THE DIVINE AUTHORITY OF HOLY SCRIPTURE
by John Theodore Mueller TH. D
By the divine authority of Holy Scripture we mean the peculiar quality of the whole Bible according to which as the true Word of God it demands faith and obedience of all men and is and remains the only source and norm of faith and life. Our Savior Himself acknowledged and asserted the divine authority of the Bible by quoting it in all cases of controversy as the only standard of truth, <page 121> John 10:35; Matt. 4:4-10; 26:54; Luke 24:25-27 ; etc. And the holy apostles claimed divine authority not only for the Scriptures of the Old Testament, but also for their own inspired writings, 1Cor. 14:37, 38; 2Cor. 13:3; Gal. 1:8; 2Thess. 3:6, 14; 2:15. Whoever therefore rejects Scripture or subjects it to human censorship and criticism becomes guilty of high treason against God; for Scripture possesses its divine authority not because of the holy men who wrote it nor because of the Christian Church, which reveres and teaches it, but from the living God, who has inspired holy men to write it. In other words, the Bible has divine authority because it is in every part the inerrant Word of the living God. Just because it is a God-breathed Scripture, it is authoritative and must therefore be both believed and obeyed. Because of its authority we believe the Bible on its own account, since it is the unique Book of God in which the sovereign Lord speaks to us. This fact we express dogmatically by saying that the divine authority of Holy Scripture is absolute, or free from dependence upon anything else for its existence and its certainty (auctoritas absoluta).
The divine authority of Holy Scripture is divided into causative authority (auctoritas causativa) and normative authority (auctoritas normativa). The causative authority of Holy Scripture is that by which it engenders and preserves faith in its own teachings through its very word, Rom. . The normative, or canonical, authority of Holy Scripture is that by which it is the only norm and rule of faith, or the divinely instituted arbiter between truth and falsehood, John 5:39; Luke 16:29; Gal. 1:8.
If the question is asked how Scripture exercises its causative authority, or how we may become sure of its divine truth, we must distinguish between divine assurance (fides divina) and human assurance (fides humana). The fides divina (faith assurance, spiritual assurance, Christian assurance) is wrought directly by the Holy Ghost through the Word (testimonium Spiritus Sancti). In other words, Scripture attests itself as the divine truth, John 8:31-32. Of this Quenstedt (I, 97) writes: "The ultimate reason by and through which we are led to believe with a divine and unshaken faith that God's Word is God's Word is the intrinsic power and efficacy of that Word itself, or the testimony and seal of the Holy Spirit, who speaks in and through Scripture, because the bestowment of faith… is a work that emanates from the Holy Spirit.” (Doctr. Theol., p. 55.) Of the internal witness of the Holy Ghost, <page 122> by which divine faith in Scripture is engendered, Hollaz writes thus: "By the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit is here understood the supernatural act of the Holy Spirit, through the Word of God, attentively read or heard,… by which He moves, opens, and illuminates the heart of man and incites it to faithful obedience." ( Ibid.)
That the Word of God, which
the Holy Spirit has given to us through the prophets and apostles,
possesses causative authority, or the power of attesting itself as the
truth, independently of any external proof (fides
humane), is clearly taught in Holy Scripture. To the
Against the charge of Roman Catholic theologians that Lutheran theology here argues in a circle (argumentum in circulo, idem per idem) we reply that, if Scripture cannot be relied upon in its testimony concerning itself, it cannot be relied upon in any <page 123> other of its teachings. Moreover, the Lutheran argument regarding the causative authority of Scripture is not an argumentum in circulo, but rather one from effect to cause (ab effectu ad causam), and whoever denies the validity of this reasoning has no other choice than agnosticism and atheism. Quenstedt says very rightly (I, 101): "The papists therefore wrongly accuse us of reasoning in a circle when we prove the Holy Scriptures from the testimony of the Holy Spirit and the testimony of the Holy Spirit from the Holy Scriptures. Else it would also be reasoning in a circle when Moses and the prophets testify concerning Christ and Christ concerning Moses and the prophets." (Doctr. Theol., p. 56.)
