The Authority of the Bible -- By: John A. Witmer

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 118:471 (Jul 1961)
Article: The Authority of the Bible
Author: John A. Witmer


The Authority of the Bible

John A. Witmer

That the Bible is authoritative in some sense or other is acknowledged by all segments of the theological spectrum of Christendom. The Bible stands as the distinctive document of all groups that call themselves Christian. Therefore they ascribe authority in some form to the holy Scriptures. This is true historically as well as in the contemporary milieu. But truth is not created by consensus. In addition previous discussion has demonstrated that this unanimity as to the fact of Biblical authority is balanced in contemporary theology by total disagreement as to the form and function of Biblical authority. The question, therefore, remains pertinent, What is the authority of the Bible? Inseparably joined to the consideration of this question is the complementary query, How does this authority reside in the Bible?

Authority Resides in God

Understanding of the word authority and its use is prerequisite to explaining the authority of the Bible. Websters New International Dictionary defines authority as “legal or rightful power…exercised by a person in virtue of his office or trust.” In the words of another dictionary, authority means “the power or right to give commands, enforce obedience, take action, or make final decisions.” From these definitions it is obvious that authority in its ultimate form belongs to God. As the eternal essence, God is Creator of all things and exercises final authority as absolute sovereign of His universe (cf. Isa 45:9–10; Rom 9:20–21).

But other authorities in addition to God do exist. There is a sense in which every person has his form or area of authority. The Declaration of Independence affirmed that men “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” But all these authorities came from God, who has ordained the distribution of authority in His universe. Such authority is called delegated authority. This is seen in the Bible, where the principal word for authority is exousia, which is frequently translated “power.” This word is applied to others besides God, but their authority comes from God.

For example, Paul states, “The powers that be are ordained of God” (Rom 13:lc). This refers to civil authorities, and Paul is here discussing the Christian’s relationship to human government (vv. 1–7; cf. 1 Tim 2:1–4; You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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