the Bible we mean that the words of Scripture are the words of God.
Consequently, if we do not believe certain parts of it, or if we disobey its commandments, we are disbelieving and disobeying God. Thus, to obey God, we must obey everything which His Word commands us to do. This is how we honor Him.
Summary To Question 1 What Does The Bible Have To Say About Its Own Authority?
The issue of who can speak with ultimate authority is of the utmost importance. The Bible says that the God of Scripture is the living God who speaks with absolute authority on all matters. He has revealed these truths to us in a Book; the Bible. Four things are clear.
First, God has spoken audibly to certain human beings. The Bible records numerous instances where this has happened.
Second, God used specially chosen humans to be His spokesmen. Scripture gives many examples where God’s chosen spokesmen, the prophets, spoke to the people for Him.
Third, the words of God, as well as those of His specially chosen spokesmen, were written in a number of sacred books. Today, they have been collected into one Book; the Bible.
Fourth, because the Bible contains the words of God that were spoken, either audibly, or through His chosen spokesmen, it is absolutely authoritative on all matters in which it speaks. Since it contains the authoritative words of God and His spokesmen, it carries His divine authority. This record of God speaking is the final word on all matters of faith and practice.
The Bible, therefore, is a book that is both human and divine; it is God’s Word written by human beings.
Finally, we must emphasize that the idea of an authoritative, divinely inspired Scripture is not something that the church invented; it is the testimony of the biblical writers themselves. Therefore, the words of the Bible should be believed and obeyed.
This question is from my forthcoming book “Is The Bible The Word Of God?”