While the fides divina, or spiritual assurance, is the gift of the Holy Spirit through the Word (faith engendered through the Word by the Holy Ghost), the fides humana, or human assurance, is based upon arguments or processes of reason. These arguments are either internal or external. The internal proofs for the divine authority of Holy Scripture relate to its marvelous style, the unique harmony of its parts, the sublime majesty of its subjects, its amazing predictions of future events and their remarkable fulfillment, the sublimity of its miracles, and the like. The external proofs relate to the astounding effects which the Bible has wrought wherever it was spread, such as the conversion of men steeped in spiritual ignorance and vice, the heroic faith of the martyrs, the moral and social improvements which the Gospel has effected, etc. As the rational study of the book of nature points to its divine Creator, so the rational study of the book of revelation suggests that it is the work of a divine Author and that therefore it is more reasonable to believe than to disbelieve its claims (the scientific proof for the divine authority of Scripture).
All these arguments are
utilized in Christian apologetics to demonstrate the futility of
its atheistic claims. But all arguments of reason do not beget "a
but merely a human faith; not an unshaken certainty, but merely a
or a very probable opinion" (Quenstedt).
the value of these arguments must not be overestimated, for they can
any person a believing child of God. But neither must they be
since they are of great value in refuting the flippant charges of
in strengthening Christians against the very doubts which from time to
arise in their own hearts. Cf. 1Cor. -19; Acts . Nevertheless, no matter how
reasonable these arguments may be, they never produce repentance
124> and faith, since the conversion of a sinner is effected alone
the preaching of the Word of God, the Law bringing about contrition (terrores conscientiae,
In his ministry the Christian theologian employs arguments of reason chiefly to induce unconverted persons to read or hear God's Word, or we may say he uses them just as church-bells, which invite men to listen to the proclamation of the divine truth. In no case, however, may he employ them as substitutes for the Law and the Gospel, or the Word of God, Luke -31; 24:47-48.
If the question is asked how a person may be sure whether his assurance is fides divina or fides humana, the following points must be considered. The testimony of the Holy Spirit never occurs: a. outside, or in opposition to, Holy Scripture (enthusiasm), so that the "Christian assurance" or the "Christian experience" of all who reject the Bible as the Word of God is mere self-deception; b. by means of mere arguments of reason or on the ground of human authority ("I believe the Bible because the Church teaches it"); c. together with the repudiation of Christ’s vicarious satisfaction, so that the assurance of divine grace which Modernists claim (Ritschl, Harnack) is pure fiction. On the other hand, the testimony of the Holy Spirit occurs in all true believers who accept Holy Scripture as the Word of God, and that upon its own witness, for this very faith in Scripture is the testimonium Spiritus Sancti. To this truth all true believers must hold, especially in hours of trial, when they do not feel the gladdening effects of the Spirit's witness in them, 1John 5:9, 10. The very fact that they are believers proves the effective presence of the Holy Ghost in their hearts, for without the Holy Spirit it is impossible to have saving faith, 1Cor. 12:3; Acts 16:14.
With regard to the effects of the testimony of the Holy Spirit in the believer the Formula of Concord rightly argues that these must not be judged ex sensu, or by feeling, since the Holy Ghost is always operative in his heart as long as he adheres to God's Word, no matter whether he feels His operation or not. The feeling of the Spirit's operating grace belongs to the fruits of faith in the truth of the Gospel and thus to the external witness of the Holy Ghost (testimonium Spiritus Sancti externum), while His internal witness (testimonium Spiritus Sancti internum) is identical with saving faith, or true confidence in the divine promises of the Word. In the same vein Luther writes: "We do not distinguish the Holy <page 125> Spirit from faith, nor is He contrary to faith; for He is Himself the assurance in the Word, who makes us certain of the Word, so that we do not doubt, but believe most certainly and beyond all doubt that it is just so and in no respect whatever different from that which God in His Word declares and tells us." (Erl. Ed., 58, 153 f.)
