The authority of
First published in
Abstract: Scripture had supreme
authority for the Old Testament saints, Christ and His apostles in
all matters it touched upon. In particular, for Christ, what
Scripture said, God said. Christ also directly affirmed many of the
passages attacked by liberals. Objections to the inerrancy and sufficiency
of Scripture are refuted. The charge that Christ was mistaken or
merely accommodating to His hearers is impossible for a consistent
Christian to hold. The charge of circular reasoning fails on several
counts: the internal and external cross-checks, and the role that
axioms play in all philosophical systems.
I) Old Testament:
often testified that his writings were from God:
‘Moses then wrote down
everything the LORD had said …’
See also v.7, Ex. 34:27–28, Nu. 33:1–2, Dt.
‘when all Israel comes
to appear before the LORD your God at the place he will choose, you
shall read this law before them in their hearing.’
Joshua 1:8: ‘Do not let this Book of the
Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that
you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be
prosperous and successful.’
The book of the Law is the Torah, also
called the Pentateuch, or the first five books of the Bible.
3) David (c. 1000
Israel’s greatest king clearly also regarded the Law very highly. At
his stage in history, not too many books of Scripture had been
written, but the Pentateuch was regarded as God’s Law. Psalm 1:2:
‘But his delight is in
the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.’
II) New Testament
1) Jesus Christ:
Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, ‘Is it lawful
for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?’
4 ‘Haven’t you read,’ he replied, ‘that at the beginning
the Creator `made them male and female,’
5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father
and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one
6 So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God
has joined together, let man not separate.’
Christ accepted the Genesis Creation account
He cited from
Genesis 1:27 and 2:24, showing that He
did not regard Genesis 1 and 2 as separate contradictory
creation accounts, but as complementary. See also
Do Genesis 1 and 2 contradict each other?
v.5, which in Genesis is an editorial
comment, is equated with the word of the Creator. This is not the
only place where the New Testament cites an Old Testament passage
as ‘God said’; compare the following pairs:
Ps. 2:1 & Acts 4:24–25,
Ps. 2:7 & Heb. 1:5,
Ps. 16:10 & Acts 13:35,
Ps. 95:7 & Heb. 3:7,
Ps. 97:7 & Heb. 1:6,
Ps. 104:4 & Heb. 1:7,
Is. 55:3 & Acts 13:34. The converse is
true in the following pairs:
Gen. 12:3 & Gal. 3:8,
Ex. 9:16 & Rom. 9:17; where a direct
statement by God in the OT is cited as ‘Scripture said’.
26 ‘Just as
it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the
Son of Man.
27 People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given
in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came
and destroyed them all.
28 ‘It was the same in the days of Lot. People were
eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building.
29 But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained
down from heaven and destroyed them all.
30 ‘It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man
31On that day no one who is on the roof of his house,
with his goods inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one
in the field should go back for anything.
32 Remember Lot’s wife!
Note: Christ took the accounts of Noah’s
flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and the calamity
befalling Lot’s wife literally. Those who dispute their historicity
are therefore defying Christ.
Matthew 12:39 ff. shows that Christ took
the account of Jonah and the whale literally, and even used it as a
type of His resurrection.
Luke 16:31: ‘He
(Abraham) said to him (the rich man in Hell), “If they do not listen
to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if
someone rises from the dead.”’
Note: Christ clearly shows how
important the Old Testament is. Many liberal evolutionary
theologians who reject Moses also refuse to believe that Christ rose
from the dead.
If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.
47 But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are
you going to believe what I say?
Note: a similar lesson can be learnt —
liberals who doubt Moses often doubt what Jesus said (except of
course for a selective use of His words if they could somehow be
twisted to support a politically correct cause they happened to
Also, this shows that the ‘JEDP/Documentary
Hypothesis’ of the Pentateuch is contrary to Christ, who clearly
taught that the Pentateuch was edited by Moses. See
Did Moses really write Genesis?
That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came
to him with a question.
