Ultimately, there are two ways people attempt to get to know God. One avenue is through divine Revelation and the other is through their own speculation. Either God reveals himself to you and shows you what he is like or you have to guess.
And guessing doesn’t work too well.
The truth is because God is infinite and we are finite, because we are created in his image and not the other was around, we need him to reveal himself to us if we are to have any hope of knowing him. Fortunately for us, God has revealed himself. He has given a general revelation that testifies to his existence in nature (Romans 1:20), he gave special revelation by speaking through the prophets (Hebrews 1:1), and of course most profoundly he revealed himself to us through the incarnation of God the Son (Hebrews 1:2). However, you’ll notice that all of these methods have their natural limitations. The general revelation of creation points to the creator, but doesn’t go much farther. You can’t learn the gospel by studying the stars. Having the prophets and Jesus must have been great for those that were alive, but it doesn’t do much for us thousands of years later. We need a more sufficient source of revelation to serve as our authority on who God is and what he is like.
Enter the Bible
The Bible is exactly what we need. A collection of sixty-six books that faithfully records for us what God is like and what he has done in history. Through the Bible, the words that God spoke through the prophets have been preserved for us. Through the Bible the words and deeds of Jesus have been preserved for us. Through the Bible, we learn of the apostolic teaching that served as the foundation of the early church.
The Bible Alone as the Highest Court of Authority
Without having a single final authority for all matters of faith, there would be no way to discern truth from error. Where you have multiple sources of authority, there is the potential that they will eventually contradict one another and then you are stuck. That’s not to say that there aren’t lower courts of authority in the Christian faith, but it does mean that the Bible alone must be recognized as the highest authority, the one that judges all other courts of authority.
In the Catholic Church, they claim to have three sources of authority: Tradition, the Church, and the Bible. The problem with this is that it essentially boils down to the Church alone being the highest authority. The Church gets to choose which traditions from history are valid. The Church gets to determine how the Bible should be interpreted. The Church is effectively an authority above Tradition and the Bible. This by itself doesn’t mean that Catholics are wrong to look to the Church as their final authority, rather it indicates that they are incorrect in saying have three sources of authority, because they use one to judge the other two.
So the question is, why should you look to the Bible as your highest source of authority instead of the Church or Tradition?
The Case for the Bible
The answer can pretty much be summed up in one word: Jesus. The best argument that can be given for the Bible is the fact that Jesus viewed the Bible as the ultimate authority that we should live by. There can be no witness to the Bible more trustworthy than Jesus. He is himself the one who God has spoken to us by (Hebrews 1:1). He is the Word of God (John 1:1-14), equal with God the Father (Philippians 2:6), and is in fact himself God (Titus 2:13, 2 Peter 1:1, etc.). When Jesus weighs in on the Bible as our highest form of authority the issue is settled. There are two passages I’ll point out from the Gospel of Matthew to support that Jesus really did view the Bible as authoritative, but there are many more.
The first is where the Pharisees asked Jesus if divorce was okay in Matthew 19. Here is what Jesus had to say: “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:4-6). There are two phrases that are of interest here, the first is “Have you not read” and the second is the two words “and said.” It’s clear from the answer “Have you not read” that Jesus thinks that they already have all that they need to answer the question. The Bible will act as their source of authority on the issue in question. The other astounding statement is the phrase “and said” which implies that God (“he who created them from the beginning”) is the one who spoke the words “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother…” in Genesis 2:24. If you look back on that passage however, it’s not a record of God speaking, it is just Moses writing. This implies that for Jesus, if it’s in the Bible we can basically consider that God says it.
The second is from Matthew 22. This time it’s the Sadducees challenging him on the resurrection. They try to stump him by asking him what happens if a woman has multiple husbands who all die. They want to know whose wife she will be in the resurrection. He gives them this strongly worded answer: “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living” (Matthew 22:29-32). There are three main things to notice here. First, Jesus makes it clear that part of the reason that they are wrong is because they don’t know the Scriptures. Had they known the Scriptures, they would have known the power of God and the reality of the resurrection, but they don’t. The second thing you should carefully note is that Jesus builds his entire case off the tense of one verb. His whole argument hangs off of God saying “I am the God of Abraham…” Jesus is so confident in the authority of the Bible that he feels comfortable arguing from a single word. Finally, we have a similar expression to what we saw in Matthew 19: “Have you not read,” but this time it is followed by the staggering phrase “what was said to you by God…” Now if you look up the verse Jesus is quoting (Exodus 3:6), God was specifically talking to Moses. But for Jesus, those recorded words are God speaking to his people, including those who come hundreds or even thousands of years later. For Jesus the Bible is the recorded word of God, the final authority for the people of God.
