Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Author and Authority of Scripture

It is my hope in writing here that our understanding of the personal authority of Scripture will be refreshed. It is a powerful word that bears weight in our lives precisely because of Him who authored it, God Himself. The words in Scripture are God’s very own words revealing His very own self to us. For when the Scripture speaks, God speaks. If in the Scriptures God speaks, then there is nothing that bears greater authority for the life of the Christian.

The Author of Scripture

In an overview of Scripture, we must first begin with who authored the words we hold before us in our Bible. Paul reveals to us and the church at Thessalonica who authored the words we read, “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard form us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God” (1 Thess. 2:13, emphasis mine). Scripture self-attests that is itself written by and contains the words of God Himself. Orthodox Christians have held to this understanding of the Bible for century upon century, before even both the Old and New Testaments were formally canonized. John Calvin reiterates the orthodox understanding that in the Bible, “God in person speaks in it.”[1]

Scripture is first and foremost a personal revelation. God in Scripture reveals Himself to His creation through a written medium. What once was orally circulated among the Israelites and early church was written for our benefit. It was written for many reasons[2] but chief among all reasons the Apostle John records for us in 20:31, “but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”  The content of the Christian faith, which has come to be written in our Bibles, is a personal revelation of God. It contains that which God has designed and implemented for His creation to know regarding who He is and therefore who we are. Or as R.C. Sproul puts it,

“The Scriptures come to us as divine self-disclosure. Here the mind of God is laid bare on many matters. With a knowledge of Scripture we do not have to rely on secondhand information or bare speculation to learn who God is and what he values. In the Bible he reveals himself.”[3]

Think with me now for a moment. Imagine you have been diagnosed with a rare disease. You head to your doctor for treatment and while waiting in the room you see a diploma on the wall. The diploma states that the doctor graduated a month ago. That might not instill much confidence in you for the decided treatment. If however the diploma was issued twenty years ago, it might garner more trust with the recommended treatment for the disease.

The authority and therefore subsequent trust of the patient, relies on the experience of the doctor. We assess articles and books in much the same way. We assess their ideas and propositions based on who wrote it, do we not? If we read a statement on the political climate in Israel only to find it was written by a botanist, it might not carry the same weight from a statement provided by a foreign affairs journalist.

The same concept holds true for Scripture. If we say they are simply words thought up by some who had incredible wisdom and stories to share, it would bear some weight. But if we were to say Scripture instead contains the very words of God almighty, there is no higher trump card with regards the author’s authority in the subject. Therefore we must begin any discussion on the place of Scripture in the life of the Christian with the awe-inspiring understanding that the words contained therein are no mere human word, but a divine self-disclosure of God Himself written for the benefit and direction of mankind.

Divine Inspiration

But the question then becomes “How did God reveal Himself if we know human authors put pen to paper to record the words we find in our Bible?” Theologians call the how of this recording process inspiration.

Among the many verses that speak of the inspiration of Scripture, 2nd Timothy 3:16 ranks highest in clarity, “All Scripture is breathed out by God.” The term “breathed out,” θεόπνευστος in the original Greek, literally translates “inspired by God.” Paul here with this language urges Timothy to recognize the Author of Scripture and the means by which He used to bring His word into being, inspiration. Inspiration is God’s design and means to reveal himself, and therefore “God’s word is God himself, understood as a speaking God, one who eternally communicates.”[4] Scripture therefore comes from God. It is his word, His pouring into written form His very own self. The Westminster Confession of Faith describes inspiration in this way,

“The Old Testament in Hebrew (the native language of the ancient people of God) and the New Testament in Greek (the language most widely known internationally at the time the New Testament was written) were directly inspired by God and have been kept uncontaminated throughout time by his special care and providence.”[5]

Through the means of inspiration, God literally “breathing out” His word, God enables human writers to accurately record in written format what He desires us to know. Chief among this relationship between the breathed out word and the method of writing it down is the action and influence of the Holy Spirit, “The infallibility and divine authority of the Scriptures are due to the fact that they are the word of God; and they are the word of God precisely because they were given by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost.”[6] But the Spirit guided the inspiration of God’s word through human writers, a relational dynamic between the Author and authors to which we must now turn.

Inspiration and Human Authors

While God inspires Scripture He has only written by hand the Ten Commandments on the two tablets of stone that He gave to Moses (Exodus 31:18). He has spoken to many to record what He has said and stimulated others to write a Divine word. God’s method of inspiration has worked in a myriad of ways to record for us, in our Bible, the very words of God, even if mankind was the one to put pen to paper. Or as John Calvin puts it, “…we affirm with utter certainty (just as if we were gazing upon the majesty of God himself) that [scripture] has flowed to us from the very mouth of God by the ministry of men.”[7] There is a miraculous relationship in the formation of the Bible between man and God.

