Truth That Matters

"What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?" - Jesus Christ

THE AUTHORITY OF THE BIBLE

A lot of people read the Bible and claim to accept or follow it. Others have opinions about the Bible without reading it - perhaps it's a good book written by honest people; perhaps it is one of the ways to God. However, to adopt a rational stance towards a book, we must first see what the book says about itself. This is the objective of this article. I show that the Bible demands authority.

The Bible will be preserved

We read:

  • "The word of the Lord endures forever" – 1 Peter 1:25
  • "The Words of Jehovah are pure Words...You shall keep them, O Jehovah, You shall preserve them from this generation forever." – Psalm 12:6-7. Some translations change "them" to "us". But neither grammar nor simple fact warrants it - the generation of Israelis who lived in 1000 BC were certainly not preserved forever!! And the previous sentence refers to God's words, not David and his contemporaries.
There is an important consequence of this point: everything that follows below applies not just to the original autographs of the Bible, but genuine copies today.

The Bible is relevant

We read:-

  1. "Whatever things were written before were written for our instruction, that we through the patience and encouragement of the Scriptures might have hope." – Romans 15:4
  2. Paul addresses not just the first century Christians in Corinth but "all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours." – 1 Corinthians 1:2
  3. "The Word that I [Jesus, who is God] speak will judge him [any human] in the Last Day." – John 12:48. These words are recorded in the Bible.

Thus, we ignore the Bible at our own peril.

The Bible says that its central personality is the ONLY way to God.

The central person in the Bible is Jesus Christ - the Son of God who came down from heaven to earth as human saviour. See John 14:6, Isaiah 8:20, Exodus 20:1-3 and Acts 4:12

The Bible is given directly by God

We read:
  • "All scripture is God-exhaled, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:" – 2 Timothy 3:16
  • "For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." - 2 Peter 1:21
  • "This scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke in advance through the mouth of David..."

Note the following:-

  1. In 2 Timothy 3:15, Paul refers to the scriptures that Timothy read as a child: the Old Testament. But in verse 16, Paul says "All scripture". Since the word scripture is applied to the New Testament as well (see 2 Peter 3:16), we must conclude that inspiration applies not just to the Old Testament that little Timothy read but to the whole Bible
  2. The Bible presents the New Testament as "greater" than the Old Testament (Hebrews 10:28-29, Hebrews 12:25, Hebrews 9:13-14, 2 Corinthians 3:6-11). Thus, any positive statement about the Old Testament applies in greater measure to the New.
  3. When Paul wrote 2 Timothy, the Bible was not yet complete. So can Paul refer to "all scripture" that did not even exist at the time? Yes; this seems strange from an earthly point of view, but God is beyond time - He inhabits eternity (Isaiah 57:15) and His word is eternally settled in heaven (Psalm 119:89). Thus, it is perfectly reasonable for God to guide Paul to make statement about an entity that did not yet exist on earth, since it existed in heaven!

Summary: When you read the Bible, you are reading God's message to you.

The Bible is perfect

We read:

  • "Therefore I esteem all thy precepts concerning all things to be right; and I hate every false way." – Psalm 119:128
  • "Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him." – Proverbs 30:5
  • "The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether." – Psalm 19:7-9
  • "All scripture is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work." – 2 Timothy 3:16-17
We often complain about how imperfect our world is. But there's one perfect thing in it: God's message to man, the Bible! How precious!!

Don't add to or subtract from the Bible

See Revelation 22:18-19, Proverbs 30:6 and Deuteronomy 4:2. Do the verses from Revelation refer only to adding to Revelation, or adding to the whole Bible? Obviously, the latter is the case. Christ is particular that there are no additions. An addition is an addition, whether it is included in Revelation or not! What purpose would it serve if additions to Revelation were disallowed, but anyone can add matter under a separate book-heading?


If you read Revelation 22, the tone of finality used by the Lord Jesus shows that nothing more needs to be added to scripture. We are to anticipate his return (Revelation 22:20), not look for additions to the Bible from tradition, church councils, revelation, etc.

The Bible is necessary and sufficient for our spiritual welfare

The Bible claims to be necessary for our welfare:-


"Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God." - Luke 4:4

7. The Bible claims to be sufficient for our spiritual welfare:-

  • "All scripture is God-exhaled...That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." - 2 Timothy 3:16-17
  • "The faith once delivered" - Jude/Judas 1:3

The Bible is God's final word to man

There will be no more divine revelation to the human race before the Lord Jesus returns to earth.
  • At the close of the Bible, Revelation 22:10-21, we are invited to accept God's invitation, warned to obey the and not tamper with it; the Lord Jesus tells us he is coming again to earth. The passage has a note of finality to it, as opposed to expecting some more word from God.
  • "The faith once delivered" – Jude 1:3 (note the aorist (past) tense used and the Greek hapax rendered "once", which carries the sense of "once for all"). Here "The Faith", our body of belief, has already been delivered once for all in the first century. There will be no additions to it in the centuries that follow.
  • The only people who were qualified to put down written revelation from God were the apostles and prophets, specifically guided by the Holy Spirit. The word "apostle" means a "sent one", and these sent ones laid the FOUNDATION of the church (Ephesians 2:20). Any building's foundation is laid only ONCE, at the START. Thus, the revelation of New Testament Christianity is something that God gave once in the first century. It is not an ongoing process.

