authority of the Bible
"The real oppressor, enslaver, and corrupter of the people is the
"It cannot be
emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded,
not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the Gospel
of Jesus Christ. For this very reason peoples of other faiths have been
afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here." 1
It is relatively easy
to believe that an omnipotent Creator God can possess authority over whatever
or whomever he desires. It is another matter to conclude that some printed
material found in a church, bookstore, or the internet conveys that same
Creator's authority. That, however, is exactly how Scripture presents itself
to be received.
The books and letters
of the Bible have been handed down to us in substantially the identical
form as spoken by God to and through his prophets. So the relevant questions
at this point are
those writings really characteristic of their originator,
they include commands that God expects to be followed, and
they still apply to us today?
Basically, if they look
like God, sound like God, are endorsed by God, and have not been revoked
by God, then we positively are to live under their authority. We will see
that this is exactly the case as we sequentially examine: the nature
of God's words, the authority of God's words, and the eternality
of God's words.
3.2 The nature of God's Word.
SCRIPTURE REFLECTS GOD'S CHARACTER
The nature of God's
Word perfectly reflect God's character. The qualities which describe and
identify God also equally describe and identify every book of the Bible
as being his words. This Bible is an extension of himself. Recognizing that
God's words reflect God's characteristics is the first key to recognizing
the divine nature of the Bible.
Consider that God is
recognized to have authority because he is powerful, he is perfect, he has
plainly communicated to us that he has authority, and he desires and expects
our obedience. All of these qualities are exemplified in and by God's words
- God's words are powerful:
"By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, their starry host by
the breath of his mouth" (Psa. 33:6).
- His words are perfect:
"As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the Lord is flawless"
- His words are exalted:
"I will bow down toward your holy temple and will praise your name
for your love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things
your name and your word" (Psa. 138:2).
- God's words are also
effective: "so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will
not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve
the purpose for which I sent it" (Isa. 55:11).
- His words are
to be served: "just as they were handed down to us by those who
from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word" (Luke 1:2).
- And his words are
to be obeyed: "...Blessed rather are those who hear the word
of God and obey it" (Luke 11:28).
-- SCRIPTURE IRRESISTABLY ELICITS
A RESPONSE FROM US
The nature of God's
words are also perfectly characteristic of God himself because God's words
irresistibly draw a response from us. This is the second key to recognizing
the divine nature of the Bible. God's Word states:
For the word of
God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing
as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow,
and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Heb.
The concept of the Word
being sharper than any two-edged sword compares to the opposing ways in
which God's word can be received by a person's conscience. On one hand,
it can be received with gladness much like a cancer patient who welcomes
the lifesaving cut of a surgeon's scalpel; separating the good from the
bad. On the other hand, people can also receive the Word like those who
fail to recognize the value of surgery and their own terminal condition.
In this context, God's Word can also be received as though it were an
attack; needlessly discomforting and undesirably invasive.
nonbelievers mistake God's Word for something other than what it is, does
that prove that his word is not effective as Isaiah 55:11 states?
No, because the effectiveness
of God's Word is not measured by whether or not the hearer believes it.
The Bible's effectiveness is its irresistible power to reinforce in the
hearer the spirit with which it is received. In the book of Exodus,
for example, Moses' constant exposure to the God's word eventually caused
him to relent and act in concert with it (3:4-4:18), whereas Pharaoh's constant
exposure to God's word eventually resulted in the hardening of his own heart
The effect that God's
Word has on people is like the sun whose light shines down on both butter
and clay. The same sunlight can soften one, yet harden the other. The difference
is not in the light. The sun (or in our case the Bible) does not shine more
favorably on certain objects than it does on others. The difference lies
within that which is being shined upon.
As free moral agents,
we make a choice. We either receive the light of God's Word like the former,
in which we are shaped and made impressionable by it; or we receive it like
the latter, and become hardened, unmoved, or callused against it. Either
way, the Word will reinforce in us the believing or unbelieving spirit
with which we choose to receive it. That will make our acceptance or
rejection of his Word crystal clear come judgment day;
So, as the Holy
Spirit says: "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts,"
(Heb. 3:7-8a NIV)
-- SCRIPTURE IS INTIMATELY IDENTIFIED
The third and most important
key to identifying and recognizing the divine nature of the Word is to learn
that God's word is intimately identified with the person of Christ. Christ
is referenced to be the Word of God as far back as before creation:
In the beginning
was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was
with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him
nothing was made that has been made. The Word became flesh and made his
dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only,
who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-3, 14
Christ is also addressed
as the Word of God at the end of the world:
He is dressed in
a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. On his robe and
on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.
(Rev. 19:13,16 NIV)
With this contextual
duality of the Word of God and Christ, it is clear that we are to receive
what is written in Scripture as though Christ was speaking to us directly.
Thus how we respond to the Word is how we respond to Christ; which is how
we respond to God.
The Word of God/Son
of God duality is not so much a new mystery to be contemplated as it is
the clear basis for authority that Scripture has always had. The Word
has an expressed equivalence to God himself.
3.3 The authority of God's Word.
1.) God and the
The authority of God's
Word begins with the apex of its nature. That apex is its inseparability
from God himself. If, as described earlier, God's triune nature is reflected
in the universe's tri-fold composition (space, time, and energy/matter),
then the dualism between energy and matter somewhat reflects the dualism
between the Word and Christ.
Christ exemplifies the
physical, visible manifestation of the Son of God who, while on earth, limited
himself in time and space. By contrast, God's Word exemplifies the Son of
God's invisible and unlimited spiritual presence which is still at work
among us. Both Christ and the Word function as one part of the divine trinity
to execute God's authority on earth.
