Why should we trust the Bible’s authority?

October 26, 2022

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It can be hard to accept the Bible’s authority in today’s world. Instead, it’s easier to think of the Bible as simply a relic of the past that contains some helpful wisdom but is no final authority for human life. But by standing over the Bible in judgment and focusing on the passages we like while ignoring the rest, we may miss the whole point of the Scriptures in the first place.

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    Many Christian traditions refer to the Bible as the ultimate guide for faith and practice, but it has become increasingly difficult to accept the Bible’s authority in today’s world. Many people would prefer to think of the Bible as an ancient artifact that merely reflects the religious ideas of certain people living in a particular time and place. It is a relic of the past that may contain some helpful wisdom, but it certainly is not binding for everyone. Given the influence of the late modern world, we tend to think all claims to truth or authority are just power plays. In today’s climate, how can we possibly say that the Bible is the final authority for human life?

    When we first approach the Scriptures, we do not need to believe there is anything special about them. We can simply read the Bible as a collection of ancient documents, containing in particular first-century accounts of a man named Jesus of Nazareth. But as we read their testimony, we may come to believe Jesus is the divine Son of God, still without formulating any particular doctrine of Scripture. But then the One whom we have come to believe in sends us back to the Scriptures with a new understanding of them because Jesus himself endorses their authority.

    Jesus based his life and mission on the Scriptures. He engaged in continuous debate with the religious leaders of his day, and whenever there was a difference of opinion, Jesus appealed to Scripture to settle the matter. As he put it, “Scripture cannot be broken.” If it was written in Scripture, that was decisive for him. There was no need to argue, debate, or negotiate because Jesus viewed Scripture as the very Word of God, so that “whatever Scripture says, God says.” 

    Jesus upheld what you might call the “dual authorship of Scripture,” meaning that the Bible is both the Word of God and the product of human beings. The Bible is God’s word to us, but it wasn’t dictated from on high in mechanical fashion. The human authors were actively involved in the process. The Bible itself affirms both the divine and human authorship of Scripture. Acts 3:21 tells us that “God spoke through the Holy Prophets.” And 2 Peter 1:21 tells us that human beings “spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

    In sum, God superintended over the human authors of Scripture so that their words are God’s words. God spoke through the human authors without obliterating their personality, vocabulary, literary style, or theological themes. And human authors spoke from God using their full capacities without corrupting the divine message.

    This may be hard to believe. But if there is an infinite and transcendent God behind the universe, then you couldn’t know anything about this Being unless he chooses to reveal himself to us. And if God is personal, as well as all-powerful, then there is no reason why he can’t communicate to us—and through us.

    Here’s a helpful analogy. Just as Jesus is a fully divine and fully human person, so Scripture is a fully divine and fully human word at one and the same time. And just as Jesus came to us in humility and weakness, so Scripture comes to us in servant form. Like Jesus himself, the Bible does not browbeat us into submission. Rather the Bible invites us to live in its light.

    So how should we read the Bible? The dual authorship of Scripture requires a dual approach. On the one hand, we should read the Bible like any other book. We should read it critically and thoughtfully. But on the other hand, we should read the Bible like no other book. We should read it humbly and reverently.

    Our natural tendency is to stand over the Bible in judgment. We want to remain in control so that we can focus on the passages we like and ignore the rest. But the right approach is to place ourselves under the Bible in humility. We have to give up control and allow the Bible to challenge and transform us. Otherwise, we may miss the whole point of the Scriptures in the first place.

    Written by Jason Harris
    Produced by Mary-Catherine McKee
    Filmed and edited by Andrew Walker