Biblical Authority in Contemporary Theology -- By: John A. Witmer

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 118:469 (Jan 1961)
Article: Biblical Authority in Contemporary Theology
Author: John A. Witmer


Biblical Authority in Contemporary Theology

John A. Witmer

Biblical authority is an inescapable issue which confronts every Christian worker, demanding consideration and decision. No minister can stand in his pulpit to preach or use the Scriptures in his pastoral ministry to counsel, to comfort, or to exhort without facing and settling for himself the question, “What is the authority of the Bible?” Robert Clyde Johnson reveals his own wrestling with this issue as a pastor at the start of his study in this field.1 But this issue is not limited to ministers, at least not in circles where the Reformation principle of the individual Christian’s right and responsibility to study and interpret the Bible is seriously embraced. The fact is that no believer can read and study the Bible in his personal spiritual life without asking and answering the same question.

This issue of Biblical authority is not peculiar to the twentieth century theological scene, however. It has more or less been a perennial problem of the Christian church. This is especially true of the Protestant branch of Christendom. As Johnson states, “The very genius of Protestantism…forces it to reopen the matter as a new issue with each major development in the dynamic movement of theological thought.”2 When Berkouwer discussed the contemporary task of the Reformed faith, he concluded that it “will have among its first duties that of reflecting on the authority of the Bible.” Then he hastened to add, “Not that the issue of Scriptural authority is new.”3 Every generation of the church, every believer in Christ, has to face this question and has to make some decision concerning it. To coin a phrase reminiscent of neo-orthodox theology, the question of Biblical authority is the eternally contemporaneous issue.

Its Importance Today

There is a special sense, however, in which the question of Biblical authority is crucial to the twentieth century. Berkouwer again declares, “The matter of authority is undoubtedly one of the most important problems of our age.”4 He echoes the view of James Orr, who prophesied that the theological battle of the twentieth century “will have to be fought…round the fortress of the worth and authority of Holy Scripture.”5 If the importance of an issue can be measured at all by the quantity of literature devoted to it (certainly that is one good yardstick), Biblical authority is a burning question right now and has been throughout the current c...

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