The Bible and The Authority of Jesus Christ (Lecture)
October 20th, 1997
THE BIBLE AND THE AUTHORITY OF JESUS CHRIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
The lecture today is entitled The Bible and the Authority of Jesus Christ. And let me start off with a thing. I have been a pastor for over seventy-one years, as you know, and I have a Ph.D. degree in theology. Yet, I have always felt that we have to go back to the originals in order to find an absolute authority for what God had revealed to us in Holy Scripture.
Then, in this study, in this one that we are going to follow today, in this study, time and again, I ran across the avowal, that when Jesus speaks of the Bible and its authority he was speaking of the translations that were evident and used in that day. He was not talking about the originals. The originals had been lost from the beginning. But, he was talking about translations.
And that brought a confidence in my heart that I cannot describe. When you have a translation of the Bible in your hands, according to Jesus Christ, that is authoritative as the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. Oh, my! What a calmness came to my soul and heart when I read these things in preparing the message for today.
So, we begin: The Bible and the Authority of Jesus Christ. Christ in the church. The church is the body of Christ. Some say you can believe anything you like and belong to that body. But, a faithful and true Christian is bound to the Word of God.
The only answer to the tragic needs of the world is the true church of the living Christ. The church is the people of God called to serve Him and they are called out of the world. The church is called to go into the world and preach and teach the things of God and baptize in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. The church gathers on the Lord’s Day to worship, to evangelize and to proclaim the infallible Word of the Lord. It is founded on a rock. God is sovereign. Jesus Christ is King and Head. And the Holy Spirit is the present bringing life into the dry bones of liberal theology.
According to the Word of Christ the church will survive and be His bride when He comes again. The true church believes and is unashamed to stand on the Word of God which liveth and abideth forever, the bible, the inspired Word of the Lord.
Now, the heading: Jesus is the God we worship and preach. To see Jesus is to see God, "He that hath seen Me, hath seen the Father," our Lord avows. Jesus claims to have been before Abraham, to have come from the Father, to be one with the Father, and to have authority to forgive sins. He was the incarnate God. And the only alternatives to that is to say he was mistaken or He was a liar.
Despite the advances of modern man, man’s true state is such that he still requires God to come to his rescue. This involves the purpose of the preacher. The first aim of a true preacher is to proclaim to the world the good news about Jesus Christ. We sing the song, "Let Jesus Come into Your Heart." [by Leila N. Morris, 1898] Open your life to Christ. Make Jesus Lord of your life. We read, "The blood of Jesus God’s Son cleanses us from all sins." [1 John 1:7b] The preacher is to explain that truth in terms that people can understand.
The preacher cannot escape that theological background and foundation of the truth he proclaims. Theology is basic to true preaching. And true preaching is the proclamation of the authority of Jesus Christ.
The central message of apostolic preaching was the person and work of the Lord Jesus. There are six main emphases in the proclamation of the gospel by the apostles and the first preachers.
Number one, Christ was a fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures presenting the coming of the Messiah.
Number two, the earthly life of Jesus.
Number three, the death of Jesus.
Number four, His resurrection and exaltation as the Savior of the world.
Number five, the call for our repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Number six, the glorious promise of His coming again.
The preacher is to be a scholar. But, above all, he must to be an expositor of the saving word of life in Jesus our Lord. John 10:37-38 avows that, if we believe the words of Christ, then we ought to believe His word on the Word. That word is that "the Scriptures cannot be broken," that the authority of one part carries the authority of the whole Word of God.
Now, I have a message here on Jesus and the inerrancy of Scripture. We can stop arguing. The issue of inerrancy has been settled. If Jesus Christ is God incarnate, as he claimed to be, then inerrancy is a matter of fact, because He affirms it. If He is not, then Southern Baptists and all other Christians have an infinitely greater problem to deal with, since our faith is vain and meaningless, if Jesus was not God with us.
The primary issue to be considered in our "battle for the Bible" is not the inerrancy of Scripture, but the deity and authority of Jesus Christ. He declared Himself to be the eternal Son of God and claimed that Scripture is absolutely authoritative. What is more, the Scripture that He claimed cannot be broken was the Scripture of His own day, not the original autographs. I tell you, I cannot describe to you what a strength that has come to me.
I’ll read it again; the scripture that He claimed cannot be broken was the Scripture of His own day, not the original autographs. We have the authority of the One who claimed to be God. We have the word of the eternal Word about the written Word. These two issues, the one, primary: the deity of Christ; the other, secondary: the inerrancy of Scripture, those are covered in John 10:22-39. If He is God, then we have no basis for doubting anything that He said, including His affirmations regarding the integrity of Scripture.
