The Authority of Scripture
“You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:14-17)
Paul's concern for Timothy was that he stay rooted in the Scriptures. In this context, the sacred writings that we now call the Old Testament provided wisdom that led to salvation through faith in Christ. Paul then states that the Scriptures are inspired, or breathed out by God, and because of that they are profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training and righteousness. The Scriptures are what equip God's people for every good work because they bear the imprint of God. This has not changed.
Paul was consistent in his concern that Christians not stray from the teachings of the gospel. We see this in passages like Galatians 1:8: “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!” The Scriptures provide a fixed point of reference to which we can appeal. Because we have the standard, we can pay attention to what people are teaching and see if they are staying true to the gospel message. John wrote, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). This tells us at least two things: 1) there is an expected standard to which we should stay true, and 2) there are those who stray from truth. We cannot test teachers if we do not have a fixed reference by which to measure their teaching.
Paul got this concern to stay true to the written standard from Jesus. Human tradition is often at odds with what God has revealed in Scripture, and we need to be careful not to think that our traditions are equal with Scripture. Jesus warned about the problem of placing human tradition at the level of divine inspiration. Mark 7 records the Pharisees complaining about Jesus’ disciples because they were not following the tradition of the elders. Jesus pointed out that they were the real hypocrites for giving lip service to God while paying more attention to their own traditions. His rebuke is strong: “‘Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.’ He was also saying to them, ‘You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition’” (vv. 8-9). While tradition is not inherently wrong, it becomes wrong when it takes precedence over Scripture. And make no mistake: when tradition is placed on par with Scripture it will soon overtake Scripture.
Tradition is that which is handed down through time, and there are traditions that come directly from the apostles and for which we are accountable. Paul told the Thessalonians, “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us” (2 Thess 2:15). This is different from developing human traditions and then expecting people to submit to them.
There are traditions that do not violate the word of God, and we can participate in these by choice if we do not appropriate to them the same status as Scripture. If we find that our traditions do violate what Scripture teaches, then we must abandon them. This is the force of what Jesus taught. Setting aside the commandment of God to keep our tradition puts us in the same hypocritical place as the Pharisees. This is why we must continually go back to the Bible to test our faith and practices, making sure that we are committed to God’s truth and not simply what we want.
In recognizing this kind of authority in Scripture, we are not worshipping the Bible, as some charge. The reason Scripture is authoritative is because of the God from which it originates. The word of God has always been powerful and authoritative. Recall that in Genesis 1, “Then God said” is followed by the power of His creation. Hebrews 4:12-13 ties the word of God directly to God: “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” Do not forget that Jesus is called the Word (John 1:1-5).
Let us then continually commit ourselves to the teachings of the word of God. They will equip us for every good work according to God’s purposes.