The Authority of the Bible
“For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it” (v. 8).- Luke 7:1-10
When Martin Luther began to argue that our justification before God is through faith alone, he set in motion the Protestant Reformation. Soon “disputations” and “colloquies” were being held at various places, and Luther and his followers were pressed to defend their “new” views (which were in reality simply a clear articulation of the ancient faith of the church). The Roman Catholic opponents of the Reformation attempted to show Luther that his views had not been taught in the councils of the church.
Luther and the Reformers replied that the councils did not explicitly contradict the Reformation doctrine, and more importantly, that creeds and councils were not infallible. Only the Bible, said the Reformers, is inerrant and absolutely authoritative.
We call the doctrine of justification by faith the material principle of the Reformation because that doctrine is the “matter” or content of the reform. We call the doctrine of the supremacy of scriptural authority the formal principle of the Reformation, because that doctrine is the foundation upon which everything else is built. The doctrine of the supreme authority of the Bible does not mean that there are no secondary authorities in life, such as parents, governors, and church leaders. What it does mean is that the Bible and the Bible alone (sola scriptura) is the final and ultimate authority for our lives.
The Roman Catholics responded by asserting that the only way we know what should be included in the “canon” (rule) of the Bible is that the church decided what is canonical and what is not. Not so, said the Reformers. The church fathers stated that they had “received” the canon of Scripture—the list of authoritative books—rather than having “established” it. When we receive Christ as our Lord, that does not mean that we make Him Lord or that we have authority over Him. The Father made Him Lord, and we simply recognize that fact. Similarly, when the church fathers received the Holy Scriptures, they were not claiming to have any authority over them. Quite the contrary: they were bowing the knee before the supreme authority of the Scriptures.
Bowing before the authority of Scripture is not some abstract, intellectual notion. As all ideas have consequences, the supreme consequence from this debate is the rise of the Protestant church. People of conviction must make serious choices. Ask yourself if you understand, and then stand under, the authority of Scripture.
Passages for Further Study
2 Timothy 3:16–17
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