Is the Bible Authoritative?

Author Greg Koukl Published on 02/20/2013

How do we justify our belief of Biblical authority when some don’t believe that the Bible is inerrant?

Part of the apparent scientific contradictions have to do not with scientific facts, but with scientific interpretations. Like, evolution and the Bible I think are incompatible, the general theory, that is. Darwinism, the neo-Darwinian synthesis. But I think that goes beyond the facts. I think the facts of science can be well connected. Also, I think there is some misreading when you see language that is really poetic, language that wasn’t meant to be read in a sense scientifically, and that gives the impression that the Bible contradicts science.

But I think the broader question about why should I trust the Bible as an authority should be addressed. One of the things about the Christian world view, foundational, is that God has spoken. That “He is there and He is not silent,” to quote the title of Francis Schaeffer’s book. God has made Himself known to us. That’s what Christians believe. And we believe that He has done that through the Bible. So, the question is, How do I justify or rationalize my presupposition of Biblical authority because some don’t believe that it is inerrant. I’m not going to rationalize it. I will try to give you some reasons why I think that it is the word of God. But if I give you reasons, then it is not a presupposition. A presupposition is something that you presuppose before you come to the evidence. So, I’m just taking the Bible at face value, at least for the purpose of our discussion.

Here is a book that claims to be the word of God, which is an unusual claim, by the way. Most religious works don’t make the claim that it is God Himself who is communicating through His mouthpiece, other human beings.

Now, some people have the view that, by virtue of the fact that human beings are involved in the process, therefore it must be flawed. Well, that simply doesn’t follow. It certainly doesn’t follow that because a human being wrote it that it can’t possibly be the word of God. That just isn’t the case.

Paul, for example, used emmanuensai. These were like secretaries. Those of you who are in business may have someone like that. You use them to take dictation, and they write down what you tell them to write down, and then you send it on. Does it follow from the fact that they’re writing your words that they can’t be your words? No, not at all. Does it follow from the fact that they’re writing your words that they must get them wrong? No, that doesn’t follow either, even when you’re just talking about a human being.

So you can’t just say, Well, men wrote it, therefore it must be flawed, because that doesn’t follow. If the claim of the Bible itself is true, it doesn’t seem to be the case that if God is actually involved, He can’t get men to do and to write down what He wants them to.

There’s nothing incoherent about the claim itself. There’s nothing self-refuting about the claim that men write the very words of God and that it is inerrant. So we’re going to dispatch those objections immediately because they’re not good objections.

I do think, however, that the burden of proof is upon the Bible to demonstrate that what it says is, in fact, true. It does say throughout, especially in the Old Testament, things like “and God said,” “thus saith the Lord,” etc.

More than that, we also see in the person of Jesus, His stamp of approval on virtually the entire Old Testament. He quotes from every section of the Hebrew Bible: the Pentateuch, the Wisdom Literature, the Poetry, the Prophets (both major and minor), the Historical material. He quotes them as if they were authoritative, from God Himself.

In fact, sometimes Jesus refers to the text itself as “God said.” Sometimes He says “Scripture says...” sometimes He says “Moses says...” or whatever writer. But clearly, when you examine the words, in His mind those terms are interchangeable.

This gives us one way of arguing for the authority of the Hebrew Bible, at least here. If Jesus gave His imprimatur to the Hebrew Bible, and if Jesus is someone whose word we might be able to trust, then that gives us good reason to trust the authority of the Hebrew Bible.

This is a way of defending the authority of the Scriptures that John Warwick Montgomery has championed. It’s called retroduction. He says that the first thing you do is go to the Gospels and treat them merely as an historical document or documents that claim to give historical evidence. Then you test them by the standards of historical research to see whether they are, in fact, historically reliable.

One caveat here: You cannot arbitrarily presuppose that there cannot be anything like a miracle. This is where many of the higher critics start. They have a presupposition that they make no attempt to justify in many cases. They simply say there are no miracles, and therefore when you come to the New Testament and you see miracles, they immediately cross them out. They disregard them. Oh, that couldn’t have happened.

If, instead, you just go with the idea that you’ll give credibility to any fact of history that seems well-substantiated—and that’s what a historian should do—you can take the independent testimony of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and test them according to the canons of historical research. When you do that, they actually pass with flying colors as good history, as good accounts of that time.

Now if they come out as good accounts of that time, we can look at what it is these things record: They record a man named Jesus who teaches certain things, who works miracles, who predicts His own death and resurrection, who dies on a cross and then self-consciously raises Himself from the dead.

Now, if those are good history, if that really happened—if Jesus did give these teachings that many think are the greatest moral teachings the world’s ever seen, if He taught powerfully and with great insight into the spiritual realm and then punctuated His claims with miracles and the capping miracle of all, the resurrection—if that really did happen, if the historical evidence seems to be compelling, well then, it strikes me that this man’s opinion about the source of the Old Testament matters.

If He claims to be God, for example, as He did in the context of His culture, and then demonstrates through His life and actions that the claim quite possibly is true, or might probably be true, then when He identifies the Bible as the word of God, He is speaking from the inside, not the outside.

Now, this may not be completely compelling to you as a listener. But I want to tell you something: It is a good argument. It’s a fair way to argue. We’re not presupposing anything here. We’re taking the Gospels at face value as an attempt to explain history, and then we’re testing them to see if they are good history.

If they turn out to be good history, then we take the accounts seriously, as if they happened. And this gives evidence that Jesus is more than a mere man; He’s someone who can speak with authority about the spiritual realm. And that Jesus gives His imprimatur to the entire Hebrew Bible as the very word of God.

So that would secure the authority of the Hebrew Bible. It would also seem to secure the authority of His words in the Gospels. If it appears that He transferred authority, in some sense, to His disciples in the upper room—where He said He would give His Spirit so that they would recall everything He wanted them to recall and would write down everything He wanted them to write down—that would appear to give advance authority to the things that His bona fide apostles were going to write and teach to the church.

So this is a way of arguing that has some merit. It does raise other questions, like what about the apparent contradictions? But you see, now I go to the Bible with good reason to believe it is not merely a book written by men about God and therefore would be subject to all of man’s errors. I approach it as a book given by God to men about Himself, even though men were involved in writing it down.

If the Bible is the word of God, and God can’t err, then His word can’t err. If I have good reason to believe that this is a fair way of looking at it, then when I come to a possible apparent contradiction, since my evidence is on the side of being authoritative, what I’m going to look for is a way to resolve the contradiction.

I’m not going to camp on one apparent problem and use that to disqualify all the rest. Because if one apparent problem disqualifies the Bible as the word of God, then Jesus was wrong about His source of authority—the Scriptures—as coming from God.

But Jesus was the one who worked the miracles, who rose from the dead, etc. And I think it’s less likely that Jesus was mistaken than that I’m mistaken. I’m probably the one who’s misreading. That’s my take on it.

That’s one way of approaching the issue. There are some other ways. I just want to give you that to chew on. It’s called retroduction. John Warwick Montgomery. There’s plenty of good reason to believe a posteriori (after the evidence), not a priori (before the evidence), that the Bible is, in fact, God’s word to mankind.