By virtue of its normative or canonical authority, Holy Scripture is the only norm of faith and life and therefore also the only judge in all theological controversies. As the only rule of faith, Scripture performs both a directive and a corrective function; for, on the one hand, it directs the thoughts of the human mind in such a way that they abide within the bounds of truth; and, on the other, it corrects errors, inasmuch as it is the only standard of right and wrong (Hollaz). Calov says very correctly (I,474): "The Holy Scriptures are a rule according to which all controversies in regard to faith or life in the Church should, and can be, decided, Ps. 19:7; Gal. 6:16; Phil. 3:16; and as a norm they are not partial, but complete and adequate, because besides the Scriptures no other infallible rule in matters of faith and life can be given. All other rules besides the Word of God are fallible; and on this account we are referred to the Holy Scriptures as the only rule, Deut. 4: 2; 12:28; Josh. 23:6; Is. 8:20; Luke 16:29; 2Pet. 1:19, to which alone Christ and the apostles referred as a rule, Matt. 4:4ff.; 22:29, 31; Mark 9:12; John 5:45; Acts 3:20; 18:28; 26:22." (Doctr. TheoL, p. 61.)
With regard to the use of Scripture as the norm of faith (norma doctrinae, index controversiarum), it must be held that not only theologians (2Tim. 2:2), but also all Christians in general should so employ the Word of God (Acts 17:11), since it is their duty to supervise the ministry of their teachers (Col. 4:17), to avoid all false prophets (Rom. 16:17; Matt. 7:15), and to spread the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ by personal evangelism (Col. 3:16 ; 1Pet. 2:9). The spiritual ability to judge all matters of faith and doctrine Holy Scripture ascribes to all believers in express words, John 6:45; 10:4. . Hence whoever denies the ability and authority of all Christians to judge questions of Christian doctrine or life opposes Christ and reveals himself as an antichrist. Luther writes very earnestly on this point: "To know and to judge matters of doctrine is a privilege which belongs to every believer, and every one is anathema who infringes upon this right even but a little. For in many incontestable passages of Scripture, <page 126> Christ has granted this privilege to His Christians, for instance, in Matt. 7:15: “Beware of false prophets,” etc. This warning He addressed to the people in contrast to their teachers, commanding them to avoid all false prophets. But how can they avoid them if they do not know them? And how can they know them if they have no right to judge [their doctrine]? Yet Christ gave to the people not only the right, but also the command to judge, so that this one passage suffices against the verdicts of all Popes, fathers, church councils, and schools that ascribed the authority to judge and pass sentence [upon the teachers of the Church] only to bishops and priests, and robbed the people, or the Church, the queen, in a most ungodly and sacrilegious manner.” (St. L., XIX, 341.)
On the other hand, however, it must be affirmed that Christians must judge doctrinal matters not according to their own thoughts, but solely according to Scripture, 1Pet. 4:11, since in all matters of doctrine it alone is the index controversiarum. The objection of the papists that Scripture as a "dumb book" is unable to decide any matter is in opposition not only to Holy Scripture itself, which claims for itself this very authority, Matt. 4:4ff.; Rom. 3:19; John 7:51, but also to reason, by which men are prompted to use authoritative records to decide issues in controversy (cf. the decisions of the Supreme Court). Every sensible person clearly understands what is meant by such phrases as "The Law decides," or "The Bible decides." Holy Scripture certainly is more capable of deciding questions of controversy than are the papal decretals, to which the papists have recourse in determining what to teach. Our Lutheran dogmaticians were quite right when they declared: "Scripture is never mute except where under the Papacy it is prevented from speaking. (Scriptura Sacra non est muta nisi in papain, ubi prohibetur loqui.)
