Authority in the Bible

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Authority is the concept of rightful power. It is used in the Bible with a good deal of elasticity. Although the English term itself is not used of God in the OT as it is in the NT (usually for exousia), the assumption permeating both testaments is that God alone is the ultimate authority and he alone the ultimate source of authority for others.

God's Authority

His sovereign, universal, and eternal rule over the entire universe gives evidence of his authority (e.g., Exod. 15:18; Job 26:12; Pss. 29:10; 47; 93:1-2; 95:3-5; 103:19; 146:10; 147:5; Isa. 40:12ff.; 50:2). He has fixed by his authority times or epochs (Acts. 1:7) and "does according to his will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth" (Dan. 4:34-35). This authority over man is compared to that of a potter over his clay (Rom. 9:20-23). So ultimate is God's authority that all authority among humans comes from God alone (Rom. 13:1). God's authority includes not only the authority of providence and history, but also the demand for submission and accountability from man, expressed, e.g., in the garden of Eden, the Ten Commandments, the gospel and its evangelical demands. Inherent in God's authority is the awesome power to cast the one who does not fear him into hell (Luke 12:5) and the glorious power to forgive sins and declare righteous those in Christ (Rom. 3:21-26). In the day of God's wrath and mercy, God's rightful authority as Creator (Rev. 4:11) and Redeemer in Christ (Rev. 5:12-13) will be acknowledged in an undisputed way.

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Jesus Christ's Authority

As the God-man, the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ manifests his authority in a dual capacity. On the one hand, his authority is that of one who is the Son of God and is intrinsic to him and not derived. On the other hand, as the incarnate Son, who is the Son of man, he acts in submission and obedience to the Father. So he can say in one and the same breath concerning his plans to lay down his life: "No one has taken it away from me, but I lay it down on my own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again," and "this commandment I received from my Father" (John 10:18). But because his life as the promised Son of man is one of acting representatively for God on behalf of men as one who is also a man (cf. Dan. 7:13-14), Jesus speaks almost always of his authority in terms of acting for God the Father. In doing so he exercises all the prerogatives of God e.g., forgives sins (Mark 2:5-8), heals (Mark 1:34), exorcises demons (Mark 1:27), controls the power of nature (Luke 8:24-25), raises the dead (Luke 7:11-17; John 11:38-44), teaches with authority (Matt. 7:28-29; cf. his "I say," Matt. 5:21-48), and demands that men submit to his authority both on earth (Luke 14:25-35) and at the judgment (Matt. 7:22-23). As the obedient Son he acknowledges and follows the word of his Father, the Scriptures, and appeals to them as the final authority (Matt. 4:1-10; 22:23-46; John 10:33-36).

By Christ's victory over sin and death in his death and resurrection, the usurped authority of the evil one and his angels is broken (Heb. 2:14-15; I John 3:8; Col. 2:15). Thus all authority in heaven and on earth is given to Jesus to exercise in his messianic role (Matt. 28:18-20) until he has completed his task of finally subduing all God's enemies and delivering up the kingdom to God the Father (I Cor. 15:24-28). In the interim Christ exercises leadership and authority in a providential way over all things for the good of his church (Eph. 1:20-23). With a redeeming authority and power that enables as well as commands, he authoritatively demands both evangelization of all the nations and obedience to all his commandments (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 1:8; Rom. 6:1ff.; 8:1ff.; Phil. 2:12-13).

The Apostles' Authority

The authority of God is exercised in the OT not only by various direct means but also through those to whom he gave authority to act in his behalf priests, prophets, judges, and kings. In the NT the authority of the Father and especially of Jesus Christ is expressed in a unique way through the apostles, who are by definition the direct and personal ambassadors of Jesus Christ (Matt. 10:1, 40; Mark 3:14; John 17:18; 20:21; Acts 1:1-8; II Cor. 5:20; Gal. 1:1; 2:8), speaking and acting with his authority (Ga. 1:11ff.; 2:7-9). They claim to speak authority (Gal. 1:11ff.; 2:7-9). They claim to speak for Christ and under the Spirit's direction in terms of both content and form of expression (I Cor. 2:10-13; I Thess. 2:13), to give the permanent norm for faith (Gal. 1:8; II Thess. 2:15) and conduct (I Cor. 11:2; II Thess. 3:4, 6, 14), as is indicated also by the self-conscious reference to "all the churches" (cf., e.g., I Cor. 7:17; 14:34), and even to designate their rulings on a question as "the commandment of the Lord" (I Cor. 14:37).

