Our sole and sufficient authority: 2
By J.P. Thackway
We continue the article began in the April-June Quarterly. There we asked the question, What gives Scripture its authority? And we saw that it is three facts: its Unique Origin, Divine Inspiration, and Providential Preservation.
We also noted the decline from this high view of Scripture represented by the “new” things of today. Not only the glut of “new” Bible translations, but “new” worship, “New Evangelicalism,” “New Calvinism,” “New Covenant” theology, the “new way of doing church,” etc. In addition, there is even a book entitled, “A New Kind of Christianity.” These all show the subtle, and not so subtle, disregard for biblical authority that governs today’s thinking.
It is one thing to say that we hold to the inspiration of Holy Scripture – it is another to submit to its authority, if that conflicts with the spirit of the age or one’s own agenda. What our Lord – the Living Word – said to His disciples, He may well say of the written word, “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46).
It is as serious as that. How we treat Scripture is how we treat Him who inspired. With the rise of theological liberalism in the 19th century, the saintly Handley Moule was at first exercised by its subtle redefining of the faith. However, he rejected it because he maintained it would mean disloyalty to his Lord and Master, whose word this is. This is to heed Joseph Hart’s warning,
Say, Christian, wouldst thou thrive
In knowledge of the Lord?
Against no Scripture ever strive,
But tremble at His word.
The Scriptures and the Lord
Bear one tremendous name;
The written and the incarnate Word
In all things are the same.
The inspiration and authority of Scripture was the main issue in the Downgrade of Spurgeon’s time. As Thomas Nettles put it: “Other doctrines mattered, but without a divine revelation, conceded to be such, the construction of the doctrine with hopes of unity was a moot point.” That also holds good today, for we fear this downgrade has never really gone away.
Nettles then says that the next doctrine to suffer after that of Scripture was the Atonement. This is highly significant. If the written word is rejected as sole authority, so will the Living Word be in His Person and work. The devil works like that: take away the Bible and the Saviour and we have no revelation and no salvation. All is then lost. It is no coincidence that McLaren’s book, mentioned earlier, is highly endorsed by Steve Chalke, the man who caricatured substitutionary atonement as “Cosmic child abuse.” He has the impudence to write of it:
Brian’s writing is brave and honest, vulnerable and courageous, disturbing and unsettling, reassuring and hopeful. Every now and then you come across a book you’ve been waiting for. A NEW KIND OF CHRISTIANITY is that book.
The implications of this are staggering! As if Christianity, “the faith once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3) can be redefined! With this book, we have not just certain things being “new” but everything being “new.”
Once move from the authority of Scripture and we will move from everything in Scripture. It is the beginning of apostasy because it is rebellion against God. Left to ourselves, we will lurch from one unsound belief and practice to another, until eventually we have nothing left. Only by thinking biblically, believing biblically, worshipping biblically and living biblically can we be safe and blessed.
It is to this historic view of Scripture that we return now and ask a second question,
What is the extent of Scripture’s authority?
Building upon what have already seen, certain answers must surely follow.
1] It is intrinsic.
By this we mean an authority that is inherent and essential to itself. Scripture is the spoken and written word of God. In divine inspiration, God has imparted to Scripture the same qualities that belong to Himself: holiness, perfection, eternity, immutability, truth, wisdom, grace, and, of course – authority. Therefore, the Bible can be said to be the product of God, bearing the properties of its Author. Hence its authority: Author – authority.
Liberalism undermines this by trying to drive a wedge between God and His Word. For example, W.T. Davidson, speaking at the London Methodist Conference in 1891, said: “It is the revelation of God in the Bible that is authoritative and not the book itself.” This cleverly shifts authority from the Bible to belief that it has come from God. It even appears to be more spiritual in locating authority in God rather than (apparently) in a book. However, as we saw earlier, God and His word are one and it is a false dichotomy to separate them. God has revealed His will in the Bible and it is that that is authoritative. For this reason our Lord could say to those who professed to be His followers, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed” (John 8:31).
2] It is comprehensive.
Notice the breadth in 2 Timothy 3:16 “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” This is the Old Testament. However, other verses show that the emerging New Testament is accorded this status as well, 1 Timothy 5:18, in which Deuteronomy 25:4 and Luke 10:7 are called “scripture.” See also 2 Peter 3:16 where Paul’s epistles are called “scriptures.” Therefore all the Bible is meant by these words.
a] Including geology.
