Thy Words were found and I did eat them; and Thy Word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart. Jeremiah 15:16
The Autographs And Canonicity
Personal authority: No man today possesses the authority of, say, the Apostle Paul. He could write to the Corinthians, “What will ye? Shall I come unto you with a rod (a sceptre of authority), or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?” (1 Corinthians 4:21). Paul had divine authority invested in him, but that ended with his martyrdom.
Perpetual authority: While divine authority in those worthy men of the past has ended, divine authority remains in their inspired writings. The New Testament possesses for the Church today all the authority of the apostles of far-away times.
There are four verbs used in apostolic writings of the New Testament which emphasize the divine authority of the Holy Scriptures. These are: “to command,” “to charge,” “to ordain,” and “to will.” There may be others but an examination of these will suffice in this study.
These verbs do not all possess the same value and force; in fact, their power seems to decrease in the order in which they have been listed. To command is more forceful than to charge; to charge, more forceful than to ordain; to ordain, more forceful than to will.
“To command”: Someone has said, “To command is to demand obedience.” This verb was used of both the words of Christ and of His apostles. Paul used it and so did Peter. Paul’s commands are given in connection with domestic affairs (1 Corinthians 7:10), public ministry (1 Corinthians 14:37), church fellowship (Colossians 4:10), and personal holiness and behaviour (1 Thessalonians 4:2). Peter used it in connection with the entire ministry of the apostles (2 Peter 3:2).
The attitude of lawlessness so prevalent in the world frequently infiltrates the churches of the saints. Such a spirit resents authority and refuses to obey commands.
“To charge”: While this is a weaker verb than the previous one, it nevertheless carries authority and imposes responsibilities. Paul not only used the verb himself but he instructed Timothy to do likewise.
Paul charged the elders at Thessalonica to read his Epistle to the entire church (1 Thessalonians 5:27). He charged Timothy to observe the instruction concerning elders in the church (1 Timothy 5:21). He also charged Timothy to keep the divine command in regard to moral standards (1 Timothy 6:13), and he charged him to perform the ministry that he, Timothy, had received of the Lord (2 Timothy 4:1).
It would appear that the Apostle John had authority to charge an early church in regard to reception, but one man, Diotriphes, exerted his will against such apostolic authority.
“To ordain”: This verb suggests the making of an appointment or arrangement with authority. This idea of ordaining or appointing was used by the Lord, by the apostles, and by certain apostolic delegates.
Paul uses it in regard to marital relationships (1 Corinthians 7:17), abuses existing in the church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 11:34), overseers (Titus 1:5), etc. It was used by Paul and Barnabas at Galatia (Acts 14:23), and by the elders and apostles at Jerusalem in connection with Christian liberty (Acts 16:4).
“To will” This verb while being the weakest of the four intimates that after proper deliberation one is able to express a preference with a conviction of its correctness. Paul uses the word asserting that the males should pray publicly (1 Timothy 2:8), that younger women should marry (1 Timothy 5:14), and that believers should maintain good works (Titus 3:8).
Jesus marvelled at the humility of the Roman Centurion who said, “I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it” (Luke 7:8). While possessing authority to command, he himself was under superior authority. In reading the Bible we must ever remember that while the human authors with authority command, charge, ordain or will, they were all under the absolute authority of God. As the authority of the Roman Centurion, an officer over a hundred men, was but the expression of the authority of his general; even so, the authority expressed through these holy men chosen of God to write the Bible is but the transmission through them of the supreme authority of Christ.
Documentary authority in the sense in which it is used in these studies is the authority of the written word, a writing that furnishes proof and supplies evidence. We are quite accustomed to its use in text books and even in some literal translations of the Bible. This phase of the examination into biblical authority leads to documentary authority in the Old Testament, in the life of Christ, and in the apostolic writings.
In the Old Testament: There are two scenes in the Old Testament very relevant to this matter; one illustrates rejection of and the other submission to documentary authority. Inasmuch as both scenes have to do with the same book of the Bible, their significance is very patent. While one man may rebel against biblical authority and suffer the consequences, another may humbly submit and receive a blessing.
Rejection: This scene is recorded in Jeremiah 36. A roll that was dictated by Jeremiah and written by Baruch the scribe was cut in pieces and burned by Jehoiakim king of Judah. Unlike his father king Josiah who rent his clothes when God’s Word was read and enquired of the Lord (2 Kings 22:18-20), this man defied God and sought to destroy the Word of God.
God’s reaction to Jehoiakim’s foolishness was quick and severe, “I will punish him and his seed and his servants for their iniquities; and I will bring upon them, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and upon the men of Judah, all the evil that I have pronounced against them; but they hearkened not” (Jeremiah 36: 31).
