- Introduction: On Authority
- On the Authority of the Scriptures as the Word of God
- All of Scripture Bears Divine Authority
- God’s Authority Communicated Through Scripture
- Jesus’ Example
Introduction: On Authority
In the present-day postmodern West, authority is perceived as a “medieval” concept. Love itself has been redefined in alienation to authority: a “liberated love” that democratizes authority in crowning every man the ruler of his own life. Ironically, in seeking to dismantle authority, our culture has deified authority. We don’t hate authority as much as it is we hate submitting to someone else’s authority. Submission to the authority of another is viewed as bondage while the autonomy of reigning as our own authority is perceived as freedom.
In the Christian worldview, the opposite is true: submission to the authority of God is freedom and salvation while ruling as our own authority is bondage and damnation. The basis for such a proposition is found in a deeply Christian anthropology: all humans are made by God as his Image-bearing creation.
Mankind was made to have glad relationship with his Creator in submitting to his rule. This is seen clearly in the observation that upon creating Adam and Eve (Gen. 1:26-27) God blesses them in the form of a command (1:28-30). By composing his blessing within a command, God shows that our greatest delight and ultimate good is found within the sphere of obedience to God, not outside of it. That is, the Christian’s authority is not him/herself but God.
At the heart of Adam’s sin was the desire to usurp God’s authority in order to inaugurate his own. The Serpent’s promise that he shall “be like God” was a lie, for Adam was already like God as his Image-bearing creation. Nevertheless, seeking to become his own authority, Adam made himself a slave to sin. In redemption, Christ frees us from the bondage that our self-rule brought and places a new law, a new authority, in us: the law of the Spirit (Romans 8:1-4).
Here we see that authority is not the antithesis of love, rather God’s authority is the fertile ground out of which love blossoms. Man is a creation, and as such he cannot be autonomous but must be wholly dependent on the sovereign and loving authority of his Creator. This is why Jesus can say “If you love me you will keep my commands.” Anyone who seeks the purest reality of love must see that it is housed exclusively in the bosom of submission to the authority of his/her Creator.
On the Authority of the Scriptures as the Word of God
Here is where the rubber meets the road: the Scriptures possess the authority of God in such a way that to disbelieve or disobey any word of the Scriptures is to disbelieve or disobey God himself. If God, our highest authority, has spoken to us, then it must have authority over us. To boil it down, the doctrine of the authority of Scripture is the fruit of our doctrine of God. He is our Creator, we are his creation (Gen. 1:26-27); we are not our own but belong to him (1 Cor. 6:19-20); we are Image-bearers and He is the Image we bear (Gen. 1:16-27); we are the clay, He is the potter (Rom. 9:20-21); He is our Father, we are his children (1 John 3:1); He is our head, we are his bride (Eph. 5:32ff, Rev. 19:6-8). Therefore, we joyously submit to his rule as God, Creator, and Savior.
All of Scripture Bears Divine Authority
When Christians speak of the authority of Scripture, we aren’t referring only to those red-letters of the New Testament where Jesus is speaking. Paul’s commands were the very command of the Lord (1 Cor. 14:37), for it was Christ himself speaking through Paul in his letters (2 Cor. 13:2-3). Peter bears witness of this very fact when he calls all of Paul’s writings Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16). Furthermore, Peter encourages the church to remember “the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles” (2 Peter 3:2). When the Apostles wrote their letters, they, like the prophets before them, were carried by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21) so that their words were simultaneously their own and the very Word of God. Christ and the Apostles attest that every line of the Old Testament is likewise the Word of God, not just the “thus says the Lord” portions (see Matthew 19:5, cf. Genesis 2:24 and Acts 2:16-17, cf. Joel 2:28-32).
God’s Authority Communicated Through Scripture
It is necessary here that we marry this point (every word of Scripture is the very words of God himself) with our doctrine of God. From Numbers 23:9, Titus 1:2, and Hebrews 6:18, we see that God cannot lie. This does not mean that God merely chooses not to lie. Rather, as the infinitely holy, righteous, and perfect being, God is incapable of lying. For God to lie would be for God to cease being God. He cannot lie since he is the embodiment and essence of truth. Why is this seemingly obvious note on the character of God critical to the doctrine of the authority of Scripture? Because if every word of Scripture is God’s word, and God is incapable of lying, then we must conclude that we can trust the Scriptures as our absolute authority in Christian living: God has spoken and God cannot lie, therefore, God’s Word can be trusted.
Jesus and Authority
Jesus’ life displays the authority of the Scriptures. Rebuking Satan’s temptations in the wilderness, Jesus appeals to Scripture in Matthew 4:4, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” In John 10:35, Jesus responds to the Pharisee’s allegations by citing Psalm 82:6, telling them, “Scripture cannot be broken.” On the road to Emmaus, Jesus admonishes two disciples for not believing the Old Testament, then, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he [Jesus] interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). When Jesus prays for his church, he petitions the Father to “sanctify them in the truth, your word is truth” (John 17:17). Jesus appeals to the Scriptures because, as God, an appeal to the Scriptures is, in actuality, an appeal to his own words. As the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy puts it, “Authority in Christianity belongs to God in His revelation, which means, on the one hand, Jesus Christ, the living Word, and on the other hand, Holy Scripture, the written Word. But the authority of Christ and that of Scripture are one.”
God communicates and exercises his authority to us through the Scriptures. Therefore, when we come to the Scriptures, we allow the words to judge, challenge, change, and renew our minds. We do not sit in judgement over the Scriptures, nor do we treat them like a buffet. The Christian, as a disciple of Christ, does not pick and choose which commands to obey but is taught to obey everything that Christ has commanded (Matthew 28:18-20), for this is how we love Christ (John 14:15). Christian love is intricately interwoven with authority.
Finally, to deny the authority of the Scriptures is to once again play into the hand of the Serpent. He tempts us, attacking God’s authority, asking “Did God really say?” before lying, promising that we will “be like God” if we will only usurp his reign and rule for our own. As God’s blood-bought, covenant, Image-bearing people may we see that our greatest delight and ultimate good is found in obedience to God, all of which we find in the revelation of himself to us in the Scriptures (Gen. 1:16-30, Ephesians 3:1-4). As the late J.I. Packer put it, “Subjection to the authority of Christ involves subjection to the authority of Scripture.”