How To Establish Bible Authority

Definition of Authority: “Legal or rightful power; a right to command or act; dominion; jurisdiction.”

First of all, we need authority in the home, school, business, or the nation. Weights and measurements are established by some sort of authority. The quality of our food and drugs must be set by some authority. The speed limits are set by governmental authority. Even the money we use is determined by some sort of authority. If we are going to have any kind of order in our lives, we must have some authority by which we do things. For example, if you went to the butcher and asked for a kilogram of beef, you would be quite upset if the butcher decided to give you half a kilogram instead, and even more so if he charged you for two kilograms. If you agreed to buy something for fifty shillings, and when you tried to pay for it, the seller demanded one-hundred shillings, claiming fifty shillings and one-hundred shillings were all the same, you would think he had lost his mind. In other words, we depend on some sort of authority for practically everything we do. We just cannot get by without some kind of authority in our lives!

From a biblical standpoint, we learn that one of the most confusing and backward times in Israel's history was a time when God's people had no respect for His standard of authority. In Judges 21:25, the scriptures say, “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” Incidentally, this is the reason for all the divisions in the religious world today. All the religious groups are simply doing what is right in their own eyes. This is extremely unfortunate because the Bible says that Christians ought to “all speak the same thing” (I Corinthians 1:10), and that we should all walk by the same rule (Philippians 3:16). In Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus says that many would be rejected at the judgment because of iniquity or lawlessness. In 2 John 9-11, the apostle says: “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.” In other words, walking outside the rules that the Lord has set up for us will send us to hell!

This brings us to our main point: There are two, and only two, sources of authority in religion. This is illustrated by Matthew 21:23-27, which says: “And when He was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto Him as He was teaching, and said, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority? And Jesus answered and said unto them, I also will ask you one thing, which if ye tell Me, I in like wise will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men? And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; He will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him? But if we shall say, Of men; we fear the people; for all hold John as a prophet. And they answered Jesus, and said, We cannot tell. And He said unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things.” In this passage the Lord makes it very clear there are only two sources of authority in religion—heaven or men.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where many people, like the ancient Jews, are content to establish their own man-made righteousness. Listen to the apostle Paul in Romans 10:1-3: “Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.” This, of course, is the sad state of affairs in the denominational world even today.

All Authority Belongs To The Father

Those of us who are members of the church of Christ are trying, to the best of our abilities, to follow the authority from heaven. We are trying to speak as the “oracles of God” (I Peter 4:11). We are trying to “speak the same thing” (I Corinthians 1:10). We are all trying to “walk by the same rule” (Philippians 3:16). As such, we recognize God the Father as the one ultimately with all authority. Although the Bible says He gave “all authority” to His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18,19; Philippians 2:9-11), nevertheless, He (the Father) is the only one exempted from the rule or authority of His Son (I Corinthians 15:27).

All Authority Has Been Given To The Son

In Hebrews 1:1, 2, the Bible says: “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom He hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also He made the worlds.” Furthermore, when Jesus was transfigured, the Father spoke from heaven saying: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him” (Matthew 17:5). Finally, in John 12:48, Jesus says, “He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.” The words of the Lord Jesus Christ are going to judge us all on the last day. No one is going to be exempted from His authority.

Jesus Has Given His Apostles Delegated Authority

In John 17:18, the Lord said, “As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.” This means that the apostles had delegated authority on earth to “bind” and “loose” what had been bound in heaven (Matthew 16:19; 18:18). To aid them in this work, Jesus said the Father would send the Holy Spirit to the apostles in His name, which means by His authority (John 14:26). The Lord went on to say, “He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” This was for the express purpose of guiding the apostles into all truth (cf. John 16:13,14). In Matthew 10:40, Jesus said, “He that receiveth you receiveth Me, and he that receiveth Me receiveth Him that sent Me.” This clearly shows that the apostles were the official representatives (ambassadors) of Christ on earth (cf. II Corinthians 5:20; Ephesians 6:20).

In connection with the “binding” and “loosing” work of Matthew 16:19 and 18:18, Peter, an apostle, was promised “the keys of the kingdom.” The term “key” is frequently used in the Bible to represent authority. For example, in Isaiah 22:22, God had this to say about the authority He would give to Eliakim, the son of Hilkiah: “And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.” As one can see, the term is used in this passage to mean power and authority. This same expression and idea is conveyed in Revelation 3:7, which says, “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith He that is holy, He that is true, He that hath the key of David, He that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth.” In this passage, the “key of David” represents the authority of Christ. As apostles, the twelve plus Paul had the authority to bind and loose. This means they had the right to command those who heard them (II Peter 3:1,2; I John 1:3,4; I Corinthians 2:10-13; 14:37). None of this meant that they could make up the rules themselves! What it meant was that they were the ones authorized by the Lord to inform the world what had been bound and loosed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Speaking As The Oracles Of God

The Holy Spirit guided the apostles into all truth (John 16:13) so that they could ultimately guide us into all truth. The apostle Paul put it this way: “For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: How that by revelation He made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel: Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of His power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; And to make all [men] see what [is] the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, According to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ephesians 3:1-11).

