The Theology of the Text: Who Gives Authority to Scripture?

This article is the third in the series called “The Theology of the Text,” designed to cover the topic of the text in short, accessible articles. 

The Theology of the Text Part III: Scripture as Self-Authenticating

The doctrine of the self-authenticating (αυτοπιστος) Scriptures has been largely neglected in the modern Reformed-ish church. This is the principle that the Reformers stood upon against Rome, and the foundation for Sola Scriptura. More importantly, it is the only meaningful, orthodox  understanding of Scripture which affirms God as the authority of the Scriptures. It is necessary for the first principle of any final authority to be self-authoritative, or it is not a final authority. 

The Scriptures are from God, and therefore are divine and authoritative by their origin, which is said in Scripture to be θεοπνευστος (2 Tim. 3:16), God inspired or God breathed. Though men claim otherwise, the false claims of men regarding the Scriptures do not weaken or detract from any truth set forth by the Scriptures. The truth of Scripture is not contingent upon worldly opinions. This truth is confirmed in the believer when the Holy Spirit works by the Word in the mind and heart of the believer. Those that reject the truths of Scripture do so by their carnal mind and heart. 

“And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape. And ye have not his word abiding in you: for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not. Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.”

John 5:37-39

“Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you. All things that the father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you”

John 16:13-16

“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 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” 

1 Corinthians 2:10-13

Conclusion

The doctrine of the Scriptures being self-authenticating affirms that the inspiration, preservation, and power of the Scriptures is all of God. Even the affirmation of this doctrine is all of God, as it cannot be affirmed in any other way than the Holy Spirit working by the Word in the heart and mind of a believer. No man can usurp the authority of the Scriptures because it is God Himself who gives the Scriptures authority. Even when man attempts to act as judge over the Sacred Writ, the people of God will not be deceived because of the work of the Holy Spirit working in them. “Sanctify them through they truth: thy word is truth” (John 17:17). The Scriptures do not give any license or warrant for external authentication, because the authority of the Scriptures is all of God. 

In today’s context of false-intellectualism and self-imposed authority over the text, this doctrine stands as strong as it did in the time of the apostolic fathers. This doctrine is most practically applied when considering the various approaches that men take towards the Scriptures. Any doctrinal, hermeneutical, or text-critical method which denies the self-authenticating nature of the Scriptures should be discarded as unfaithful and antithetical to what the Scriptures say about themselves. It is by this doctrinal truth that Christians can firmly and lovingly call those who reject it to repentance, that they may be blessed by the power of God in the Scriptures.

“Though the above or like arguments be sufficient to silence gainsayers, and produce a rational conviction, that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are indeed the word of God, – yet it is only the Holy Ghost’s effectual application of them to our mind, conscience, and heart, in their self-evidencing life, light, and power, which can produce a cordial and saving persuasion of it. – The word of God thus applied, brings along with, and in itself, such light, such authority, and such convincing, quickening, sanctifying, and comforting power, that there is no possibility of shutting our eyes or hardening our heart against it, of continuing blind or unconcerned about it; but all the faculties of our soul are necessarily affected with it; as impressed with evidences of its divinity, attended by almighty influence.”

John Brown of Haddington. Systematic Theology. 81. cf. 1 Thess. 1:5, 2:13; John 6:63; Jer. 23:29

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