Bible Authority

What is Bible Authority?

To define Bible authority one must speak to God’s will for all mankind, his creation.   Bible authority is the concept of rightful power that God possesses.   God alone is the ultimate authority and he alone the ultimate source of authority for others inside his creation.  When one speaks of Bible authority, it is not in the scriptures themselves written by inspired men, but rather the thoughts and words of God himself.  The words of the Bible point beyond itself to God, so that we can know that it is an external sovereign power.  The words of the God’s son and savior of men even point to the external sovereignty of God in John 14:10, “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works”.

God’s authority includes the demand for submission and accountability from man.  From Genesis to Revelation we can read requests and demands made from God to man and the result of disobedience.  Luke 12:5 Jesus says, “But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!”  God has the authority to cast the one who does not fear him into hell (Luke 12:5) and also the power to forgive sins and justify us by his grace in Christ Jesus, as Romans 3:23-26 tells us.

All Bible authority comes from God but can be given by 3 sources in the Bible.  God speaks directly to the fathers in the patriarchal age and speaks directly to Moses, priests, and prophets in the Mosaic age.  Jesus Christ the son of God also has all authority to speak and give instructions to man (Matt28:18).   Jesus Christ exercises his authority in a dual capacity.  On the one hand, his authority is that of one who is the son of God.  On the other hand, as the son of man, he acts in submission and obedience to the heavenly father.  This gives him the ability in John 10:18 to say that he has authority to lay down his life and take it up again.  Also, in the same verse he speaks to the authority he has because he received the command from his father.  Jesus speaks of his authority in terms of acting for God the Father. In doing so he exercises all the rights of God such as forgiveness of sins, healing, exorcising demons, controlling the power of nature, raising the dead, and teaching with authority.  As the obedient son he acknowledges and follows the word of his father, the scriptures, and appeals to them as the final authority as we can read in Matthew 4:1-10.

The apostles of Jesus also have authority to speak on behalf of God.  They claim to speak for Christ and under the Holy Spirit’s direction in 1st Cor 2:10-13.  Not only do they set the order of the church, they also prescribe discipline in Christ’s name and with his authority in 1st Cor 5:4.  They were directed by Jesus before his ascension that they would be the foundation in which to begin building his father’s church in Eph 2:20-22.  This gave them the authority to spread the gospel and establish the local churches to the ends of the earth.  We also see that their authority comes as they were filled by the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:1-4.  Other passages we could turn to for apostolic authority: John 14:26, 16:13; I Thess 2:13; II Thess 2:15, 3:6, 3:14.

Examples of Bible Authority.

Bible authority is revealed for us today to read, understand, and follow.  Let us look into some direct examples and results in God’s instructions to man.  God was unhappy with the burnt offering of Cain, Gen 4:3-6.  Can we see God’s authority to direct man and be unhappy with his decision?  God gave Noah a pattern for the ark to be built in Genesis 6:13-22.  Noah followed the pattern and was saved because of his faith and obedience to God.  Can we see the result of man obedience to God’s authority in this example?  Genesis 22:2, God tests Abraham’s faith and asked him to sacrifice his son Isaac.  In verses 11-13 we see that God is pleased with the obedience of Abraham and allows Isaac to be spared. Did Abraham know God’s authority and submit and obey it?

In Leviticus 10:1-2 we read the example of Nadab and Abihu.  They “offered profane fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them. So fire went out from the Lord and devoured them, and they died before the Lord.”  Did God exercise his discontent and authority over his creation here?  David was told in Exodus 25:14 and 37:5 the exact way to build and carry the Ark of the Covenant from the mouth of God.  However, David did not follow the divine pattern and Uzzah lost his life when he touched the ark in 2nd Samuel 6:3-7.  What is the pattern for disobedience to God’s authority?  Acts 7:37-44 speaks to the disobedience of the Israelites against Moses’ commands given from God.  Israel departed from the pattern God gave and were condemned as a result.  Can we see God’s authority and punishment from the disobedient Israelites?  In 1st Corinthians 3:9-17 Christians are given an example of God’s pattern of how to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Christians are to lay on the foundation of Jesus Christ and not of things of this world.  2nd Peter 2:1-8 also clearly counsels man on the destruction that awaits false teachers and the examples of their fates over history.  Can we read in 2nd Peter the authority and power God uses on those who are disobedient?

We have looked at just a handful of Biblical examples of God giving clear instructions and then the result that follows mans reaction.  The creator of all things has all authority to command his creation to do as he knows will be best for our well being.  God’s requests are not given to punish or restrict, but rather to make our lives more peaceful and fulfilling.  When we fulfill his requests, we will surely see our lives fulfilled.

How to Establish Authority?

The Bible authorizes or establishes authority by precept, approved example, or necessary inference.  By precept we mean a direct statement or command given from one of the 3 sources of authority we have established earlier.  Authority can also be established by approved example from one of the 3 sources in the scriptures.  For example, in the New Testament when the apostles established the work and practices of the local church; they were acting from the received authority from the Lord and therefore by divine appointment.  Necessary inference can establish authority by that which is neither expressly stated nor specifically demonstrated yet is implied by the clear understanding of the language used.