In what manner controversial questions should be decided by the use of Holy Scripture may be stated briefly thus: First determine the controversial point (status controversiae) and then place it in the light of all clear Scripture-passages that treat of the particular point in question (sedes doctrinae; dicta probantia). In this manner Holy Scripture is given an opportunity to exercise its judicial function, not indeed by external compulsion (vi externa), but by internal persuasion (vi interna). Just so Christ employed the Scriptures as a judge in controversy when He said to the Pharisees: "There is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom <page 127> ye trust," John ; for here He referred to Moses inasmuch as he is speaking in Holy Scripture.
By adhering to Holy Scripture
as the sole source and norm of faith, the true visible Church of Christ
earth proves its orthodox character ; in other words, the orthodox
Christ on earth is found only where Holy Scripture is obeyed and
all questions of faith and life. It was for this reason that Luther so
earnestly emphasized the doctrine of sola Scriptura as the formal
principle of the Reformation
and that today the confessional
In connection with the normative authority of Holy Scripture it must be emphasized that human reason in its magisterial use (usus magisterialis) must never be allowed a place beside the Bible. In other words, man's natural knowledge of God, even so far as it is correctly retained in his perverted intellect, must never be coordinated with, but always be subordinated to, God's Word. Unless this is done, Scripture is not allowed to stand as the only judge of faith. But human reason in its ministerial, or instrumental, sense or reason as "the receiving subject or apprehending instrument" (Hollaz) must certainly be employed whenever Scripture is used as the norm of faith; for "as we see nothing without eyes and hear nothing without ears, so we understand nothing without reason" (Hollaz). This so-called instrumental use of reason (usus organicus; usus instrumentalis) implies both the correct use of the laws of human speech (grammar) and of the laws of human reasoning (logic), because God, in giving His Word to men, accommodated Himself both to the canons of human speech and thought. This truth we considered already when we referred to Melanchthon's dictum: Theologia debet esse grammatica, and to Luther's statement that whoever errs in grammar is bound to err also in doctrine.
However, just as human reason in general, so also human logic in particular serves the theologian only as a formal discipline (the science of correct and accurate thinking) and not as a philosophy or a metaphysical system, in which sense the term is sometimes used. In addition, even when logic is employed as a formal discipline (the science of reasoning), it must always be kept within its legitimate bounds. In other words, the theologian must always <page 128> be on his guard against fallacies, or against untruths derived from the misuse of logic. For example, from the general truth of Scripture "God so loved the world" every person in this world may argue: "God so loved me," since the concept "world" includes every human being. In other words, the conclusion attained must always be a truth already contained in the premises, or in the Scriptural statements, according to the axiom: "Whatever inferences (consequential legitimae) are drawn from the declarations of Scripture must be proved as being directly expressed in the clear words of Scripture. ("Was man aus den Schriftwahrheiten erschliesst, muss als in den Schriftworten ausgedrueckt nachgewiesen werden")
On the other hand, when logic is used to propose new doctrines not set forth in Scripture, the authority of Scripture (Schrift-prinzip) is annulled, and logic is made to serve as a teacher of false doctrine. Examples of misapplied logic are the following: "Since God has not elected all men, He does not desire to save all men." Or: "Since Peter was saved and Judas was lost, there must have been in Peter some cause why he was saved." Or: "Since every body is in space locally, Christ's body cannot be truly present in the Lord's Supper." Or: "Since the finite is incapable of the infinite, there can be no communication of attributes in the person of the God-man." Or: "As many persons there are, so many essences; hence there must be three essences in the God- head." Misdirected logic has proved the source of so many errors in theology that Gerhard's warning is well taken (II, 371): "Not human reason, but divine revelation is the source of faith ; nor are we to judge concerning the articles of faith according to the dictates of reason; otherwise we should have no articles of faith, but only decisions of reason. The cogitations and utterances of reason should be restricted and restrained within the sphere of those things which are subject to the decisions of reason and not be extended to the sphere of such matters as are placed entirely beyond the reach of reason." (Doctr. Theol., p. 32 f.)
