The Inspiration and Authority of the Holy Scriptures
John Mitchell, Cardiff
The purpose of this article is to provide several positive reasons for believing that the Holy Scriptures are verbally inspired by God and are therefore of final and binding authority.
The Inspiration and Authority of the Old Testament. There is much evidence from within the Old Testament itself that it was regarded as having authority. The law, as embodied in the first five books of the Bible, was undoubtedly recognized as authoritative in later books of the Old Testament, Josh. 1. 7-8; 1 Kings 2. 3; 2 Kings 14. 6; Mai. 4. 4. In many of the prophetical books of the Old Testament we often find expressions like "Thus saith the Lord" or "The word of the Lord came to me saying", showing how the" authority of God lay behind the prophet. Observe also how Daniel clearly recognized the authoritative nature of the prophecy of Jeremiah, Dan. 9. 2.
The Lord's Acceptance of the Old Testament. The Lord regarded the Old Testament as having divine and lasting authority over men. He often introduced quotations from the Old Testament with the expression, "It is written"; which has the force, "It stands written". In saying this the Lord not only drew attention to the actual quotation but also to its abiding efficacy; see Matt. 11. 10; Luke 22. 37; John 6. 45. In this connection we can note the use of the present tense in Matthew 13. 14 and Luke 20. 42, and the striking words, "unto you", in Matthew 22. 31.
The Lord Jesus did not derive His authority from the Rabbis or from the traditional teaching of the scribes about religion ; see Matt. 7. 28-29. He relied rather on the Old Testament. Indeed on occasions He went so far as to contrast the current teaching of His day with the Scriptures, 15. 1-6; Mark 7. 1-13. His constant attitude to the Old Testament can be determined from such passages as Matthew 5. 17-18 and John 10. 34-35. In Matthew 19. 4-5 He attributed the words of Moses, Gen. 2. 24, to God Himself. Compare Romans 9. 17, where Paul attributed to "scripture" the words of God, Exod. 9. 16.
The Lord's resistance to the temptations which He faced in the wilderness, Matt. 4. 1-11, established that He fully accepted the authority of the Old Testament relative to Himself. He would obey God’s voice as expressed in Scripture, and certainly not the voice of Satan. In this lay His victory; compare 1 John 2. 14b. We can also note His willing submission to Scripture at the critical time described in Matthew 26. 53-56.
The Lord ever stressed the importance of a true understanding of the Old Testament; for example, Matt. 9. 13; 12. 3-8; 21. 42; 22. 23-33; 24.1 5. Over against the Pharisees and scribes, who regarded themselves as the sole custodians of the correct interpretation of the Old Testament, He presented Himself as its true Expositor; see Luke 24. 27, 32, 45.
Beyond doubt the Lord accepted the historicity and reliability of the Old Testament. Observe His references to the union of Adam and Eve, Matt 19. 4-5 ; Abel, 23. 35; Noah and Lot Luke 17. 26-32; Abraham, John 8. 56; Moses, 3. 14; Jonah, Matt. 12. 39; Daniel, 24. 15.
The Acceptance of the Old Testament by the Early Church. The early church followed the Lord in accepting the Old Testament as divinely authoritative. To them the Old Testament provided:
(a) Written Authority. They reasoned with the Jews by appealing to the Old Testament Scriptures, Acts 17. 2-3, 11 ; 18. 28; 28. 23. Tremendous stress is placed in their writings upon the authority of that which was written in the Old Testament, Mark 1.2; Rom. 1. 2; 2 Tim. 3. 16; 1 Pet. 2. 6; 2 Pet. 1. 20.
(b) Present Authority. As in the case of the Lord, the recurring expression "It is written" stresses the lasting value of the Scriptures, as does also the use of the present tense, Rom. 4. 3; 9. 25, 27 ; Gal. 4. 30; Heb. 8. 13. There are also many passages where it is clearly stated that the Old Testament was written with New Testament times in mind; for example, Acts 7. 38, 13. 47; Rom. 4. 22-24; 15. 4; 1 Cor. 10. 11. We can also compare James' appeal to the Old Testament as decisive in the great circumcision controversy, Acts 15. 13-18.
(c) Clear Predictions of Christ. Examples of this can be found in Acts 2. 25-31 ; 3. 18, 24; 26. 22-23; 1 Pet. 1. 10-11. The believers recognized that the Old Testament required careful and spiritual interpretation. This is apparent from the explanation of Isaiah 53. 7-8 which Philip gave to the Ethiopian eunuch, Acts 8. 30-35. By the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit, he was enabled to point the eunuch to Christ through his reading of the Old Testament.
One book which sheds great light on the attitude of the New Testament writers to the Old Testament is the Epistle to the Hebrews. The many references to the Old Testament demonstrate the exceedingly high regard the writer had for it. In fact, the writer quotes freely from the following Old Testament books— Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Joshua, 2 Samuel, Psalms (which provides the majority of the quotations), Proverbs, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Habakkuk and Haggai. It is not only that the writer made many references to the Old Testament but he also indicated his belief in its inspiration. He often wrote of God, "He says" when he quoted from the Scriptures. He took the Scriptures to be the equivalent of God speaking; see 1. 5-8, et al. On occasions he stated that it was the Holy Spirit who was speaking, 3. 7; 9. 8; 10. 15, showing his undoubted acceptance of the divine inspiration of the Old Testament.
