Which Authority?

In recent years I saw a television ad that included the statement; “the church gave us the Bible”.  On the surface that statement seems credible and believable, but in the light of the Bible’s testimony about itself, it is an inaccurate statement.  “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (II Timothy 3:16).

The Old Testament scripture was written and well established long before the birth of Christ and the New Testament church.  The Old Testament portion of the Bible, therefore, could not possibly have been given to us by the church.  

The New Testament books were written by the apostles under the Holy Spirit’s direction to local churches that the apostles helped establish and/or disciple.  The early church collected these letters and weeded out the spurious (copycat) and heretical (false doctrine) writings per the instructions of the inspired writings themselves.

The books and letters that survived this scrutiny and met the scriptural requirements of divine authorship were called the canon of New Testament Scripture which includes the books from the Gospel of Matthew to the Book of Revelation.  

Extra biblical books from the period prior to Christ that contained some information of historical value, but did not pass the tests of genuineness were called the Apocrypha.  Other books contemporary to New Testament times, that were proven to be spurious and/or heretical, were labeled pseudepigrapha or false writings.

The church’s task was to sort out the already genuine (inspired or God-breathed) writings from the false writings and from those that were simply historical.  The church’s task did not make the writings genuine, God breathed, or God’s word, they already were.  The Scriptures, therefore, were given to the church (the body of believers) by God the Holy Spirit.  God, not the church gave us the Bible.

So what is the point?  Why make such a distinction?

If the “Church” gave us the Bible, there is the implication that the “Church” is a higher authority than the Scripture and can therefore over rule, change, or add to whatever the Scripture teaches.  

Bible believing scholars agree that the canon of Scripture is closed. If, however, there was a chance of additional revelation to come, according to Revelation 22:18-19, that revelation could not contradict what the Holy Spirit has already given us without inviting the judgment of God.

Any “Christian” church that elevates extra biblical writing, teaching or tradition to a level equal to or above Scriptural authority begs God’s rebuke and judgment.  “Add thou not unto His (God’s) words, lest He reprove thee, and thou be found a liar” (Proverbs 30:6).  

It is illogical and totally absurd to think that God, who cannot lie, would give the church additional revelation that flatly contradicts what He has already given us.  There is something terribly wrong with that kind of thinking.

Religious cults supplement Scripture by providing their followers with added “revelation or tradition” that is contradictory to Scripture.  Cults expand their ranks by preying on religious people or “Christians” who are ignorant of what the Bible teaches.  Often the religious cult’s first step is to convince one that what the cult believes and what the potential convert believes is one and the same.  The only way to detect this error is to know the Bible.

Law enforcement agents who deal with counterfeit currency spend their time studying the genuine currency so that they may recognize in a moment that which is not genuine.  It would serve Christians well to do the same with the Bible.  Believers, therefore, should practice II Timothy 2:15 “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”

Rightly Dividing the Word – Part III

“Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” II Timothy 2:15.

Sometimes doctrine or religious instruction is built on obscure or unclear passages.  Professing Christians and new believers with a limited knowledge of Scripture can fall prey to teachings that are not consistent with clear teaching elsewhere in Scripture.

Bible believing pastors, elders and teachers will invite honest questions concerning the Scriptures.  A former pastor of mine used to exhort his congregation by saying “Do not park your brains at the door when you come to church.”  Bring your Bible with you and do not accept sentimentality or church tradition as correct Bible teaching if it is contrary to Scripture.

When studying Bible doctrine therefore, always interpret unclear passages in the light of clear Bible passages on the same subject. Remember this principle: the Holy Spirit, who is the author of Scripture (II Peter 1:21), will never lead you contrary to Scripture.

An example of doctrine built on unclear passages of Scripture without regard to clear Bible passages on the same subject is the teaching of baptismal regeneration as a doctrine of salvation.

When the Philippian jailer came trembling and fell down before Paul and Silas he asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”  Their response was simple and direct, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved…”

Paul further explained salvation in Ephesians 2:8&9 by saying what it was not, “For by grace are ye saved through faith and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast.”  Titus 3:5 goes on to say that salvation doesn’t even come as a result of righteous works.

John 3:16 declares “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him, should not perish but have everlasting life.”  Verse 36 of the same chapter tells us why people are lost.  It is not because they didn’t participate in something.  It is because they did not believe on the Lord Jesus.  “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.”

Romans 4 reminds us that just as Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness, so it is for us.  Verse 5 says “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith (not baptism) is counted for righteousness.”

So how do we interpret the verses that mention baptism in the same breath as salvation?  We must interpret them in light of the clear passages.

For example Acts 2:38 says “…Repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the Holy Ghost.”  The Greek word translated “for” can also be translated “because of”.  In the context of the clear Bible passages, salvation comes as a result of believing, not as a result of being water baptized.

The translation of Acts 2:38 which is most consistent therefore with clear Scripture passages on salvation should read “…Repent and be baptized because of the remission of sins…”  We  submit to water baptism because we’ve been forgiven, not in order to be forgiven.

Acts 2:41 confirms this by saying, “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized.”  The order here is receiving his word or believing is first and then baptism follows.

Note:  Water and Spirit baptism are often confused.  

  • Spirit baptism places a believer into the body of Christ (I Corinthians 12:13).  
  • Spirit baptism occurs at the moment of salvation (Romans 8:9b). 
  • Water baptism is done in obedience to Christ and publicly identifies the believer as a follower of Christ.

Rightly Dividing the Word – Part II

“Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”  II Timothy 2:15.

It is possible to defend just about anything you want with Scripture by pulling individual verses or passages out of context.  That is why Part I of this series is so important.  It deals with Scripture intake and familiarization.  By reading the whole of Scripture systematically one is able to compare Scripture with Scripture.  One passage sheds light on another passage.  One part explains another part.  Often the answer to a problem passage is just around the corner.  Keep on reading!

One example of such a passage is in John 6.  Here Jesus is addressing the Pharisees and His disciples after the feeding of the five thousand and walking upon the sea.

Jesus began His discourse on the Bread of Life by saying, “the Father giveth the true bread which is come down from heaven.”  The hearers said “give us this bread.”  Jesus answered, “I am the bread which came down from heaven.”  They countered, “Is not this Jesus….whose mother and father we know?”  Jesus continued “….the bread that I will give is my flesh…”  This started an argument among the Jews.  They argued, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”  Jesus pushed it farther by saying, “”Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.  Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”  The Law forbade the consumption of any kind of blood.

By this time His disciples were looking at each other and murmuring, “This is an hard saying; who can hear it?”  Jesus knew they murmured at His teaching and asked, “Doth this offend you?”

There are many that stop here and try to make sense of what Christ has said thus far, but this is the wrong place to stop.  Just around the corner, in verse 63 of John chapter 6, the Lord explains to His disciples what He was concealing from the Pharisees who would not believe.  Now He reveals the truth of His teaching to His disciples as He often did when He taught them in parables.  Jesus explained, “It is the spirit that quickeneth: the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life.”

Peter further explains Christ’s teaching when he states, “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever” (I Peter 1:23).

“So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” Romans 10:17.

 Note:  

  • When studying the Word always consider context.  Check the immediate context, the book context and the overall context of Scripture.  Study context, context, context!
  • Read John chapter one and consider who is the Living Word.
  • Study Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and count how many times the Lord Jesus quotes the Old Testament.  What does that tell you about His view of Scripture?