The Authority of the Bible

Given what we have just considered in the fourth conversation, the first question we’ll deal with in this section is the authority of the Bible. We touched on this topic briefly when starting Section Two, but let’s look at it a little more deeply…

All authority comes from God

As the creator, there is little doubt that God ultimately has all authority over his creation, and it’s through his written word that he has revealed his ultimate purpose.  The authority of God is the core theme that runs through the entire Bible, beginning with the creative work described in Genesis, through to the establishment of the kingdom that is to finally reflect God’s glory (Habakkuk 2:14).

As followers of Christ, we cherish the Bible because whilst studying the natural world will tell us how God did it, God’s spoken word helps us to understand why he did it. As Elwell & Beitzel wrote, “Those who cherish the Book because it sustains future hope, brings meaning and power to the present, and correlates a misused past with the forgiving grace of God, would not long experience such inner rewards if Scripture were not known to them as the authoritative, divinely revealed truth”.⁠1

It’s an awkwardly written quote, but the point is there: Because we view the Scriptures as authoritative and divinely revealed, it gives us hope, brings us meaning, and explains to us the grace of God. Those of us who accept the evidence for an evolutionary creation still see the hand of God at work in a creation that functions in accordance with the laws that he ordained. We recognise God’s authority in creation, and we recognise his authority in his written word.

If you’re waiting for a ‘but’… there isn’t one, because if we read modern ideas into God’s word, we compromise it and arrogate authority to ourselves and our ideas.⁠2 There’s even a term for this, called eisegesis. “Eis” coming from the Greek “into” as opposed to exegesis, which is reading the meaning out of the text. It’s used to designate the practice of reading in or imposing a preconceived or foreign meaning onto a text.⁠3  There’s an old saying that says, “eisegesis is poor exegesis”.

An example of this occurs in the discussion earlier when we spoke about other humans contemporary with Adam and Eve. Almost all of us have been taught from a young age that Cain and Seth married their sisters. That is a form of eisegesis, because nowhere in the whole of scripture are we told that is what happened. It’s one thing to hold a personal view that these men took their sisters as wives, but when we demand that others believe it, we are injecting our views into God’s text and elevating our own authority to that of God’s.

An essential element of recognising the authority of the text, is to accept and honour the intent and purpose of the scriptures. We have to respect the word of God for what it is, and in this case, it is NOT a scientific text book.

This is a critical point. If the text were to accommodate the science of the day it would be ridiculously out of date. If it had been written with today’s levels of scientific understanding, it would have been unintelligible – not only to the ancient audience – but to almost every generation except recent ones. No, the scriptures were written to communicate spiritual themes and lessons, using ideas and concepts that those in the ancient world believed or understood.

Spiritual vs. academic lessons  

At the start of Section Two, we considered various topics which we know are not described with today’s levels of scientific or academic accuracy.  Let’s pick the example of demons.  Doctrinally, we don’t accept the existence of demons, and scientifically we certainly don’t either.

Yet Jesus did. Well, let’s rephrase that. Jesus didn’t say he believed demons were real, but he acknowledged that is what the Jews around him believed. We have no record of him ever trying to correct them (“Verily I say unto you, that is a false doctrine”), but instead we see Jesus working with their (false) belief to teach them more important spiritual lessons.

It doesn’t stop there. The writers of the gospels recorded this “false doctrine” as it was, without any effort to correct it. So, not only were they capturing the views of the people at the time, without any further commentary or explanation; they made no effort to educate future generations that these were erroneous ideas.

Exactly the same principle applies the geocentric views that we looked at in the old testament.  God knew that this was not true, but makes no effort to correct those who held the view. (Even today, most of those in the English-speaking world who believe the earth is flat do so based on what they see as “the clear teaching of the Bible”.)⁠4

The point being made is this: If we were to adjudicate the Bible’s authority based on its scientific accuracy, then we’re arguing an indefensible point. So why did God allow this to happen? Perhaps it’s because the Bible was written to teach spiritual lessons about righteousness, not science lessons; and the best way God could do that was through utilising the knowledge and understanding that the people had at the time.

Therefore, we accept the scriptures for what they are: “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that we may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16). The Bible is the only collection of writing that we can say is from God, and therefore the only source of guidance for salvation. Therein lies its authority, and that is beyond question.

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1 Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 300.

2 John Walton, The Lost World of Adam & Eve (Intervarsity Press, 2015) pg5

3 Stanley Grenz, David Guretzki, and Cherith Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 49.

4 Robert J. Schadewald, The Flat-Earth Bible (The Bulletin of the Tychonian Society, July 1987) #44