24 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man
dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and
have children for him.
25 Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one
married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to
26 The same thing happened to the second and third
brother, right on down to the seventh.
27 Finally, the woman died.
28 Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be
of the seven, since all of them were married to her?”
29 Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not
know the Scriptures or the power of God.
30 At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be
given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.
31 But about the resurrection of the dead — have you not
read what God said to you,
32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the
God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”
33 When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at
the Sadducees only accepted the
Pentateuch as Scripture, while the Pharisees accepted the same
books as the Protestant OT (as confirmed by the prologue to
Ecclesiasticus (ca. 130 BC), Josephus (ca. AD 90), Melito (ca. AD
170)). Jesus accused the Sadducees of not knowing the Scriptures,
because they did not accept the Prophets and Writings.
Even the Scriptures accepted by the
Sadducees taught the resurrection: Christ demonstrated this with
an argument depending on the present tense of the implied verb ‘to
be’ implied — the patriarchs were living in a sense in Moses’ day,
centuries after they had died physically. This passage shows that
the Lord believed in verbal plenary inspiration of Scripture.
‘I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the
smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means
disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.’
Note: the ‘jot’ was the smallest Hebrew
letter, and the ‘tittle’ was a small part of the letter. So Christ
is supporting inspiration even down to the individual letters.
‘And so upon you will come
all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood
of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom
you murdered between the temple and the altar.’
Jesus here gives the extent of the Canon of
The Pharisees’ Bible is the same as the Protestant OT, but the order
is different. The first book was still Genesis, but the last book
was 2 Chronicles. That generation was to be held responsible for all
God’s people murdered in the OT, from Abel (Gen.
4:8) to Zechariah (2
Chron. 24:20–21). There were other
martyrdoms recorded in the Apocrypha, but Jesus did not regard these
writings as Scripture, and never cited them. Jesus agreed with the
Pharisaic canon (John
5:39), but not the Saddusaic one.
The Apocrypha was not recognised as
canonical by the Jewish scholars at Jamnia (AD 90), and the Talmud
stated that the Holy Spirit departed from Israel after Malachi. Many
Church Fathers agreed, e.g. Origen, Cyril of Jerusalem, Jerome.
Athanasius, in his 39th Festal Letter of AD 367, listed
the same canon as modern Protestants (with the exception of the book
of Esther). He also stated that the Apocryphal books Wisdom of
Solomon, Wisdom of Sirach, Esther additions, Judith and Tobit were
worth reading but not canonical. He made no mention of the books of
The apocryphal books abound in geographical
and historical errors,2
e.g. 2 Macc. 15:1 ff is inconsistent with 1 Macc. 2:41; Judith 1:1
has Nebuchadnezzar reigning in Nineveh rather than Babylon. The
morality and doctrine of the apocryphal books also falls short of
biblical standards: Ecclesiasticus and Wisdom teach morality based
on expedience; God assists Judith in a lie (Judith 9:10,13);
salvation by works (Tobit 12:9, 14:10–11); prayers for the dead (2
Macc 12:45–46), pre-existence of souls (Wisdom 8:19–20) and creation
out of pre-existent matter (Wisdom 11:17). Even the books themselves
disclaim divine inspiration: 1 Macc. 9:27 recognises that prophecy
had disappeared in Israel, while 2 Macc. 15:37–39 admits that it was
a human composition with possible flaws.
It’s also important to note that each book was
canonical as soon as it was finished, because its ultimate author
was God Himself. Their canonicity did not have to wait for
the Church to choose them. The NT scholar FF Bruce writes:
‘The NT books did not become authoritative
for the Church because they were formally included in a canonical
list; on the contrary, the Church included them in her canon
because she already regarded them as divinely inspired,
recognising their innate worth and generally apostolic authority,
direct or indirect…. [Church] councils [did] not impose something
new upon the Christian communities but codif[ied] what was already
the general practice of those communities.’3
John 10:35 ‘…
and the scriptures cannot be broken.’ — self-explanatory
the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my
name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I
have said to you.’
