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Biblical Authority

Today we are going to continue the series we started several weeks ago as we have sought to communicate the mission, vision, and core values that will guide us into the future as a church. I want to share with you a message on our second core value: Biblical Authority.  This core value states:

We submit to God’s authoritative Word and align our beliefs and practice to it.

When we read this core value, we recognize that it makes a fairly large assumption.  This assumption is understood to be that God’s Word, given to us in the Scriptures, is in fact authoritative and thus requires us to align our faith and practices to it. Therefore, I want to challenge our hearts and our minds here as together, we seek to build a case for Biblical Authority and ask ourselves why it is such a challenge to submit to this Authority.

No doubt, there are many here who come from different religious backgrounds that have different understandings of the role that Scripture plays in the life of an individual and the church. When you hear a statement like,

We submit to God’s authoritative Word and align our beliefs and practice to it,”

you may be asking yourself:

–           Why should we consider God’s Word authoritative?

–          What basis is there for making this type of claim?

I’d like to do my best to answer these questions and to help us see that the Scriptures are indeed God’s word – they are true – they are authoritative. To begin, I would like to identify three ways of affirming Biblical Authority: Internal and External Evidences as well as Historical Reliability. We’ll begin with Internal Evidences.

First, the number of prophecies that were fulfilled in Christ and other events within scripture would require an unfathomable number of corresponding coincidences.  One theologian states it this way:

“If you were to calculate the probability of any one person fulfilling, by shear chance, all the Old Testament Messianic prophecies that Jesus fulfilled, it would be as astronomical as winning the lottery every day for a century.  Even if Jesus deliberately tried to fulfill the prophecies, no mere man could have the power to arrange the time, place, events and circumstances of his birth or events after his death.”

Secondly, Jesus affirms the authority of the Scriptures multiple times within his own life. Moreover, Scripture itself also affirms the authority of Scripture as we read:

  • II Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness that the man of god may be competent, equipped for every good work.”
  • II Peter 1:20-21, “…knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.  For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
  • Proverbs 30:5, “Every word of God proves true…
  • Psalm 119:89, “Forever, O Lord, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens.”

As one can clearly see, for the professing Christian that has heard and affirmed the gospel, there is ample evidence in defense of Biblical Authority based upon the Scriptures themselves.

Second, and perhaps more helpful for the unbeliever (not that evidentiary claims or apologetics could ever take the place of necessary faith in Jesus Christ as the Messiah and Promised Redeemer), will be what is termed: External Evidences. Simply stated, external evidences will consist of all evidence outside the Scriptures that confirm the historicity of Scripture and its interpretation through the ages as logical, honest, and consistent.

There are copious archeological discoveries that confirm the world portrayed in the Scriptures. Moreover, the sheer number of manuscripts that have been discovered over several decades also confirm that the Scriptures are not a new construct, nor are they derived from a finite bank of original texts. Consider the following facts:

  • There are more than 5686 known Greek manuscripts of the New Testament
  • There are over 10,000 manuscripts from the Latin Vulgate
  • At least 9300 other early manuscripts
  • So we have close to 25,000 manuscript copies of portions of the New Testament in existence today.
    • “No other document in antiquity even begins to approach such numbers of attestation.  In comparison, Homer’s Iliad is second, with only 643 manuscripts that have survived.”

As a Christian, this is exciting news! This tells us that the Bible we’re reading is not some “best guess” or “careful speculation” from a few stingy sources that have been meagerly preserved over the centuries. Instead, We recognize that not only are there AMPLE amounts of resources that work together to affirm and attest to one another that the Scriptures written about Christ are in fact trustworthy, but we also recognize that some of the manuscripts were around during the time of eye-witnesses who could testify to their validity first-hand!

Considering this wealth of sources, I believe that it becomes very difficult to deny the authenticity of Scripture, however, as important and encouraging as this is, we must ask: How does the authenticity of Scripture translate into Biblical Authority? This is a great question that leads us into our final, and most important evidentiary claim of Biblical Authority: Historical Reliability of the Gospels.

