Q: What is meant by the phrase the "authority of Scripture?"
A: All Christians believe that the Bible has authority. Because the Bible has authority, every Christian church uses the Bible as a source for belief and as a guide on how to live.
In nearly every use I know, when a Christian makes a claim to the "authority of Scripture" they are affirming the idea that, in some way, God is the author of Scripture. Because God is the author who has revealed information in and through the writers of Scripture, the Bible is a credible guide for life.
The phrase the "authority of Scripture" most basically and most easily means nothing more than God is the author of Scripture, therefore Scripture is authoritative for life. Scripture is credible. Scripture is believable. Scripture is accurate. We can trust the author, God, so we can trust the authority of God's revelation given in Scripture.
Having established this simple claim, we should note that much more could be written about how people explain the "authority of Scripture." Many lectures, essays, and entire books have been written on the subject. The more complex ideas about the "authority of Scripture" derive from different claims made in the Bible about how God is the author of Scripture.
God clearly revealed portions of Scripture in divine ways. Exodus 34:7 makes it plain that Moses was told to "write down these words." John was told, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true" (Revelation 21:5). God "authored" words through these faithful writers.
Set over against these examples are other passages. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul gives instructions to Corinthian Christians on how to behave. In verse 10, Paul states, clearly, that his instruction is from the Lord. In verse 12, however, Paul makes it equally clear that his instruction is his own and not the Lord's. Evangelicals believe that verse 12 has equal authority in explaining how to live, even though Paul clearly tells us that this specific instruction was not directly "authored" by God.
A different example is found in the Gospel of Luke's prologue (Luke 1:1-4). In these verses, Luke explains that his inspiration came about through research and study of comparative stories about Jesus. Evangelicals affirm that Luke is the Word of God, while recognizing that Luke's research was included in how God inspired him to write this Gospel.
These few accounts demonstrate that "how" the Bible received its inspiration was not through something like a "trance" coming over the writer. These accounts demonstrate that the divine authority of Scripture emerged in distinct ways.
The authority of Scripture is derived from God as its author. How God authored Scripture and how it was formed over centuries, is yet another issue.
For more information, see Article IV of the Church of the Nazarene Manual for how the Church explains how all 16 Articles of Faith of the Church of the Nazarene are derived from Scripture.
Marty Alan Michelson is professor of theology and ministry at Southern Nazarene University in Bethany, Oklahoma.
In each issue, a forum of pastors, laity, theologians, and church leaders respond to your questions on subjects such as doctrine, theology, Christian living, and the church. Send your questions to Holiness Today, Church of the Nazarene Global Ministry Center, 17001 Prairie Star Parkway, Lenexa, KS 66220| Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The editor regrets that all questions cannot be printed, acknowledged, or answered.
Please note: This article was originally published in 2013. All facts, figures, and titles were accurate to the best of our knowledge at that time but may have since changed.