They establish the order or government of the church so that a shared rule by a group of men, often but not always designated as bishops or elders, is universal in the NT period, as evidenced not only in the meeting at Jerusalem (Acts 15) but also in the various writings and geographical locations (Acts 14:23; I Tim. 3:1ff.; I Pet. 5:1ff.; cf. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; I Thess. 5:12-13; Heb. 13:7, 17; James 5:14). Alongside this leadership a diaconal ministry is established by the apostles (Acts 6:1-6; Phil. 1:1; I Tim. 3:8-13). Not only do they set the order of the church, they also prescribe discipline in Christ's name and with his authority (I Cor. 5:4; II Thess. 3:6). In so acting they have functioned as the foundation of the church (Eph. 2:20; 3:5; cf. I Cor. 12:28) who have no successors and whose foundational authority has been put permanently in place by their writings, which have conveyed, at Christ's command and in fullment of his promise, the truth he would have the church always teach and obey (cf. John 14:26; 16:13). So they are recognized as authoritative alongside "the rest of the Scripture," i.e., the OT (II Pet. 3:15-16).

Various Spheres of Authority

The Bible recognizes within its pages various spheres in which God has entrusted authority into the hands of leaders.

The Church

Christ has given authority to certain men to be leaders (often termed elders or bishops) in his church. Their task is to shepherd the church with love and humility as the servants of Christ and his people (I Tim. 3:5; I Pet. 5:1-4). A loving submission to their leadership is urged on Christians (I Thess. 5:12-13; Heb. 13:7, 17).

Marriage and the Family

Women as equals of men in both creation and redemption (cf. I Pet. 3:7; Gal. 3:28) are asked to submit to their own husbands as heads of the home because of the pattern established by God at creation (I Cor. 11:3, 8-9; I Tim. 2:12-15; Eph. 5:22; I Pet. 3:1-6). Both husbands and wives are asked to offset the effects of sin on this God-ordained authority relationship by their attitude and conduct, i.e., the husband exercising headship with love, honor, and without bitterness (Eph. 5:28; Col. 3:19; I Pet. 3:7) and the wives, with respect, as unto the Lord, and with a gentle spirit (Eph. 5:22, 33; I Pet. 3:4). Children are commanded to obey their parents (Eph. 6:1-3; Col. 3:20) and to care for them in times of need (I Tim. 5:4).

Civil Government

Christians are to recognize that God has granted authority in this realm to those who by his providence "exist" (Rom. 13:1; cf. John 19:11). Thus they are called dutifully to subject themselves to civil authorities (I Pet. 2:13-17) who are described as God's servants to prevent evildoers and to encourage good behavior (Rom. 13:1ff.). This authority requires not only subjection but also the rendering of various taxes, respect, and honor (Rom. 13:7).

Other Authorities in Human Life

The NT recognizes human institutions that will exist within human society, among which civil government is the prime example. Its word of instruction is that Christians, for the Lord's sake, should submit to every appropriate human institution (I Pet. 2:13). The word of qualification assumed but not stated in every one of these spheres is found explicitly in Acts 5:29 in reference to the civil and religious sphere; namely, "we must obey God rather than men" (cf.4:19). When the human authority clearly contravenes one's allegiance to God's authority, one is authorized to appeal to God's authority and obey it in contradistinction to that of any human authority. For in that situation the authority structure has so opposed the one who gives it its validity that it forfeits its authority.

Satan's Authority

The exercise of power by the evil one and the demons is also regarded as a power or authority, but a usurped one which is only under God's ultimate authority (Luke 4:6; Acts 26:18; Col. 1:13; cf. Job 1). Such angelic beings, who are called powers or authorities, have been disarmed by Christ (Col. 2:15) and have no other final outcome than that of the devil's final doom (Rev. 20:10).

G W Knight, III
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

W. Foerster, TDNT, II, 562-75; O. Betz and C. Blendingen, NIDNTT, II, 606-11; T. Rees, ISBE, I, 333-40; J. Denney, "Of Christ," HDCG; W.M. McPheeters, "In Religion," HDCG; J. Rea, WBE, I, 179-80; H. D. McDonald, ZPEB,I, 420-21; J. I. Packer, IBD; G. W. Bromiley, ISBE (rev.), I, 364-70; J.N. Geldenhuys, Supreme Authority; B. Ramm, Patterns of Authority.