In the Old Testament we see many examples of this inspiration. In Exodus 19:6b we see God speaking and inspiring Moses to record God’s very words, “These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” The inspiration and recording of God’s word continues with Joshua and moves towards the prophets. When a prophet says, “Thus says the Lord,” they are speaking on behalf of Another the very words God inspired them to speak. The prophets are “claiming that their words are the absolute authoritative words of God.”[8] In the New Testament we have a myriad of written forms, from Gospels and Acts recounting the life, death, burial of Jesus, and the formation of the Chruch, to a myriad of letters to individual churches or peoples. In all of these writers God inspired both the form and words to communicate the good news of the Gospel for our benefit. The great Princeton theologian Charles Hodge states the doctrine of inspiration this way,

“Inspiration was an influence of the Holy Spirit on the minds of certain select men, which rendered them the organs of God for the infallible communication of his mind and will. They were in a sense the organs of God, that what they said God said.”[9]

However Hodge’s initial definition could lead us to believe that all the human writers did was act as “organs” for God, as mere puppets whose hands the Spirit moved. Theologians call this misunderstanding of inspiration the “mechanical theory of inspiration.” Hodge continues to clarify what we mean and don’t mean with inspiration,

“The ancients, indeed, were accustomed to say, as some theologians have also said, that the sacred writers were as pens in the hand of the Spirit; or as harps, from which He drew what sounds He pleased. These representations were, however, intended simply to illustrate one point, namely, that the words uttered or recorded by inspired men were the words of God. The Church has never held what has been stigmatized as the mechanical theory of inspiration. The sacred writers were not machines. Their self-consciousness was not suspended; nor were their intellectual powers superseded. Holy men spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. It was men, not machines; not unconscious instruments, but living, thinking, willing minds, whom the Spirit used as his organs.”[10]

We must affirm that men were not coopted by the Spirit, but retained their very humanness in the inspiration and recording of Scripture. The writers of the Old and New Testament “wrote out of the fullness of their own thoughts and feelings, and employed the language and modes of expression which to them were the most natural and appropriate. Nevertheless…the spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, and their words were his words.”[11] God employed the uniqueness of his writers but this does not negate it is a word from God. 2nd Peter 1:21 sums it up nicely, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Spirit.”

The means of God’s self-revelation in Scripture, divine inspiration through created beings, is simply an astounding method. Of all the ways God could have given us a revelation of Himself, He chose to employ His very fallen creation to do so. In so doing God further displays His desire to be in relationship with us when He could have simply written it all with His own hand. This is the awe-provoking doctrine of inspiration.


Therefore, because of the cooperation in Scripture’s inspiration, it is “correct to conclude that there is no untruthfulness of error in any part of the words of Scripture.”[12] Scripture retains then the utmost authority, because of the Author and truthfulness of the words recorded. Calvin states, “Hence the Scriptures obtain full authority among believers only when men regard them as having sprung from heaven, as if there the living words of God were heard.”[13] The reformers in the Protestant Reformation came to refer to this understanding of the authority of Scripture as sola scriptura, Latin for by Scripture alone. Scripture is the sole rule of faith and practice for the life of the Christian. It’s authority for our lives cannot be overstated.

But what do we mean by authority? Authority implies obedience. If you have a supervisor at work, he bears authority over you in regards your job. If he is a tyrant who knows little of the job he is asking you to perform, it will be difficult to be obedient to his authority. If however he is all-knowing, all-powerful, and has your flourishing in mind, obedience and submission will be a delight. God wields this kind of authority and it is given to us in the Scriptures. The Westminster Confession of Faith speaks of this authority,

“The Bible speaks authoritatively and so deserves to be obeyed. This authority does not depend on the testimony of any man or church but completely on God, its author, who is himself truth. The Bible therefore is to be accepted as true, because it is the word of God.”[14]

God has chosen to reveal Himself to us. He does so through human writers who are inspired by His Spirit to record everything sufficient for our salvation and knowledge of Him. Therefore the Bible itself bears the authority of God Himself. How joyful we are to be to submit to His word for our lives because God longs for our flourishing, He longs for us to be a joyful people, a people knowing their created purpose to bask in and exalt in the very glory of God Himself. Christian, know that when you pick up your Bible and read it, you are reading the very words of God to you that He has so miraculously joined together for His glory and your joy. 

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JT Holderman is Assistant Pastor of Bellevue Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Gap, PA.

[1] Calvin John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2 vols., ed. John T. McNeill, Ford Lewis Battles trans. (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), 78.
[2] See chapters 2, 3, and 4 for a fuller understanding of the purpose of Scripture.
[3] R.C. Sproul, Knowing Scripture (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1977), 25.
[4] John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2010), 48.
[5] The Westminster Confession of Faith, 1.8, emphasis mine.
[6] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 1 (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2008), 153.
[7] John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, 80.
[8] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 74.
[9] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 154.
[10] Ibid., 157, emphasis mine.
[11] Ibid., 157.
[12] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 83.
[13] John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, 74.
[14] The Westminster Confession of Faith, 1.4.