The Authority of the Words of Jesus -- By: John A. Witmer

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 122:486 (Apr 1965)
Article: The Authority of the Words of Jesus
Author: John A. Witmer

The Authority of the Words of Jesus

John A. Witmer

During His earthly life and ministry the Lord Jesus Christ possessed and expremd the authority of God. This statement is so universally affirmed by all shades of the spectrum of Christian thought today that it is almost a truism. For example, on the one hand, a theological conservative speaks of Jesus Christ and His authority as follows: “We assert Him, we proclaim Him, we start with Him, because He is the ultimate and final authority.”1 And, on the other hand, a theological liberal declares concerning “the eternal Christ” that “His authority, therefore, is the one and only authority we have declared to be absolute, the authority of truth, the authority of God.”2 Little wonder that one scholar, in talking about Christianity and the Lord Jesus Christ as its Founder, says, “Whose teachings all Christians profess to regard as normative.”3

In the face of the apparent unanimity displayed above, Packer’s use of the verb “profess” almost smacks of cynical skepticism. More trusting and optimistic is the conclusion of Thomas that “both in His earthly ministry and ever since, men have realized that He speaks ‘with authority,’ and that His words are final.”4 On the other hand, the theological facts of life in the twentieth century demand some second thoughts. Open denials of the divine authority of the Lord Jesus Christ are about as scarce as attacks on motherhood, but they do

exist. In addition, acknowledgement of the authority of Christ by many liberals is mere lip service. Packer is realistic and properly cautious in his word choice.

More complete examination of Dodd’s discussion of the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ uncovers an excellent illustration of the liberal treatment of this issue. The statement quoted above is about as clear an affirmation of the authority of Jesus as one could ask. But things are not what they seem. Almost immediately after making that affirmation he starts to vitiate it as follows: “Thus when we have said that the authority of the eternal Christ is absolute, we have not thereby answered the question of the peculiar way in which that authority is mediated in the Gospel history.”5 Later he reaffirms: “A rough and ready answer which is often given is that the teaching of Jesus, as the utterance of the Eternal Word, has the authority of absolute truth.” But then he continues: “If by this is meant that the sayings reported as ...

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