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Part 1: The source of biblical authority

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of five articles by David S. Dockery, president of Union University in Jackson, Tenn., on the authority of the Bible. The five articles were published as one article in the February 2008 issue of SBC Life, journal of the Southern Baptist Convention (www.sbclife.org).

JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)–The ultimate concern in a discussion of the Bible is its authority. This series of four articles will treat the authority of the Bible and its rightful role to command obedience. The Bible’s authority in contemporary challenges, as well as in ethics and decision making, will be noted. The importance of personal and corporate application will conclude the discussion.


A view of the Bible that affirms its divine inspiration and total truthfulness is of little value if it is not accompanied by an enthusiastic commitment to the Bible’s complete and absolute authority. An approach to the subject of biblical authority must begin with God Himself, for in God all authority is finally located. God is His own authority. There is nothing outside Him on which His authority is established. When God made His promise to Abraham, He pledged His own name because nothing or no one was greater by whom He could swear (Hebrews 6:13). God’s authority is the authority of who and what God is. Who God is has been made known in His self-manifestation, since God can be known only in His self-revelation. The key to God’s authority is His revelation. In this manner, revelation and authority are seen as two sides of the same reality. God thus declares His authority in His revelation and He alone is the ultimate source of authority for all other lesser authorities.

Authority is the right or power to command obedience or belief. God’s sovereign, universal and eternal reign over the entire universe evidences His authority (Exodus 15:18; Job 26:12; Isaiah 50:2). He establishes His purposes in time and does all things according to His will (Daniel 4:34-35; Ephesians 1:11). All authority on earth and in heaven comes from God alone. His providential direction over the events of history demonstrates His authority.

Men and women are creatures of the self-revealing, eternal God. Since He has created humankind, life’s meaning is found in dependence on and relationship with Him. God exercises authority over His creation; and God’s people respond to His authority in obedience and worship, as well as in confession and repentance. God’s authority is communicated in the church and its tradition, in human reason, in conscience and experience, in nature and history, in Christ and the Bible. Of course, God has ultimately revealed Himself in the person of Jesus Christ (John 1:1-18; Hebrews 1:1-3). God reveals Himself in all of the ways mentioned above, yet the Bible is the primary means of God’s authoritative self-disclosure for people today.

The Bible pictures Jesus’ authority in terms of acting for God the Father. Jesus exercises all the rightful authority of God. He forgives sin (Mark 2:5-8), casts out demons (Mark 1:27), teaches with authority (Matthew 5:21-48; 7:28-29) and raises the dead (Luke 7:11-17; John 11:38-44). As the obedient Son of God, He follows the Word of God revealed in the Scripture and acknowledges and appeals to the Scripture’ authority (Matthew 4:1-11; John 10:33-36). Jesus’ death and resurrection provided victory over sin, evil and death (Colossians 2:15; 1 John 3:8). Thus, all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him (Matthew 28:18-20).

Jesus’ authority is exercised over the church (Ephesians 1:20-23) and is uniquely expressed through His personal ambassadors, the apostles (Mark 3:14; John 17:18; Acts 1:1-8; 2 Corinthians 5:20; Galatians 1:1-2:9). In this way the apostles serve as the foundation of the church (Ephesians 2:20-3:5). In fulfillment of Christ’s promises (John 14:26; 16:13), the apostles’ authority has been placed permanently in their writings.

Thus, the Spirit of God has inspired the prophetic-apostolic writings and the Scripture become the recognized authority to communicate God’s truth, which is to be taught, believed and obeyed. The Bible, then, is the Book of God’s truth. Because the Bible is completely truthful, it must be wholly trustworthy in its affirmations. Because it is truthful and trustworthy, it is our final authority in all things that pertain to life and godliness. (footnote [1])
David S. Dockery is president of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee.


[1] Bernard Ramm, The Pattern of Authority (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. 1957).

    About the Author

  • David S. Dockery