Submission: As Daniel read the writings of Jeremiah and from them understood the character and duration of God’s discipline upon His ancient people, he set his face unto the Lord God to seek by prayer and supplication, with fastings, and sackcloth, and ashes (Daniel 9:2-3). The result of this submission to the written Word of God was a great blessing and revelation. Daniel records the experience, “While I was speaking in prayer, even the man Gabriel, … touched me, … and informed me; I am come forth to give thee skill and understanding” (Daniel 9:21-22).
As it was in those critical times of Israel’s history so it is today; rejection of the documentary authority of the Word of God results in discipline; submission to that authority results in blessing.
In the life of Christ: The Lord Jesus possessed a perfect knowledge of the Word of God, and He acknowledged its power and authority. There are many examples of His submission to the Holy Scriptures. His conduct was governed by their authority when tempted by the devil, and He knew that in them there was power to defeat the enemy (Matthew 4:1-11). He used the authority of the Old Testament to substantiate His claims to pre-existence. He said, “The Scriptures:… they are they which testify of Me” (John 5:39).
In speaking to the two disciples that walked with Him to Emmaus, Christ made reference to predictions concerning Himself in the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets. These were referred to as the authority of all that He told them (Luke 24:13-35).
The Old Testament was our Lord’s authority in warning the Pharisees, and in predicting the features of the days of the coming of the Son of Man (Lk. 17:20-37).
In apostolic writings: The apostles accepted the Old Testament Scriptures as inspired of God and wholly authoritative. Peter says, “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (1 Peter 1:20-21). The Apostle Paul assures us “Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4).
The sayings of our Lord Jesus as recorded in the four Gospels were accepted by all the apostles as factual, accurate and authoritative. These holy authors realized that there was a finality about His sayings and they frequently made them the premises of their teaching. For example, Paul’s argument for the support of a minister of Christ as given in 1 Corinthians 9:13-16 is based upon the words of the Lord, “The workman is worthy of his meat” (Matthew 10:10. Luke 10:8).
John in teaching that love is an evidence of divine life in the soul and relationship within the divine family (1 John 2:4-6) makes reference to the words of the Lord, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another” (John 13: 34; 15:12).
Every reference made by the human authors of the separate books of the Bible to some earlier writing in either the Old or New Testament is a reference to the documentary authority and value of the Holy Scriptures.
Every reference to Scriptures in articles, pamphlets, tracts or books on Christian doctrine, prophecy, ethics, devotions, etc. is the documenting of the authority for the particular concept as taught by modern writers.
“I do not read the Bible,” said a sceptic to a Christian friend, “because we know nothing about the authors of its sixty-six books, and it is not safe today to accept as factual and authoritative the works of men you do not know.”
“As a teacher of mathematics, do you know the discoverer of arithmetic or the name of the authors of the first books on mathematics?”
“No, I don’t,” retorted the sceptic, “but mathematics are different, they are a necessary part of our system of life.”
“That is just why I read the Bible,” said the Christian, “that Holy Book is necessary to my life. Furthermore, arithmetic is so authoritative that if your income tax payments do not agree with its findings, you are penalized. Similarly, if your faith and conduct are not in accord with the Bible, you are penalized. Your reasons for the importance of mathematics are the same reasons I have for the importance of the Bible.”
In contemporary church relations there is occasionally an ignoring of scriptural authority in both a minus and plus direction. Relationship between two assemblies had been strained for some years. Both began to sense how unscriptural their positions and attitudes were and attempted to rectify matters and foster fellowship between them. One of these assemblies received a letter from a third assembly many miles away, in which the third assembly threatened to “cut them off” from their fellowship, and break any previous relationship that had existed between them, if they continued to establish fellowship with those from whom they had been estranged.
The brethren who wrote that letter had no scriptural authority, in the first place to write the letter; in second place, they had no scriptural authority to implement their threat; and in third place, they ignored the authority of the Word of God that grants complete autonomy to all the churches of the saints.
Shakespeare wrote long ago: “Man, proud Man! dressed in a little brief authority, plays fantastic tricks before high heaven as makes the angels weep.”
Appendix to Divine Authority of the Bible no. I
An examination of Christ’s absolute authority in the light of 1 Corinthians 15:28.
Let us first of all recall the accepted concept of absolute authority.
Authority is power, right or influence that enforces obedience, imposes control or demands support. This authority, generally speaking, is accepted on three levels: absolute authority, delegated authority, documentary authority. Absolute authority is the power possessed by the head of a political state; the president of an organization, industrial or commercial; the moderator of a conference; or a chancellor of a seat of learning. Delegated authority is the limited power deputed by a head or president to a subordinate in order that he fulfil his superior’s orders. Documentary authority is the power or influence of a written opinion.
The Headship of Christ
The Word of God asserts that Christ is the Head of the Church (Ephesians 1:22; 4:15; 5:23. Colossians 1:18; 2:10-19). He is also the Head of every man (1 Corinthians 11:3). Headship implies exaltation and priority as well as source and sustainer. He is all this in a unique sense to the Church, and in a general sense to humanity. As Head He must possess absolute authority.