1-6: Authority – God governs His people through Scripture

Concise Theology by J.I. Packer

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. 2 TIMOTHY 3:16

The Christian principle of biblical authority means, on the one hand, that God purposes to direct the belief and behavior of his people through the revealed truth set forth in Holy Scripture; on the other hand it means that all our ideas about God should be measured, tested, and where necessary corrected and enlarged, by reference to biblical teaching. Authority as such is the right, claim, fitness, and by extension power, to control. Authority in Christianity belongs to God the Creator, who made us to know, love, and serve him, and his way of exercising his authority over us is by means of the truth and wisdom of his written Word. As from the human standpoint each biblical book was written to induce more consistent and wholehearted service of God, so from the divine standpoint the entire Bible has this purpose. And since the Father has now given the Son executive authority to rule the cosmos on his behalf (Matt. 28:18), Scripture now functions precisely as the instrument of Christ’s lordship over his followers. All Scripture is like Christ’s letters to the seven churches (Rev. 2-3) in this regard.

Where is God’s authoritative truth to be found today? Three answers are given, and each appeals to the Bible in its own way.

  1. The Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches find God’s truth, as they believe, in the interpretations of Scripture that are embodied in their own tradition and consensus. They view the Bible as God-given truth, but they insist that the church must interpret it and is infallible when it does so.
  2. By contrast, individuals labeled liberal, radical, modernist, or subjectivist find God’s truth in the thoughts, impressions, judgments, theories and speculations that Scripture triggers in their own minds. While dismissing the New Testament concept of the inspiration of Scripture, and not treating their Bible as totally trustworthy or as embodying absolute and authoritative transcripts of the mind of God, they are confident that the Spirit leads them to pick and choose in such a way that wisdom from God results.
  3. Historic Protestantism, however, finds God’s truth in the teaching of the canonical Scriptures as such. It receives these Scriptures as inspired (i.e., God-breathed, 2 Tim. 3:16), inerrant (i.e., totally true in all they affirm), sufficient (i.e., telling us all that God wills to tell us and all that we need to know for salvation and eternal life), and clear (i.e., straightforward and self-interpreting on all matters of importance).

The first two positions treat human judgments on the Bible as decisive for truth and wisdom; the third, while valuing the church’s heritage of conviction and appreciating the demand for coherence that rational thinking involves, systematically submits all human thoughts to Scripture, which it takes seriously as canon. Canon means a rule or standard. The first two positions refer to Scripture as the canon, but they fail to take it with full seriousness as a functioning rule for faith and life. Thus they do not in practice fully accept its authority, and their Christian profession, however sincere, is thereby flawed.

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