Scripture is authoritative

In “If I Were in Charge of the World,” Judith Viorst’s popular child character Alexander opines,

If I were in charge of the world
There’d be brighter night lights,
Healthier hamsters, and
Basketball baskets forty-eight inches lower.

If I were in charge of the world
You wouldn’t have lonely.
You wouldn’t have clean.
You wouldn’t have bedtimes.
Or “Don’t punch your sister.”
You wouldn’t even have sisters.

If I were in charge of the world
A chocolate sundae with whipped cream and nuts would be a vegetable…
And a person who sometimes forgot to brush,
And sometimes forgot to flush,
Would still be allowed to be
In charge of the world.

That poem humorously addresses the question of authority. Every person has multiple authorities in his life. When we are young, we had parents. And teachers. And coaches. As we moved into adulthood we had bosses. And many governmental authorities. And laws and regulations in both our home and business lives. And elders in the church. And directors in civic organizations.

But who is the supreme authority? And who gets the final word when some of these authorities are in conflict?

One of the reasons for the Reformation was the different ways that question was answered. The Roman church suggested that the Church and the Pope (and his bishops) were the final authority. But the Reformers said that Scripture was the final authority. That was not to say that Scripture is the only authority in one’s life; certainly there are other (at times many) authorities in one’s life. But there is only one authority that is inerrant and sufficient for us. So we say that Scripture is our final authority. As Matthew Barrett has written, “It is the authority that rules over and governs all other authorities. It is the authority that has the final say.” [God’s Word Alone]

Scripture — and not any other person or organization — is finally authoritative because Scripture is from the true God. And because God and Scripture both speak inerrantly, then Scripture has authority to command and compel us to obey God and Scripture. Consider two passages. Peter tells us that people are perishable and finite (1 Pt. 1:23-25). However, Scripture is living, enduring, eternal, and infinite (1 Pt. 1:23-25), which is why we preach it, long for it, take it in, and obey it (1 Pt. 1:25–2:3). Nothing else has the endurance, wisdom, power, and authority of Scripture.

Further, in rapid succession, the psalmist affirms the effectiveness of Scripture: it restores the wayward, gives wisdom to the simple, gives joy to the heart, gives light to the blind, endures forever, reveals truth, is more desirable than food or possessions, warns men of danger, and offers reward for obedience (Ps. 19:7-11). What else has that kind of authority? Nothing but Scripture.

When we say that Scripture is authoritative, we also mean that it is sufficient — it is all that we need to live life effectively and to God’s glory (2 Pt. 1:3). Scripture is sufficient for us in four primary ways:

  • It is sufficient to bring us to salvation (Rom. 10:12-17; 1 Pt. 1:23). The preaching and hearing of the Word is necessary for salvation. There is no revelation of Christ, the cross, and the gospel without the preaching of the Word. And only the Spirit using that word can produce salvation.
  • It is sufficient to sanctify us (Jn. 17:17). Truth is needed for sanctification and truth is found in Scripture.
  • It is sufficient to equip us for ministry (2 Cor. 2:16–3:6). No person is inherently adequate to produce salvation either in himself or others. But when he is equipped with Scripture, he has what he needs to fulfill his ministerial calling from the Lord.
  • It is sufficient for everything we need to live life to the glory of God (2 Pt. 1:3). If there is any circumstance in life where one is deficient or has a need, Scripture is sufficient to meet that need.

Scripture is sufficient as our final authority because Scripture alone that carries the authority of God. Luther rightly and dramatically affirmed this in 1519 in a debate with Johann Eck about the Scriptures when he said: “A simple layman armed with Scripture is to be believed above a pope or council without it. As for the pope’s decretal on indulgences I say that neither the Church nor the pope can establish articles of faith. These must come from Scripture. For the sake of Scripture we should reject pope and councils.”

John Calvin popularized the simple saying about the Bible, “when Scripture speaks, God speaks.” That was his way of affirming that Scripture is inspired by — comes from — God. And because when Scripture speaks, God speaks, it is also true that when Scripture speaks, it speaks authoritatively.

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