Systematic Theology 4: The Authority of Scripture

This blog post is part of a series on Systematic Theology . The method of this series is to follow Wayne Grudem’s well-known Systematic Theology. This series also interacts explicitly with Systematic Theology with a view towards ministry to South Asian Muslims. These blog posts start with Grudem but are modified. I agree with Grudem’s two presuppositions, “(1) that the Bible is true and that it is, in fact, our only standard of truth; (2) that the God who is spoken of in the Bible exists, and that He is who the Bible says he is: the Creator of heaven and earth and all things in them” (Grudem, 26). Each week, one interaction with South Asian Islam will also be noted. Click here for the audio teaching of this lesson .

This lesson begins a study on the four characteristics of Scripture: (1) Authority, (2) Clarity, (3) Necessity, and (4) Sufficiency. This post is the third of seven about the Word of God. God’s Word, the Bible, is foundational for the development of theology. Therefore, an understanding of the doctrine of the Word of God is our beginning place for theology.

  1. The Word of God. Discussion of five ways that the phrase “Word of God” is used in Scripture. This lesson also discusses three reasons that the Bible as the Word of God is the focus for theological study
  2. The Canon of Scripture: What belongs in the Bible, and what does not belong? “The canon of Scripture is the list of all the books that belong in the Bible” (Grudem, 54)
  3. The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (1) Authority. “The authority of Scripture means that all the words of [the Bible][1] are God’s words in such a way that to disbelieve or disobey any word of [the Bible] is to disbelieve or disobey God” (Grudem, 73). 
  4. The Inerrancy of Scripture: Are there any errors in the Bible? “The inerrancy of Scripture means that [the Bible] in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact” (Grudem, 91). 
  5. The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (2) Clarity. Can only Bible scholars understand the Bible rightly? “The clarity of Scripture means that the Bible is written in such a way that its teachings are able to be understood by all who will read it seeking God’s help and being willing to follow it” (Grudem, 108). 
  6. The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (3) Necessity. For what purposes is the Bible necessary? How much can people know about God without the Bible? “The necessity of Scripture means that the Bible is necessary for knowing the gospel, for maintaining spiritual life, and for knowing God’s will, but is not necessary for knowing that God exists or for knowing something about God’s character and moral law” (Grudem, 116). 
  7. The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (4) Sufficiency. Is the Bible enough for knowing what God wants us to think or do? “The sufficiency of Scripture means that [the Bible] contained all the words of God he intended his people to have at each stage of redemptive history, and that it now contains all the words of God we need for salvation, for trusting him perfectly, and for obeying him perfectly” (Grudem, 127). 

Grudem defines the authority of Scripture as, “The authority of Scripture means that all the words of the Bible are God’s words in such a way that to disbelieve or disobey any word of the Bible is to disbelieve or disobey God” (Grudem, 73). It is helpful to break down this statement for examination.

All the words of the Bible are God’s Words.” While this statement sounds simple, there are several aspects of this statement deserving examination.

