Lesson 2 – Ascertaining Biblical Authority
“The authority lies not in the fact that I read it, but in the fact that God wrote it.”
From the beginning of the Bible unto its end, God has used an enormous amount of words to make clear to men that the only belief or act (in religion), which is pleasing to him, is one, which is authorized by his word.
Of the matter of authority, Paul, in Colossians 3:17 commands, “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” “In the name of the Lord” means by the authority of the Lord, as the Lord has authorized (Acts 4:7-10).
II John 9-11 states, “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds.” This passage makes clear that anyone who does that which is not authorized by the word of Christ (the gospel) sins in so doing and, thus does not have God’s approval in that matter. It is crucial that men walk by faith (II Cor. 5:7) and that they recognize that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God (Rom.10:17). No one’s faith can “out-run” his knowledge of the word of God.
Everything that a man believes, does, or is in (a member of), he believes, does, or is in either by God’s authority or by mere human authority. The Bible makes clear that in matters of religious faith and practice God NEVER accepts that which is believed or done by mere human authority (Col. 3:17).
According to Matthew 21:23-27, on one occasion the Jews had asked Jesus two questions: (1) what authority did he have for his action? (2) Who gave him that authority? Jesus’ reply makes it clear that he regarded man as having only two possible sources of authority for religious beliefs and practices: (1) from heaven (that is from God) and (2) from men. It is thus clear that every religious act is done either by divine or by merely human authority. To perform a religious act by only human authority is to be guilty of sin.
1. How to Establish Biblical Authority
1.1. Authorized – Two basic types of authorized matters
1.1.1. Some actions, beliefs, etc. are authorized in that they are matters of human obligation – they are matters, which must be done if one is to be well pleasing to God. When God, through his word, demands that man take a certain course of action, he thereby authorizes man to undertake that action. Since God does make demands upon the lives of individual men it is thus clear that some authorized matters are matters of obligation.
1.1.2. The second class of authorized matters includes those that are optional. In many areas God has given man liberty. In such cases man is free to choose between several equally acceptable courses of action, each of which would be authorized by God. Though God authorizes each of these individual actions in the sense that he permits man to practice them, they are actions, which may or may not be done, according to the discretion of the individual.
1.2. Explicit and Implicit
1.2.1. Explicit teaching is teaching which is directly stated. It is what the Bible “comes right out and says.” The statements or propositions of the Bible are explicit statements and as such they set forth-clear teaching in the most forthright manner.
1.2.2. Implicit teaching is teaching which, though it is not directly stated, is understood from what is directly stated. Implicit teaching is that teaching which is embodied in what is concluded from direct statements, though not stated directly itself. Implicit teaching is thus derived from the implication of direct statements.
1.3. How, either by explicit or implicit teaching, does the Bible authorize beliefs or actions
1.3.1. Direct Statement
188.8.131.52. Declarative statements – In Mark 16:16, while this verse is not a command (but rather a statement of fact) it certainly authorizes us both to believe that baptism is prior to salvation and to be baptized that we might be saved (as well as authorizing other things). Many statements of this declarative type are to be found in the Scriptures and they authorize things in harmony with their precise assertions.
184.108.40.206. Imperative statements or commands also authorize belief and action. In Acts 2:38 Peter commanded, “Repent and be baptized…” This and similar statements obviously authorize all those to whom they are directed to act in harmony with their specific demands.
220.127.116.11. Statements of exhortation sometimes authorize belief or action. When Christians are exhorted to a particular action it thereby becomes clear that God approves or authorizes that action. Hebrews 6:1 is an example of this.
18.104.22.168. Interrogative statements (i.e. the questions) of Scripture, such as I Cor. 1:13. Paul is teaching that Christ is not divided.
22.214.171.124. Statements expressing a desire or wish, such as Romans 6:1-2 might be cited as a type of direct statement carrying authorization.
1.3.2. Accounts of Approved Action
126.96.36.199. Some things are binding (and are thus examples) in the sense that they must be done. These are demanded; there is nothing optional – these facts being made clear by due consideration of the totality of the Bible teaching on the subject at hand. Some things are binding (and are thus examples) in the sense that they may be done. These are authorized; they may be done, but they may be left undone.
188.8.131.52.1. For instance, I am commanded to observe the Lord’s Supper, I Cor.11:24-25. I am instructed (by precept and by example) to observe it on the first day of the week, Acts 20:7; I Cor. 16:2. There is no option here. I am authorized (by example) to observe the Supper in an “upper chamber” with many lights.” This is binding only in the sense that I am allowed or permitted to do it. It is optional. I learn from other passages that the place is not the important thing, and I, therefore, conclude that the “upper chamber’ is an optional matter.