The inseparability between
Christ and the Word is further identified in the first part of Romans 9:17:
"For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: "I raised you up for this very purpose,...".
Notice that Paul writes "the Scripture says to Pharaoh" though
it was not writings which were speaking. Paul is quoting from Exodus
9:16 which, beginning with 9:13, is actually the Lord telling Moses to tell
Pharaoh. Paul is treating "God says" as "Scripture says".
This is an excellent
demonstration of how the authority of Scripture is equivalent to the immediate
authority of God. Because God can never lie nor change his mind like people
do, the perfection and consistency of his character sends forth his words
in like fashion; so much so that his words actually stand alone for all
time - equal in authority to their originator.
Scripture is also identified
with divine authority in the revelation that it originates with God's Holy
Spirit, not with men: "Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which
the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David..."(Acts 1:16a
NIV, see also Acts 28:25b, 2 Pet. 1:19-21, and 2 Tim. 3:16: "All Scripture
2.) The Word is received as having authority.
The authority of God's
written word is further confirmed by the reception it received from its
earliest audiences. In Exodus 24:7 the people responded to the written word
just as though the Lord was speaking: "Then [Moses] took the Book
of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, "We will do everything
the Lord has said; we will obey."
In the New Testament,
Paul commends the church at Thessalonica for having received the spoken
Gospel as the word of God (1 Th. 2:13), and Peter, in one of his own books,
speaks of Paul's writings as one of "the other Scriptures" (2 Pet.
3.) Christ and the apostles used the Word as having authority.
The authority of God's
Word is also seen in the ways in which Christ and the apostles dealt with
Scripture. When one man asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life,
Jesus directs him to the Word by responding: "What is written in the
Law?" (Luke 10:26). When Jesus was three times tempted by Satan, he
responded each time by quoting Scripture: "It is written..." (Mat.
4:1-11). Jesus also confirmed to his disciples that "everything that
is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled,"
(Luke 18:31b NIV).
Paul's preaching was
also done on the basis that Scripture has authority, and on the basis that
his listeners accepted the reliability and authority of Scripture: "For
what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died
for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that
he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,"
(1 Cor. 15:3-4 NIV, emphasis mine).
The authority of Scripture,
and our responsibility to it, is something of which Jesus frequently spoke.
Jesus said (all quotations NIV)
- of the importance
of knowing Scripture: "You are in error because you do not know
the Scriptures or the power of God," (Mat 22:29b);
- of our dependency
upon Scripture: "Man does not live on bread alone, but on every
word that comes from the mouth of God," (Mat. 4:4b);
- of the responsibility
we have towards Scripture: "My mother and brothers are those who
hear God's word and put it into practice," (Luke 8:21b);
- and on the wisdom
of exercising that responsibility: "Therefore everyone who hears
these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who
built his house on the rock," (Mat. 7:24).
3.4 The eternality of God's Word.
The Word not only shares
God's authority and general characteristics, but, like God himself, the
Word is eternal. Psalm chapter 119 is an excellent treatise on the eternality
of the Word of God (all quotations NIV): "Your word, O Lord, is eternal;
it stands firm in the heavens," (119:89), "Long ago I learned from
your statutes that you established them to last forever," (119:152),
and "All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal,"
We likewise find these
same truths of the Word's eternality near the end of the New Testament reiterated
by Peter: "For, 'All men are like grass, and all their glory is like
the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the
word of the Lord stands forever.' And this is the word that was preached
to you," (1 Pet. 1:24-25).
The eternality of
God's Word glorifies God in its characteristic likeness of him. The
Word's eternality is also significant because along with giving us the Word,
God has given us a special responsibility. That responsibility is to maintain
and remember what he has told us. Because he instructs us to read and remember
the things he has said and done in the past is one reason that he neither
must nor intends to repeat a physical manifestation or mountain-top experience
for every person and every generation. God possesses authority and, like
any corporate executive or political leader who possesses authority, God
can delegate the task of passing the Word on; and so he has.
There is abundant evidence
in the Bible that God has delegated the task of passing on his instruction
to humanity. God commands his words be cast in writing:
Then the Lord said
to Moses, "Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered, (Exo.
This is what the
Lord, the God of Israel, says: Write in a book all the words I have spoken
to you, (Jer. 30:2).
And these words,
which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart; and you shall
teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit
in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when
you rise up. And you shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall
be as frontals on your forehead. And you shall write them on the doorposts
of your house and on your gates. (Deut. 6:6-9)
The Lord also qualifies
how he wants his word maintained:
Do not add to what
I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the
Lord your God that I give you, (Deut. 4:2)
Assemble the people
before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long
as they live in the land and may teach them to their children," (Deut.
4:10b, see also 6:5-9).
In summary, the
authority of the Bible is established by the nature of God's words, the
authority of his words, and the eternality of his words. God's words
are of such a nature that they perfectly reflect his own characteristics,
elicit an irresistible response from us, and are personally identified with
the person of Jesus Christ. The authority of those words are established
primarily by their intimate identification with God, and also by the precedent
by which they have historically been received and the manner in which Christ
reverently used and referenced them.
Finally, the eternality
of God's words establishes the Word as authoritative not only at the time
those words were written, but as authoritative for all time. Because the
Word eternally expresses God's authority over us, we are therefore obligated
to respond to it. Our responsibility in light of that authority comes as
the final sections.
Biblical authority and humanity
Conclusion: A story of the S.S.