Note: Christ here promises his disciples that
they would be taught by the Holy Spirit. These teachings eventually
became written down in the New Testament.
2) the Apostle Paul:
and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are
able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for
teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,
17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for
every good work.
the Greek word for
‘Scriptures’ in v.15 is γραμματα (grammata), and
must refer to the OT alone, as these are the only Scriptures
Timothy would have known from his childhood
in v. 16, the word translated
‘Scripture’ is γραφη (graphè),
which would include the OT plus all the NT written by then (AD
63), i.e. all the NT except 2 Peter, Hebrews, Jude, and John’s
writings. As Paul’s writings were divinely inspired, this
statement would apply even to the latter books.
is a correct translation by the NIV of the Greek word θεοπνευστος
(theopneustos). If Scripture is
‘God-breathed’ and God cannot err, it logically follows
that Scripture cannot err.
Scripture is able to make a man
‘wise unto salvation’ and
‘thoroughly furnished unto all good works’.
This implies that Scripture contains all the doctrine and moral
law we need.
But since v. 16 makes it clear that all
Scripture is God-breathed, not just some, inerrancy applies to
whatever the Bible affirms, and is not restricted just to those
verses deemed to relate to faith and conduct. After all, doctrine
is inextricably linked to history and science, so that whatever
Scripture affirms on scientific or historical matters is also
true. For example, the key doctrine of the Resurrection is linked
to the historical fact that Jesus’ body had vacated the tomb on
the third day. It also impinges on science, because naturalistic
scientists assert that it is impossible for dead men to rise. And
the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection is tied to the
historical accuracy of the event recorded in Genesis (1
Cor. 15:21–22). And if we bow to
uniformitarian ‘science’ in the area of origins, what should we do
when Scriptural teaching on morality conflicts with ‘science’,
e.g. the Bible’s prohibition on adultery or homosexual acts vs
‘scientific’ assertions that such behaviours are ‘in our genes’.
Jesus asked Nicodemus ‘I have spoken to
you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you
believe if I speak of heavenly things?’ (John
1 Tim 5:18 cites both
Deut. 25:4 and
Luke 10:7 as graphè;
i.e. both the Old and New Testaments. This again shows that the NT
was already regarded as Scripture even in apostolic times.
1 Timothy 2:12–14:
I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man;
she must be silent.
13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve.
14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman
who was deceived and became a sinner.
Note: Paul accepted the Genesis
account as a historical narrative, and used it to teach on the role
of men and women in Church.
When they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to
Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue.
2 As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on
three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures,
3 explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer
and rise from the dead. ‘This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the
Christ,’ he said.
Note: this shows how important the
Scriptures were to Paul’s evangelism to Jews, who already accepted
them as authoritative.
As soon as it was night, the brothers sent Paul and Silas away to
Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue.
11 Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the
Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness
and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was
This shows that even Paul’s teaching was
subjected to the test of Scripture by people who were commended for
it. So Christians today should follow that Berean example and test
the teachings of any church (or scientist) by Scripture.
2 Pet. 1:20–21:
Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came
about by the prophet’s own interpretation.
21 For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man,
but men spoke from God as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.
Note: The chief Apostle, Peter,
believed that God moved (literally ‘carried along’) the writers of
Scripture so that they recorded exactly what He wanted. However, God
did not usually dictate the words, but superintended the authors so
that, using their own individual personalities, they recorded His
revelation without error.
2 Peter 3:15–16:
Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our
dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.
16 He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in
them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard
to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they
do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.
Note: Peter affirms that Paul’s writings were
3: ‘Dear friends, although I was very
eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to
write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all
entrusted to the saints.’
N.B. If the faith was once delivered, then
there is no need for additional revelations of doctrine after the
canon of scripture was closed).
14:26: ‘But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit,
whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and
will remind you of everything I have said to you.’