Authority of the Bible

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In its personal reference authority is the right and capacity of an individual to perform what he wills and who, by virtue of his position or office, can command obedience. It has also an application to words spoken or written whose accuracy has been established and whose information can consequently be trusted.

In the NT the Greek word exousia is sometimes translated "right" (NEB), or "power" (AV; e.g., Matt. 9:6; John 1:12; 17:2; 19:10), and sometimes "authority" (e.g. Matt. 7:29; 8:9; 21:23; John 5:27; Acts 9:14). What emerges from its various occurrences is that the possession of exousia is of a power held by right. In some contexts the emphasis falls on the authority which the possession of power rightfully gives; in other instances it falls on the reality of the power which conditions the right use of authority.

Authority may be bestowed or inherent. When Jesus was asked by what authority he taught and acted (Matt. 21:23-24) the implication was that his authority was external. His questioners supposed him to be exercising a representative in the declaration that Jesus taught with authority (Matt. 7:29) and "with authority and power" expelled unclean spirits (Luke 4:36) the locus of such authority was in his own being. It was, that is to say, an ontological authority. Thus, while the authority for his words and acts was not his own but came from the one who sent him (John 14:10; 17:8), yet these same words and acts had their raison d'etre in his own person because grounded in his filial relationship with God his Father.

As in the case of Christ in whom both aspects of authority, the bestowed and the inherent, combined, so is it with the Bible. Because the Bible points beyond itself to God, it has a conferred authority. Yet the Bible has a real authority in itself as the authentic embodiment of God's self-disclosure. Liberal theologians refuse the Bible this ontological authority, granting it at most a borrowed authority. Some, like Karl Barth, allow this authority to be bestowed by God while insisting that the Bible itself is essentially a human product. Others, e.g., Rudolf Bultmann and Paul Tillich, regard the Bible as a fallible collection of religious writings on which the early church arbitarily imposed an authority which evangelical piety has continued to uphold. But by refusing to the Bible an ontological authority, liberal theology uncovers its fundamental inconsistency, thereby pronouncing its own condemnation. For insofar as it wishes the acceptance of its own unbiblical speculations, it has to decry the authority of the Bible. Yet insofar as it is concerned to retain the label Christian, it appeals to the Bible as its authoritative source.

An approach to the subject of biblical authority must begin with God himself. For in him all authority is finally located. And he is his own authority for there is nothing outside him on which his authority is founded. Thus, in making his promise to Abraham, he pledged his own name since he had no greater by whom to swear (Heb. 6:13). This authority of God is, then, the authority of what God is. But what God is, is made known in his self-disclosure, since only in his revelation can God be known. Revelation is therefore the key to God's authority, so that the two, revelation and authority, may be regarded as two sides of the same reality. In revelation God declares his authority.

The prophets of the OT found their certainty in God's revelation. In uttering their message they knew themselves to be declaring God's authoritative will. As God's ambassadors they proclaimed what God required of his people. For Christian faith Christ is known as God's final revelation. In him God's imperial authority is most graciously expressed. Thus is Christ the sum of all that is divinely authoritative for the life of man. But this progressive unveiling of God, which culminated in Christ, has been given perpetual form in the biblical writings. Scripture consequently participates in God's authority, so that Christ's relation thereto is decisive as vindicating its authority.

Jesus read "all the Scriptures" of the OT as a prophetic outline of what he came to accomplish; and he took its very language to be the natural, and at the same time the supernatural, expression of his Father's will. By his attitude to and use of the OT Christ truly validated its divinity. With the same conviction of its divine authority the NT writers accepted it and quoted it; and in its light they themselves, as the inspired interpreters of the saving significance of Christ's person and work, put their own writings on an equal footing with the OT Scriptures as divinely authoritative. In the words of his elect apostles the full measure of God's revelation in Christ was brought to completion so that Paul could declare, "In the sight of God speak we in Christ" (II Cor. 12:19). Thus do the apostles claim an absolute authority for their writings (e.g., II Cor. 10:11; 1 Thess. 2:13; 5:27; II Thess. 2:15; 3:14).

