Biblical Authority (2)

By Forrest D. Moyer

II. The “Author” of Bible Authority.

A. We cannot talk about “authority” without talking about “author” from which our word “authority” comes. The real question concerning religious practice is, “Who is the author of the practice?”

B. The prime authority is God (1 Cor. 15:27). He has the right to command and to enforce obedience. When He gave the ten commandment Law in Exodus 20, He began by saying, “I am Jehovah your God.” That showed His right to command! That showed His authority! Observe v. 5: “You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, Jehovah your God, am a jealous God. . . . ” No man could rebel against His authority without dire consequences (v. 5).

1. This principle is seen over and over again in the Old Testament.

a. The man who violated the Sabbath law was stoned to death (Num. 15:35-36).

b. Nadab and Abihu were destroyed because they brought strange fire.

c. Uzzah perished because of His violation of God’s law.

2. Further, we must observe that the laws of a dispensation are in effect throughout that dispensation. We see this when after several hundred years, Ezra and Nehemiah brought the Israelites back to the law that had been given on Sinai (Neh. 9:13ff). Then when Jesus came on the scene, He emphatically told the people to do what Moses in the Law had commanded them. Now, this principle will help us when we come to consider the covenant under which we live that began on Pentecost. The laws of the New Covenant will last until the end of time and we absolutely must observe them.

C. Jehovah has now given all authority to His Son (Mt. 28:18).

1. Jesus has the right to command (exousia) and expect obedience (Lk. 6:46). Thus, He stressed the necessity of our “hearing these sayings of mine” (Mt. 7:24). It was then that the people were astonished at His teaching because He was teaching them as one having authority (v. 29).

2. Contrasted with Jesus, man has no right to command, for man is not the author of religious doctrine. This was clearly recognized by Jesus and by the religious leaders of His day. The chief priests asked Jesus, “By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?” (Mt. 21:23) They may not have been thinking about the authority of God, but they recognized the necessity of authority to act. Jesus responded, “I will ask you one thing too, which if you tell Me, I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John was from what source, from heaven or from men?” They refused to answer His question for obvious reasons. What He placed before them must constantly be in our minds. Is our practice from Heaven or from men? Is it authored by God or by man? This is a legitimate question. If it is authored by God, then it will be in the book that He authored. If a practice is not in the book, it is not authored by God and it is from men. We shall proceed to application of this as we continue.

D. But another vital question is, what about the silence of the Scriptures? Or putting it another way, what is authorized by the silence of the Word? To be even more elementary, what is authored by silence? When there is no sound, there is no echo; and the echo that comes from the silence of the Scriptures is thunderous in its own silence. Nothing whatsoever is authorized by the silence of the Scriptures.

Probably the most common religious question asked is “Why can’t we?” The full form of the question is “Why can’t we do this thing not mentioned in the Bible?” “Why can’t we baptize babies?” “Why can’t we use instrumental music in worship?” The apparent motivation that prompts this question is the desire to have as broad a liberty as possible to do as many things religiously as we possibly can. If we are permitted to do those things which are not mentioned in the Bible, then we can do not only the few things which are mentioned in the Bible but also the thousands of things not mentioned in the Bible. There are two basic answers to this “Why can’t we?” question: (1) “You can do anything not mentioned so long as it is not specifically forbidden in the Bible.” (2) “You cannot do any unmentioned thing since one specific thing forbids the thing not specified.” For example, the command to sing excludes the use of an instrument. The “why can’t we? ” question is an appeal to the silence of the Scriptures, and there is no authority based on silence.

(To illustrate: you can’t quote an authority on something if that authority has never spoken on that something. For example, you could not quote C. S. Lewis on some matter regarding which he has never said or written anything. Jesus is our great authority. He is our Lord and Master. We cannot quote Him or His word as authority to act religiously if He has not spoken on the matter in question. Things that are outside of the Bible are things in the area of which God has not spoken; therefore, they are outside of the realm of the authority of the Bible. God’s silence is really nothing at all – that is, it is not a creative act of God. God authorizes by speech – by His written word.

