The Crisis of Biblical Authority
The Power of God’s Word
The Bible remains the most extensively printed, widely translated, and frequently read book in the world. Its words have been treasured in the hearts of multitudes like none other. All who have received its gifts of wisdom and promises of new life and power were at first strangers to its redemptive message, and many were hostile to its teaching and spiritual demands. In every generation its power to challenge persons of all races and lands has been demonstrated. Those who cherish the Book because it sustains future hope, brings meaning and power to the present, and correlates a misused past with the forgiving grace of God, would not long experience such inner rewards if Scripture were not known to them as the authoritative, divinely revealed truth. To the evangelical Christian, Scripture is the Word of God, given in the objective form of propositional truths through divinely inspired prophets and apostles, and the Holy Spirit is the giver of faith through that Word.
The Authority of the Bible
View that the Bible is the Word of God and as such should be believed and obeyed.
Western civilization is in a severe “authority crisis” which is not confined solely to the realm of religious faith, nor is it specially or uniquely threatening to Bible believers. Parental authority, marital authority, political authority, academic authority, and ecclesiastical authority are all being deeply questioned. Not only particular authorities—the Scripture, the pope, political rulers, and so on—but the concept of authority itself is vigorously challenged. Today’s crisis of biblical authority thus reflects the uncertainties of civilizational consensus: Who has the power and the right to receive and to require submission?
Silver amulet scroll containing the blessing Moses gave to Aaron and his sons to use in blessing Israel: “May the LORD bless you and protect you; may the LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; may the LORD look with favor on you and give you peace” (Nm 6:24–26). This artifact contains the oldest known copy of Scripture portions, dating to the late seventh or early sixth centuries BC. The silver scroll was found August 4, 1979 by Judith Hadley who was then an archaeology student at Wheaton College working as part of an excavation let by Israeli archaeologist Gabriel Barkay. Dr. Hadley is now Associate Professor of Theology and Religious Studies, Villanova University.
Revolt Against Biblical Authority
As the sovereign Creator of all, the God of the Bible wills and has the right to be obeyed. Judge of men and nations, the self-revealed God wields unlimited authority and power. All creaturely authority and power is derived from that of God. The power God bestows is a divine trust, a stewardship. God’s creatures are morally accountable for their use or misuse of it. In fallen human society God wills civil government for the promotion of justice and order. He approves an ordering of authoritative and creative relationships in the home by stipulating certain responsibilities of husbands, wives, and children. He wills a pattern of priorities for the church as well: Jesus Christ the head, prophets and apostles through whom redemptive revelation came, and so on. The inspired Scriptures, revealing God’s transcendent will in objective written form, are the rule of faith and conduct through which Christ exercises his divine authority in the lives of Christians.
Revolt against particular authorities has in our time widened into a revolt against all transcendent and external authority. The widespread questioning of authority is condoned and promoted in many academic circles. Philosophers with a radically secular outlook have affirmed that God and the supernatural are mythical conceptions, that natural processes and events comprise the only ultimate reality. All existence is said to be temporal and changing, all beliefs and ideals are declared to be relative to the age and culture in which they appear. Biblical religion, therefore, like all other, is asserted to be merely a cultural phenomenon. The Bible’s claim to divine authority is dismissed by such thinkers; transcendent revelation, fixed truths, and unchanging commandments are set aside as pious fiction.
The earliest known complete scroll of the Book of Isaiah found among the library of the Qumran community (the Dead Sea Scrolls).
In the name of humanity’s supposed “coming of age,” radical secularism champions human autonomy and creative individuality. Human beings are lords of their own destiny and inventors of their own ideals and values, it is said. They live in a supposedly purposeless universe that has itself presumably been engendered by a cosmic accident. Therefore human beings are declared to be wholly free to impose upon nature and history whatever moral criteria they prefer. In such a view, to insist on divinely given truths and values, on transcendent principles, would be to repress self-fulfillment and retard creative personal development. Hence the radically secular view goes beyond opposing particular external authorities whose claims are considered arbitrary or immoral; radical secularism is aggressively hostile to all external authority, viewing it as intrinsically restrictive of the autonomous human spirit.
Any reader of the Bible will recognize rejection of divine authority and definitive revelation of what is right and good as an age-old phenomenon. It is not at all peculiar to the contemporary person “come of age”; it was found already in Eden. Adam and Eve revolted against the will of God in pursuit of individual preference and supposed self-interest. But their revolt was recognized to be sin, not rationalized as philosophical “gnosis” at the frontiers of evolutionary advance.
If one takes a strictly developmental view, which considers all reality contingent and changing, where is the basis for humanity’s decisively creative role in the universe? How could a purposeless cosmos cater to individual self-fulfillment? Only the biblical alternative of the Creator-Redeemer God, who fashioned human beings for moral obedience and a high spiritual destiny, truly preserves the permanent, universal dignity of the human species. The Bible does so, however, by a demanding call for personal spiritual decision. The Bible sets forth the superiority of humans to the animals, their high dignity (“little less than God”—Ps 8:5) because of the divine rational and moral image that all bear by reason of creation. In the context of universal human involvement in Adamic sin, the Bible utters a merciful divine call to redemptive renewal through the mediatorial person and work of Christ. Fallen humanity is invited to experience the Holy Spirit’s renewing work, to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, and to anticipate a final destiny in the eternal presence of the God of justice and justification.
Contemporary rejection of biblical tenets does not rest on any logical demonstration that the case for biblical theism is false; it turns rather on a subjective preference for alternative views of “the good life.”
The Bible is not the only significant reminder that human beings stand daily in responsible relationship to the sovereign God. He reveals his authority in the cosmos, in history, and in inner conscience, a disclosure of the living God that penetrates into the mind of every person (Rom 1:18–20; 2:12–15). Rebellious suppression of that “general divine revelation” does not wholly succeed in suspending a fearsome sense of final divine accountability (Rom 1:32).
Yet it is the Bible as “special revelation” that most clearly confronts our spiritually rebellious race with the reality and authority of God. In the Scriptures, the character and will of God, the meaning of human existence, the nature of the spiritual realm, and the purposes of God for humankind in all ages are stated in propositionally intelligible form that all can understand. The Bible publishes in objective form the criteria by which God judges individuals and nations, and the means of moral recovery and restoration to personal fellowship with him.
Regard for the Bible is therefore decisive for the course of Western culture and in the long run for human civilization generally. Intelligible divine revelation, the basis for belief in the sovereign authority of the Creator-Redeemer God over all human life, rests on the reliability of what Scripture says about God and his purposes. Modern naturalism impugns the authority of the Bible and assails the claim that the Bible is the Word of God written, that is, a transcendently given revelation of the mind and will of God. Attack upon scriptural authority is the storm center both in the controversy over revealed religion and in the modern conflict over civilizational values.
Carl F.H. Henry, “Bible, Authority of The,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 297–298.
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