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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15


The Bible - What Is Its Authority?

John Stock, LL. D.

From A Handbook of Revealed Theology, 1883

Having ascertained that we have the veritable Canon of Scripture, and that all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, the next question that meets us is, what use are we to make of the holy record? Or, in other words, what is its authority?


I. The authority of Holy Scripture is absolute and infallible. As it is indeed the Word of the living God, its authority must be absolute and infallible. There needs no other proof of its authority than that furnished by the fact of its inspiration. On all questions on which Jehovah has spoken, controversy is at an end, except so far as differences of opinion may arise in ascertaining the import of the testimony. Holy Scripture was not intended to teach us science or philosophy—on these points it has only touched incidentally; but even in this department of truth the Bible is to be believed so far as it has spoken. Holy Scripture contains no scientific blunders or mistakes. If our philosophy contradicts the Bible, the error must be in our philosophy, not in the Bible.


We use the same freedom of speech even in this enlightened age. Hence our greatest astronomers continue to speak of the sun as setting and rising, though they know very well it does neither. Is this a blunder? Or do people suspect them, in consequence of their employment of this popular phraseology, of not understanding the true theory of the solar system? Assuredly not! Why then should we charge God with ignorance of the laws of His own universe, because by the mouth of Joshua He told the sun to stand still?


But the Bible is principally intended to be the guide of our religious belief and practice. It demands of us unhesitating faith in its teachings, and unfaltering obedience to its precepts:




We may not hesitate to follow when the Spirit of Jehovah leads us; for thus we read:








Thus uncompromising is the demand which the Holy Scriptures make upon our faith and obedience.


2. The authority of Holy Scripture is universal. That is to say, its authority extends to all men who hear its message.


Those who despise it are still held in the stem grasp of its claims. "He that rejecteth me," saith our Lord, "and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him; the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day" (John 12:48). And no Christian can escape from his allegiance to the truth of God. The proudest functionaries in the Church are responsible at its bar. The claims of popes to be higher than the Word of God are blasphemous. Bishops are to be subject to the truth, not the truth to them. (See II Tim. 3:14-17)


And the authority of Scripture applies to the whole of each man's faith and practice. It is to be his sole and sufficient guide in all religious matters, both as to doctrines and ordinances; for "Scripture is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works." (II Tim. 3:16, 17). And so it is with regard to the constitution and government of the societies of the faithful. The New Testament is meant to be the statute-book of the Churches which the Lord plants in the earth. Thus it addresses them:




 



Thus the individual Christian, and the Churches of Christ, alike are to be governed by God's truth.


3. The authority of the Holy Scripture is exclusive. That is to say, we must not add to it any co-ordinate power. Scripture is not contrary to the law of nature, for that law is embodied in Scripture. Nor is God's Word opposed to the law of conscience, for an enlightened conscience always esteems all God's words “concerning all things to be right." (Ps. 119:128) The Church of God has no legislative dower. Her duty is simply executive. She has to enforce and apply the statutes laid down in the gospel of Jesus, but to make new laws she has no power. Apostolical doctrines she is to preach; apostolical ordinances she is to administer; and apostolical discipline she is to enforce; and when she does this, she speaks in her Master's name with power.


But legislation is not within her province. "The ordinances as delivered" she is to keep; but to add to their number would be a usurpation of the crown rights of Immanuel. This is God's charge, "Every word of God is pure," etc.; "add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar." (Prov. 30:6)





Holy Scripture stands gloriously alone in its majesty and in its claims. It speaks as no other book does, for it testifies in God's name, and demands a reverence, which it would be blasphemy to accord to any other authority. Moreover, all people are to read it for themselves. Even children are to be familiarized with its contents. "You shall teach my words to your children, speaking of them," etc. (Deut. 11:19; see also Deut. 31:11-13; Ps. 78:5-8; II Tim. 3:14-17)


Every man and woman is to search the Scriptures as the Bereans did, and is to compare all other teachings, though promulgated by the pope and his whole college of cardinals, with its revelations. (See Acts 17:11; II Tim. 3:15-17; Isa. 39:16; Matt. 15:3-6; Gal. 1:8; Col. 2:8; Col. 3:16; I Pet. 2:2 ; Deut. 29:29; Rom. 15:4; John 5:39; Isa. 8:20)


And in so solemn an investigation let every man ask for the aid of that good Spirit whose special office is:





 


For the discharge of these high functions the Comforter is to "abide with the Church for ever" (John 14:16); and in His presence and guidance we have our only defense from "heresy and false doctrine." Let us then implore His aid in our investigations, remembering that, directed by HIM, "the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein." (Isa. 35:8)