“The secret things belong unto the Lord our God; but those things which are revealed belong unto us and our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29). There are two classifications of things set forth in this passage: (1) the things that are secret and (2) the things that are revealed. The secret things belong to God and must remain with Him. Man is out of place in authorizing things God has not made known. Our business is involved in the things which are revealed. Silence is not revelation! What He has revealed is ours and we need to diligently study what is revealed and be guided by it. We have no revelation by silence!

Silence is not above speech. Silence is not equal to speech. Silence is not even under speech except all the way to the bottom at zero, for it is nothing. If your religious practices are in the realm of silence, there are two very significant problems: (1) The non-permissiveness of silence versus the permissiveness of speech. (2) The worthlessness of silence versus the pricelessness of speech. We might further observe that there are only two possible reasons for God’s leaving anything out of the Bible: intentional omissions or inadvertent omissions. If God deliberately left something out, by what authority do you dare to put it in? One would hardly want this alternative. The other is certainly no better. To say that God inadvertently left some things out of His word would charge Him with being incompetent – He didn’t know what He was doing. But the God of the Bible is the Almighty! He won’t let even one thing in that He doesn’t want in, nor will He leave a thing out that He wants in. If a thing isn’t in the Bible, then we must know that God left it out for good, divine reasons, and that we must not meddle with things left out of the Bible. Our options form an either/or situation. We must either show that our practices are in the Bible, i.e. authorized by what is said or admit that those that aren’t are not there and give them up.)* To say, “the Bible does not forbid it” is sectarianism gone to seed! The Bible authorizes by what it says not by what it does not say. In fact, there can be no faith without there being the spoken or written word (Rom. 10:17). We cannot believe that something is from God unless God has authored it! We cannot speak religiously unless there is faith (1 Pet. 4:11). As it is written, “I believed, therefore I spoke” (2 Cor. 4:13). One cannot truly say, “I believe in counting beads in worship” since there is no word of God to that effect. Since the New Testament does not authorize instrumental music, one cannot truly say, “I believe in using instrumental music in worship.” “I believed, therefore I spoke.”

1. But brethren have often turned to the silence of the Bible to seek to justify their practices. In the Otey-Briney Debate, brother Briney said in defense of the missionary society:

I allege that where the Scriptures require this to be done, and are silent in regard to the method by which it is to be done, this silence authorizes these men, whether they be many or few, whether it be one congregation or a hundred congregations, to meet in the name of the Master, and under the commandment to go, inaugurate such a work and carry it on; and whenever you have that, you have a missionary society (Otey-Briney Debate, p. 169).

Brother Pendleton in defending the society said: “You say, ‘Your Missionary Society is not scriptural’ – and you mean by this, that there is no special precept in the Scriptures commanding it. We concede this without a moment’s hesitation. There is none; but what do you make of it? Is everything which is not scriptural therefore wrong?” (W. K. Pendleton as quoted by Earl West, Search For The Ancient Order, Vol II, p. 50)

Brother Otey responded to brother Briney: “He says that the ‘silence of the Scriptures authorizes these societies. . . . that these societies are ‘authorized by the silence of the Scriptures.’ It (the proposition) says that these organizations are ‘authorized in the New Testament Scriptures.’ How is he going to prove it? By silence? We can prove anything by silence, so far as that is concerned, that is not specifically mentioned in the New Testament” (Ibid., p. 204).

2. But what is wrong with an appeal to silence? I believe that we should give an answer to this vital question. The writer of Hebrews illustrates this point vividly. In Heb. 1:5, he asks, “For to which of the angels did He ever say, ‘Thou art my son, today I have begotten thee?… The silence of God on this subject proved that no angel could occupy the position of being the Son. He proved it by showing that there is silence concerning the matter. God never authorizes by silence!