The authority of the Bible is established by its own claims. It is the word of God. Such declarations as, "Thus says the Lord," or its equivalent, occur so frequently in the OT that it can confidently be asserted that the whole account is dominated by the claim. The NT writers also refer to these Scriptures as having God for their source. In the NT itself both Christ and the gospel are spoken of as "the word of God" and so demonstrate the fact that the tie between the two is a vital and necessary one. Specifically is the gospel in its central content and many aspects, through the action of the Holy Spirit, brought into written form by Christ's appointees as God's authoritative word for the church and in the world. Both testaments therefore belong together under the one designation, "the word of God." As God's word the Bible consequently carries in itself God's authority.

It is the scripture of truth. In the OT the Hebrew word 'emet, rendered "truth" in the AV and frequently translated "faithfulness" in the RSV (e.g., Deut. 32:4; Ps. 108:4; Hos. 2:20), is constantly predicted of God. God as true is absolutely faithful (cf. Ps. 117:2), and this absolute faithfulness of God assures his complete trustworthiness. This truthfulness of God passes over as an attribute of what God is in himself to characterize all his works (cf. Ps. 57:3) and especially his word. Thus is his word both true and faithful (cf. Ps. 119:89). The whole OT, then, as "the word of God" is to be designated "the scripture of truth" (Dan. 10:21 AV). It partakes of God's own chracter, of the fundamental truthfulness of him who declares himself to be "not a man, that he should lie" (Num. 23:19; cf. 1 Sam. 15:29; Ps. 89:35). Ps. 31:5 declares that the Lord is the God of truth, while Ps. 119:160 affirms his word as the word of truth. In both places the same Hebrew term is employed. The same truth is thus predicated of God and his word.

In the NT the word aletheia has the same fundamental meaning of genuineness and truthfulness as opposed to what is false and unreliable. So God is both true (1 John 5:20; John 3:33; 7:28; 8:26; 17:3; 1 Thess. 1:9) and truthful (Rom. 3:7; 15:8, etc.). And as God is, so too is his word. His word is truth (John 17:17). The gospel is presented with truthful words (II Cor. 6:7; cf. Col. 15; James 1:18), and the truth of the gospel (Gal. 2:5) is identical with the truth of God (Rom. 3:7).

The Bible is, then, the book of God's truth; and such truth is, as the Westminster Catechism says, "infallible truth." As it is wholly trustworthy regarding its truth, so must it be wholly reliable regarding its facts. And because it is both, it is our divine authority in all things that pertain to life and godliness.

H D McDonald
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

R. Abba, The Nature and Authority of the Bible; H. Cunliffe-Jones, The Authority of the of the Bible; H. Cunliffe-Jones, The Authority of the Biblical Revelation; R. E. Davies, The Problem of Authority in the Continental Reformers; C. H. Dodd, The Authority of the Bible; P. T. Forsyth, The Principle of Authority; N. Geldenhuys, Supreme Authority; F. J. A. Hort, The Authority of the Bible; G. H. Hospers, The Reformed Principle of Authority; R. C. Johnson, Authority in Protestant Theology; D. M. Lloyd-Jones, Authority; H. D. McDonald, Theories of Revelation; L. Oswald, The Truth of the Bible; B. Ramm, Patterns of Authority; A. Richardson and W. Schweitzer, eds., Biblical Authority for Today; J. Rogers, ed., Biblical Authority; J. W. C. Wand, The Authority of the Scriptures; B. B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible; R. R. Williams, Authority in the Apostolic Age.

Inspiration of the Bible

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The theological idea of inspiration, like its correlative revelation, presupposes a personal mind and will, in Hebrew terminology, the "living God", acting to communicate with other spirits. The Christian belief in inspiration, not alone in revelation, rests both on explicit biblical assertions and on the pervading mood of the scriptural record.

Biblical Terminology

Today the English verb and noun "inspire" and "inspiration" bear many meanings. This diverse connotation is already present in the Latin inspiro and inspiratio of the Vulgate Bible. But the technical theological sense of inspiration, largely lost in the secular atmosphere of our time, is clearly asserted by the Scriptures with a special view to the sacred writers and their writings. Defined in this sense, inspiration is a supernatural influence of the Holy Spirit upon divinely chosen men in consequence of which their writings become trustworthy and authoritative.

