THE AUTHORITY OF THE BIBLE

Introduction:

There are within the church today many, often conflicting, views about the nature of the Bible.Some would maintain that in this book we have the written Words of God, being inspired and authoritative record and revelation of His character and His dealings with men. Others, at the opposite extreme, would see the Bible as being the human interpretation of certain significant events, as being 'inspired' in the sense that any great writing is inspired, but containing many contradictions and discrepancies (as one would expect of fallible human authors) and therefore being no more than an interesting commentary written by men with all the limitations of their particular culture and environment. Both these views are of course generalisations and many would hold a position somewhere between. It is the purpose of this CROSSFIRE to argue broadly for the first position - the claim that within the covers of Genesis 1 and Revelation 22 we have the written words of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit and authoritative for our understanding of God - a claim which would put the Bible in a different category from any other book. There are six main propositions which, when added up, would make it difficult for the Christian, desiring to submit himself to the mind of Christ, to come to any other conclusion than that in Scripture we have the inspired and authoritative Word of God.

God who speaks

The first proposition is that the Christian believes in a God who speaks. This ia a fundamental point, and often ignored. The very essence of Christian faith, as of Old Testament Jewish faith, is not that man began to formulate views about a Creator God, but the opposite - God took the initiative and chose to reveal Himself to man "God said" (Genesis 1:3), God spoke to Abram (Genesis 12:1), the Word of the Lord came to the prophets, and in Jesus the Word became flesh (John 1:14). The God of the Jewish/Christian faith is one who speaks, one about whom we would know nothing apart from His grace in revealing Himself. Now, of course, there are different means of communicating and revealing oneself, and the fact that the Christian God is a God who speaks does not necessarily bind us to the view that He only speaks through messengers who commit His words to writing. No, God has spoken through Creation (Psalm 19), through human conscience (Romans 2) and supremely through a Living Word, Jesus Christ. But given that He does speak, is it not probable that He would give us some definite and permanent record of Himself and His acts? The following claims would suggest that He has done just that.

Jesus' view of the Old Testament

Not only did Jesus use the Old Testament when confronted with the Devil - "It is written" (Mt 4:4), but also when confronted in argument with the religious leaders of the day. So with the 'liberals' of His day, the Sadducees, who disbelieved in resurrection, Jesus said "You know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God" (Mt 22:29), thus basing His argument on the Old Testament. And with the traditionalists of the day, who put priestly tradition above the written word of Scripture, Jesus said "You reject the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition" (Mark 7:9). But further than this, Jesus not only accepted the Old Testament as authoritative, but also as the actual words of God. In Mt 19:4 & 5, in a discussion on divorce, Jesus quotes Gen 2:24 - "Have you not read how God ... said 'A man shall leave his father and mother' ..." The point here is that Gen 2:24 is merely a comment by the author of Genesis, not even put into the mouth of God - yet for Jesus the words of Genesis are God's words; we could look at many other passages in the Gospels which illustrate Jesus' high view of the Old Testament. Most scholars would agree that Jesus had this view, but some maintain Jesus was conditioned by His culture and upbringing and that He represents the naive (and by implication mistaken) view of the first century Jew. But that is a dangerous and really impossible attitude for a Christian to have of Christ, whom he believes to be God incarnate, all wisdom and all truth.

The Apostolic Authority of the New Testament

The apostolic authority of the New Testament follows on naturally from an acceptance of the Old Testament as the Word of God. If God had spoken in the days leading up to Christ, it would be odd, to say the least, not to follow on with the written revelation of Christ. And this indeed is what Christ promised to His apostles: "You will not remember everything I have said - but the Holy Spirit will remind you and teach you" (John 16:12 - 14). And this promise would cover not just the Gospels, but the Acts of the Apostles and the apostolic epistles.The apostle Paul claims to be speaking not the word of a man, but the Word of God (1 Thess 2:13, and 1 Cor 2:13). Moreover Peter refers to Paul's writings as 'Scripture' (2 Peter 3:13 & 16).

The miracle of the Incarnation

The Incarnation is another key factor to be borne in mind when considering the inspiration of Scripture, especially the New Testament. If we believe the staggering fact that God entered this world and went to the limits of the Cross, can we then possibly believe the possibility that He would bequeath to future generations an inaccurate and vague record and interpretation of these key events? Surely we would expect instead an accurate and informative account. Also, if a Christian can accept the greatest miracle of all, the Incarnation, that God could take on human flesh, can he not with that accept the possibility of a much smaller miracle, that God should deign to put his thoughts and actions into a book? It is certainly a miracle that we should have the words of Jesus written several years after His death, but we must expect such miracles to follow from the greatest of all miracles, the Incarnation. If God chose to limit Himself in space and time to a human body, why not also to a book?

Two things follow from this: just as there can be no full explanation of the mystery of the Incarnation (a once-for-all miracle, not describable in human terms), neither can there be any explanation of now inspiration works. The authors of the different books clearly kept their individual personalities, but just how God inspired them is not clear, nor are we encouraged to work out different modes or methods of inspiration, any more than with the Incarnation. And secondly, when we come across apparent difficulties or seeming contradictions in the Bible, if we have a belief in supernatural inspiration, we are likely to approach such difficulties humbly and cautiously. Without trying to gloss over them or dismiss them, we are bound to look for an answer to an apparent discrepancy, in the belief that there must be an answer. It is very striking how several apparent 'discrepancies' of 30 years ago have now been resolved in the light of modern scholarship and archaeology.

The Bible is self-authenticating

The unity of the Bible is amazing: 66 books written in three languages by 40 writers over a period of 1,600 years, yet all having one subject throughout - God's salvation for sinful man. Its prophetic predictions have been remarkably fulfilled: such as the promise that Christ would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), the Crucifixion (Isaiah 53), various prophecies ofthe destruction of Jerusalem, of the judgement on the Jews and their eventual return to the homeland (Romans 9 - 11). The Bible has a universal appeal. Its impact, over thousands of years, on the lives of individuals and nations authenticate its own claim of being "God breathed" (2 Tim 3:16).

The Believer's Experience

The final proof for the believer that the Bible is indeed the authoritative and inspired Word of God is when he finds in his own experience that this book, unlike any other, is "living and active, sharper than any sword, discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12). He finds that the author of the book, the Holy Spirit, brings the written words alive and points to the main subject of the book, the Living Word, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

Suggested further reading:
"Authority" D Martyn Lloyd-Jones IVP
"The Book that speaks for itself" Robert Horn IVP
OCU Tape No 623 by the Reverend David Shacklock also covers this subject.


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