The subject of Bible authority may be one of the most important subjects discussed in the Bible. "Bible authority is critical and yet almost unheard of by modern preachers" (Steve Wallace). Because of the neglect this subject has received, many Christians today are approving works and activities in the church for which they have no Scriptural authority. Because they have not learned how to reason the Scriptures, they often rely on emotions, traditions, and personal preferences to determine what they want to do as a church. As a result, God's pattern for the work and worship of the church is being left in the dust. But God has not left us ignorant. He teaches us in the Scriptures how to know what He wants. All we have to do is open our Bibles and pay attention to what God has to say.
The Need for Authority
God has shown man from the beginning that we need to respect His authority in order to have life. In the beginning, God gave Adam and Eve a law and said that should they disobey that law, "you shall surely die" (Gen. 2:17). They chose to disobey it and as a result they died spiritually (Isa. 59:2) and began to die physically. Therefore it is written, "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned" (Rom. 5:12).
In order to overcome the effect of sin, God sent His Son to die on the cross. Though salvation through the death of Christ is offered to all men, it will only save those who come to Him through obedience by faith. "And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him" (Heb. 5:9). Therefore, just as we die because of sin, we are able to have life because of obedience. But proper obedience requires a certain respect for authority. The collective body of God's people (the church) is a body that is committed to doing all things according to Christ's authority. Jesus made this very clear when He gave the Great Commission in Matt. 28:18-20. He said, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth." Jesus has all authority because he is King. He has rule over all the earth as well as all things that are in heaven.
Because of His authority, Jesus commands His followers to preach the gospel to all nations, to teach them that He is King and that they can have salvation through Him and be saved from His judgment. To those who are willing to submit to Christ as their King, He commands, "teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you." This is the commitment that every person makes when they obey the gospel: to observe all that Christ commanded. This is the reason we seek to do all things according to His authority. It was for this reason that Paul wrote, "And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him" (Col. 3:17). "In His name" means by His authority. If we are going to do all things in the name of the Lord, then we must first learn how to establish His authority.
In spite of everything the Scriptures say about respecting the authority of God there are still men today who wish to go outside of God's pattern. They justify their disobedience by saying things such as, "We cannot all understand the Bible alike," "How can we know that we really know?" "That's just your interpretation," or "That's just what seems good to me." They claim that God was not clear enough in His revelation for us to be able to understand exactly what we are supposed to do. However, Paul told the Ephesians that by reading the Scriptures they can understand (Eph. 3:4). He later commanded them saying, "Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is" (Eph. 5:17). The fact is, God has shown us through the Scriptures exactly what He wants us to do, and He has shown us how to establish whether or not we have authority for what we do.
Command, Example, Necessary Inference
In the Scriptures, God shows His approval or disapproval of things in three different ways. The first is by a direct statement or command. This is the clearest, most common means by which God establishes His authority. In Eph. 5:19, when Paul wrote, "speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord," he was giving a direct command concerning God's will for singing in our worship. It is a direct statement that gives us God's authority on that matter.
The second methods which God uses to establish His authority is through approved examples. When we see the apostles and the rest of the New Testament church doing certain things as the church and that God showing His approval of those things, then we know that that is what we must be doing today. Examples are one of the best ways for us to see how things are to be done. God uses examples extensively in the Scriptures as an effective teaching tool. When Paul preached the gospel, he not only spoke it, he also lived is so that people could see how to live as a Christian. Therefore, he wrote, "Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern" (Phil. 3:17). In Acts 20:7 there is an account where the church in Troas assembled on the first day of the week to break bread (eat the Lord's Supper). "Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread." Because of this passage, we know that God wants the church to "come together" to take the Lord's Supper and to do it on the first day of the week. How do we know this? Because we have an approved example recorded for us in the Scriptures so that we can see how it is to be done.
The third methods which God uses to establish His authority is through necessary inference. A necessary inference is simply a conclusion that all of the evidences provided leads us to make. God has revealed His word in such a way that He expects us to make these necessary inferences. He wants His people to be able to put two and two together to come to proper conclusions about His will. Jesus used a necessary inference in Mark 12:26-27 to prove to the Sadducees that men have a spirit and that there will be a resurrection from the dead. When establishing God's authority for the things that we do as the church today, we are expected to make these same kinds of necessary conclusions. When God tells us exactly what He wants, we must make the necessary conclusion that He does not want us to do anything but what He says.