With respect to the use of Holy Scripture as the only source and norm of faith our Lutheran dogmaticians rightly said that it is God's Book designed for all men, Luke 16:29-31 ; John 5:39; Acts 17:11; even for children, 2Tim. ; 1John . (Finis cui Scripturae sunt omnes homines.) For this reason the papal injunction against universal Bible-reading is antichristian. However, it is equally true that all men should use Holy Scripture for <page 129> obtaining salvation, 2Tim. , and not merely for the purpose of enriching their knowledge in general or of improving their style. (Finis cuius Scripturae Sacrae fides in Christum et solus aeterna est.) From this it is clear that it is also the will of God that the Bible should be translated into the various languages used in the world. (Versiones Scripturae Sacrae non solum utiles, sed etiam necessarian sunt.) The duty of translating the Bible into foreign languages is included in Christ's command to teach all nations, Matt. 28:20.
While Holy Scripture is the
absolute norm of faith (norma normans, norma
Lutheran Church recognizes its officially received Confessions, or
secondary norms (norma normata, norma
secundum quid, norma
discretionis), or as
true declarations of the doctrines of Holy Scripture, which all
theologians must confess and teach. For this reason the confessional
However, while Holy Scripture as the deciding norm (norma decisionis) is absolutely necessary, the Confessions as the distinguishing norm of the Church (norma discretionis) are only relatively necessary. The former decides which doctrines are true or false; the latter, whether a person has clearly understood the true doctrines of Scripture. (Norma discretionis discernit orthodoxos ah heterodoxis.)
Although Scripture sufficiently attests itself as the divine truth in the believer's heart, God in His infinite wisdom has provided that it should be attested also historically. That is to say, by proper historical investigation we fully know which books were composed by the sacred writers (prophets and apostles), through whom God wished to give His Word to the world. This historical evidence is of great value, on the one hand, against the papists, who by their antichristian decrees elevate human books to the dignity of the divine Scriptures, and, on the other, against unbelieving higher critics, who seek to degrade the Holy Scriptures to the level of human compositions. In addition, the historical evidence on behalf of the authenticity and integrity of the Bible is of value <page 130> also for believing Christians, since at times the testimony of the Holy Spirit in their hearts may be weakened or suppressed entirely by doubts.
For the divine authority of the Old Testament we have the express testimony not only of the Jewish Church, but also of our omniscient Savior, who without qualification acknowledged the Bible that was in use at His time as canonical, Luke 16:29; 24:44; John 5:39; 10:35; Matt. 5:17. Had the Jewish Church erred regarding its canon, our divine Lord could not have declared it to be "the Scriptures/' John . The Old Testament Apocrypha were received as canonical neither by the Jewish Church nor by Christ. The fact that the Roman Catholic Church nevertheless elevated them to canonical rank proves its antichristian character. For the Scriptures of the New Testament we have Christ's direct statement and promise that both His own and the apostles' Word shall be preserved and acknowledged as the infallible norm of faith to the end of time, Matt. 24:35; John 17:20; Eph. 2:20. If the divine Word is not recognized as such, the fault rests not with Scripture, but with the blindness and perverseness of those who decline to believe God's Word.
The historical testimony of the canonical books of the New Testament has been adequately supplied by the ancient Christian Church (ecclesia primitiva). Its acknowledgment of the four gospels, the thirteen epistles of Paul, the First Epistle of John, and the First Epistle of Peter was unanimous (Homologumena). With regard to the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Second Epistle of Peter, the Second and the Third Epistle of John, the Epistle of James, the Epistle of Jude, and Revelation, doubts were expressed, so that they were classified as Antilegomena. (Cf. Eusebius, Church History, Bk. III.) Nevertheless, though the canonical character of the Antilegomena was questioned by some, each received sufficient testimony to entitle it to a place in the canon, from which all spurious apostolic writings (pseudepigraphs) were rigidly ruled out. In case, however, the authority of the Antilegomena as a source and norm of faith should be denied today (cf. Luther's verdict on the Epistle of St. James), the same doctrines which are set forth in them may be sufficiently proved from the Homologumena, since the Antilegomena do not contain a single doctrine that is not taught in the Homologumena.