I would agree that inerrancy can be affirmed only for the original autographs. But, I would also express my profound convictions that the present copies of the Bible carry the same authority as the original autographs. The ground of that conviction lies in statements made by our Lord in which He assures us of divine authority for the Bible that He read from. I was at least fourteen hundred years removed from the earliest written Old Testament books. When I hold in my hand that Bible out of which I preach that is the authoritative revelation of the Word of God.
Then, I have a discussion here concerning the passage in John 10. I choose this passage in John 10 because of the perspective that it gives us on inerrancy. Jesus Christ is claiming deity for himself and absolute authority for Scripture, all in one context. Its occasion was the celebration of Dedication, or Hanukkah, as it’s called today.
Jewish leaders had raised the issue of His claim to be the Christ, a title which must include deity, if we associate it with the Messianic message of the Old Testament. Quote, "How long will you keep us in suspense," they demanded. "If you are the Christ, tell us plainly." Out of His answer comes two clear assertions. First, Jesus claims deity for Himself. And second, he pronounces His divine authority in two crucial, and interrelated, matters: one, the security of His sheep, and second, the inerrancy of the Scriptures.
First, Jesus declared His deity by His works, "Many good works I have shown you in the name of my Father." He meant that He was able to do things that only God could do. And His works should be communicative of His divine nature." One, logically, must infer that only a divine Person can do divine works.
Second, Jesus declared His deity verbally. In verse 30 of chapter 10, or instance, He was so bold as to proclaim, "I and my Father are one." In the Greek He means one thing or one kind, not one person. Jesus did not claim to be the same person as God the Father. But, He did claim equality in substance. In verse 36 of chapter 10, it is recorded that He said, "I am the Son of God."
Now, I have a little expatiation on Jesus’ claim to deity. Our Lord’s claims to deity are not confined to this one passage. However, who can deny that He used the ineffable name "I am" many times. This includes the well-known statement in John 8:58, "Before Abraham was, I am." In His formal defense before the Sanhedrin in Mark 14:61-62, the high priest asked Him, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?"
And Jesus said, "I am; and ye shall see the Son of man standing on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven." He was put on the cross because He claimed to be God incarnate.
Jesus not only declared His deity. He demonstrated it. He said, in verses 37 and 38 of chapter 10, "Do not believe Me unless I do what the Father does, but if I do, even though you do not believe me, believe the signs that you may learn, and understand, that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father."
In John 2, when the Jews demanded an explanation for His Messianic act of cleansing the Temple, He replied that His claim would be proven by His death and subsequent resurrection. Did He, literally, rise again? There is more evidence for Christ’s resurrection than for any other event of classical history. "He showed himself alive after his passion, with many infallible proofs." That’s found in Acts 1:3.
Now, how is it that God can therefore demand that we repent of our detestable failure to acknowledge Him? "Because He has appointed a day, in which He will judge the world in righteousness by that man who He hath ordained; whereby He hath given assurance, evidence to all men, in that He hath raised Him from the dead." Acts 17:31 The fact of the resurrection is enough to make repentance and faith mandatory for every person on the earth.
If Jesus is God, then He is infinitely qualified to speak with final authority on any issue. He asserts His divine authority in this passage on two crucial issues that arise out of the primary issue of His claim to be the Son of God: one, the security of His sheep; and second, the inerrancy of Scripture.
The Lord flatly asserts, in John 10:27-30, that the sheep are securely held in His hands and they can never be snatched away. Why speak of the security of the sheep in answer to a question raising the issue of His deity? Because deity carries final and ultimate authority and one of the greatest test of Jesus’ authority is His ability to keep His own children secure. If sin, death, and hell, or the Devil can reclaim those whom He has redeemed, then He cannot claim to be the Christ.
There is a direct relationship between Christ’s assertion about His sheep and His assertion about the Scriptures. The Father gave both. He gave the sheep to the Son and the Scriptures to humanity. The sheep cannot ever be snatched away once they are in the Shepherd’s hands. The Scriptures cannot ever lose their authority once they are written down. Now, if you want to be a good Baptist and proclaim that with authority. The sheep cannot be snatched away from the hand of Christ. If you are saved you are saved forever and ever, and Christ will see to that.
Then, the other is the authority of the written-down Word of God. Then, I continue, Jesus speaks about the inerrancy of Holy Scripture.