The methods described above for establishing Bible authority have been used by God's people throughout the history. In fact, from the time we are small children we are raised to understand the principles of commands, examples, and necessary inferences. When we are given a direct command or a statement we are expected do exactly what it says. When someone shows us what to do by way of example while learning a new job we are expected to do the job the way it was shown to us. In everyday communication we are expected to make obvious conclusions from the information people give us. When the cashier says, "That'll be five-ninety-five," we are expected to make the necessary conclusion that she is referring to dollars because we are purchasing something.However, this hermeneutic (methods of interpretation) has been under attack in recent years by people who do not want to limit themselves to just doing what God commanded in the Bible. They claim that the above method was invented by men and not God.
"Commands, Examples & Necessary Inferences"
A Biblical Hermeneutic
If it were true that no two people can understand the Bible alike and that there is no absolute truth when interpreting God's word, then it would be impossible to misinterpret it, for every interpretation would be correct. Yet, Peter says, there are some who "twist the Scriptures to their own destruction" (2 Pet. 3:16). The very fact that it is possible to "twist" God's word means that there is a right way and a wrong way to interpret it.
How do we come to understand the will of the Lord? The answer is quite simple. Through the Scriptures we are able to read and understand (Eph. 3:4), and reason what it says (Isa. 1:18). But the Bible is not merely a list of do's and don'ts. It is a narrative, a record of how God dealt with men which provides direct commands, approved examples for us to follow, and information to causes us to make necessary conclusions. In other words, God expresses His will the same way we express ourselves on a day to day basis - by using commands, examples, and necessary inferences. In Acts 15 we have Luke's account of the Jerusalem counsel in which the apostles and elders in Jerusalem made reference to commands, examples and necessary inferences to establish what the will of the Lord was.
In Acts 15:1, 2, Paul and Barnabas encountered certain men who claimed that Gentiles were required to be circumcised in order to be saved. Yet, as an apostle, inspired by the Holy Spirit, Paul knew that circumcision was not necessary for salvation and "had no small dispute" with them over the matter. But this doctrine had been spreading to other areas as well. In order to for all the churches to know the truth on the matter, it was necessary for the apostles and leaders of the church in Jerusalem to consider the matter and established once and for all whether or not God wanted all men to be circumcised. Acts 15:6-21 records the methods they used to determine the will of the Lord. It is recorded so that we may know how to determine the will of the Lord today.
Direct Command or statement (Acts 15:13-21): James reminded the council of the events recorded in Acts 10-11 according to which Peter was directed in a vision to preach the gospel to the household of Cornelius, who was a Gentile. As a result of that event, Peter declared by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that God had made salvation available to the Gentiles as well as the Jews. To back up the validity of that direct statement, James refers to a direct statement recorded in Amos 9:11-12 concerning the same matter-that the Gentiles would be built up as God's people. The main distinction that separated Jew from Gentile was circumcision. Therefore, by direct statement, God expressed that Gentiles (uncircumcised) could be saved through Christ.
Approved Example (Acts 15:12): It was common understanding that the use of miracles in the first century was God's way of showing approval of what was being taught or accomplished. "God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will" (Heb. 2:4). Prior to the council in Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas had spent several years preaching to the Gentiles throughout the regions of Syria, Cilicia, and Galatia. Throughout their efforts to preach the gospel, God showed approval of everything they taught by working miracles through Paul and Barnabas, yet not once did they command a Gentile to be circumcised. In the council, Paul and Barnabas used their example to show that God approved of the gospel which they preached, even though that gospel did not command circumcision.
Necessary Inference (Acts 15:7-11): Finally, Peter stood up in the council and made a necessary conclusion. In Acts 10, when he preached to the household of Cornelius, God acknowledged that salvation had come to the Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, even though they had never been circumcised. Peter put two and two together when he said, "So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith." In other words, God showed approval of the Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, but when the Holy Spirit was given the Gentiles had not been circumcised. Therefore, circumcision was not necessary.
Establishing God's Authority Today
Through commands, examples, and necessary inferences that God provides in the Scriptures, He tells us everything that He wants us to do and to believe. "…that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work." (2 Tim. 3:17). "…as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue…" (2 Pet. 1:3). There are many "good ideas" that men want to integrate into the work of the church, but that God has not told us that He wants us to do. On the surface, some human innovations may seem beneficial to the church. But in reality, every time we add something to God's plan, we are in fact hindering or removing something else. This was what happened with the traditions of the Pharisees in Jesus' day, "For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men…making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do" (Mark 7:9-13). The Pharisees were in sin because they did not respect the guidelines and limitations of the authority of the Scriptures. If we are to avoid their mistake, we must learn to examine all things and cast out any works for which we have no express command, example, or necessary inference. We conclude with the following diagram to illustrate how simple this really is, if we are willing to accept the truth.