June 25, 2017

The Authority of the Scriptures

Paul W. Downey

Many churches today base their ministries on one fad or another. In attempts to attract a larger crowd or larger offerings, many pastors “package” their churches as places where people can be entertained, fulfilled, or taught to cope with the difficulties of life. Our churches ought rather to be places where people can confront the reality of their own helplessly sinful condition and learn of God’s grace. The common ground of our life in Christ is neither temporal nor cultural, but is based on the cross of Christ as revealed in the Bible. The subject of the authority of Scripture is one of the most basic to the Christian faith. That makes it very familiar, but it also makes it very important. Let’s consider three aspects of the authority of the Scriptures: the centrality of the Scriptures to Christian living, the supremacy of the Scriptures in Christian living, and the sufficiency of the Scriptures for Christian living.

The Centrality of the Scriptures to Christian Living

We need to lift up the Word of God as the center of our Christian life. There are at least three reasons that the Bible deserves a place of centrality in our lives. First, the Bible is the only book inspired by God. The Bible did not come “by the will of man, but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Pet. 1:21). As a book that is utterly unique as to its source, it ought to be central to our lives as Christians.

Secondly, the Bible deserves a place of centrality in the Christian life because it is the only book inerrant in content. The Bible is absolutely accurate and completely reliable in every statement it makes. Because it is a unique book as to its character, we ought to make learning and applying everything it teaches the highest priority in our lives.

Athird reason the Bible should have a central place in the Christian life is that it is the only book illuminated by the Holy Spirit. First Corinthians 2:14–15 says, “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.” If we would understand the Scripture, we must have His guidance. Our understanding is darkened, our minds can be deceived, we are capable of convincing ourselves that we understand a passage or principle that we really do not understand. We are taught by diligent study and prayer, but we can still be mistaken through the deceitfulness of sin.

To understand Scripture, we must have intellectual honesty. We must be prepared to take God at His Word. We must believe what it teaches and be prepared to change our prejudices. If I find in the study of God’s Word that it teaches something contrary to what I believe or have been taught, or contrary to how I have lived, I must be prepared to change what I believe or how I live. If I find in my study of God’s Word that it does not teach what I thought it did, or what I have been taught, I must be prepared to admit my mistake. “Truth” is not “truth” simply because it is what I have been taught. “What you have been taught in accordance with the Word of God is truth, and what you have been taught that is not in accordance with the Word is not truth” (J. Edwin Hartill, Principles of Biblical Hermeneutics, 68). The Bible must be central to our Christian lives because it is the only book inspired by God, inerrant in content, and illuminated by the Holy Spirit.

The Supremacy of the Scriptures in Christian Living

A second aspect of the authority of the Scriptures is the supremacy of Scripture for Christian living. In John 14:15, Jesus told His disciples, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” In 2 Timothy 3:16 we are taught that “all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” The Bible is the only book with supreme priority. In 1 Thessalonians 5:21 Paul challenges us to “prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” Everything we believe, everything we do, is to be tested by what is taught in this Book. No other book takes precedence. Other books are helpful only insofar as they teach us to understand and obey the Word of God. Never allow any other book to supersede the Scriptures in your life.

Further, no other teacher takes precedence. It really does not matter how large his radio audience, nor how widely recognized his name, nor how prestigious his reputation. A teacher is only trustworthy and helpful insofar as he agrees with the Bible. Never judge a teacher by the size of his audience. Just because a man calls himself a Christian, or even a fundamental Baptist, does not guarantee that everything he teaches agrees with Scripture. We must evaluate everything taught by every teacher in the light of the Bible.

Also, we need to remember that no “new revelation” takes precedence. I distrust anyone who ever says, “God told me …,” or “Jesus said to me …,” unless he is talking about something he found in the Bible. Neither books, writings, or teachings that claim to be inspired, nor my subjective feelings or impressions or insights are authoritative. God has already told us everything He ever will in His Word. The Scriptures are our final authority.

