By Who's Authority?

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As noted in a previous post, the understanding of many Christian doctrines has been influenced by an eroding faith in the authority of the Bible as the Word of God. While we have seen that a strict adherence to biblical inerrancy is not necessary for salvation, it is surely an important doctrine for the health of the Church at large. I have recently quoted BB Warfield arguing that the biblical testimony of its own authority and inspiration is like an avalanche; while each individual stone in an avalanche may be easily avoided by one with some presence of mind, avalanches do not come one stone at a time, but all at once. In the same way, while a single verse of scripture testifying to its own inspiration may be disregarded with some clever interpretation, one would have to throw out the entire Bible to avoid the clearly biblical doctrine.

I should note quickly that I am not intending here to make a robust argument for the actual inspiration and authority of the bible. That may be tackled at some later time, but is not currently my intention. Rather I am simply trying to show that the Bible does teach the doctrine of its own authority stemming from its divine origin. It will take much more work to show that the Bible is correctly teaching this doctrine.

Presently, I shall discuss three New Testament verses which are explicitly relevant to the doctrine, and explain what they do and do not tell us. In a future post I may discuss the dozens of verses which less directly attest to the doctrine. Most of the content of these posts comes from Warfield's The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible.

Second Timothy 3:16 and Inspiration

The word "inspired" in English actually comes from the word inspiratio in the Latin Vulgate of the New Testament. It has been almost completely removed from contemporary English translations of the Bible. The one verse which still contains the word in many versions is Second Timothy 3:16:
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness [...] (NASB)

Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness [...] (NET)
The word's original meaning is incredibly foreign to the way it is used in contemporary language. I might speak of a flower "inspiring" a painter, or a tragic event "inspiring" a song-writer. My meaning in those contexts is that some object or event has invoked a feeling, thought, or sensation in me which I wish to convey to others through art. I might also speak of how some great man that I know inspired me to follow my dreams. Neither of these is what the word is intended to mean in the Latin or English translations which use it. The Greek word from which it is translated is τηεοπνευστοσ (theopneustos), which literally means "God-breathed," as reflected in some other contemporary English translations:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness [...] (ESV)

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness [...] (NIV)
The Greek word here is intended to powerfully assert the divine origin of Scripture without telling us exactly how God operated in producing it. Some might take it to mean that God breathed words into the men who physically wrote it, but the verse does not go that far. It only says that scripture is breathed by God, not that it was breathed into anything particular. The verse tells us that the scriptures, being God-breathed, are therefore profitable. The emphasis is on the value of Scripture, and the source of that value (God). It does not say anything about what it is useful for, or what exactly counts as scripture.

Second Peter 1:19-21 and Prophecy

Where the verse in Second Timothy leaves some open questions, Second Peter 1:19-21 gives us a little more with which to work:
We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (NIV)
The verses speak of the written scriptures when saying "we possess the prophetic message..;" it is referring to something physically attained-- the written Word. No prophecy (written word) ever comes about by human will, but is produced by the Spirit. The emphasis of the verse is that scriptures are "altogether reliable" because they were brought about by God and not by human will. Warfield puts it this way:
It was from the instrumentality of men who "spake from him." More specifically, it was through an operation of the Holy Ghost on these men which is described as "bearing" them. The term here used is a very specific one. It is not to be confounded with guiding, or directing, or controlling, or even leading in the full sense of that word. It goes beyond all such terms, in assigning the effect produced specifically in the active agent. What is "borne" is taken up by the "bearer," and conveyed by the "bearer's" power, not its own, to the "bearer's" goal, not its own. The men who spoke from God are here declared, therefore, to have been taken up by the Holy Spirit and brought by His power to the goal of His choosing. The things which they spoke under this operation of the Spirit were therefore His things, not theirs. And that is the reason which is assigned why "the prophetic word" is so sure.1
Thus the emphasis here is on the divine trustworthiness of scripture, rather than its value, due to its divine origin. Lest the devil's advocate claim that this only covers the Old Testament, we should briefly jump ahead in scripture to Second Peter 3:15-16:
Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. (NIV)
Note that these verses intentionally refer to the Apostle Paul's letters as having the same divine authority as other "Scriptures." The letter's recipients would not have found this ambiguous; Paul's letters, like the Old Testament prophecies, found their origin in God through the Holy Spirit.

John 10:34-36 and Scripture as Indefectible Authority

In John 10, we find one the most explicit defenses of scripture's authority coming from Jesus' own lips:
Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken— do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? (ESV)
Here Jesus appeals to scripture as an indefectible authority against the Jewish leaders. If even corrupt judges in the OT could be called "gods" because they were vehicles of God's word, then why couldn't he, Jesus, the Word incarnate, be called the Son of God? The NET Bible sums the point up well in a note:
The parenthetical note And the scripture cannot be broken belongs to Jesus’ words rather than the author’s. Not only does Jesus appeal to the OT to defend himself against the charge of blasphemy, but he also adds that the scripture cannot be “broken.” In this context he does not explain precisely what is meant by “broken,” but it is not too hard to determine. Jesus’ argument depended on the exact word used in the context of Ps 82:6. If any other word for “judge” had been used in the psalm, his argument would have been meaningless. Since the scriptures do use this word in Ps 82:6, the argument is binding, because they cannot be “broken” in the sense of being shown to be in error.
There are two important points to be made here. First, the word "law" is used to refer to a Psalm. This shows that Jesus was ascribing legal authority to the entirety of scripture. "Law," "prophecy," and "scripture" are materially strict synonyms in this sense. Second, Jesus is appealing to scripture as a irrefragable authority because it was common ground between him and the pharisees. They both believed in the authority of the Word of God, thus an appeal to scripture was appropriate. While some may argue that this was an ad hominem argument on the part of Jesus, that he was simply trying to show that the pharisees' own view contradicted their accusation, the bible elsewhere shows this not to be the case. In a number of different places, in a number of different contexts, Jesus uses the same appeal to scripture to make his point (see especially his responses to Satan while being tempted in the wilderness: "It is written...").

The Verdict

We have seen from three high profile verses that the Bible does indeed claim its own authority and divine origin. Second Timothy 3:16 shows that scripture teaches itself to be breathed by God, and therefore of value in every way. 2 Peter 1:19-21 shows that scripture is trustworthy because it finds its origin in God rather than man. Lastly, John 10:34 shows us that Jesus himself, as recorded in the Gospel, held that all of scripture is an unbreakable authority. There are many other verses in which Jesus and the New Testament writers appeal to the divine origin, and therefore trustworthiness, of Scripture; these will be covered another time.


1. Warfield, 1948, p. 137
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