The word of God teaches us that the Holy Spirit would continue to directly inspire men until the Bible was completed (cf. I Corinthians 13: 8-13). But in Jude 3-5, we learn that we are to contend for the faith which was “once for all delivered to the saints.” Again, in James 1:25, we learn that the gospel of Jesus Christ is referred to as the “perfect [the word means complete] law of liberty.” And, in II Timothy 3:16, 17, we find out: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect [the word means complete or mature], throughly furnished unto all good works.” Finally, in II Peter 1:3, the Bible clearly says that God has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness. In light of these passages, it is safe to say that all the scriptures have been completed. This is why the apostle Peter admonished: “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God.” Contrary to what some think, there will be no latter day revelation!

Doctrine does not come from direct inspiration today; it comes, instead, from the word of God—the Bible. If we allow ourselves to be reproved, corrected, and instructed by the completed word of God, it will, in turn, make us perfect or complete, and will completely furnish us for every good work (II Timothy 3:16,17). In other words, if the religion we practice is going to be from heaven and not men, then it is going to have to come from the Bible. Consequently, what the Bible says, and does not say, is very important!

Determining What The Bible Says

There are three ways in which we determine what the Bible says: (1) direct statements, (2) approved examples, and (3) necessary conclusions. Direct statements, approved examples, and necessary conclusions are all equally binding. When God employs any of these methods, He is instructing us in what we should know about His will for us. Let us spend some time with each one of these methods.

(1) The Direct Statement

The Bible instructs us by direct statements. For instance, in Acts 17:30, there is a direct statement or command to repent: “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent.” In Acts 2:38, the Bible teaches by means of a direct statement that repentance and baptism are both necessary in order for one to obtain the remission of sins. In Hebrews 10:25, we are taught by a direct statement that we ought not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. And, in Colossians 3:9, we are taught (again, by a direct statement) that it is wrong to lie. This is what is meant when we say that one of the ways the Bible teaches us is by direct statements.

(2) An Approved Example

In addition to teaching by direct statements, the Bible also teaches us through approved examples. For instance, in instructing His disciples about partaking of the Lord's supper, the Lord said about the bread, “And when He had given thanks, He brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is My body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of Me” (I Corinthians 11:24). And about the fruit of the vine, He said, “After the same manner also He took the cup, when He had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in My blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of Me” (I Corinthians 11:25). Now, using direct statements, the Lord instructed His disciples that they should partake of the Lord's supper in remembrance of Him; but, He did not tell them when they should do so. Even so, when is determined by an approved example found in Acts 20:7. In this passage, we learn that the early church partook of the Lord's supper on the first day of the week, which is Sunday or the Lord's day (cf. Revelation 1:10). We call it approved in that an apostle was there when it was done and did not speak against it being done on the first day of the week. In other words, he approved it. In fact, Acts 20:6 tells us that Paul stayed in Troas for seven days. This seems to indicate that he waited in Troas so he could partake of the Lord's supper with the Troas church. So, here we have an approved example of when the early church did what the Lord told it to do.

Another example of an approved example is churches relieving other churches in the case of benevolence (Acts 11:29,30). The context tells us that there was a famine throughout the whole world and that Judea was especially effected. Then, the Bible says: “Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea: Which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.” Here, then, is something the early church participated in that was approved by the apostle Paul. Therefore, by this approved example we know that churches of Christ can send relief to other churches of Christ when those churches are in need.

These examples serve to teach us that God's word instructs us as to what is acceptable by means of approved examples. But, in addition to teaching by direct statements and approved examples, the Bible instructs us by a third method. It is to this third method that we now turn our attention.

(3) A Necessary Conclusion

That Christians are to partake of the Lord's supper is taught by direct statement (I Corinthians 11:24,25; Matthew 26:26-27). That we are to do so on the first day of the week is taught by an approved example (Acts 20:7). That it is to be taken every first day of the week is taught by a necessary conclusion (Acts 20:7). We will have more to say about every first day of the week, but before we do so, we must be sure that we understand what is meant by a necessary conclusion.

