Reading Systematic Theology with Wayne Grudem – The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (1) Authority: How do we know that the Bible is God’s Word?
This post is part of a 50+ post series from the classic work by Wayne Grudem (PhD, Cambridge), Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. The aim of each post is to provide an overview of each chapter in the book and related resources for each topic.
Synopsis of Chapter
Wayne Grudem defined the authority of Scripture as “all the words in Scripture are God’s words in such a way that to disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God.” The Bible both claims it is God’s word and believers are personally convinced that it is the word of God. Though other methods can bolster our faith in the divine inspiration of the Bible, ultimately it is self attesting and does not require any other external verification.
The Bible is also true. Because it is God’s word and God cannot lie, everything in the Bible is true and without error in any part. As such, the Bible is our final authority in every matter it addresses.
All The Words in Scripture Are God’s Words
In the Old Testament, the Bible claims to be the word of God. A common refrain in the Old Testament from the King James Version is “Thus says the LORD.” That phrase appears hundreds of times. In addition, God is said to speak “through” the prophet (1 Kings 14:18, Jeremiah 37:2, Zecharaiah 7:7, etc.) Anything a prophet speaks, God also speaks. The New Testament affirms the divine authorship of the Old Testament (2 Timothy 3:16). Jesus affirmed God’s words from Deuteronomy in Matthew 4:4, “But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’””
In the New Testament, there are two instances where two verses say the New Testament is Scripture. In 2 Peter 3:16, the apostle Peter calls Paul’s writings “Scripture” (Greek: γραφή). And in 1 Timothy 5:18, Paul refers to Luke 10:7, another New Testament book as ‘Scripture’. And it’s no wonder why the apostles believed their words were authoritative – Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would bring everything to the apostles remembrance (John 14:26, 16:13). So in both the Old and New Testaments, the authors were often self-aware they were writing God-inspired documents.
Why We’re Convinced the Bible is the Word of God
Any book can claim to be the Word of God? How can we be sure the Bible is what it says it is?
The way we are confident the Bible is the Word of God is through personal conviction by the Holy Spirit. The words of God are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14). The Spirit must bring light to the words we read as coming from the voice of the Great Shepherd (John 10:27). So there is a personal conviction, by way of the Holy Spirit, that informs us the Bible is the Word of God.
Other proofs are helpful. For instance, archeology can bolster our confidence in the historicity of certain parts of the Bible. But ultimately our faith is not in archaeology, science, psychology, or any other discipline that may affirm the truthfulness of passages in Scripture. Those external studies can agree with truths in the Bible, but they are not the ground of our belief. Instead, our ultimate confidence must be in Scripture itself.
Objection: This Is A Circular Argument
Some object to the self-attesting authority of Scripture. They suggest Christians cannot believe a book that claims to be God’s word which is then subjectively affirmed as true by a “Holy Spirit”. In other words, they accuse Christians of a circular argument in affirming the Bible as the Word of God just because it claims to be the Word of God.
This problem is actually not unique to Christians and the Bible. In fact, arguing for any ultimate standard of truth necessitates some measure of circularity. It is impossible to argue for an ultimate standard of truth without referring back to the thing that is the potential ultimate standard of truth. This is true when arguing for the truthfulness of the Qur’an, the Book of Mormon, or even human reason. The person cannot appeal to that thing as ultimately true, without also appealing to the very thing they are claiming is true. So the claim of circularity uncovers how the objector is often unaware they have the same problem.
To Disbelieve or Disobey Scripture is to Disbelieve or Disobey God
A corollary truth to the Bible being the Word of God is that it carries the full authority of God speaking. To disbelieve something the Bible says is to disbelieve God himself. And to disobey something in Scripture is to disobey God himself. Jesus rebuked his disciples for not believing the Old Testament Scriptures (Luke 24:25). Christians were expected to obey the Lord’s commands through the apostles (2 Peter 3:2), and to disobey Paul’s writing made one liable to church discipline (2 Thessalonians 3:14).
The Truthfulness of Scripture
Moreover, the Bible is completely true. The main reason we can be confident in the truthfulness of Scripture is founded in the character of God: he cannot lie (Numbers 23:19, Titus 1:2). So if the Bible is the Word of God, everything written in it will be true.
Many Scriptures teach this including Psalm 12:6, Proverbs 30:5 and Psalms 1119:89. Jesus underscored the truthfulness of his words, which were later inscripturated, by saying “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” (Matthew 24:35)
There is nothing like the Bible in its truthfulness. Because God’s word is truth (John 17:17), it is our ultimate standard of truth. God’s word is true and is “the reference point by which every other claim to truthfulness is be measured.”
Conclusion: Written Scripture is Our Final Authority
Written Scripture is our final authority. Others may suggest another standard is ultimately true, but nothing is true like the Bible. It is unique among every book ever written. It is self-attesting, true in everything it addresses, verified by external disciplines, and is ultimately affirmed by the Holy Spirit to every believing individual. The Bible is the authoritative Word of God.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness – 2 Timothy 3:16
- absolute authority
- circular argument
- plenary inspiration
Resources: Wayne Grudem
- Wayne Grudem: Book: Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine
- Wayne Grudem: 148 Lectures on Systematic Theology at Scottsdale Bible Church
- John S. Feinberg: The Authority of Scripture
- Jonathan Sarfati: The Authority of Scripture (with many Scriptural proofs)
- Don Stewart: What Does The Bible Have to Say About Its Own Authority