As previously mentioned, we can have confidence in the gospels because of the very early dating of the writing of the gospel accounts. None of the canonical gospels were written more than sixty years after Jesus’ death. This means that the Gospel’s themselves were widely circulated within the lifetimes of many of the eyewitnesses who could give credence to the writings. Consider this passage in Luke:

  • Luke 1:1-4, “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of things accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”

Often, the Gospel writers would even name their eyewitnesses in order to authenticate their accounts.  For example:

  • Mark 15:21, “And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross.”

Richard Bauckham, in his book Jesus and the Eye Witnesses, concerning the naming of eye-witnesses in scriptural accounts writes:

“There does not seem to be good reason available other than that Mark is appealing to Simon’s eyewitness testimony, known in the early Christian movement not from his own firsthand account but through his sons.  Perhaps Simon himself did not, like his sons, join the movement, or perhaps he died in the early years, while his sons remained well-known figures, telling their father’s story of the crucifixion of Jesus.”

It is also important to note that the Gospel writers obviously didn’t just include those who were followers of Christ.  Because of the early dating of the Gospels, those who opposed Christ and His teaching would still have been alive as well. Therefore, had the Gospel writers manipulated what Jesus did and what He taught, it would have certainly been refuted by the eyewitnesses who were threatened most and stood in opposition to Christ.

Moving from eye-witness accounts into the text of Scripture itself, one may ask: “If the Scriptures were to be Authoritative, why is there so much undermining content?” Think about all the things that we might change if we were to write the Gospels to make it easier for people to believe.

–          Would we have used the crucifixion as the means of death knowing that people in the first century would have automatically assumed that the person being crucified was a criminal?

–          Would we have had Jesus crying out to the Father in the garden and on the cross?

–          Would we have had women as the first eyewitnesses knowing that their testimony was not admissible in court?

–          Wouldn’t we have depicted the disciples as strong and courageous leaders instead of telling accounts of their sheepish faith at the time of the crucifixion and their bickering as to who would be the greatest among them?

Next, we must also acknowledge the detailed nature of the Scriptures. There are those who would say that the NT is fiction and not historically reliable, but just a quality message. Yet, as we look at ancient fiction, we realize the Gospels were nothing like ancient fiction.  There was far more detail than was necessary or utilized in other traditional literary submissions of the time. These details distinguished the Gospels from other types of literature.  In modern fiction, details are added to create the aura of realism, but that was never the case in ancient fiction.  Here are a few examples of the Gospel’s use of details:

  • Mark 4 – Jesus was asleep in the stern of the boat on a cushion
  • John 21 – Peter was a hundred yards out in the water; they caught 153 fish
  • In John 8 – Woman caught in adultery…Jesus doodled with His finger.  We never know what He wrote.

As one pastor perceives it: “None of those details are relevant to the plot or the character development at all.  If you or I were making up an exciting story about Jesus, we would include such remarks just to fill out the story’s air of realism.  But that kind of fictional writing was unknown in the first century.  The only explanation for why an ancient writer would mention the cushion, the 153 fish, and the doodling in the dust is because the details had been retained in the eyewitnesses’ memory.”

This is a game changer!  If the Gospels are historically accurate and Christ has risen from the dead proving to be the Son of God, as I trust in Him my view of the Scriptures should become His view. Unfortunately that is often not the case.  We may know these facts but our actual submission is a different story.

In 2008, David Wells authored a book entitled The Courage to Be Protestant.  It was written to challenge much of thinking found in our post-Christian culture that is now contrary to what has been considered orthodox evangelicalism.