Christ’s promise in John 14:26 was to His
disciples personally present. John was the last survivor, so his
books are the last of the NT Canon. It is possible that
Rev. 22:18–19 is an
indication that this book closes the Canon.
6) Church Fathers:
NT except 11 verses could be reconstructed from the writings of the
For Irenaeus (c. AD 170), the fourfold gospel was as axiomatic as
the four quarters of the earth and the four winds. He cited 23 of
the 27 NT books, omitting only Philemon, James, 2 Peter and 3 John.
Ignatius (AD 50–115), Bishop of Antioch, cited 15 NT books. He
recognised that the NT had a higher authority than he: ‘I do not
wish to command you as Peter and Paul; they were apostles.’
1) John 20:30: ‘Jesus did
many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which
are not recorded in this book.’
This verse is used to suggest that perhaps the
Church has preserved some essential doctrines not taught in
Scripture. However, the next verse implies that what was
written was enough (note all the NT had been written by the time
that John was written, except for his letters and Revelation) —
‘But these are
written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of
God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.’
2) 2 Thessalonians 2:15:
‘So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to
the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by
This verse is sometimes alleged to
support the existence of essential tradition not recorded in
scripture. However, this book was probably one of the first NT books
written (AD 51), so the verse does not apply once all the essential
traditions had been recorded in the NT. 1
Cor. 15:1 ff. is a good example of a well
established oral tradition which Paul writes down.
3) 1 Timothy 3:15:
‘if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct
themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living
God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.’
Paul was simply affirming the church as the
support and bulwark — not the source — of God’s truth. His words
should not be stretched beyond this to claim that no-one can know
the truth unless he depends on the teaching of some organised church
or church group. Note:
The Greek word ecclesia means
congregation or assembly, so this verse cannot rule out (say)
Sunnybank District Baptist Church.
Even a church founded by apostles could have
its lampstand removed from its place (Rev. 2:5).
4) ‘Jesus was mistaken, because in the
Incarnation his omnipotence was masked.’ Often this and the next
blasphemous charge are made by liberal theologians or theistic
evolutionists with pious-sounding talk about Jesus’ humanity. But:
This confuses Limitation and
while the Second Person of the Trinity was incarnate in Jesus of
Nazareth, He voluntarily limited His omniscience (Phil. 2:5–11).
I.e., in His humanity, He did not know all things. But this does
not entail that He was mistaken about anything He said. All
human understanding is finite, but this doesn’t entail that every
human understanding is errant. Also, what Jesus did preach,
He proclaimed with absolute authority (Mt.
28:18), because He was speaking with the
full authority of God the Father (John
8:28), who is always omniscient. So if a
liberal wishes to maintain his charge that Christ was mistaken
because of His humanity, he must logically charge God the Father
with error as well. Or else, if Jesus taught an inerrant Bible and
attributed his teaching to the Father and such teaching is wrong,
Jesus must be a charlatan in a hopeless muddle.
Where do you draw the line? If Jesus was
wrong in His view of Scripture, maybe He was wrong in other areas
too. Who decides whether He is right or wrong? We must, so Jesus
loses His authority.
5) ‘Jesus deliberately accommodated Himself
to the mistaken views of His audience.’ But:
This confuses Adaptation to human
finitude with accommodation to human error:5
the former does not entail the latter. A mother might tell
her four-year-old ‘you grew inside my tummy’ — this is not false,
but language simplified to the child’s level. Conversely, ‘the
stork brought you’ is an outright error. Similarly, God, the
author of truth, used some simplified descriptions (e.g. using the
earth as a reference frame, as modern scientists do today) and
anthropomorphisms, but never error.
Jesus often challenged His audience, so He
would not have failed to point out their mistaken views on
Scripture, if such they were.
If Jesus acquiesced in this error, maybe He
did so elsewhere as well. Who ultimately decides when Jesus is
acquiescing? We must, so once again, Jesus loses His authority.
The passages considered in
section II(1) show that Jesus was not
just acquiescing to the views of His audience on the inerrancy of
Scripture, but was in fact reinforcing them.