The opening chapters of Genesis are no problem for the Bible believer. This was so until the mid-19th century. Then, Darwin’s evolutionary bombshell made many Christians struggle with how to reconcile the teaching of scripture with the alleged facts of science. Green Eye of the Storm documents this revealingly. Many took refuge in theistic evolution, as some do today. However, the issue is simply the authority of Scripture. If the “days” of Genesis 1 are literal, 24-hour days, then we have a young earth created by God. If geology is in conflict with the Bible, then so much the worse for geology.
b] Including discrepancies.
The Bible has some dates, genealogies, sequences of events and parallel accounts that do not seem to match. Liberals allege these prove the fallibility of the human penmen producing a fallible Bible on such matters. This, however, is no problem for the Bible believer – it simply means we have not understood these facts properly. Scripture is a divine unity. Closer study will show that there is always perfect harmony in the word of God. The divine authority of scripture demands it be always right, and we must be always wrong: “Let God be true, but every man a liar” (Romans 3:4). As John Flavel wrote,
I know there is nothing in the Word … of God that is repugnant to sound reason, but there are some things … which are opposite to carnal reason, as well as above right reason; and therefore our reason never shows itself more unreasonable than in summoning those things to its bar which transcend its sphere and capacity.
c] Including morality.
Liberalism often draws a distinction between the lofty morality of, for instance, the Sermon on the Mount and the “primitive, barbaric morality found in the OT.” The Israelites’ treatment of the Canaanites come in for special mention. Therefore, say they, a different God and a different religion are in the Old and New Testaments. God is wrathful in the one and loving in the other.
Leaving aside the monstrous arrogance of such statements, Psalm 145:17 is a sufficient answer for us: “The LORD is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works.”
d] Including gender.
The spirit of the age has pressured Bible publishers to produce a “gender neutral” Bible – a terrible perversion of the Word of God. Accordingly, in Genesis 1:27 “man” is translated, “human being.” When translators take their cue from feminism rather than the sacred text, all submission to biblical authority is abandoned.
The words of the Lutheran Johannes Quenstedt well summarise the comprehensive authority of the Bible,
No mendacity, no falsity, no slightest error, whether in matters or words; but every single thing whatsoever that is transmitted in it, whether it be dogmatic, or moral, of history, chronology, typography or names, is most true; nor can or ought there to be attributed to Scripture as transmitted in the sacred letters any ignorance, or forgetfulness, or lack of knowledge, or lapse of memory by the Holy Spirit.
4] It is exclusive.
Scripture claims absolute and unrivalled authority over the church. All that the church is to believe and practice must be at the say-so of this Book because this is the say-so of God. This has been the position of historic Christianity, summed up by William Chillingworth: “The Bible and the Bible only is the religion of Protestants.”
This is against the sacred tradition of the Roman Catholic church, which in practice sits above the Scriptures. It is against the experience-based authority of the Charismatic movement, which replaces the Scriptures. And it is against the truncated authority of the Bible that theological liberalism allows it.
5] It is detailed.
The Bible’s inspiration and authority is not merely general, giving the sense of God’s truth. It extends to details and specific statements. It includes,
a] Every precept.
Regarding all the gracious commands in His word, “God says what He means and means what He says.” Let our experience be that described by Paul, “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Scripture has clear commandments and precepts; it is our sinful rebellion that complicates things. Bring a soft heart, a teachable spirit and a submissive will to them and all is sweetly straightforward.
b] Every word.
How remarkably instructive one word in the Bible is! Take Acts 2:2 “suddenly” on the day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit can come like this. It encourages us to pray for revival. The same is true of Acts 22:6, where Saul of Tarsus is at the height of his hatred and persecution of Christians. He said, “suddenly there shone from heaven a great light…” One moment an enemy of Christ, the next “apprehended of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12). This gives us hope as we pray for someone’s conversion. But only the every-word authority of Scripture makes that hope sure.
c] Every letter.
The apostle Paul assures us that one letter makes a great difference, “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ” (Galatians 3:16). An important doctrine hangs upon one letter! It then surely means that divine authority is in every letter.
Another example is 1 Corinthians 1:26, “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that … not many noble, are called.” Lady Huntingdon said she was glad the verse did not say “not any noble are called,” but not many”! Such comfort comes from a Bible whose authority is in even a letter.
d] Every syllable.
We can say this because in Nehemiah 8:8 we are told, “they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.” Reading with the inflection of the voice stressing certain parts of words, can only be done if syllables can be relied upon to be the authentic word of God. Clearly they were in this case, because the blessed result was spiritual mourning and then rejoicing, see verses 9,10,12.
What are the lessons from Scripture’s authority?
1] We are bound to revere and read the whole of it.
In our personal devotions we should aim to read right through the Bible over time. In public worship, it is a good practice to read the whole of scripture through consecutively.