In the AV the noun appears twice: Job 32:8, "But there is a spirit in man; and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding"; and 11 Tim. 3:16, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." In the former instance both the ASV and the RSV substitute "breath" for "inspiration," an interchange which serves to remind us of the dramatic fact that the Scriptures refer the creation of the universe (Ps. 33:6), the creation of man for fellowship with God (Gen. 2:7), and the production of the sacred writings (11 Tim. 3:16) to the spiration of God. In the latter instance, the ASV renders the text "Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable," a translation abandoned as doubtful by the RSV, "All scripture is inspired by God and profitable."

Biblical Teaching

Although the term "inspiration" occurs infrequently in modern versions and paraphrases, the conception itself remains firmly embedded in the scriptural teaching. The word theopneustos (11 Tim. 3:16), literally God, "spirated" or breathed out, affirms that the living God is the author of Scripture and that Scripture is the product of his creative breath. The biblical sense, therefore, rises above the modern tendency to assign the term "inspiration" merely a dynamic or functional significance (largely through a critical dependence on Schleiermacher's artificial disjunction that God communicates life, not truths about himself). Geoffrey W. Bromiley, translator of Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics, points out that whereas Barth emphasizes the "inspiring" of Scripture, that is, its present use by the Holy Spirit toward hearers and readers, the Bible itself begins further back with the very "inspiredness" of the sacred writings. The writings themselves, as an end product, are assertedly God-breathed. Precisely this conception of inspired writings, and not simply of inspired men, sets the biblical conception of inspiration pointedly over against pagan representations of inspiration in which heavy stress is placed on the subjective psychological mood and condition of those individuals overmastered by divine afflatus.

While the Pauline passage already noted lays proximate emphasis on the spiritual value of Scripture, it conditions this unique ministry upon a divine origin, in direct consequence of which the sacred record is profitable (cf. opheleo, "to advantage") for teaching, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness. The apostle Paul does not hesitate to speak of the sacred Hebrew writings as the veritable "oracles of God" (Rom. 3:2). James S. Stewart does not overstate the matter when he asserts that Paul as a Jew and later as a Christian held the high view that "every word" of the OT was "the authentic voice of God" (A Man in Christ, p. 39).

Emphasis on the divine origin of Scripture is found also in the Petrine writings. The "word of prophecy" is declared to be "more sure" than that even of the eyewitnesses of Christ's glory (11 Pet. 1:17ff.). A supernatural quality all its own, therefore, inheres in Scripture. While involving the instrumentality of "holy men," Scripture is affirmed nonetheless to owe its origin not to human but to divine initiative in a series of statements whose proximate emphasis is the reliability of Scripture:

Jesus' View of Scripture

If the passages already cited indicate something not only of the nature but of the extent of inspiration ("all scripture"; "the word of prophecy," elsewhere a summary term for the entirety of Scripture), a verse from the Johannine writings indicates something of the intensity of inspiration and at the same time enables us to contemplate Jesus' view of Scripture. In John 10:34-35, Jesus singles out an obscure passage in the Psalms ("ye are gods," Ps. 82:6) to reinforce the point that "the Scripture cannot be broken." The reference is doubly significant because it also discredits the modern bias against identifying Scripture as the word of God, on the ground that this assertedly dishonors the supreme revelation of God in the incarnate Christ. But in John 10:35 Jesus of Nazareth, while speaking of himself as indeed the one "the Father consecrated and sent into the world," nonetheless refers to those in a past dispensation "to whom the word of God came (and scripture cannot be broken)." The unavoidable implication is that the whole of Scripture is of irrefragable authority.

This is the viewpoint also of the Sermon on the Mount reported in Matthew's Gospel: "Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:17-19 RSV). Attempts to turn the repeated declarations, "You have heard that it was said...But I say to you" into a sustained criticism of the Mosaic law have not made their case convincingly against the probability that Jesus' protest is leveled rather against traditional reductions of the actual claim and inner intention of that law. Indeed, the necessary fulfillment of all that is written is a frequent theme on our Lord's lips (Matt. 26:31; 26:54; Mark 9:12-13; 14:19, 27; John 13:18; 17:12). Whoever searches the Gospel narratives faithfully in view of Jesus' attitude toward the sacred writings will be driven again and again to the conclusion of Reinhold Seeberg: "Jesus himself describes and employs the Old Testament as an infallible authority (e.g., Matt. 5:17; Luke 24:44)" (Text-book of the History of Doctrines, I, 82).

