Richard L. Mayhue
Senior Vice President and Dean
Professor of Theology and Pastoral Ministries
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The concept of authority is thoroughly woven into the fabric of Scripture. It is unmistakably obvious from Gen 1:1 (“In the beginning God created …”1) to Rev 22:20 (“Yes, I am coming quickly.”) and everywhere between. This idea of “ultimate right” is inextricably linked with God’s sovereignty (Rom 11:36).
Just how important is the authority of Scripture? Listen carefully to one of the preeminent Reformers when he spoke to this very question at the Diet of Worms in April, 1521. Martin Luther, under intense pressure to recant regarding “justification by faith” and other recently embraced truths from the Bible, responded to Meister Eck in this fashion:
What is truly known about authority did not originate outside of Scripture, but rather within. Thus, it is not a secular concept that has been co-opted by religion. On the contrary, it is a sacred element of the very Person of God. What Scripture properly teaches about authority has actually been shamefully distorted by this world’s system and wrongfully employed by all world religions. This essay intends to explore what Scripture itself teaches about authority, especially its own.
The rightful idea of authority has fallen on hard times at the start of the twenty-first century. Illegitimate forms and expressions of authority range from the illegal and abusive exercise of authoritarianism/totalitarianism to individual authority which emerges from a postmodern mindset of selfishness.
The appropriate approach to the discussion commences with a working definition of authority in general, especially legitimate authority exercised in a proper fashion. A representative dictionary definition records that authority is the “Power or right to enforce obedience; moral or legal supremacy; right to command or give a final decision.”3
Bernard Ramm suggests,
The NT noun (102 times) most commonly translated “authority” is ἐξουσία (exousia). A representative lexical definition reads, “The power exercised by rulers or others in high position by virtue of their office.”5
There are many approaches to authority in a secular worldview, e.g.,
However, with a biblical worldview, original authority and ultimate authority reside with God and God alone. God did not inherit His authority—there was no one to bequeath it to Him. God did not receive His authority—there was no one to bestow it on Him. God’s authority did not come by way of an election—there was no one to vote for Him. God did not seize His authority—there was no one to steal it from. God did not earn His authority—it was already His. God inherently embodies authority because He is the great “I AM” (Exod 3:14; John 8:58).
THE AUTHORITY OF GOD
God’s authority becomes obvious and unquestionable when one considers three facts. First, God created the heavens and earth and that which is therein (Genesis 1–2). Second, God owns the earth, all that it contains, and those who dwell in it (Ps 24:1). Third, in the end God consumes it all in that He declared, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev 21:5). What follows makes the point with flair.
God’s Authority Declared
To understand and accept the fact of God’s authority is as simple as accepting the fact of God Himself. Romans says this best: “For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God” (Rom 13:1). This locus classicus lays out clearly the source of all authority and articulates the principle of “Divine delegation” (cf. Job 34:13; John 19:11).
There are numerous statements in the OT which explicitly testify to God’s authority. For example, “That power belongs to God” (Ps 62:11) and “Power and might are in Thy hand so that no one can stand against Thee” (2 Chron 20:6).
Jesus declared, “All authority had been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matt 28:18). Jude wrote, “[T]o the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 25).
God’s Authority Displayed
The Names of God
The names of people do not always correspond to their characters or their accomplishments. But the names of God always reveal something true about Him, especially His authority.
1. For instance, Elohim or ‘God’ tells us that He is supreme above all things and all people (Gen 1:1). He is eternal while all else is temporal. He is the Creator; all has been made by Him.
The Nature of God
The very nature of God displays His authority in that He is characterized as “unapproachable light” (1 Tim 6:16) and described as
The following noncommunicable attributes of God pertain exclusively to His deity. They will never be experienced by anyone else. They speak of His authority.
These next qualities find their ultimate expression in God. They describe the way in which His authority is ministered.
The Prerogatives of God
God’s authority is further established by His rights and prerogatives which are possessed by no one else, such as
God’s Authority Denied
The fact of God’s authority is substantiated in a backhanded way by the constant attacks upon it from Genesis 3 to Revelation 20. Throughout Scripture, one can see time and time again Satanic and human rebellion against God’s authority. Jehoiakim attempted to destroy God’s Scripture as delivered by Jeremiah (Jer 36:23). The Pharisees and scribes neglected and attempted to invalidate God’s authority in Scripture (Mark 7:6–13). Jezebel attacked God’s authority in the church (Rev 2:20).
God’s judgments against those who defy His authority further validate His rightful possession and exercise of ultimate authority.
THE AUTHORITY OF GOD IN SCRIPTURE
The apologetic approach taken in this essay is unapologetically presuppositional.7 This starting point is selected because of the Scripture’s consistent self-witness to itself.
This truth fleshes out in syllogistic fashion thusly:
Both the ontological basis (God is) and the epistemological basis (God speaks only truth) are established in Scripture (Gen 1:1; Ps 119:142, 151, 160). John Frame succinctly asserts, “There is no higher authority, no greater ground of certainty . . . . The truth of Scripture is a presupposition for God’s people.”9 Thus, the very nature of God and God’s Word is not determined inductively by human reason but deductively from the testimony of Scripture (cf. Ps 119:89; Isa 40:8).
The objection is often raised, “If the Scriptures were penned by men, then there is the highest likelihood of error in the writings!” This is countered with the following observations:
However, when all is said and done, Scripture is first and foremost “the Word of God,” not the “word of men” (Ps 19:7; 1 Thess 2:13).