  • The Bible claims to be the Word of God. For a detailed discussion, click here to go to the lesson on the Word of God.  Here are a few examples. 
    • Jesus affirmed the Old Testament as Scripture. “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass away from the law until all things are accomplished” (Matt 5:17-18).
    • Paul quoted Luke’s Gospel as Scripture. “For the Scripture says: Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain and the worker is worthy of his wages” (1 Tim 5:18). In this verse, Paul quoted Deuteronomy 25:4 and Luke 10:7 as Scripture. Therefore, Paul affirmed Luke’s Gospel as Scripture.
    • Peter affirmed Paul’s letters as Scripture. “Also, regard the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our dear brother Paul has written to you according to the wisdom given to him. He speaks about these things in all his letters. There are some matters that are hard to understand. The untaught and unstable will twist them to their own destruction, as they also do with the rest of the Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:15-16).
    • The book of Revelation concludes with a solemn warning about adding or removing anything from that book. “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book. And if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share of the tree of life and the holy city, which are written about in this book” (Rev 22:18-19). This solemn warning clearly indicates that Revelation is the Word of God. 
  • The Four Tests of Canonicity provide four proofs that the Bible is the Word of GodClick here to go to the lesson on the Canon of Scripture.
    • (1) The books of the Bible come from authoritative sources, such as prophets and apostles.
    • (2) The books of the Bible all agree with one another. Sixty-six books by dozens of authors over 1,500 years in two languages that all agree with one another testify that God has given these books.
    • (3) The Bible is powerful. The life-changing power of the Bible shows that it is the Word of God. Many people have become convinced that the Bible is the Word of God as they read it and experience its power.
    • (4) The Bible has been received by the Word of God by billions of people throughout history. No other book in human history has been read by so many people in so many languages. 
  • All the words of the Bible are God’s Words.”  It is essential to realize that all the words in the Bible are God’s words. Some people have made a mistake by saying that the Bible “contains” God’s word but is not God’s word. By this, they mean that parts of the Bible are the words of God, and other parts of the Bible are not the words of God.
    • “All Scripture is inspired by God” (2 Timothy 3:16a)
    • “Above all, you know this: No prophecy of Scripture comes from the prophet’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the will of man; instead, men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21). 
  • The Qur’an claims that the Bible is the Word of GodClick here for another article on this topic. We do not hold that the Qur’an is the Word of God. However, for the sake of Muslim ministry, it can be helpful to study the verses of the Qur’an that say that the books of the Bible are the Word of God. Here are two of the most beneficial.
    • And in their footsteps We sent Jesus the son of Mary, confirming the Torah that had come before him: We sent him the Gospel: therein was guidance and light. And confirmation of the Torah that had come before him: a guidance and an admonition to those who fear Allah.” Qur’an 5:46
    • If thou wert in doubt as to what We have revealed unto thee, then ask those who have been reading the Book from before thee: the Truth hath indeed come to thee from thy Lord: so be in no wise off those in doubt.” Qur’an 10:94

To disbelieve or disobey any word of the Bible is to disbelieve or disobey God.” Perhaps the best section of Scripture for this point is Hebrews 3:7-4:13. 

  • Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says: Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion” (Hebrews 3:7-8a). 
    • Hebrews 3:7b-11 is a quotation from Psalm 95:7-11. This passage in Psalm 95 is about the rebellion during the forty years in the wilderness in Numbers.  
    • The phrase “Today, if you hear his voice” is repeated throughout this section (Heb 3:13, 15; 4:7). In the book of Hebrews, “his voice” means the voice of God in the person of Jesus (see Heb 1:2; 2:1-3). “Today” gives an immediacy to hearing the voice of God. The primary way that we hear the Word of God today is by reading the Bible. Therefore, this command is that as we read the Bible today, we must be careful not to harden our hearts!
  • Hebrews 3:17-18 describes a failure to hear and obey God’s word as disbelief and disobedience to God. “And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.” This passage shows the parallel between disbelief and disobedience. Because of their disbelief and disobedience, the people of God faced the judgment of God.
  • So I swore in my anger, ‘They will not enter my rest’” (Heb 3:11). The result of the disobedience/disbelief of God’s people was that God would not permit them to enter into His rest. The rest of God is mentioned throughout this passage (Heb 3:11, 18; 4:1, 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 11). There are two meanings of “rest” in Hebrews 3:7-4:13
    • Rest as entry into the Promised Land (Heb 3:7). 
    • Rest as entry into heaven. Hebrews 3:8-9 clarifies that there is a “rest” better than the one given through Joshua. The rest given through Joshua is a reference to the Promised Land.
  • Therefore, this passage means that if anyone hears God’s Word through Jesus that they have a choice to hear and obey or hear and disbelieve/disobey. If someone hears and obeys, then they will enter into God’s promised rest of heaven. If someone hears and disbelieves/disobeys, then they will fall short of entering into heaven.
  • The final two verses bring this passage back to a focus on Scripture. “For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. No creature is hidden from him, but all things are naked and exposed the eyes of him to whom we must give an account” (Heb 4:12-13). 

In summary, when we read the Bible, we hear the voice of God. Every word of the Bible is the word of God spoken to us. When we hear God’s voice in Scripture, we have a choice to hear and believe/obey or to hear and disbelieve/disobey. “Let us then make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall into the same pattern of disobedience” (Heb 4:11).

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[1] In the definitions for the Authority of Scripture, the Inerrancy of Scripture, and the Sufficiency of Scripture, the term “Scripture” has been replaced by “the Bible” as seen in brackets. The reason is that the definitions could have been confusing from a perspective of Muslim-Christian conversation. 

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