The question whether also the
later Christian Church has the <page 131> authority to declare
books to be canonical must be denied most emphatically. When the
differentiated between Homologumena and
this was a purely historical procedure, involving nothing more than the
question whether certain books were written by such and such an apostle
Christ or not; but when in the sixteenth century the Council of
With regard to the manner in which the primitive Church proceeded in fixing the Biblical canon, Chemnitz writes (Ex. Trid., I, 87): "The testimony of the primitive Church in the times of the apostles concerning the genuine writings of the apostles the immediately succeeding generations constantly and faithfully retained and preserved, so that, when many others [writings] afterwards were brought forward, claiming to have been written by the apostles, they were tested and rejected as supposititious and false, first, for this reason, that it could not be shown and proved by the testimony of the original Church either that they were written by the apostles or approved by the living apostles and transmitted and entrusted by them to the Church in the beginning; secondly, because they proposed strange doctrine not accordant with that which the Church received from the apostles and which was at that time still preserved in the memory of all" (Doctr. Theol., p. 85.)
With regard to the gospels of
Mark and Luke and the Acts of the Apostles it may be said that the
Church placed these unanimously and without any qualification among the
Homologumena, though they were not written
This was done on the ground that the two gospels were composed under
supervision of St. Peter and
The integrity of the New Testament may be assumed a priori, since Christ assures us that His Word, as this is set forth in the writings of the holy apostles, or in Holy Scripture, John 17, 20; Eph. 2, 20; John 8, 31. 32, shall never pass away, Matt. 24, 35. The integrity of the Old Testament is guaranteed by Christ's direct and express testimony, John 5, 39.
With respect to the various versions of the Bible we rightly hold that not only the original Hebrew and Greek texts, but also the translations of these texts are really and truly God's Word, provided they fully agree with the original reading. On the other hand, where translations deviate from the original texts and teach anything contrary to them, they must be rejected as not being the Word of God. Since translators never write by inspiration of the Holy Ghost, but are subject to the common failings of men, all Bible versions must be diligently compared with the original text to ascertain whether they are correct or not, and for this reason the theologian ought to possess an adequate knowledge of Hebrew and Greek.
However, the gap between the original text and its translations must not be widened unduly, so as to create doubts regarding their authority; for the language of Scripture is in most instances so direct and simple that any translator who performs his work conscientiously is compelled by the clear and direct language of Scripture to reproduce the sense of the original. Even the Vulgate sets forth the chief truths of the Christian faith with sufficient clearness though it is fraught with errors from beginning to end. However, the arbitrary promulgation of the Vulgate as the only authoritative text by the Roman Catholic Church was an act so altogether contrary to the spirit of Christ and His apostles that it furnishes additional proof that the papal Church is the Church of Antichrist.
Luther's methodological advice that the minister, when teaching the Catechism, "should above all things avoid the use of different texts and forms, but adopt one form and adhere to it, since the young and ignorant people will easily become confused if we teach thus today and otherwise next year, as if we thought of making improvements," applies also to the use of Bible translations in the pulpit or wherever else Christian ministers may instruct the common people.
[Note: From “Christian Dogmatics,” by John Theodore Mueller TH. D., professor of Systematic Theology, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Mo. Copyright 1934 by Concordia publishing house.]
DISCLAIMER The preceding article is a sample and advertisement for the book, "Christian Dogmatics" by John Theodore Mueller. It is provided for educational purposes only and cannot be reproduced without permission of the copyright holder.