OT View

In both speech and writing the OT prophets are marked off by their unswerving assurance that they were spokesmen for the living God. They believed that the truths they uttered about the Most High and his works and will, and the commands and exhortations they voiced in his name, derived their origin from him and carried his authority. The constantly repeated formula "thus saith the Lord" is so characteristic of the prophets as to leave no doubt that they considered themselves chosen agents of the divine self-communication. Emil Brunner acknowledges that in "the words of God which the Prophets proclaim as those which they have received directly from God, and have been commissioned to repeat, as they have received them...perhaps we find the closest analogy to the meaning of the theory of verbal inspiration" (Revelation and Reason, p. 122). Whoever impugns the confidence of the prophets that they were instruments of the one true God in their disclosure of truths about his nature and dealings with man is driven, consistently if not necessarily, to the only possible alternative of their delusion.

From this same prophetic tradition it is impossible to detach Moses. Himself a prophet, rightly called "the founder of prophetic religion," he mediates the law and the priestly and sacrificial elements of revealed religion in the firm belief that he promulgates the veritable will of Jehovah. God will be the prophet's mouth (Exod. 4:14ff.); Moses is to be God, as it were, to the prophet (Exod. 7:1).

The Old and the New

The NT observations about Scripture apply primarily, of course, to the OT writings, which existed in the form of a unitary canon. But the apostles extended the traditional claim to divine inspiration. Jesus their Lord had not only validated the conception of a unique and authoritative corpus of sacred writings, but spoke of a further ministry of teaching by the Spirit (John 14:26; 16:13). The apostles assert confidently that they thus speak by the Spirit (I Pet. 1:12). They ascribe both the form and matter of their teaching to him (I Cor. 2:13). They not only assume a divine authority (I Thess. 4:2, 14; II Thess. 3:6, 12), but they make acceptance of their written commands a test of spiritual obedience (I Cor. 14:37). They even refer to each other's writings with the same regard as for the OT (cf. the identification in I Tim. 5:18 of a passage from Luke's Gospel, "The laborer is worthy of his hire" [Luke 10:7] as Scripture, and the juxtaposition of the Pauline epistles in II Pet. 3:16 with "the other scriptures").

Historical View

The traditional theory, that the Bible as a whole and in every part is the word of God written, held currency until the rise of modern critical theories a century ago. W. Sanday, affirming that the high view was the common Christian belief in the middle of the last century, comments that this view is "substantially not very different from that...held two centuries after the Birth of Christ," indeed, that "the same attributes" were predicated of the OT before the New (Inspiration, pp. 392-93). Bromiley notes certain rationalizing tendencies that have arisen on the rim of the high view: the Pharisees' rejection of Jesus of Nazareth as the promised Messiah despite their formal acknowledgment of the divine inspiration of Scripture; the attribution of inspiration to the vowel points and punctuation by seventeenth century Lutheran dogmaticians; and a depreciation (e.g., in the Middle Ages) of the role of illumination in the interpretation of Scripture ("The Church Doctrine of Inspiration" in Revelation and the Bible, ed. C. F. H. Henry, pp. 213ff.).

The Protestant Reformers guarded their view of the Bible from the errors of rationalism and mysticism. To prevent Christianity's decline to mere metaphysics they stressed that the Holy Spirit alone gives life. And to prevent decline of the Christian religion to formless mysticism they emphasized the Scriptures as the only trustworthy source of the knowledge of God and his purposes. The historic evangelical view affirms that alongside the special divine revelation in saving acts, God's disclosure has taken the form also of truths and words. This revelation is communicated in a restricted canon of trustworthy writings, deeding fallen man an authentic exposition of God and his relations with man. Scripture itself is viewed as an integral part of God's redemptive activity, a special form of revelation, a unique mode of divine disclosure. In fact, it becomes a decisive factor in God's redemptive activity, interpreting and unifying the whole series of redemptive deeds, and exhibiting their divine meaning and significance.

Critical Theories

The postevolutionary criticism of the Bible carried on by Julius Wellhausen and other modern scholars narrowed the traditional confidence in infallibility by excluding matters of science and history. How much was at stake in a weakening of trust in the historical reliability of Scripture was not at first obvious to those who placed the emphasis on reliability of the Bible in matters of faith and practice. For no distinction between historical and doctrinal matters is set up by the NT view of inspiration. No doubt this is due to the fact that the OT history is viewed as the unfolding of God's saving revelation; the historical elements are a central aspect of the revelation. It was soon apparent that scholars who abandoned the trustworthiness of biblical history had furnished an entering wedge for the abandonment of doctrinal elements.