3. The Hebrew writer continues in 7:14. “For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests.” His argument was that Jesus could not be a priest on earth because He was of the tribe of Judah. And there is silence concerning the priesthood of those from Judah. There was no Old Testament authorization for one from Judah serving as priest. The silence of the Scriptures not only did not authorize it, but did not allow it.

4. Another salient point along this line is seen in Acts 15:24 in regard to circumcision of the Gentiles: “Forasmuch as we have heard that certain who went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls; to whom we gave no commandment. . . . ” The absence of apostolic commandment meant that it was wrong for these teachers to teach what they did. The fact of silence authorized nothing and they were in error in presuming to teach something on which the apostles had not taught. So likewise today! We dare not teach or practice anything that is not taught in the Scriptures. Absolutely nothing is taught by silence. Nothing is authorized by the silence of the Scriptures!

F. Those under this age must follow the authority of Jesus. Brother Wayne Jackson wrote it so well:

“In the New Testament, scores of passages demand adherence to the divine pattern. Consider the following:

1. The early church is commended for ‘continuing steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine,’ etc. (Acts 2:42); moreover, as a consequence of such, ‘the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and soul’ (Acts 4:32). These passages suggest a unity of practice in religion.

2. Paul reminded the brethren in Rome that they had been made ‘free from sin’ due to the fact that they had been obedient to a certain ‘form [pattern] of teaching’ (Rom. 6:17-18). That is ‘pattern theology.’

3. The saints in Rome were admonished to ‘mark them that are causing the divisions and occasions of stumbling, contrary to the doctrine which ye learned: and turn away from them’ (Rom. 16:17). If there is no set pattern of New Testament doctrine, how could one ever be required to ‘turn away from’ those who do not practice it?

4. The inspired Paul taught those at Corinth that they were not to go ‘beyond the things which are written’ (1 Cor. 4:6, ASV). This clearly shows that spiritual activity is circumscribed by the Word.

5. To the brethren at Thessalonica and also to Timothy, Paul warned of a ‘falling away,’ indeed, a ‘departure from the faith’ (2 Thess. 2:3; 1 Tim. 4:1ff; 2 Tim. 4:1ff). The expression ‘the faith’ denotes that body of doctrine proclaimed by inspired teachers (cf. Gal. 1:23; Jude 3). If the church has the option of continually modifying biblical truth, how could one ever fall away from the faith?

6. The apostle informed Timothy that there is a ‘pattern of sound words’ (2 Tim. 1:13), and the young evangelist was to abide in the things he had learned from Paul (2 Tim. 3:14). Timothy was to commit that same to other faithful brethren (2 Tim. 2:2), and charge men not to teach a ‘different doctrine’ (1 Tim. 1:13). Paul states that those who digress from the ‘sound words’ are merely ‘puffed up, knowing nothing’ (1 Tim. 6:3,4).

7. The writer of Hebrews affirms that Moses, in constructing the tabernacle, was warned by God that he must ‘make all things according to the pattern,’ which was showed to him at Horeb (Heb. 8:5). Do we, as recipients of the ‘better covenant’ (Heb. 7:22; 8:6), have a lesser responsibility as we minister to God in his church, of which the tabernacle was but a type (cf. Heb. 9:1-10)? It is unbelievable that anyone would even suggest such!

8. John plainly declares that those who go beyond the ‘doctrine of Christ’ have no fellowship with God (2 Jn. 9).

In view of the foregoing passages (and a host of others), the notion of an ‘evolutionary church,’ a sort of plastic Christianity, is demonstrated to be totally false. The plea for a restoration of first century religion is valid. It is thoroughly biblical, and those who repudiate it have sorely drifted from the Holy Scriptures” (Wayne Jackson, Christian Courier, May, ’86).

Brother Jackson and I may differ on some applications of authority, but we are totally agreed on the points just quoted, and I appreciate what he had to say.

*(Some of these thoughts from an outline by Abnon Williams.)

Guardian of Truth XXXI: 8, pp. 232-233, 248
April 16, 1987