184.108.40.206. Whether an “example” is binding in the sense that it must be done, or in the sense that it may be done has to be determined by due consideration of the totality of the Bible teaching on the point at hand. The fact alone of the Bible account of an action does not mean necessarily that the account of that action is intended to constitute an example. It is very important that we consider “actions classified”:
220.127.116.11.1. Actions which were sinful. Matt.26:47-49; Acts 5:1-11; Gal. 2:11-14
18.104.22.168.2. Actions that were right when performed but which would be wrong if we imitated those actions now. The early church refused to preach the gospel to the Gentiles for a period of time.
22.214.171.124.3. Actions which were temporary and obligatory. Early Christians were commanded to “desire earnestly spiritual gifts,” but spiritual gifts were temporary.
126.96.36.199.4. Actions which were temporary and optional. Paul circumcised Timothy (Acts 16:3), the apostles preached daily in the temple (Acts 5:42).
188.8.131.52.5. Actions which were permanent and optional. The Macedonian brethren gave “beyond their power,” 2 Cor. 8:3. This they were not required to do, but were allowed to do, and the principle of going the “second mile” is a permanent part of Christianity.
184.108.40.206.6. Actions which were permanent and obligatory. The early Christians were obligated to give of their means. They were required to observe the Lord’s Supper.
220.127.116.11. Obviously, only the actions, which were optional and permanent and/or obligatory and permanent, have any relationship to present day Christianity. When we find in the New Testament the account of an action which was manifestly right within itself, which was either optional or obligatory, and which was related to a permanent element of Christianity – then we have authority for imitating that action.
1.3.3. Implication – When an action, fact, or teaching is absolutely demanded by the biblical information at hand – without being specifically stated – then that action, that fact, or that teaching is a matter of IMPLICATION.
18.104.22.168. For example, I am authorized to teach that in his becoming a Christian, Saul of Tarsus repented of his sins. But we have no explicit statement that he repented. We reason as follows:
22.214.171.124.1. It is the case that no person can become a Christian without repenting of his sins
126.96.36.199.2. It is the case that Saul of Tarsus did become a Christian
188.8.131.52.3. It is the case that Saul of Tarsus, in becoming a Christian, did repent of his sins.
1.3.4. Expediency – Expedient actions are those which are advantageous (i.e. expedite) the carrying out of any scripturally authorized obligation, but not excluded by other instructions.
184.108.40.206. Expediency involves human judgement. If God specifies the obligation, but does not specify the details with regard to how the obligation is to be met, then we are authorized to involve human judgement. So far as concerns congregational obligations, elders of the congregation are the authority in the area of expediency.
220.127.116.11. Example – the Biblical obligation to take the gospel to the whole world does not specify exactly how the process is to be accomplished. We are thus left to proceed according to our own best judgement (i.e. going by boat, plane, car, etc.) so long as we do not violate any other scriptural instruction.
2. The Chain of Authority
2.1. All authority inherently resides in God, by virtue of the fact that God is the creator of the world and all things therein, including man (Gen. 1-3; Rom. 9:11-24).
2.2. God gave all authority in heaven and on earth to Jesus Christ, his son (Matt. 28:18-20).
2.3. In turn, Christ sent the Holy Spirit upon the apostles to guide them into all the truth (John 16:13; 14:26; Acts 2:1-41), thus delegating authority to them to reveal his word (truth) to man.
2.4. The apostles laid hands on other men that they might receive miraculous power from the Holy Spirit, thus becoming prophets, with the power to reveal the word of God by inspiration (Eph. 3:5; I Cor. 2:12-14; Acts 8).
2.5. For a time, then, the word of God was in inspired men, who were able to infallibly preach the gospel of Christ.
2.6. With the passing of time, these men (the apostles and prophets) wrote the various books of the New Testament. The word of God was then in the inspired book (Eph. 3:5; II Tim. 3:16-17).
2.6.1. The Bible often speaks of its own miraculous nature – its inspiration – and of the proper uses to be made of inspired scripture. To the Ephesian elders Paul said: “So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32). If this is the case, and we do confidently affirm that this is the case, then we must be concerned about how the Bible authorizes.