A conclusion is a conclusion reached by inference. For example, a teacher, upon being told that many of his students are sick, might conclude that one particular student who is absent is absent because he is sick. This, of course, may or may not be true. In other words, the teacher has come to a conclusion, but the conclusion is not a necessary one. In fact, the particular student who is absent might be absent for any number of reasons. In our daily lives, we make conclusions practically every day. Some are correct and some are not! The difference between a conclusion and a necessary conclusion is that a necessary conclusion is the only conclusion one can come to based on the information provided. For example, the same teacher as mentioned above is informed that all his students are sick. He knows that a particular individual is his student; therefore, he necessarily concludes, based upon what he has been told, that this particular individual is sick.

As people generally seem to have a problem with this concept, let us look at another example. Suppose you are told that all cats are white in color. You are then told that Tom is a cat. If I were to then ask you what color Tom is, what would you say? The only conclusion you could make is that Tom is white in color. In other words, based upon the information you have been given, the only conclusion you can come to on the color of Tom is that he is white.

Let me give you a Bible example. In Matthew 3:16, the Bible says, “And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him.” Now, consider the italicized text out of the water. If words mean anything, then the only conclusion one can come to—thus, a necessary conclusion—is this: If Jesus came up out of the water, then He must have been in the water! One simply cannot come up out of something he was never in. Consequently, although the Bible does not say by direct statement that Jesus was in the water, it does teach by means of a necessary conclusion that Jesus was in the water.

Let us consider yet another example of a necessary conclusion. In Genesis 12:5, the Bible says: “And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came.” Then, in verse 10, the Scriptures say: “And there was a famine in the land: and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there; for the famine was grievous in the land.” When this information is combined with Genesis 13:1, then one is forced to make the necessary conclusion that Lot went down to Egypt also. In Genesis 13:1, the word of God says: “And Abram went up out of Egypt, he, and his wife, and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the south.” In other words, Lot went up out of Egypt with Abram, and although the Bible nowhere by direct statement says that Lot went down into Egypt, nevertheless, we know that he could not have come up out of Egypt unless he had first been in Egypt.

Many seem to disregard the importance of necessary conclusions. This is a serious mistake and is, in fact, the exact same mistake that some made in Jesus' day. In Matthew 22:23-33, the Bible says: “The same day came to Him the Sadducees, which say that there is no resurrection, and asked Him, Saying, Master, Moses said, If a man die, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother. Now there were with us seven brethren: and the first, when he had married a wife, deceased, and, having no issue, left his wife unto his brother: Likewise the second also, and the third, unto the seventh. And last of all the woman died also. Therefore in the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven? for they all had her. Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven. But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. And when the multitude heard this, they were astonished at His doctrine.” When we combine this information with Acts 23:8, which says that the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection, angels, or spirits, we realize that these Sadducees were not really honest in their question. Nevertheless, Jesus informs these Sadducees that they made an error in not knowing the scriptures (verse 29). What had they missed? They had failed to understand a necessary conclusion. What was the necessary conclusion? Simply this: When speaking to Moses, God had said: “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” If God would have said “I was” (past tense) then the necessary conclusion would have been that there was no life after death. But, by saying “I am” (present tense) the only conclusion one could make was that there was life after death—that is, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were still alive in the spirit. What does all this mean? Simply this: The Bible does not just teach us truth by direct statements and approved examples, but it also teaches us through necessary conclusions. When we study God's word, we had better be serious. In other words, we had better be willing to “pull up our socks!”

All this has been said so we can now consider what the Bible teaches about the frequency of partaking of the Lord's supper. Our text says, “And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.” As we have already learned, this is an approved example of what day the early church partook of the Lord's supper. Nevertheless, the question remains as to how often they partook of it. In other words, did they only partake of it on the first day of the week every month? Did they only partake of it on the first day of the week every year? Well, based upon the information that is provided in the text, we can necessarily infer that the early church partook of the Lord's supper every first day of every week. Faith, you recall, comes from hearing the word of God (Romans 10:17). Furthermore, the word of God says that everything that is not of faith is sin (Romans 14:23). Consequently, if we are going to know what to do, then it is going to have to come from God's word. The frequency of the Lord's supper is understood by necessary conclusion. If God wanted us to partake of it once a year, He would have provide us with the month and day. If He wanted us to partake of it once a month, He would have provided us with the day of the month. If He wanted us to partake of it once a week, He would have told us the day of the week. This is exactly what He did! Therefore, by faith, we partake of the Lord's supper the first day of every week. When God said, “Remember the Sabbath, and keep it holy” (Exodus 20:10), He did not have to say every week. Why? Because every week had a Sabbath. The Jews, then, understood that they were to keep every Sabbath of every week holy.

