The authority of the Bible


"The real oppressor, enslaver, and corrupter of the people is the Bible."

- Robert G. Ingersoll

"It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here." 1

- Patrick Henry


3.1 Introduction

It is relatively easy to believe that an omnipotent Creator God can possess authority over whatever or whomever he desires. It is another matter to conclude that some printed material found in a church, bookstore, or the internet conveys that same Creator's authority. That, however, is exactly how Scripture presents itself to be received.

The books and letters of the Bible have been handed down to us in substantially the identical form as spoken by God to and through his prophets. So the relevant questions at this point are

Basically, if they look like God, sound like God, are endorsed by God, and have not been revoked by God, then we positively are to live under their authority. We will see that this is exactly the case as we sequentially examine: the nature of God's words, the authority of God's words, and the eternality of God's words.

3.2 The nature of God's Word.


The nature of God's Word perfectly reflect God's character. The qualities which describe and identify God also equally describe and identify every book of the Bible as being his words. This Bible is an extension of himself. Recognizing that God's words reflect God's characteristics is the first key to recognizing the divine nature of the Bible.

Consider that God is recognized to have authority because he is powerful, he is perfect, he has plainly communicated to us that he has authority, and he desires and expects our obedience. All of these qualities are exemplified in and by God's words (all NIV):


The nature of God's words are also perfectly characteristic of God himself because God's words irresistibly draw a response from us. This is the second key to recognizing the divine nature of the Bible. God's Word states:

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Heb. 4:12 NASB)

The concept of the Word being sharper than any two-edged sword compares to the opposing ways in which God's word can be received by a person's conscience. On one hand, it can be received with gladness much like a cancer patient who welcomes the lifesaving cut of a surgeon's scalpel; separating the good from the bad. On the other hand, people can also receive the Word like those who fail to recognize the value of surgery and their own terminal condition. In this context, God's Word can also be received as though it were an attack; needlessly discomforting and undesirably invasive.

If nonbelievers mistake God's Word for something other than what it is, does that prove that his word is not effective as Isaiah 55:11 states?

No, because the effectiveness of God's Word is not measured by whether or not the hearer believes it. The Bible's effectiveness is its irresistible power to reinforce in the hearer the spirit with which it is received. In the book of Exodus, for example, Moses' constant exposure to the God's word eventually caused him to relent and act in concert with it (3:4-4:18), whereas Pharaoh's constant exposure to God's word eventually resulted in the hardening of his own heart (6:28-7:14).

The effect that God's Word has on people is like the sun whose light shines down on both butter and clay. The same sunlight can soften one, yet harden the other. The difference is not in the light. The sun (or in our case the Bible) does not shine more favorably on certain objects than it does on others. The difference lies within that which is being shined upon.

As free moral agents, we make a choice. We either receive the light of God's Word like the former, in which we are shaped and made impressionable by it; or we receive it like the latter, and become hardened, unmoved, or callused against it. Either way, the Word will reinforce in us the believing or unbelieving spirit with which we choose to receive it. That will make our acceptance or rejection of his Word crystal clear come judgment day;

So, as the Holy Spirit says: "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts," (Heb. 3:7-8a NIV)


The third and most important key to identifying and recognizing the divine nature of the Word is to learn that God's word is intimately identified with the person of Christ. Christ is referenced to be the Word of God as far back as before creation:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-3, 14 NIV)

Christ is also addressed as the Word of God at the end of the world:

He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. (Rev. 19:13,16 NIV)

With this contextual duality of the Word of God and Christ, it is clear that we are to receive what is written in Scripture as though Christ was speaking to us directly. Thus how we respond to the Word is how we respond to Christ; which is how we respond to God.

The Word of God/Son of God duality is not so much a new mystery to be contemplated as it is the clear basis for authority that Scripture has always had. The Word has an expressed equivalence to God himself.

3.3 The authority of God's Word.

1.) God and the Word: inseparable.

The authority of God's Word begins with the apex of its nature. That apex is its inseparability from God himself. If, as described earlier, God's triune nature is reflected in the universe's tri-fold composition (space, time, and energy/matter), then the dualism between energy and matter somewhat reflects the dualism between the Word and Christ.

Christ exemplifies the physical, visible manifestation of the Son of God who, while on earth, limited himself in time and space. By contrast, God's Word exemplifies the Son of God's invisible and unlimited spiritual presence which is still at work among us. Both Christ and the Word function as one part of the divine trinity to execute God's authority on earth.