2.6.2. In II Timothy 3:16-17 Paul affirms the inspiration of the scriptures (“Every scripture inspired of God…”), makes reference to the use to be made of the inspired scriptures (“…is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness…”), and shows the designed consequence of this inspiration and use (“…that the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work”).
3. The Matter of Authority is Simple
3.1. The matter of authority in religion may seem to some people to be so complicated as to be beyond their comprehension. But, it is really a quite simple matter.
3.1.1. Let’s suppose that the license fee for my car in the State of Texas is $50 per year. I go to the proper official, pay my money, and I’m issued a license plate number XYZ-123 (for the State of Texas). By receiving my money and issuing me the plate, the State of Texas thereby authorizes me to affix that plate to my car. The plate makes clear to all state troopers and other policemen that the car is authorized to be driven on the public roads. The State of Texas does not have to give me a notice in regard to all the numbers, which I must not affix to my car, but nevertheless, I know that I am not – by law – to affix any other license plate to my car. How do I know this? Because I understand the law of authority. I know that the State of Texas has authorized one – and only one – license plate to be put on my car.
3.1.2. Not only do adults understand the principle of authority but children also understand it. If a mother gives her child $20 and says to him, “go to the store and buy a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk,” that boy will know that he does not have the right to spend part of that twenty-dollar bill on candy. How does he know it? By having understanding of the basic principle of authority. If the boy goes home with candy (either in addition to or instead of the bread and milk), both he and his mother will know that he has done wrong – even if she has not specifically forbidden his buying candy by saying, “you must not buy candy!” The boy knows – by the mere fact that his mother did not authorize him to buy candy with part of that twenty-dollar bill – that he is not to buy candy.
3.1.3. There are other matters to be considered in the question of authority, but the above is sufficient to show both the crucial importance of the principle of authority and at least some of the basic sub-principles involved.
3.1.4. In the New Testament, II John 9-11 makes clear that, to be pleasing to God, one must have authority for what he does in religion (I Cor. 4:6; Rev. 22:18-19; Gal. 1:6-9; Gen. 6-9; Lev. 10:1-2).
3.1.5. Just as the principle (law) of authority is crucial in everyday human affairs, so it is throughout the Bible – from Genesis to Revelation. Even though no man living today is under the Old Covenant (all are living under the New Covenant, the gospel, the law of Christ, Heb. 10:9; Col. 2:14-15), the apostle Paul made clear that men living today can learn – in principle – from the record of various events in the Old Testament (Rom. 15:4). Note the following:
18.104.22.168. Nadab and Abihu, sons of Aaron, offered in worship “strange fire” – that is they used in worship fire, which God had not authorized them to use (Lev. 10:1-2). Was their using in worship that which God had not authorized them to use an important matter? It was so important in the sight of God that he destroyed them.
22.214.171.124. King David and others moved the Ark of the Covenant in a way which God had not authorized (he moved it on a cart – not on the shoulders of the Levites, as God had authorized, I Chron. 15:1-15; 13:1-14; II Sam. 6:1-11). Because the affair involved an unauthorized way of moving the ark, and because an unauthorized man touched it, he was destroyed by God. The matter of authority is crucial!
126.96.36.199. All men living today are under the gospel of Jesus Christ (Mk. 16:15-16; Matt. 28:18-20; Lk. 24:45-49). Whatever the law of Christ says, it says to those who are under that law (See the principle set in Rom. 3:19 and 4:15).
188.8.131.52.1. Thus, in order to be pleasing to God, every man living today must have Bible authority for the plan of salvation which he obeys (it cannot involve, for example, instruction to be baptized because one has already been saved – the Bible authorizes the penitent believer, who is still a lost man to be baptized in order to be saved – that is, in order to become a saved person, a child of God (Acts 2:38; 22:16; Mark 16:15-16; Romans 6:3-5; Gal. 3:26-27; II Tim. 2:10; I Peter 3:20-21). Every person who seeks to be saved by the blood of Christ by obeying a humanly invented plan of salvation is doomed to fail in attaining that salvation unless he repents and obeys the plan of salvation, which is authorized in the New Testament.
184.108.40.206.2. Jesus himself made clear that many people who think they are saved are horribly mistaken. Why? Because they have obeyed mere human plans of salvation rather than the one divine plan of salvation (Matt. 7:13-23). Being a sincere, conscientious religious man will not save without one’s obeying the gospel of Christ in being baptized (Acts 9, 22, and 26).