What about the New Testament?
Okay fine, you might say. Jesus thought the Old Testament was the word of God, but what about the New Testament? Why should we be confident about that? It’s an important question, so let’s tackle it head on.
First, it should be noted that the New Testament is the only reason we know about Jesus in the first place. You’re sort of sawing off the branch you are sitting on if you claim to follow Jesus but cast doubt on the only source you have of his life and teachings.
Second is the teaching of the New Testament itself. Let’s take a look at some of its claims:
Paul Regarded the Gospel of Luke as Scripture
A very important passage that often goes unnoticed is 1 Timothy 5:18. In defending his assertion that church Elders (Pastors) deserve to be paid he makes this appeal: “For the Scripture says, ‘YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING,’ and ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages.'” I intentionally quoted this verse from the New American Standard Bible because it capitalizes Old Testament quotations making them easier to identify. You’ll notice the first passage that Paul quotes is in all caps, indicating it comes from the OT, but the second is not. “Uh oh”, I thought when I first noticed that fact. We have a problem here. Paul is quoting something besides the OT and is giving it the same authority as “the Scripture.” It turns out that there is no problem, Paul is quoting the words of Jesus recorded by his travelling companion Luke in Luke 10:7. Paul regarded the Gospel of Luke as divinely inspired scripture. So when Paul says in his next letter to Timothy: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (1 Timothy 3:16-17), he doesn’t just mean the Old Testament. He for sure is at least including the Gospel of Luke as well as the book of Acts (also written by Luke), and is likely including any other Gospels that had been written at that time (which would be Matthew and Mark).
Peter Regards the Writings of Paul As Scripture
Here’s what Peter had to say toward the end of his second letter: “And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:15-16). First of all, can I just comment how I love the fact that Peter finds Paul hard to understand? God uses all kinds of people. Paul was an educated man of remarkable intellect and impeccable logic. Peter was a simple fisherman. God used both of them mightily. You are no second-rate Christian if you sometimes have difficulty understanding the Bible. The main takeaway here though is that Peter thought the writings of Paul were Scripture. In case there are any doubts about what the word “Scripture” is referring to, Peter adds the remark that those who twist said Scripture do it “to their own destruction.” In other words, Paul’s writings belong in the category of Holy Scripture, the writings inspired by God that will lead to your destruction if twisted or ignored.
What About The Rest of the New Testament?
Besides Peter, Paul, and Luke, it is obvious that the main contributor to the writings of the New Testament is the apostle John (he actually wrote more than Peter). He wrote the Gospel of John as well as the letters of 1-3 John and the book of Revelation. John was not only one of the original 12 Apostles, he was part of an inner circle of three that had a special connection with Jesus. John was one of only three who were with Jesus at the Transfiguration (Mark 9:2) and one of the three that Jesus brought with him into the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:33).
Then you have the books of James and Jude, written by the brothers of Jesus (Matthew 13:55, Jude is referred to as “Judas” in that verse. His Hebrew name would have been Judah, which in Greek is Judas. He is likely called Jude later on to be distinguished from Judas Iscariot).
That leaves only the book of Hebrews, whose authorship is uncertain. I would encourage you however to just read the book of Hebrews and pay special attention to two things:
- How intimately it knows the Old Testament and
- How reverently it treats Jesus.
The book of Hebrews may not be witnessed by the other New Testament writings or have definite apostolic authorship, but reading through it I think it should be pretty clear to most people that it belongs.
Many people defend the New Testament by pointing out that by and large there was no significant controversy over which books should be included. While I agree, the internal witness of the New Testament gives me much more confidence. You have three of the original 12 Apostles (Peter, Matthew, and John) contributing to the writings of the New Testament. Two of them (Peter and John) were in Jesus’ innermost circle. Then you have men who were said by these Apostles to be writing Scripture, either directly (Paul and Luke), or indirectly (Mark). All that leaves exactly one book in question, but upon careful examination I think that said book (Hebrews) passes with flying colors. We can be very, very confident about the New Testament that we have.
Speculation won’t work for knowing God, we need Divine Revelation as our ultimate authority and we have received it in the form of the Bible. The Bible needs to be over all other courts of authority or it loses it’s authority. Albert Mohler (president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) said it well: “If any other authority can be higher than Scripture then the Scripture actually can be not only reinterpreted, but can be made to mean something different now than it did in times past.” (Quoted from a post on Albert Mohler’s Facebook page dated December 11, 2015). The only way to honor the authority of the Bible is to let the Bible preside over all other courts of authority. If you reject or otherwise undermine the authority of the Bible, your quarrel is not with me, it’s with Jesus and the Apostles.
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