Listen carefully to what he said:

What is truly remarkable about the born-againers in America is that only 32 percent believe in absolutes, either of truth or of morality.  Two-thirds do not.  It therefore follows that the uniqueness of Christ as God’s self-disclosure to us, the uniqueness of his death in our place, and the uniqueness of his role in restoring fellowship with God have now fallen by the wayside.  And all of this has occurred in that segment of the Protestant world that is formally committed to the principles of “Scripture alone” for its truth and “in Christ alone” for its salvation!

There is not a lot of difference between these attitudes of the born-again and those in the wider population.  In America as a whole, 54 percent say the only way to find truth is through experience, rather than from a book such as the Bible.”

If it’s true that the majority of America feels the only way to find truth is through “experience” then the majority of America has placed themselves as the ultimate authority…not God and His words given in Scripture. So the question for us becomes:

If there is such overwhelming evidence that the Bible is trustworthy, why is our submission to it such a challenge?

I believe that we fail to submit to God’s authority because we, at the core, don’t believe that God loves us and desires what is best.  Therefore, we see God’s authority as oppressive rather than the key to the very freedom we desire.

Christians: If you are not submitting to God’s authority, then whose authority are you submitting to? If you see God’s authority as oppressive, what is it in your life that you are clinging to so desperately that keeps you from recognizing the “yolk that is easy, the burden that is light (Matt. 11:29-30)?”

As a Christian, even if you claim you are under no one’s authority, then you are claiming that you’re under your own authority. This is a qualitative statement that reveals your belief that you know better than God how to live and direct your own life. As a believer, you know that this is not, and cannot be, true.

If you see God’s authority as oppressive, then you see God’s authority as the reason for which you must forfeit something of great value. That is the very nature of oppression. Since we know all good gifts are from God (James 1:17), and we know that should we delight in the Lord He will put into us His new desires (Prov. 37:4), then if any desire is keeping us from total submission to the Father, it must not be a desire from the Father. Therefore, whatever the desire that you’re clinging to may be, you can be sure that your desire does not now, nor will it ever, have the power to fully free or satisfy you in the hopes that you have wrongly placed upon it. It will lead you unto destruction. However, if you let go of that desire and submit fully unto the Father, He will take that twisted, mangled, warped desire and replace it with the pure, perfect, wonderful desire that can, and will, satisfy you, free you, and fulfill your every hope. Put simply, God will show you the truer and greater form of the object of your desire as it is rightly and completely placed under submission to Him.

Non-Christians: Maybe until now you’ve never realized the compelling evidence for the authenticity of Scripture. Maybe until you read this post you didn’t think that a man named Jesus ever actually died, much less died in your place, for your sins. I hope that this has helped to fill in some gaps and open your eyes to the reality of Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. In the bible, the New Testament has this to say in the book of Romans,

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.9You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”

Jesus came and did what you or I could never do. He fully submitted to the authority of the Father and lived a sinless life. Why would He do this? Because He loves you, and all of us, so much (John 3:16). Therefore, we are called to respond. For many of us, the approval of our piers is paramount and so we submit ourselves to the authority of what culture and family and friends all tell us to do.  Sometimes, we think that submitting to God means we have to forfeit those friends and family and cultural influences in our lives. Instead, what I hope Romans has made clear, is that once we realize what Jesus has done for us, once we confess with our mouths and believe in our hearts that Jesus Christ died for our sins (Rom. 10:9), then we will happily give over and submit every part of ourselves unto His authority recognizing that He will not tear us away from everything we’ve known, instead He will finally reveal to us how wonderful our friends and family and things we enjoy doing can be when seen and experienced through the saving grace of Christ and Christ crucified!

Calvary: Biblical Authority is a wonderful and freeing truth.  As our church continues to grow and look ahead with great excitement and anticipation as God works in and through us, I hope that we will reflect sincerely and take stock of our own submission in Christ, rejoice that we have a Father who has given us His very words to guide, instruct, and grow us all, and bring every thought, every action, every part of our lives unto His authority for truly, His banner over us is love.

 

Sources:

Tim Keller, The Reason For God
Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict
David Wells, The Courage to be Protestant
Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses
Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology

 

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