In preaching, the Bible itself is the preacher, the man in the pulpit simply the mouthpiece. The more biblical the preaching the more authority and the more blessing. John Brown of Haddington said, “So far as I have observed God’s dealings with my soul, the flights of preachers sometimes entertained me, but it was Scripture expressions which did penetrate my heart, and in a way peculiar to themselves.”
2] Bible translation.
We have a Bible with divinity and authority extending to its smallest part. Therefore the way it is translated into another language must reflect this. “Dynamic equivalence,” content to give the writer’s thought or intended meaning, often by paraphrase interpretation, encourages a low view of the Bible. Yet this is behind many of the modern Bible translations. The “exact equivalence” of the Authorised Version translators reflects their God-fearing and high view of Scripture. By this method they sought to render the sacred text as closely as possible into English.
3] Anything that is contrary to the Bible must be rejected.
Plenty of voices clamour for a hearing these days. Charismatic claims, doubtful methods of evangelism, ecumenical association and compromise. Yet, principle not pragmatism must be our resolve. What is not according to God’s word is not for us. What is according to His word we zealously embrace.
4] Crises of conscience.
Every moral dilemma can be resolved by appeal to Scripture. The word must win every time. This is how it was for Spurgeon,
If a deed done for Christ should bring you into disesteem, and threaten to deprive you of usefulness, do it none the less. I count my own character, popularity, and usefulness to be as the small dust of the balance compared with fidelity to the Lord Jesus. It is the devil’s logic which says, ‘You see I cannot come out and avow the truth, because I have a sphere of usefulness which I hold by temporising with what I fear may be false.’ O sirs, what have we to do with consequences? Let the heavens fall, but let the good man be obedient to his Master, and loyal to his truth. O man of God, be just, and fear not! The consequences are with God, and not with thee. If thou hast done a good work unto Christ, though it should seem to thy poor bleared eyes as if great evil has come of it, yet hast thou done it, Christ has accepted it, and he will note it down, and in thy conscience he will smile thee his approval.
5] When we come to die.
How do we know there is a heaven for us? An authority above and outside of us is what we need. And that authority has our Lord’s words for our comfort, John 14:2, “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.”
The Son of God said these words, but can we be sure He did, and that they are true? On the authority of the Bible we can. It is both the impregnable rock on which we can stand, and a soft pillow on which to lay our weary head. Let us cleave to the Bible all the way to heaven. We shall then find that we have not believed in vain. As Calvin in the Church of Geneva Catechism put it,
For this end God has left us his holy word. For his spiritual doctrine is as the door by which we enter his celestial kingdom.
1. A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That are Transforming the Faith. By Brian McLaren. Book description: “A provocative look at ten controversial questions that could lead to the radical transformation of Christianity.”
2. “He had neither the inclination nor the time to go into the minutiae of criticism, and contented himself with laying down broad principles which satisfied his own mind. Many of his pupils and some of his colleagues took more advanced positions. To them he showed a large-hearted tolerance asking only that they should be loyal to the Master Himself.” The Life Of Bishop Moule Handley Carr Glyn Moule, Bishop Of Durham. A Biography by John Battersby Harford And Frederick Charles Macdonald. Hodder And Stoughton, 1922.
3. Living by Revealed Truth, page This seems the fullest and best of all the biographies of C.H. Spurgeon. We heartily recommend this book to all our readers. It will introduce us to new dimensions of Spurgeon’s life and ministry.
4. Ibid., page
5. See Bible League Quarterly July-September 2005, October-December 2005.
6. Green Eye of the Storm by John Rendle-Short. Banner of Truth, 1998.
7. That this is so is proved by “day” (yôm) in Genesis 1 being the same word used in Exodus 20:8,11 for Sabbath day. The latter is obviously 24 hours, therefore so must the days in Genesis 1 be.
8. Today’s New International Version, Zondervan/Hodder & Stoughton, 2005. In 2006, Zondervan announced the production of The Bible Experience, an audio recording of the TNIV featuring performances by Angela Bassett, Cuba Gooding Jr., Blair Underwood, Denzel Washington, and several other leading celebrities.
9. See the excellent statement on this by the Trinitarian Bible Society, http://www.tbsbibles.org/basis/doctrine-of-holy-scripture-3 in particular, “Formal equivalence: The principle of translation that accepts every word of Holy Scripture as being of divine origin and therefore takes into account every word in the original language to ensure that as far as possible the grammar, the form, the vocabulary and the syntax of the Hebrew and Greek are followed in the translation (‘As literal as possible, as free as necessary’). The Society believes this is the only acceptable method of translation.”