6) ‘Jesus was misreported, or we can’t
possibly know what He believed.’ But:
First, it is absurd for liberals to claim to
be ‘Christian’ if they cannot be sure that they are really
On what basis can they possibly invoke
Christ’s teachings on any topic at all, usually their favoured
politically correct causes?
Even many liberal scholars believe that
there is overwhelming historical evidence that Christ affirmed
biblical inerrancy, although they disagree with Him. The
evangelical scholar Harold Lindsell6
cites the liberal scholars H.J. Cadbury, Adolph Harnack, Rudolf
Bultmann and F.C. Grant to prove this point.
7) ‘This is circular reasoning.’ In answer
As shown, even many liberals believe that
there is overwhelming evidence that Christ affirmed biblical
inerrancy. Such independent support of Christ’s statements proves
that evangelicals do not necessarily commit the fallacy of arguing
in a circle, of using the Bible to prove the Bible.
It is not circular to use Matthew to prove
Gen. 1:27, 2:4), Paul to prove Luke (1
Tim 5:18, cf.
Lk. 10:7) or Peter to prove Paul (2
Pet. 3:15–16). Finally, allegedly
circular reasoning at least demonstrates the internal consistency
of the Bible’s claims it makes about itself. If the Bible had
actually disclaimed divine inspiration, it would indeed be
illogical to defend it. This is one argument against the
canonicity of the Apocrypha — as shown
above, 1 Macc. 9:27 and 2 Macc. 15:37–39
disclaim divine inspiration.
Answers in Genesis accepts the
authority of Scripture as an axiom or presupposition:
i.e. as a starting point or assumption that requires no proof, and
is the basis for all reasoning. All philosophical systems
start with axioms. So it’s not a question of a religious system
starting from prior assumptions vs. a ‘scientific’ system without
any prior assumptions, but which axioms are self-consistent and
provide a consistent framework in which to fit the evidence. See
Creation: ‘Where’s the proof?’ and
Loving God With All Your Mind: Logic and Creation.
H.M. Morris with H.M. Morris III,
Many Infallible Proofs, Master Books,
Green Forest, AR 72638, USA, 1996.
G.L. Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible
Difficulties, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, USA ,1982.
G.H. Clark, God’s Hammer: The Bible and
its Critics, The Trinity Foundation, Jefferson, MD, USA: 2nd
P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology,
Moody Press, Chicago, 1989, Ch. 18.
N.L. Geisler and R.M. Brooks, When
Skeptics Ask, Victor Books, Wheaton, IL, USA, 1990.
N.L. Geisler and T.R. Howe, When Critics
Ask, Victor Books, Wheaton, IL, USA, 1992.
N.L. Geisler and Wm. E. Nix, A General
Introduction to the Bible, Moody, Chicago, 1986.
H. Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible,
Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, USA, 1976.
J. McDowell, Evidence that Demands a
Verdict, Here’s Life Publishers, San Bernardino, CA 92402,
John W. Wenham, Christ and the Bible,
Eagle, Guildford, Surrey, UK, 3rd ed. 1993. 3rd
The Formation of the OT Canon
The Textual Reliability of the New Testament
The Canon of Scripture, IVP, Downers Gr, Ill., pp. 77–80 1988.
Return to text.
F.F. Bruce, Evangelical Quarterly
42:55, 1970, says: ‘It is possible for scholars … to defend
the historicity of Daniel and Esther’; but it is ‘very difficult
indeed to argue for the historical inerrancy of Tobit and Judith’.
Return to text.
F.F. Bruce The New Testament Documents:
Are they reliable? (Downers Gr, Ill.: IVP 1960).
Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, A
General Introduction to the Bible, Ch. 24. Moody, Chicago,
Revised and Expanded 1986.
Geisler and Nix, Ref. 4, pp. 62–64 contains
helpful discussions of these points.
Harold Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible
(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976), pp. 43–45.
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