A careful study of the phrase λόγος θεοῦ (logos theou, “the Word of God”) finds over forty uses in the NT. It is equated with the OT (Mark 7:13). It is what Jesus preached (Luke 5:1). It was the message the apostles taught (Acts 4:31 and 6:2). It was the word the Samaritans received (Acts 8:14) as given by the apostles (Acts 8:25). It was the message the Gentiles received as preached by Peter (Acts 11:1). It was the word Paul preached on his first missionary journey (Acts 13:5, 7, 44, 48, 49; 15:35–36). It was the message preached on Paul’s second missionary journey (Acts 16:32; 17:13; 18:11). It was the message Paul preached on his third missionary journey (Acts 19:10). It was the focus of Luke in the Book of Acts in that it spread rapidly and widely (Acts 6:7; 12:24; 19:20). Paul was careful to tell the Corinthians that he spoke the Word as it was given from God, that it had not been adulterated and that it was a manifestation of truth (2 Cor 2:17; 4:2). Paul acknowledged that it was the source of his preaching (Col 1:25; 1 Thess 2:13).
Carl F.H. Henry put forth this truth of the divine inspiration of Scripture in the clearest possible way:
Since the origin of Scripture can ultimately be explained by divine inspiration (Zech 7:12; 2 Tim 3:14–17; 2 Pet 1:20–21) as defined above, then the authority of Scripture is directly derived from the authority of God.11 Those who do not take God’s authority in Scripture seriously are condemned (Jer 8:8–9; Mark 7:1–13). On the other hand, those who rightfully honor and submit to God’s authority in Scripture are commended (Neh 8:5–6; Rev 3:8).
Therefore, the man of God, i.e., God’s herald, is to “preach the Word” (2 Tim 4:2). This declaration is not with the authority of the preacher, but rather the authority of God embedded in Scripture (cf. 2 Tim 3:17). So Paul admonishes Titus (2:15) to speak with all authority (ἐπιταγῆς, epitagēs), like the authority of a military commander, such that no one is exempt from obedience, even the proclaimer himself.
THE AUTHORITY OF SCRIPTURE IN PRACTICE
The outworking of God’s authority in Scripture can be summarized in a series of negative (what it is not) and positive (what it is) statements.
While it has only been several decades since the profitable written contributions of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI), it would serve as a helpful reminder to review their summations on Scriptural authority as written and affirmed by the leading conservative evangelicals of the day.
The original document from the first conclave held in Chicago (1978) stated in summary that, “The authority of Scripture is inescapably impaired if this total divine inerrancy is in any way limited or disregarded, or made relative to a view of truth contrary to the Bible’s own; and such lapses bring serious loss to both the individual and the Church.”12
It is no wonder then that the very first of nineteen articles on Scripture addressed the authority of God in Scripture.13
Five years later, an additional set of affirmations and denials was authored by members of ICBI. Again, it is no surprise that a statement on the authority of God in Scripture appears first.14
This first article affirms that the authority of Scripture cannot be separated from the authority of God. Whatever the Bible affirms, God affirms. And what the Bible affirms (or denies), it affirms (or denies) with the very authority of God. Such authority is normative for all believers; it is the canon or rule of God.
This divine authority of OT Scripture was confirmed by Christ Himself on numerous occasions (cf. Matt. 5:17–18; Luke 24:44; John 10:34–35). And what our Lord confirmed as to the divine authority of the OT, He promised also for the NT (John 14:16; 16:13).
The denial points out that one cannot reject the divine authority of Scripture without thereby impugning the authority of Christ, who attested Scripture’s divine authority. Thus it is wrong to claim one can accept the full authority of Christ without acknowledging the complete authority of Scripture.
Carl F. H. Henry, one of the twentieth century’s leading theologians, summarized the issues with this pithy, striking statement.
Like Luther centuries ago, our minds also need to be captive to the divine authority in the Word of God in our preaching and practices.
THE AUTHORITY OF SCRIPTURE IN PROCLAMATION
1) Scripture quotations throughout this essay are taken from the New American Standard Bible.
2) Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (New York: Mentor, 1955) 144.
3) The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, s.v., “authority.”
4) Bernard Ramm, The Pattern of Religious Authority (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959) 10 [emphasis in the original].
5) BDAG, 3rd ed. rev., s.v., “ἐξουσία".” Cf. TDNT, s.v., “ἐξουσία”
6) S. M. Lockridge as quoted by permission in Richard Mayhue, Seeking God (Fearn, Ross-shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus, 2000) 186 [emphasis in the original].
7) Steven B. Cowen, ed., Five Views on Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000).
8) Ramm, Pattern, 22.
9) John M. Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1994) 127. See also Greg L. Bahnsen, “Inductivism, Inerrancy, and Presuppositionalism,” JETS 20 (December 1977):289-305; John M. Frame, “Van Til and the Ligonier Apologetic,” WTJ 47 (1985):27999; Tim McConnel, “The Old Princeton Apologetics: Common Senseor Reformed?” JETS 46 (December 2003):647-72.
10) Carl F. H. Henry, “The Authority and Inspiration of the Bible,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979) 25 [emphasis in the original].
11) See John Murray, “Holy Scripture,” in Collected Writings of John Murray, vol. 3 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1982) 256–57. Also idem, in “The Inspiration of the Scripture,” Collected Writings, v. 4, 40.
12) “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.” JETS 21 (December 1978): 290.
14) Norman L. Geisler and J.I. Packer, eds. Explaining Hermeneutics: A Commentary (Oakland, Calif.: ICBI, 1983) 3.
15) Henry, “The Authority and Inspiration of the Bible,” 13.
16) Author unknown.
Taken and reproduced without edit except for formatting from: The Master's Seminary