The Supreme Authority of the Bible

Willmington's Guide to the Bible

Perhaps the grandest and most conclusive description of the Bible was penned by the Apostle Paul in a letter to a young pastor. He wrote:

"And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Tim. 3:15-17).

In this remarkable passage Paul claims that the Bible is profitable—

1. For doctrine—that is, it may be used as the perfect textbook to present the systematic teachings of the great truths relating to God himself.

2. For reproof—that is, the Bible is to be used to convict us of the wrong in our lives.

3. For correction—that is, it will then show us the right way.

4. For instruction in righteousness—that is, God’s Word provides all the necessary details which will allow a Christian to become fully equipped for every good work.

Because of all this, the Bible rightly demands absolute and sole authority over any other source in the life of the child of God. This authority would exceed that of the following:

I. Human Reason. God gave us our minds and desires that we should use them! This is seen in two classic passages, one directed to the unsaved, the other to the saved.

"Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord; though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool" (Isa. 1:18).

"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God" (Rom. 12:1, 2).

However, there are times when God desires us to submit our human reasoning to him. Note the following admonition:

"Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil" (Prov. 3:5-7).

Often our reasoning is as the thinking of Naaman, who when asked to take a sevenfold bath in Jordan’s muddy waters, angrily replied:

"Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the Lord his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper" (2 Ki. 5:11).

But Elisha did not do so. Often God’s ways are different from our ways.

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isa. 55:8, 9).

II. The Church. The New Testament abounds with passages which declare Christ the Head of the Church. (See Eph. 1:22; 2:19, 20; 4:15, 16; 5:23-30; Col. 1:18; 2:9.) The Savior, it must be remembered, gave birth to the Church, and not the other way around. (See Mt. 16:18.) Thus the Christian must look to the Bible and not to any earthly church for final instruction. Sometimes even those local churches mentioned in the Bible itself were grievously wrong. Note the following description of New Testament churches, some of which were started by Paul himself.

A. The church at Ephesus.

"Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent" (Rev. 2:4, 5).

B. The church at Pergamos.

"But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, which thing I hate. Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth" (Rev. 2:14-16).

C. The church at Thyatira.

"Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols" (Rev. 2:20).

D. The church at Sardis.

"And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write: These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: For I have not found thy works perfect before God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee" (Rev. 3:1-3).

E. The church at Laodicea.

"I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot. I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore and repent" (Rev. 3:15-19).

III. Tradition. In this atomic and space age where change occurs at rocket speed, many have come to appreciate some of our beautiful traditions of the past. And rightly so! But traditions, like changes, can be wrong. If a thing was in error when it began, it is still in error regardless of the centuries that separate it from us today. Often in the past, hurtful "traditions of the fathers" had crept into the church of the living God. Our Savior himself was grieved over some harmful Jewish traditions. Note his words:

"And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition" (Mt. 15:6).

Later Paul would warn also of this.

"Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ" (Col. 2:8).

IV. Popes and Preachers. Even the most godly pastors are, after all, only finite men fully capable (apart from God’s grace) of the vilest sins. This is true of popes as well.

V. Feelings and Experiences. At times Christians fall into error because they "feel led" to do or say certain things. However, we must learn that at times our feelings can be treacherous and totally untrustworthy. The psalmist often spoke of this:

"I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living" (Ps. 27:13).

"Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance" (Ps. 42:5).

"I cried unto God with my voice, even unto God with my voice; and he gave ear unto me. In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord: my sore ran in the night, and ceased not: my soul refused to be comforted. I remembered God, and was troubled: I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed. Thou holdest mine eyes waking: I am so troubled that I cannot speak. I have considered the days of old, the years of ancient times. I call to remembrance my song in the night: I commune with mine own heart: and my spirit made diligent search. Will the Lord cast off for ever? and will he be favourable no more? Is his mercy clean gone for ever? doth his promise fail for evermore? Hath God forgotten to be gracious? hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies? And I said, This is my infirmity: but I will remember the years of the right hand of the most High" (Ps. 77:1-10).

"I said in my haste, All men are liars" (Ps. 116:11).

This is not only the case with our feelings, but also our experiences. One of Job’s three "friends," Eliphaz, based all his advice to the suffering Job on experience (Job 4:12-16). He is later severely rebuked by God himself for doing this (Job 42:7).

Thus, as valuable as personal experience may be, it is no substitute for the revealed Word of God.

Listed below are the various functions of this authoritative book called the Bible.

A. It upholds (Ps. 119:116).

B. It orders steps (Ps. 119:133).

C. It produces joy (Ps. 119:162).

D. It strengthens (Ps. 119:28; 1 Jn. 2:14).

E. It gives hope (Ps. 119:74, 81).

F. It gives light (Ps. 119:105, 130).

G. It gives understanding (Ps. 119:169).

H. It shows God’s will (Isa. 55:11).

I. It builds up (Acts 20:32).

J. It produces fruit (Jn. 15:7).

K. It convicts of sin (Heb. 4:12).

L. It converts the soul (Jas. 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:23).

M. It cleanses the conscience (Jn. 15:3).

N. It consecrates life (Jn. 17:17).

O. It corrects the wrong (2 Tim. 3:16).

P. It confirms the right (Jn. 8:31).

Q. It comforts the heart (Ps. 119:50, 54).

Because of this, the child of God is to respond to this authoritative book in the following ways:

Read it (Deut. 31:11; Isa. 34:16; Lk. 4:16; Eph. 3:4; Col. 3:16; 4:1; 1 Thess. 5:27; 2 Tim. 4:13; Rev. 1:3).

Heed it (Ps. 119:9; 1 Tim. 4:16).

Seed it (Mt. 28:19, 20).

Desire it (1 Pet. 2:2).

Preach it (2 Tim. 4:2).

Rightly divide it (2 Tim. 2:15).

Live by it (Mt. 4:4).

Use it (Eph. 6:17).

Suffer for it, and if need be, die for it (Rev. 1:9; 6:9; 20:4).

The child of God is to know it in his head, stow it in his heart, show it in his life, and sow it in the world.

See also the following Scripture verses: Deuteronomy 4:1-10; 12:32; Joshua 1:8; Psalm 33:6; Proverbs 30:5, 6; Mark 4:24; Luke 8:12; John 12:48-50; Romans 8:7; 1 Corinthians 2:14; Hebrews 1:1-3; 2:1-4; Revelation 1:1-3; 20:12; 22:18, 19.


Taken from: Willmington's Guide to the Bible  1981, 1984 by H. L. Willmington.