Chapter 4, verses 12 and 13, provide an excellent example of the way the writer viewed the close connection between God and His Word. Verse 12 describes the Word of God and its unique ability to do something which nothing else can, namely to divide between soul and spirit. But whereas the verse refers to it, the next verse refers to "him", v.13. The revelation which the Scripture brings is nothing less than the revelation which God Himself gives. God's Word is living, active, sharp, discerning and revealing.
The writer clearly accepted the Old Testament as absolutely reliable by way of an historical record: see ch. 4 and chs. 7-10. The same can be seen from his many references to scriptural personages; see, for example ch. 11. His familiarity with the Old Testament and ready acceptance of its inspiration, without quoting the exact reference, can be seen in 2. 6; 4. 4-5; 5. 6. Such is his appreciation of that which was written aforetime, that he regarded even the silence of Scripture as a part of the inspiration of God, 1. 5 ; 2. 1 6 ; 7. 3. Note also his emphasis on its verbal accuracy in 8. 13. He saw Christ and the new covenant as the complete fulfilment of the Old Testament types, but this only served to emphasize his belief in the inspiration of that which had pointed on to Christ, 1. 1. The meaning and significance of the Old Testament is raised to a higher level in view of the complete revelation of God in Christ. The writer made full use of Scripture to show how it found its "full blossom" only in the Lord. For example, chapter 1 employs a series of quotations to confirm the essential Deity of Christ. It is evident that the writer to the Hebrews not only held the Old Testament in high regard, but also held it to be verbally inspired.
The Inspiration and Authority of the New Testament. The authority of Christ was delegated to the apostles, who held a unique and unrepeatable position in the church. Matt. 10. 1 to 11. 1 ; Mark 3. 13-19; Luke 6. 12-16; cf. Eph. 2. 19-20. The apostles were sent on their mission with precise terms of reference, Matt. 10. 40; that is, they had a special commission given them personally to represent Christ. This is a most important consideration when we realize that it was to the apostles in the main that the writing of the New Testament was committed.
Sometimes the term "apostle" is used in a broad sense, 2 Cor. 8. 23, Phil. 2. 25. We need to bear in mind, however, that the appointment of Paul was to apostleship in a unique sense, Gal. 1. 1 ; 1 Cor 9. 1. Apostolic tradition is frequently referred to in the New Testament, Acts 2. 42; 1 Cor. 11. 2, 23; 15. 1 ; Gal. 1. 9, 12; 2 Thess. 2. 15; 3. 6. This deposit of apostolic testimony possessed the authority of Christ behind it, for the apostles were taught by Him; see for example Acts 1. 1-2. This stands in marked contrast to the Jewish traditions which the Lord opposed, when the accumulated teachings of the Rabbis were placed on a par with the word of God, Mark 7. 1-13. The teaching given to the apostles by the Lord, both before and after His resurrection (by Himself personally or by the Holy Spirit), gave the tradition of the apostles the same authority as in His oral teaching.
The apostle Paul emphasized that his teaching had the authority of Christ underwriting it; that is, he wrote with the authority of his Master, 1 Cor. 11. 23; 1 Thess. 4.15. Great emphasis is placed on the written teaching of the apostles, 1 Cor. 14. 37 ; 1 Thess. 5. 27 ; 2 Thess. 3. 14; Rev. 22. 18-19. As Christ had commissioned the apostles, and others like Mark and Luke who were evidently in close fellowship with the apostles, so their writings were invested with His authority. Paul regarded his own teaching as being on the same level as that of the Old Testament, 2 Tim. 3. 14, and he commanded Timothy to pass it on to others, 2 Tim. 1. 1-14; 2. 2. When writing to the Corinthians, Paul often referred to his responsibility as an apostle of Christ to pass on teaching and spiritual judgments to God's people, in view of his special commission from Christ Himself. For this reason he was concerned (as also in Galatians) to emphasize the genuineness of his apostolic calling. Indeed both Paul and John tell us that all teaching is to be tested by the standard of apostolic doctrine, 1 Thess. 5 19. 22, 1 John 4. 1-6. The authority of the apostles was derived from Christ Himself and their commission was unique, Heb. 2. 3-4; Jude 3, 17. It is therefore only in Scripture that we find our final authority, and this can be traced ultimately to the Lord Himself. The apostles were the channels of the communication of the truth of Christ, Eph. 2. 20. This truth related to the Person and work of Christ, and was presented to produce faith in Him. This call to belief was related to "the faith"—the unchanging body of Christian truth, 1 Tim. 6. 21 ; 2 Tim. 4. 7; Titus 1. 13, which must be accepted by Christians without modification of any kind.
The teaching of the apostles is now available to us only in the New Testament, with which the authority of Christ is indissolubly linked, as it is also with the Old Testament, 2 Tim. 3. 15-17.
May we then gladly accept, for both doctrine and practice, the Bible for what it is—not the word of men but, in truth, the Word of God, 1 Thess. 2. 13.
For further spiritual help on this important subject, readers are directed to the following articles in "The Doctrine of the Scriptures" section of the Treasury of Bible Doctrine: The Scriptures of Truth, pages 18-25. The Inspiration of the Scriptures, pages 26-28. The Sufficiency and Finality of the Scriptures, pages 28-31. Christ and the Bible, pages 37-42.