This does not disqualify personal guidance from God for individual Christians, but it does refute all books, teachings or oral "revelations" that purport to continue the revelation of the Bible – the Koran, the Book of Mormon, recently formulated Catholic dogmas, revelations touted by medieval mystics, revelations proclaimed by modern "apostles" and "prophets", etc. 

Reject any teaching that disagrees with the Bible.

We read

  • "If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ,...He is proud, knowing nothing..." – 1 Timothy 6:3. But what are "the words of our Lord Jesus"? The New Testament!
  • "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned [past tense – this doctrine is contained in scripture – we know because scripture claims to be sufficient - see above]; and avoid them." – Romans 16:17
  • "The scripture cannot be broken" – John 10:35
  • The Bereans were called noble for cross-checking Paul's preaching with scripture (Acts 17:11)

We must therefore examine everything we come across (Catholic and Orthodox tradition, our own customs, scientific, psychological and medical theories, etc.) and accept or reject them depending on whether they agree with the Bible.

The Bible is self-contained for its interpretation

That is, in order to interpret the Bible, you don't need an external source.

  • God has not specified anything or anyone else for our guidance apart from the Bible. Moreover, the Bible says that God is faithful (1 Corinthians 1:9) and has given us all we need (2 Peter 1:3). Therefore, the claim follows.
  • When Jesus was asked his view on controversial topics, he simply pointed people to OT scripture without making reference to any external entity such as ancient or current prophetical or rabbinical tradition.
  • The noble Bereans (Acts 17:11) searched only the Old Testament scriptures, not any other source, to figure out if Paul's teaching was consistent with the Old Testament.
  • The same applies to New Testament writers (although the Greek-Roman world of their day was considerably different from the Jewish context of the Old Testament) 

This does not disqualify the use of aids to enhance our understanding of unfamiliar terms. For example, you may want to consult the first century Jewish historian Josephus to get some background on the 'Pharisees'. This principle does disqualify a self-proclaimed expert on ancient Hebrew or Greek culture who says that unless you have his information, you will be mislead by reading the Bible.

Individual Christians (not some elite body) have the right to interpret the Bible

How do we come to this conclusion?

  • An elite body for interpretation is needed when the book in question is vague, meaning something other than it says, or dependent on external sources for clarity. But the Bible claims to be precisely NOT such a book (see th enext two points)
  • God has not appointed any such body. This proves that he wants individual Christians to interpret the Bible.
  • Observe the simple sequence addressed to ordinary people of God regarding God's word in Deuteronomy 5:1 - "Hear, learn, keep(guard), do". 
  • The Bereans were commended for searching the Old Testament on their own to see if what Paul told them was correct (Acts 17:11)
  • Moses tells his illiterate slave-race that the word of God is close and accessible to them so that they can do it (Deuteronomy 30:14). It is not obscure or distant, necessitating someone else to make them understand it.
  • In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, any "man of God" can read the Bible and be transformed by it.
  • The Psalmist studied the Bible so much on his own that he became better than his teachers (Psalm 119:99)
  • In Deuteronomy 11:18-20, Moses asked individual Israelite parents to learn God's word, write it on the walls of their house, and teach their children – no reference to any interpreting authority.
  • Any man is blessed if he meditates on the Bible day and night (Psalm 1:2). No mention is made about his following the interpretation of someone else. "Meditate" means to ponder – figure out the interpretation.
  • "Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word of God" – Luke 4:4. Bread can be eaten and digested by each person himself. In the same way, God's word can be fed upon by each individual Christian.

Clarification: This principle does not negate the genuine need for Bible teaching. Catholic and orthodox apologists deliberately confuse teaching with exclusive-interpretation-rights. Paul taught the noble Bereans, but he had no exclusive interpretation rights. The Bereans cross-checked his New Testament teaching to make sure it tallied with the Old Testament (Acts 17:11).

The Bible is perspicuous

That is, the Bible conveys specific information about the subjects that it deals with:-

  • The Bible tells us that we are to "hear...learn...keep...practice" God's word (Deuteronomy 5:1). You can only keep and practice things that are specific and clear.
  • Psalm 119 develops the theme of studying and obeying the Bible. In this long chapter, nowhere does the author suggest that what he was reading was vague – instead it was "a light unto his path" (Psalm 119:105) – providing precise direction for living.
  • "The testimony of the Lord is sure" (Psalm 19:7). Something cannot be sure unless it is specific and clear
  • "...by [the judgments of Jehovah] is Your servant warned" Psalm 19:11). Warnings only work when they are worded clearly enough to avoid multiple interpretations.
  • When the rabbis of Jesus' day came to him with their dilemmas about the interpretation of scripture, his responses were: "Have you not read....", "You know neither the scriptures nor the power of God...", "How readest thou?..." With responses like these, the Lord Jesus makes the point that scripture is plain to interpret and apply for those willing to obey it.