The Lord’s Supper furnishes an example of how all 3 methods of Biblical authority are followed this we can know it is authorized for us today.  In 1st Cor 11:23-25 we see the example of precept, “this do in remembrance of me”.  In this reading we see that Paul received it from the Lord and gave the command to the local church by his authority.  Approved example is another example we can point to as a method of necessary inference.  Acts 20:7 Paul gives the example to break bread on the first day of the week.  Paul had received this instruction from the Lord and therefore it is an example he gives with all authority.  In Acts 20:6 Paul clearly waits in Troas to give this example to the local saints, so we recognize the importance he wanted to place on this example.  Necessary inference in itself can be seen by the frequency of its observance.  The book of Acts again shows us the example that Paul breaks bread on the first day of the week.   Let us compare from the Old Testament.  In Exodus 20:8 God tells the Israelites to “remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy”.  From that day that was carried out by the Israelites.  Likewise, Paul, through the authority of the Holy Spirit, gave an example in Acts 20:7 to break bread on the first day of the week to remember the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  If “Sabbath day to keep it holy” meant every Sabbath, then “the first day of the week to break bread” means every first day of the week.  There is a clear understanding of the language used.

Generic and Specific Authority.

Generic Authority

The terms general and specific authority refer to the concept that applies to all of God’s instructions.  Whenever anything is authorized in the Bible, it contains general or specific instructions.  These terms simply refer to this distinction.  Sometimes God gives very specific instructions, and sometimes He gives general instructions, that can sometimes leave the details to our best judgment.  Understanding this difference is key to successfully determining authority for all things.  General authority includes, and specific authority excludes.

The best way to illustrate proper use of general authority is to consider some Bible examples.  One example to consider would be the Lord’s delivery of the Great Commission to his apostles in Matthew 28:19-20.  “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.  Jesus’ commands both to “Go” and to “Teach” illustrates this principle of general authority.  Both command to do something, but many of the details are left to us.  For example, we are to “go”, but it does not say how.  Therefore, we can walk, ride, fly, or sail.  General authority includes authority for anything that falls within the general instruction.  Of course, we do need to take caution to not violate another of God’s commands within the scriptures.  “Teach” also instructs what to do, but there is not specific mention of how to accomplish this.  We could teach privately, publicly, or in groups and classes.  All of these are still teaching and, therefore, are authorized by the general instruction to teach.  Additionally, no man has the authority to bind us to one of these methods as long as we do not violate any other command from God’s authority.  Binding where God has not bound constitutes “adding to” his words or authority, which is a serious transgression, condemned by the Bible.

Now let’s apply this principle towards a more difficult question, church buildings.  They cannot be found in the Scripture.  How do we get authority for our church buildings we worship in?  We can observe a scripture about the work of the church.  In Ephesians 4:11-12, “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”  From this passage we learn that the church is to “equip the saints”.  This implies teaching, encouraging, and admonishing within the local church.  But, how and where can we assemble?  In Hebrews 10:25 we are told, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the day approaching.”

So, if we are to be “exhorting one another” through the “assembling together”; then we are authorized to provide a place for one another to carry out this command.  However, that does not give us the authority to build elaborate entertainment complexes to entertain one another.  The authority tells us how to provide a place to “exhort one another” and to “stir up love and good works” for his names sake.  The Bible’s silence on this matter does not allow us to “add to” on how we will “go, teach, or assemble”.

From these commands and examples, we have established God’s general authority on assembling.  The instruction is general to some extent.  He does not say how, where, or the time of day.  Therefore, local churches have authority to operate within the boundaries of this general instruction.  If they choose to meet in people’s houses, in a rented building, or in their own building, it makes no difference.  All of these fall within God’s generic instructions to “equip” and to “assemble”.  Therefore, we have general authority to build a church building and assemble within it.

Specific Authority

The first example that we observed also illustrates specific authority.  When the disciples were told to “go and make disciples”, the exact method of “making disciples” was not left general, but rather, it was specified.  In Matthew 28:19 the apostles were told go “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”.  Also, they were not allowed to just teach anything they wanted.  Jesus specified in verse 20 what they were to teach:  “to observe all things that I have commanded you”.  So, for the same instructions, we see that some things are left general, but other things are specified.

Now, let’s use the principle of specific authority to help answer another difficult question, instrumental music.  The first perception that one must study is the difference between the Old and New Testament.  The Old Testament commands and examples are not authoritative for us today, as we are under a new law and the old law has been “nailed to the cross”, Colossians 2:14-18.  Understanding this eliminates much of the confusion we may have.  After studying the Old and New Testaments, we can observe that God gave detailed and specific instructions about how to use instruments in Old Testament worship in 1st Chronicles 15:16-28 and 23:5.  Yet we find no mention whatsoever of instrumental music being used in New Testament worship.  In fact, we have only the following specific instructions.  Ephesians 5:19 says, “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.”  Colossians 3:16 also gives the following authority, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”

Both of these passages teach that we are to make music unto the Lord, but what kind?  Does the Lord care?  These verses specify “singing”, “speaking”, and “making melody in your heart.”  These are the “instruments” of New Testament worship.  Nowhere else can or will we find mention of any other type of music in the New Testament.  If we choose to add instruments to the worship, then we become guilty of “adding to” God’s Word.

Conclusion

We must hold to the scriptures of our sovereign God and come to know and respect his Bible authority.  Let us be careful to stay true to God’s will in God’s way.  This may mean serving God unlike ways that others in the world show.  We need to be willing to tear down the traditions of men, just as Jesus and his apostles taught.  Whatever we do let us make sure that is in “the name of the Lord” and we are neither “adding to” nor “taking away” from God’s word by teaching doctrines of men (Rev 22:18 & 19, Deuteronomy 4:2, Prov 30:5-6).  Part of this requires understanding that God issues commands that are both specific and general in nature.  We must recognize general authority and allow for different judgments within our authority to do so, but we must also observe the specific and be careful to adhere to God’s specific pattern.  By carefully observing God’s general and specific authority, we will be better equipped to properly understand and apply God’s Word and serve him the way he wishes to be served.

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