Welcome to our Wednesday “Ask Beau” post. The purpose of this weekly feature is to provide you, our readers, with biblical responses to questions you have about practical issues that you face.
As always, you may submit questions for future “Ask Beau” posts by contacting us at email@example.com, or by leaving a comment on this post.
Today’s question, “Why is the Bible authoritative?” will be the subject of our Grace Young Adults “Coffee and a Question” discussion next Monday (June 18), so I thought it might be an appropriate topic for today’s Ask Beau post as well. The question is quite relevant. You’ve heard an echo of it when someone says, “Why should we care about what the Bible says? It is an ancient, outdated book, written by fallible men.”
If the Bible had simply been written by fallible men, then we would have to agree with our hypothetical objector, or at least hold the Bible to be nothing more than a book of wisdom that is potentially beneficial but not binding on us. The Bible has a much higher assessment of itself than this, though. According to the Bible’s own words, it is “breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16 ESV), and penned by men who were not operating in isolation, but rather were speaking “from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). Jesus shared this high view of Scripture, noting that the Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35), and that “not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18).
Thus, the answer to the question is quite simple. The reason the Bible is authoritative is that it is the Word of God, and God, as God, has the ability to communicate truth accurately and the right to tell His creatures how they should conduct themselves.
As witnesses for Christ, though we must move beyond this question and make compelling arguments to demonstrate that the Bible is the Word of God. Frankly, it is naive for believers to quote Bible verses and expect nonbelievers to bow the knee to biblical authority. The unbeliever typically does not hold the Bible to be authoritative, so in addition to telling them what the Lord has said in the Bible, we must make a credible case that what we find in the Bible is indeed God’s self-revelation.
For the purposes of our post, I’ll name a few lines of reasoning that are helpful. The Bible’s self-testimony is relevant evidence, though it is not ultimately decisive. Prophecies made in the Old Testament and fulfilled in world events or specifically in the person of Jesus Christ are convincing, especially when viewed cumulatively. The internal coherence of the Bible in spite of its many human authors over hundreds of years is helpful in the debate, as well as its remarkable historical accuracy. More generally, when we look at the world around us, we see evidence of a designer, and when we logically reason that such a designer would communicate with us in some way, we must conclude that the Bible stands in a unique place among religious texts and is the best claimant among them of the divine stamp.
In my mind, though, perhaps the strongest argument in favor of the Bible’s authority is one that is often overlooked. As Larry Moyer of Evantell has said, ultimately Christianity doesn’t stand or fall on the Bible—it stands or falls on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If Jesus Christ wasn’t actually raised from the dead, then the Bible is simply a source of moral guidance, and a very misleading one at that (see 1 Corinthians 15 for more on this). If, however, Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, then the resurrection grants immediate credibility to the testimony of those closest to Him, which we find in the New Testament. In addition, if Jesus was raised from the dead, then we would be forced to recognize His authority, and thus His view of the Bible’s authority should become ours.
Isn’t this last argument circular, though? Are we essentially using the authority of the Scriptures to prove Jesus’ resurrection and then turning around and using the resurrection to prove the authority of the Scriptures? Actually, no. We don’t ask the unbeliever to accept the Bible as God’s Word initially. We just ask that He view the biblical accounts of the resurrection as historical testimony to a historical event, testimony that can be shown to be more or less reliable based on various historical criteria (Tim Keller does a good job of discussing these historical criteria in The Reason for God, chapter 7). Furthermore, we would have him consider secular historical testimony about Jesus and investigate records of first-century A.D. religious beliefs to see if there was anything unique about his followers’ claim of His resurrection. He might also profitably consider what happened to other messianic figures of Jesus’ day, as well as the accounts of the martyrdom of many Christian eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection who chose to die rather than recant.
Whoa – that’s a lot of information. If you were to answer this question, would you answer it as I have, or would you take a different angle?