How To Establish Bible Authority
In last month’s article we noted that God’s authority is expressed in the Scriptures. In the New Testament era, the Father speaks to us through His Son (Hebrews 1:1-2), the Son spoke what God authorizes through the Holy Spirit sent to guide the chosen apostles (John 16:12-15), and the apostles wrote the commandments of God in the New Testament Scriptures (1 Corinthians 14:37). While many will agree that God’s authority is expressed in the New Testament Scriptures, there is confusion in the religious world regarding how we are to approach the Scriptures to establish what God has authorized. How can we discover from the Scriptures whether or not any given belief, teaching, or practice is authorized by heaven?
The Whole Truth
There are two basic and necessary elements involved in the proper method of establishing authority from the Scriptures for a certain teaching or practice. First, all available facts must be reported. Second, the conclusion drawn must have put all the obtainable facts together in such a way that they all harmonize, i.e., they do not contradict one another. This method of arriving at the truth regarding any subject is a commonly recognized principle.
In the realm of civil law, when a witness occupies the stand in a court of law, they must swear or affirm to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing by the truth.” When all the available facts have been reported and are made to harmonize, then the jury can arrive at the truth. If someone leaves out a fact or draws a conclusion with some “facts” contradicting each other, their conclusion will likely be wrong…not the truth.
This method of arriving at the truth just makes common sense. Suppose you have a cornfield that is irrigated, fertilized and well taken care of and I have a cornfield the same acreage that is not. Yet I come to you and say, “My corn is doing better than yours this year.” You would probably reply, “Prove it.” Suppose I go to my field and find the largest ear of corn (there may be only one large one); then I proceed to your field and look for the smallest ear of corn (there may be only one small one). Now I have found my largest and your smallest ear of corn and I present them to you as proof that my cornfield is doing better than yours. Naturally, you would object to my “proof of truth” because all the evidence has not been considered. You would do well to suggest: “After the corn is harvested, let’s see which cornfield produces more bushels per acre. Let’s get all the facts, and then we can draw a conclusion as to whose cornfield is better.” We constantly use this method of arriving at the truth in many realms because it is the most infallible method. In the Scriptures, we see this method used to determine what God authorizes.
The Gentiles and the Law of Moses
It is recorded in Acts chapter 15 that “some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed” were contending that the Gentile converts had “to keep the law of Moses” to be saved (vs. 1,5). How did the apostles and elders determine what God authorized in this matter? First, they collected the facts: Peter reminded everyone that “God chose” him to teach the gospel to the Gentiles, and that “God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us” (vs. 7-8); next, Barnabas and Paul declared “how many miracles and wonders God had worked through them among the Gentiles” (vs. 12).
After they noted the facts, James affirmed that all the facts harmonized with what God had predicted through the Old Testament prophets, and James quoted the prophet Amos to prove it: “Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name. And with this the words of the prophets agree…” (vs. 14-17). The facts (the recent events of God’s working among the Gentiles) harmonized (“agree”) with what God had been revealing through the Old Testament prophets.
The Devil Tempting Jesus
Satan, after taking Jesus to “the pinnacle of the temple,” cited Psalm 91:11-12 in one of his attempts to get Jesus to sin: “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge concerning you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone’” (Matthew 4:5-6). Jesus said to him: “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God’” (vs. 7). Jesus told Satan, “it is written again” to show that Satan’s application of the Scripture he used did not harmonize with all the facts. As Satan misused the Scriptures, he taught error, not truth.
The Sadducees and the Resurrection
The Sadducees taught that “there is no resurrection;” they did not believe the spirit of man lived beyond death. Like Satan, they knew some Scripture; in Matthew 22:24 they reminded Jesus of what Moses had said in Deuteronomy 25:5. From this one passage they developed their “hypothetical” case that they thought would disprove any belief in the resurrection. Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God…concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’?” (Matthew 22:29, 31-32). The Sadducees had not collected all the facts; if they had, then they could have drawn the proper conclusion that there is life after death because, “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (vs. 32). Sadly, many people today remain “mistaken” because of “not knowing the Scriptures” (all the facts) about many religious subjects.
In this passage and in Matthew chapter 4, we see Jesus using this infallible method of collecting all the facts and making sure they harmonize to fight error and arrive at truth. In future studies we will note several other passages in the New Testament that illustrate this method, and we will see that facts are collected from commands, examples and inferences revealed by God in the Scriptures.