Is the Bible Authoritative?

By definition, Evangelical believers believe in the authority of Scripture, but what does that mean in practice? How does it change one’s life? More specifically, to the Evangelical believer, how does it change your life?

Our statement of faith at Gulf Coast Community Church includes this: “We believe that the Bible is the Word of God, fully inspired and without error in the original manuscripts, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and that it has supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20, 21; Mark 13:31; John 8:31, 32; John 20:31; Acts 20:32).”

As David Fitch points out in his challenging and compelling book, The End of Evangelicalism?, none of us will ever actually see the original manuscripts. We know they no longer exist. This belief, however, provides a rallying point around which believers can gather, even if they have no idea of what each other believes about what the Scripture actually says, just so long as we believe it is without error.

This leads back to the question, though, how does that change your life? To answer that, we must explore the answer to another question.

Over Whom Does the Bible Have Authority?

We might quickly respond, “over everyone.” That’s true: eventually, every knee will bow. Many knees, however, are not bowing now and many people would not accept the Bible’s authority for their own lives.

Despite this, Evangelicals will rally around clarion calls for people in the world to live under a certain morality, specifically one given in Scripture. In this, what is being said is that Scripture has supreme authority over “them” (whatever group is being addressed in that given moment). Is this what it means to believe the Bible is true and authoritative?

Becoming a Christian is not primarily, as is often perceived, about ascribing to a certain set of facts outside ourselves but means that one has bowed their knee to Christ as Lord and King over their life. Scripture’s authority, then is not about authority resident in a book, allowing that book to exercise its rule over “those people.” Scripture’s authority is about Christ’s rulership over our own lives.

Scripture’s authority is about Christ’s rulership over our own lives.

What Does Authority Look Like?

That question might sound odd because we don’t generally think of authority as looking like anything. It just is or isn’t. However, Jesus helps us see what authority looks like in Matthew’s Gospel. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, we read, “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law” (Matt. 7:28-29, emphases added). What follows are six stories (Matt. 8) which demonstrate what it means that Jesus’ teaching has authority; how its authority manifests itself.

The first three stories reveal the power of Christ’s word over every opposing power. A leper comes to Jesus declaring, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus acknowledges his willingness and then says, “Be clean!” The next thing we read is, “Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy” (Matt. 8:1-3). That one word from Jesus (“be clean” is one word in Greek) had authority over leprosy (one of the most life altering diseases of the time).

The second story shows that not even distance can stop the power of Christ’s word. The centurion declares, “Just say the word, and my servant will be healed” (Matt. 8:8). Jesus wasn’t even required to be physically present where the sick person was, His word was sufficient.

The third story once again highlights the power of Christ’s word. In it we read, “When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick” (Matt. 8:16). These first three stories reveal the authority which Christ’s word has over other powers (disease, distance, and demons). We can’t let our understanding of the authority of Christ’s word end here.

In stories four through six, Matthew turns his attention to the disciples’ relationship to Jesus’ teaching and its authority. These accounts speak to how individual disciples are to relate to the authority of Christ’s word.

When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. 19 Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”

20 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Matt. 8:18-20)

One might wonder why Jesus was so harsh with this fellow, but don’t miss the fact that Jesus had already declared where he was going: “to the other side of the lake.” This man wasn’t interested in following Jesus to the other side of the lake or he would have been getting into a boat. Instead, he was pontificating for all to hear about his willingness to follow Jesus anywhere! Anywhere except of course the very place Jesus had just said to go—the other side of the lake. (This reminds me of those who talk about how they long for authentic fellowship but are not engaging the actual brothers and sisters Christ has put in their lives because they are not good enough for them.)

In the next story,

Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

22 But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” (Matt. 8:21-22)

Once again this seems harsh on first blush, but this disciple is like so many of us. We think that Jesus’ teaching is fine and authoritative, but our circumstances make it different for us. It’s the “Yes, but…” response.[1] Both disciples would have gladly acknowledged the authority of Jesus’ words, but Jesus’ words actually had no authority over either of these disciples.

Both disciples would have gladly acknowledged the authority of Jesus’ words, but Jesus’ words actually had no authority over either of these disciples.

The sixth story (which has two parts) brings all six of these stories together. It begins, “Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him” (Matt. 8:23). That is what disciples do: they hear what Jesus commands (Matt. 8:18), and they follow Him in doing it. That is what it means for Christ’s word to have authority over their lives: they do what it says (Matt. 7:24). As the story continues, the disciples who are doing what he says run into all sorts of trouble. Indeed, they think they are drowning, which is exactly what we experience if we truly set out to do what Jesus’ says: it will seem like we are drowning at times.

Alas, they arrive at the other side and are greeted by a couple of demoniacs possessed with enough demons to fill an entire herd of pigs. These two represented spiritual powers in human form. We find ourselves battling spiritual powers that manifest themselves in human form all the time. In fact, Paul thinks it necessary to remind us of this (Eph. 6:12). Once again, just one word from Christ had all the power necessary for that situation.

Had the disciples not gotten in the boat and followed Jesus (doing what he said), Christ’s word would never had made it to the demoniac. We too must obey Christ’s word, his teaching, if we are going to see its authority over every other power. We must follow Jesus to the cross, believing that faithfulness to God, even if it costs us our lives, will win.

Had the disciples not gotten in the boat and followed Jesus (doing what he said), Christ’s word would never had made it to the demoniac.

Is the Bible Authoritative in Your Life?

The answer to that all important question is, “Only if you do what it says.” It will never be sufficient to slap it onto a statement of faith, sign it, and go on. At the end of the day, that makes little or no difference in your life. The doctrine of the authority of Scripture is fundamentally about Christ’s authority over our lives.

When Jesus taught us to pray, “your will be done in earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10), he was not teaching us to pray that God’s will would be done in events unrelated to us, but that we would be those doing his will in earth even as it is commanded from heaven. Until we begin to pray and live that way, we don’t really believe in the authority of Scripture. When we do, the Bible will be authoritative and will begin to free people from the powers that bind them!

[1] There is a string of commands in Matthew 5:39-44 which might evoke such a response. Also, the command regarding forgiving in Matthew 6:14-15 and the command to lavish generosity in Matthew 6:19-24. Many more could be added to this list.

Photo by Tanner Mardis on Unsplash

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