You say: "I know the Lord Jesus is coming back. I don't know anymore". Well? Either you're lazy or God does not have communication skills!

We must respond to the perspicuity of the Bible

That is, we shouldn't be "neutral" about Biblical subjects.

  1. We are asked to test all teaching and practice (1 Thessalonians 5:21)
  2. Those who have taken the trouble to check whether various things are right or wrong are commended (Hebrews 5:14).
  3. The Lord Jesus asked us to teach all that he has commanded (Matthew 28:20), not just the gospel 
  4. Regarding sequence issues in eschatology (to which a lot of people adopt a "hands off" approach), Paul was very particular that his audience got it right (2 Thessalonians 2:2-5). 
  5. When the Lord Jesus found Jews who were unfamiliar with the sufferings of the Messiah (which to them was an unfamiliar topic in Old Testament prophecy), he rebuked them harshly (Luke 24:25) 

Given that the Bible speaks about topics such as baptism, homosexuality, the sequence of end time events, church government, the sequence of creation, God does not want us to shrug our shoulders and say: "A lot of people have different ideas about these things, so I'm not taking sides". God wants us to study the Bible, learn what it teaches about these things and take a stand.

All parts of the Bible are important

We read:

  • All scripture is inspired (2 Timothy 3:16).
  • Every word of God is pure (Proverbs 30:5)
  • God's precepts concerning all things are trustworthy (Psalm 119:128).
  • Paul was innocent of the blood of his audience because he had preached the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27).

It follows that if a topic or book exists in the Bible, God wants us to study it (irrespective of whether it appears to be useful to us or not). While some Biblical teachings are more important than others, all parts must be studied and stood for.

The method matters too.

If the Bible prescribes a procedure to do a task, it is not enough to accomplish the task. We must do so using the procedure prescribed in the Bible.

  • David and his people paid a heavy price for transporting the ark using a wrong procedure (see 2 Samuel 6:1-7 and 1 Chronicles 15:12-15)
  • God warned Moses that failure to follow the proper procedure in the Tabernacle would result in death (Leviticus 16:2, Numbers 4:15)

Clarification: The fact that we're now in the age of grace and not law means that God does not inflict judgment instantly, but it does not mean that God's mind about adherence to detail has changed!

The reasons for disobedience don't count

For Biblical commands, all that counts is obedience. God does not care about what your reasons may be for disobeying His commands in the Bible. When God told Saul to annihilate the Amalekites and their livestock he saved some of the animals, supposedly to offer sacrifices. Observe Samuel's stinging rebuke in 1 Samuel 15:22-23. The only exception is when emergencies prevent us from following procedures that God has commanded though we want to (2 Chronicles 30:18). In the New Testament age, God is prepared to wait graciously instead of sending instant punishment (contrast 2 Kings 1:10 with Luke 9:55). This does NOT mean we should be complacent! Disobedience is serious (2 Thessalonians 3:14).

Conclusion

So that's the Bible: God's preserved, authoritative, perfect, living Word, there for us so that we can be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. Also see: How does the Bible refer to itself?

Some conclusions are in order:-
  • It is intellectual suicide to accept the Bible as merely a good book, but not God-given. If the Bible is not God given, it is the greatest hoax in history.
  • It is intellectual suicide to claim that the Bible is one of the ways to God. It is either the only way to God or a big lie.
  • It is ridiculous to say that you derive comfort from the Bible but refuse to submit to Jesus Christ. The Bible promises only eternal hell to those who reject the Lord Jesus (Revelation 20:15).
  • Any teaching that we profess or believe about God has to be obtained from the Bible. For instance, we know that God is love because the Bible says so.
  • Any teaching or theory in any subject must be accepted by a true Christian only if it does not contradict the Bible. As an example, the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics can be accepted as true by a believer, but the theory of evolution is false. This policy never goes wrong because God's universe never contradicts God's word.
  • Any practice which sets aside or de-emphasizes what the Bible teaches has to be set aside or de-emphasized.
  • For our spiritual welfare, we should look only to the Bible and the working of the Holy Spirit.

Further reading:

  • Warfield, Benjamin B. The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publ. Co.
  • Gaussen L. The Plenary Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures. Chicago, Il: Moody Press
  • Henry, Carl F. H. ed. 1958. Revelation and the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
  • Engelder, Th. 1944. Scripture cannot be broken. St. Louis, MO. Concordia Publishing House.
  • Harris, R. Laird. 1969. Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
  • Houghton, S. M. ed. 1984. Truth Unchanged, Unchanging. Abingdon, England. The Bible League.
  • Stonehouse, Ned B. 1968. The Infallible Word. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publ. Co.

Questions regarding the authority of the Bible