For the Scriptures to be supreme in our lives, we must also recognize that the Bible is the only book with supreme authority. God gave Joshua a formula for success in the work to which He had called him: “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success” (Josh. 1:8). We must remember that our behavior will be judged by this Book. Our beliefs will be judged by this Book. Our culture will be judged by this Book.

The Sufficiency of the Scriptures for Christian Living

Most Fundamentalists would not argue with what I have said thus far. Basic to the definition of a Christian Fundamentalist is the acceptance of the centrality and supremacy of the Scriptures. However, there seems to be some dispute among Fundamentalists today over the sufficiency of Scripture for Christian living. We are quick to cite 2 Timothy 3:16 to speak of the authority of the Bible, but we sometimes forget that the next verse says the purpose of the Scripture is “that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” It does not say “that the man of God may get off to a good start.” It says that the Bible was given that the man of God may have everything he needs to be completely equipped to do all God wants him to do. Since that is the case, we must cultivate a conviction of the sufficiency of God’s Word. I believe that there are at least five facets to doing that.

First, if we would allow the Word of God to fully equip us, we must be attentive to the teaching and preaching of this Book. Hebrews 13:7 and 17 command us, “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation. . . . Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.” In Ephesians 4:11–13 Paul tells us why God gave teachers and preachers to the church: “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” God’s primary method of teaching His people is through pastors and evangelists. Until we have all attained “the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ,” we must give attention to the preaching and teaching of the Word.

Secondly, we must be diligent in our personal study of this Book. Acts 17:11 commends the believers in Berea for personal study of the Scriptures, saying that “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” Paul challenged a young pastor to master the Word through personal study in 2 Timothy 2:15: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” Pastors and evangelists can be in error, and so can you and I. Most of us don’t believe anything wrong on purpose, but we are capable of being mistaken. It would be extremely arrogant of any teacher to assume that he perfectly understands all the teachings of Scripture. You will only be able to recognize error in any teacher, preacher, or writer if you compare his teachings with the Scriptures.

Third, we must cultivate dependence upon the Word of God. Psalm 1:1–2 point out the importance of meditation on the Word of God: “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.” Also, Paul instructed Pastor Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:15 that he must “meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all.” We must make application to our lives, asking ourselves, “What does this passage mean that I must do or say or think to be conformed to the image of Christ?”

Fourth, we need to be courageous in the application of this Book. James 1:22 commands: “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” God intends for His Word to change the way we live. We must recognize that no matter how old we grow, how long we have been saved, how much we have been taught, how faithfully we may have served, we are not perfect. If we are not perfect, there are flaws that must be found and corrected. The older we become, the longer we have been saved, the more we have been taught, the more faithfully we have served, the harder this becomes. We are more likely to justify ourselves or rationalize it away, rather than deal with our need to change. It will take real courage for us to apply the Word of God in our lives and allow it to change us.

Finally, we must be bold in the proclamation of this Book. Much is said these days about the filling of the Holy Ghost. Most of what is said or believed misunderstands what is taught in the Bible. According to Acts 4:31, the evidence for the filling of the Spirit of God is not some ecstatic experience, but a bold witness—“And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.”

One night at sea, a ship’s captain saw what looked like the lights of another ship heading toward him. He had his signalman blink to the other ship: “Change your course ten degrees south.”

The reply came back: “Change your course ten degrees north.”

The ship’s captain answered: “I am a captain. Change your course south.”

The reply came: “I am a seaman first class. Change your course north.”

This infuriated the captain, so he signaled back: “I say change your course south. I am on a battleship,” to which the reply came back: “I say change your course north. I am in a lighthouse.”

We are in the lighthouse, not because we are superior to others, but because we are anchored to the Solid Rock of Jesus Christ and His Word. We need not be intimidated by captains on battleships. We must stand unashamedly and with absolute confidence on the Word of God as the only sure foundation and the supreme authority for life. The Bible is central for the Christian life, supreme in the Christian life, and sufficient for the Christian life. We say we believe the Word of God to be inspired, inerrant, and authoritative. Do we live in such a way that others can tell that we truly believe what we claim to believe?


Dr. Paul W. Downey is the pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Athens, Georgia.

(Originally published in FrontLine • November/December 1999. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)


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