What makes the Bible authoritative? Do we decide it is? Is it because a pastor says so? If the Bible was written by men, then how can we trust it? Should we treat it with reverence or as we would treat any other book? The answer to all these questions is given to us by the 1689 in a simple way. So simple that some will deem it unsatisfying. Here is what it says.
“The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, depends not upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself), the author thereof; therefore it is to be received because it is the Word of God.”
NOT THE TESTIMONY OF ANY MAN
Man does not give scripture its authority. The only thing that makes preaching and teaching authoritative is if the preacher or teacher is doing so from the scriptures. And even here we must be careful. There are many who stand before a crowd with a Bible open and quote things from it in an attempt to make their own point and not the Bible’s. Scripture can be abused by man, and thus it is not dependent on man for its authority. All of the power of the message of the Bible is within the Bible itself because the Bible is the very word of God.
Some will object here and say that men wrote the Bible, and therefore it must have some dependency on the testimony of man. This is an understandable critique, but it falls flat when put up against what the Bible says about itself. A passage that has been referenced before here on the blog is 2 Peter 1:21, which says, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Men were certainly involved in the writing of the scriptures, but the men themselves had no authority of their own. The men spoke from God. Of course this is a matter of faith, but it is what the Bible says about itself. It does not need us to validate it. It simply claims to be valid.
NOT THE TESTIMONY OF THE CHURCH
In regards to the Bible’s relationship to the church, the 1689 is very clear. The church does not govern the Bible, but the Bible governs the church. Some of the darker times in church history were the times when the word was kept from the people. Church hierarchy began twisting the meaning of the word in favor of promoting their own agendas rather than obeying the gospel. It is easy to see how this would produce big problems, and that is exactly what happened. The Protestant reformation came to be because some began seeing that the teaching of the church was contrary to the teaching of the scriptures. We must not be dependent on leadership within the church to govern the church on their own authority, but rather we should stay grounded by submitting ourselves (as a church) to the word. When we do this, it not only holds the leadership accountable, but all the members. It removes our personal preferences and holds us all accountable to an authority that is higher than ourselves.
WHOLLY UPON GOD
The 1689 confession ascribes all the authority of the Bible to God himself. This position is uncomfortable for some because there are some very hard things in the Bible. Many would like to point out certain passages that they deem a problem, thinking to themselves it is impossible that a loving God would say such things. But many who would criticize in this way have not really read the Bible. Bits and pieces of the scriptures can be helpful to us. But the Bible is cohesive. It all works together to communicate who God is, and we need this full picture to know him more. He is just, holy, righteous, loving, merciful, gracious, faithful, unchanging, perfect, sovereign, wrathful, patient, kind, and so much more. And many of the passages that give us problems (such as passages about God’s wrath or his holiness) better help us understand the ones we tend to cling to most (such as passages about God’s grace or love). The word stands on its own, possessing its authority completely from God. This we confess, and in this we have hope.