The inseparability between Christ and the Word is further identified in the first part of Romans 9:17: "For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: "I raised you up for this very purpose,...". Notice that Paul writes "the Scripture says to Pharaoh" though it was not writings which were speaking. Paul is quoting from Exodus 9:16 which, beginning with 9:13, is actually the Lord telling Moses to tell Pharaoh. Paul is treating "God says" as "Scripture says".

This is an excellent demonstration of how the authority of Scripture is equivalent to the immediate authority of God. Because God can never lie nor change his mind like people do, the perfection and consistency of his character sends forth his words in like fashion; so much so that his words actually stand alone for all time - equal in authority to their originator.

Scripture is also identified with divine authority in the revelation that it originates with God's Holy Spirit, not with men: "Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David..."(Acts 1:16a NIV, see also Acts 28:25b, 2 Pet. 1:19-21, and 2 Tim. 3:16: "All Scripture is God-breathed...").

2.) The Word is received as having authority.

The authority of God's written word is further confirmed by the reception it received from its earliest audiences. In Exodus 24:7 the people responded to the written word just as though the Lord was speaking: "Then [Moses] took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, "We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey."

In the New Testament, Paul commends the church at Thessalonica for having received the spoken Gospel as the word of God (1 Th. 2:13), and Peter, in one of his own books, speaks of Paul's writings as one of "the other Scriptures" (2 Pet. 3:15-16).

3.) Christ and the apostles used the Word as having authority.

The authority of God's Word is also seen in the ways in which Christ and the apostles dealt with Scripture. When one man asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus directs him to the Word by responding: "What is written in the Law?" (Luke 10:26). When Jesus was three times tempted by Satan, he responded each time by quoting Scripture: "It is written..." (Mat. 4:1-11). Jesus also confirmed to his disciples that "everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled," (Luke 18:31b NIV).

Paul's preaching was also done on the basis that Scripture has authority, and on the basis that his listeners accepted the reliability and authority of Scripture: "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures," (1 Cor. 15:3-4 NIV, emphasis mine).

The authority of Scripture, and our responsibility to it, is something of which Jesus frequently spoke. Jesus said (all quotations NIV)

3.4 The eternality of God's Word.

The Word not only shares God's authority and general characteristics, but, like God himself, the Word is eternal. Psalm chapter 119 is an excellent treatise on the eternality of the Word of God (all quotations NIV): "Your word, O Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens," (119:89), "Long ago I learned from your statutes that you established them to last forever," (119:152), and "All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal," (119:160).

We likewise find these same truths of the Word's eternality near the end of the New Testament reiterated by Peter: "For, 'All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.' And this is the word that was preached to you," (1 Pet. 1:24-25).

The eternality of God's Word glorifies God in its characteristic likeness of him. The Word's eternality is also significant because along with giving us the Word, God has given us a special responsibility. That responsibility is to maintain and remember what he has told us. Because he instructs us to read and remember the things he has said and done in the past is one reason that he neither must nor intends to repeat a physical manifestation or mountain-top experience for every person and every generation. God possesses authority and, like any corporate executive or political leader who possesses authority, God can delegate the task of passing the Word on; and so he has.

There is abundant evidence in the Bible that God has delegated the task of passing on his instruction to humanity. God commands his words be cast in writing:

Then the Lord said to Moses, "Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered, (Exo. 17:14), and

This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Write in a book all the words I have spoken to you, (Jer. 30:2).

And these words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. And you shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deut. 6:6-9)

The Lord also qualifies how he wants his word maintained:

Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you, (Deut. 4:2)

and why:

Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children," (Deut. 4:10b, see also 6:5-9).

3.5 Summary

In summary, the authority of the Bible is established by the nature of God's words, the authority of his words, and the eternality of his words. God's words are of such a nature that they perfectly reflect his own characteristics, elicit an irresistible response from us, and are personally identified with the person of Jesus Christ. The authority of those words are established primarily by their intimate identification with God, and also by the precedent by which they have historically been received and the manner in which Christ reverently used and referenced them.

Finally, the eternality of God's words establishes the Word as authoritative not only at the time those words were written, but as authoritative for all time. Because the Word eternally expresses God's authority over us, we are therefore obligated to respond to it. Our responsibility in light of that authority comes as the final sections.


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NEXT: Biblical authority and humanity

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Conclusion: A story of the S.S. Titanic

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Here is discussed the nature, authority, and eternality of the Bible.

The Bible, as it presents itself, is more than just the extension of God's authority. It is an extension of God himself.

3.2 The nature of God's Word
3.3 The authority of God's Word
3.4 The eternality of God's Word
3.5 Summary