Theoretically such an outcome might perhaps have been avoided by an act of will, but in practice it was not. William Newton Clark's The Use of the Scriptures in Theology (1905) yielded biblical theology and ethics to the critics as well as biblical science and history, but reserved the teaching of Jesus Christ as authentic. British scholars went further. Since Jesus' endorsement of creation, the patriarchs, Moses, and the giving of the law involved him in an acceptance of biblical science and history, some influential critics accepted only the theological and moral teaching of Jesus. Contemporaries swiftly erased even this remainder, asserting Jesus' theological fallibility. Actual belief in Satan and demons was insufferable to the critical mind, and must therefore invalidate his theological integrity, while the feigned belief in them (as a concession to the times) would invalidate his moral integrity. Yet Jesus had represented his whole ministry as a conquest of Satan and appealed to his exorcism of demons in proof of his supernatural mission. The critics could infer only his limited knowledge even of theological and moral truths. The so-called Chicago school of empirical theologians argued that respect for scientific method in theology disallows any defense whatever of Jesus' absoluteness and infallibility. Harry Emerson Fosdick's The Modern Use of the Bible (1924) championed only "abidingly valid" experiences in Jesus' life that could be normatively relived by us. Gerald Birney Smith went another step in Current Christian Thinking (1928); while we may gain inspiration from Jesus, our own experience determines doctrine and a valid outlook on life.

Simultaneously many critical writers sought to discredit the doctrine of an authoritative Scripture as a departure from the view of the biblical writers themselves, or of Jesus of Nazareth before them; or, if admittedly Jesus' view, they sought to dismiss it nonetheless as a theological accommodation, if not an indication of limited knowledge. The internal difficulties of such theories were stated with classic precision by Benjamin B. Warfield ("The Real Problem of Inspiration," in The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible). This attempt to conform the biblical view of inspiration to the looser modern critical notions may now be said to have failed. The contemporary revolt strikes more deeply. It attacks the historic view of revelation as well as of inspiration, affirming in deference to the dialectical philosophy that divine revelation does not assume the form of concepts and words, a premise that runs directly counter to the biblical witness.

Whatever must be said for the legitimate rights of criticism, it remains a fact that biblical criticism has met the test of objective scholarship with only qualified success. Higher criticism has shown itself far more efficient in creating a naive faith in the existence of manuscripts for which there is no overt evidence (e.g., J, E, P, D, Q, first century nonsupernaturalistic "gospels" and second century supernaturalistic redactions) than in sustaining the Christian community's confidence in the only manuscripts the church has received as a sacred trust. Perhaps the most significant gain in our generation is the new disposition to approach Scripture in terms of primitive witness instead of remote reconstruction.

While it can shed no additional light on the mode of the Spirit's operation on the chosen writers, biblical criticism may provide a commentary on the nature and extent of that inspiration, and on the range of the trustworthiness of Scripture. The admittedly biblical view has been assailed in our generation especially by an appeal to such textual phenomena of Scripture as the Synoptic problem and apparent discrepancies in the reporting of events and numbers. Evangelical scholars have recognized the danger of imputing twentieth century scientific criteria to the biblical writers. They have noted also that the OT canon so unqualifiedly endorsed by Jesus contains many of the difficulties of the Synoptic problem in the features of the books of Kings and Chronicles. And they concede the proper role of an inductive study of the actual phenomena of Scripture in detailing the doctrine of inspiration derived from the teaching of the Bible.

C F H Henry
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

K. Barth, The Doctrine of the Word of God; C. Elliott, A Treatise on the Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures; T. Engelder, Scripture Cannot Be Broken; L. Gaussen, Theopneustia: The Plenary Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures; C. F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority,4 vols., and (ed.), Revelation and the Bible; J. Orr, Revelation and Inspiration; N.B. Stonehouse and P. Woolley, eds., The Infallible Word; J. Urquhart, The Inspiration and Accuracy of the Holy Scriptures; J. F. Walvoord, ed., Inspiration and Interpretation; B. B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible; J. C. Wenger, God's Word Written; J. I. Packer, God Has Spoken; H. D. McDonald, What the Bible Teaches About the Bible; P. Achtemeier, The Inspiration of Scripture; F. E. Greenspan, ed., Scripture in Jewish and Christian Tradition.

The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in December 1997.

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