220.127.116.11.3. Some men have invented the doctrine that lost men are saved the very moment they believe on Jesus Christ as the Son of God. Many say that “by faith – plus nothing save one minus nothing.” But the Bible teaches that faith without works (acts of obedience to Christ) is dead (and compares it to the body without the spirit, James 2:24, 26). Even the devil believes. But he does not obey (James 2). Men must be honest, learn God’s will, and do only what the Bible authorizes.
4. The Silence of the Scriptures
4.1. Should the silence of the scriptures be respected or ignored. Some allege that whatever is not expressly forbidden is allowed in religious practice; others contend that anything not authorized is not permitted. The bible authorizes by what it says, not by what it does not say!
4.2. Some hold to the view that men are at liberty to introduce anything into the worship of God, provided God has not explicitly said, “Thou shalt not.” Men, acting on the premise that nothing is forbidden unless God has named the act and then said. “Thou shalt not,” have brought into the Lord’s worship innumerable innovations.
4.3. Old Testament evidence
4.3.1. The difference between Cain and Abel was the difference between respecting what God had authorized, and what he had not. Cain offered the produce of the field; Abel offered the firstlings of his flock (Gen. 4:3-4). The latter act was “by faith” (Heb. 11:4).
4.3.2. When Noah constructed the ark, he did so “by faith” (Heb. 11:7), which means that the Noah did “according to all that God commanded him” (Gen. 6:22).
4.3.3. When Nadab and Abihu employed “strange fire,” i.e., fire not taken from the altar of sacrifice (Lev. 16:12), they were destroyed by God. What was their crime? The inspired text states that they offered “that which God had not commanded them” (Lev. 10:1).
4.4. New Testament evidence
4.4.1. In I Corinthians Paul addresses the problem of attaching oneself to a church leader and forming a sect around that individual. The apostle condemns the practice by the use of some rhetorical questions (I Cor. 1:10-13). Later, in I Cor. 4:6 he alludes to the issue again. What does he say about the written word?
4.4.2. The Bible does not explicitly say, “Thou shalt not wash hands as an act of worship.” Yet Jesus severely condemned such action and pronounced the act as vain worship (Matt. 15:9). Why? Because they were doing in worship what God had NOT commanded!
4.4.3. The Bible does not say, “Thou shalt not sprinkle water upon a baby as a religious act.” Yet those who practice such are in rebellion to God for baptism is a burial (Col. 2:12; Rom 6:4); and only accountable persons are subjects of baptism (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:22-38).
4.4.4. The Bible does not say, “Thou shalt not count beads as an act of the worship service.” Yet such an act is sinful, for the New Testament sets out the acts of worship and the counting of beads is NOT one of them.
4.4.5. The Bible does not say, “Thou shalt not use mechanical instruments of music in worship.” Yet such an act is sinful, for the New Testament sets out the acts of worship and singing is the only type of music authorized (Eph. 5:19; Heb. 2:12).
Today, there are no inspired men: there is no one who has any miraculous gift of the Holy Spirit. Today, we have the inspired book, the Bible, and no religious act is pleasing to God which is not authorized by that book (II John 9-11; Rev. 22:18-19).
This truth was recognized as authoritative by the early church. They obeyed this truth in becoming Christians (Acts 2:14-41). They then lived their daily lives in harmony with that truth (Acts 2:42-47). They recognized that any action not authorized by that truth was sinful (Gal. 1:6-9; II John 9-11; Rev. 22:18-19).
Not only is the Bible authoritative; it is also sufficient (II Tim. 3:16-17; James 1:25; I Cor. 13:10). There is thus no need for any further revelation (Jude 3; Rev. 22:18-19). Men must learn not to go beyond the things which are written (I Cor. 4:6). Among other things, the Bible is sufficient to teach man: (1) what to do to become a Christian; (2) how to live the Christian life, including all Christian work and worship.
No man can be pleasing to God unless he does what the Bible authorizes.
The crucial thing to note here is:
(1) To reject Biblical authority is to reject Christianity
(2) To reject Christianity is to reject Jesus Christ
(3) To reject Jesus Christ is to reject the only way of salvation from sin which exists (Acts 4:12; John 3:3-5; II Thess. 1:7-9; Rev. 20:10-15; 22:18-19; II John 9-11)
No man who rejects the inspiration, the inerrancy, the all-sufficiency, and the authority of the Bible cannot be regarded rightly as a faithful child of God, no matter how sincere and religious he may be (Matt. 7:13-23).
The Bible is the word of God, and Christianity is the religion of Biblical authority.