Let's summarize what we have learned so far. The Bible teaches us by direct statement that we are to partake of the Lord's supper in remembrance of Jesus Christ. Then, the Bible teaches us by an approved example that the Lord's supper is to be eaten on the first day of the week. Finally, the Bible teaches us by a necessary conclusion that the Lord's supper is to be partaken of on the first day of every week.

What The Bible Does Not Say Is Also Very Important

Even after we get people to understand how the Bible teaches us, there are still two attitudes about the silence of the Scriptures. The first of these attitudes says that when the Bible is silent, then the reader is at liberty to act as he thinks best. If the Bible does not expressly prohibit something, then it is permissible. This attitude is reflected in the actions of many religious people. The second attitude says that when the Bible is silent, then the reader is not at liberty to act, but must be silent also. This, of course, is exactly the attitude taught in the Bible. In I Peter 4:11, the Scriptures say, “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God.” In Romans 10:17, the Scriptures say that faith comes by hearing God's word. And, again, in Romans 14:23, the Bible says that whatever is not of faith is sin. Therefore, the silence of the Scriptures does not give consent, as too many people think, it prohibits! In I Corinthians 4:6, the apostle Paul teaches that one is not to think of men “above that which is written.” This means that the word of God—the Scriptures—is the absolute standard of authority in all things religious. Ultimately, what men say or do not say is not important. What is important is what God says or does not say!

Noah As A Positive Example

In Genesis 6:14, God told Noah to construct an ark out of “gopher wood.” In doing so, God did not have to say, “And thou shall not construct it from cypress, ebony, or any other kind of wood.” All He had to do was tell Noah what kind of wood to use. The fact that He specified the type of wood eliminated every other type of wood. In Hebrews 11:7, the Scriptures say: “By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.” Here the Bible clearly tells us that Noah was saved by faith. Of course, Romans 10:17 tells us that faith comes by hearing God's word. Noah, upon hearing God's word, moved by faith to prepare the ark as God had instructed him. In doing so, he saved himself and his family. Even though God did not specifically say not to, we are convinced that if Noah would have built the ark out of any other kind of wood than gopher, he would not have been saved. What is the point? Simply this: What God does not say is just as important as what He says!

Nadab And Abihu As Negative Examples

In Leviticus 10:1, 2, the Bible says: “And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which He commanded them not. And there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD.” These men were priests of God and were involved in religious activity, but God was very displeased with their actions. They were clearly involved in unrighteousness in that the “strange fire” they offered had not been commanded by the Lord. In other words, what God has not commanded is just as important as what He has commanded. These two men were destroyed because they thought it was okay for them to go beyond what is written in God's word. They were dead wrong!

The Priesthood Of Christ As An Example

In Hebrews 7:14, speaking of the priesthood of Jesus Christ, the Bible says: “For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Judah; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood.” Under the Old Covenant, Jesus could not be a priest because He did not come from the order of Aaron in the tribe of Levi. In regard to the Levitical priesthood, Moses said nothing about Judah. Consequently, in order for Jesus to be a priest, there would have to be a change of the law. Jesus, then, our current high priest, is the mediator of a “better covenant” (Hebrews 7:22). Again, the word of God impresses us with the fact that what God does not say is just as important as what He does say! With this in mind, where does the New Testament say anything about...

Sprinkling for baptism?
Burning of incense in New Testament worship?
Holy water?
Baptizing infants?
Elders over two or more churches?
Instrumental music being authorized in N.T. worship?
Women preachers?
The use of the title “Reverend” by men?
Consequently, these things are not from heaven but from men!

The God-Breathed Word Is Able To Make Us Complete

In II Timothy 3:16, 17, the Bible says: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” The words “given by the inspiration of God” is a translation of the Greek word theopneustos, which literally means “God-breathed.” Therefore, Scripture, in order to be Scripture, must be God-breathed, that is, it must come from the very mouth of God. Scripture is authoritative because it comes directly from God. This is borne out by II Peter 1:20, 21, which says: “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” It is further illustrated by I Corinthians 2:10-13, which says: “But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” In II Peter 1:3, the apostle Peter writes: “According as His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him that hath called us to glory and virtue.” The knowledge we have of Jesus Christ through the God-breathed word of God provides us with “all things that pertain unto life and godliness.” What more do we need?

This material was presented in a Bible seminarin Nyeri, Kenya, East Africa on April 19-22, 1994.

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