Finally, let me concentrate on that major promise, "Scripture cannot be broken." That’s the other passage in John 10, verse 35. We cannot ignore the observation that the eternal Son of God has made this assertion about the Scriptures. Nor can we ignore the implications of that assertion. From the authority of His deity Christ has stated the Word of God is fully binding and carries the weight of God’s authority and that the authority of the whole is carried into each part. We cannot say that one passage is authority and inerrant, when another is wrong. It is all together. It is one thing, and if it is not authoritative then you can’t say that the rest of it is.
In another well-known statement, Jesus affirmed that "One jot or one tittle will in no wise pass from the Law until all be fulfilled." Matthew 5:18.
Do you recall the angelic warfare that took place in heaven over the giving of a portion of the Word of God to Daniel? In Daniel chapter10, the prophet had been fasting for three weeks, waiting for God to reveal the rest of His vision of the last days. When the angle finally appeared to Daniel, following a breath-taking and awesome vision of the pre-incarnate Christ, he told Daniel that the prince of Persia, Satan, had hindered him from coming for twenty-one days. A war had been fought between this prince and Michael, the archangel. Finally, the messenger angle was allowed to continue his journey earth and to give Daniel this vision for a time yet to come.
Why did the Devil want to keep the angel of God from delivering that prophecy? Because he knew that, once it was written down, it could not be changed. God guarantees His Word by having it written down. When it is written, it is as good as done, it cannot be broken.
I tell you, you have every proof and foundation on which to stand when you hold that Bible in your hand and read it and declare that this is infallible Word of God Himself. The most troublesome, ordinary, or unbelievable passage in the Bible is absolutely infallible. Their message cannot be altered, embellished, or explained away because they have been written under inspiration from God Himself.
Add to this passage in John 10 all others that contain our Lord’s assertion about the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures, and we don’t need the originals to know if the Old Testament is in error. Jesus made that very pronouncement about the Old Testament of His day and it is not likely that any autographs were then in existence. In fact, He fully affirmed those old Testament passages that give us the most trouble, the account of Creation and Adam, the account of the great flood, and of Jonah and his experience with the great fish. So much did Jesus trust those passages that He based great doctrines upon them. He built His teaching on marriage on the account of the creation of the first home of Adam and Eve. The flood was told as fact and was given as the precursor of the judgment upon the earth. And Jonah’s salvation from the belly of the fish became identified with the doctrine of Christ’s resurrection.
I’m not exaggerating it when you say that we have a tendency to question the occurrence of these things that are written in the Old Testament, you are absolutely questioning the authority, the deity of the Son of God. Oh, what happiness when you take that Bible and hold it in your hand, and know you are declaring the infallible, inerrant Word of the Lord.
Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit, and among His ministries was to be the giving of further Scriptures, "But the Councelor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things, and will remind you of everything I have said to you." That’s John 14:26.
He was going to give His apostles total recall of all of Christ’s teachings. And the Holy Spirit was going to guide them in communicating that truth. This, I understand, is God’s seal of authority on those writings by the apostles that were later received as canonical. By the authority of Christ Himself we can verify the divine accuracy of the New Testament, along with its full authority just as we do the Old Testament. I do not believe that we need the original text to guarantee that our present Bible carries the same authority as the autographs. Once the deity of Christ is established in light of His historically veritable resurrection, recorded in the fully reliable primary source documents of the New Testament. All we need to do is to observe what the incarnate God has said about the Scriptures of the Old Testament.
He has said that Scripture cannot be broken. When I hear Him say that, I don’t need any other argument. If He can do the things that only God can do and exhibit power over death and hell itself, and His death and resurrection, I believe anything that He says. We admit that there are a few unresolved problems in our present text. This in no way,should discourage us from affirming the authority of Scripture in every matter about which it speaks, matters of science, as well as salvation. The Lord Himself has set the evidence clearly before us. If we believe Christ’s works, then we must believe His Word.
And I have another word here about preaching Jesus’ alone. So, to be sound in the faith, men and women must believe in the Son of God, who literally and physically rose from the dead. All other tenets of the evangelical faith are both included and implied in the great doctrine of the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is the gospel to be proclaimed.
There is a story about Jerome, the scholar who translated the Scriptures into the Latin Vulgate. He was a theologian and a philosopher, a grammarian who mastered Hebrew, Greek and Latin. Like all students, Jerome loved his books. In his sleep one night, he dreamed that he stood before the judgment seat of Christ.
"Who are you?" said the Lord on the throne.
"Jerome, a Christian," was the reply.
"That is false," said the stern voice from the throne. "You are not a lover of Christ, but of Cicero, for where your treasure is, there your heart is also."
Jerome awoke in a cold sweat and fell to his knees to beg forgiveness for being so in love with his manuscripts that he forgot the men and women for whom Christ died.
As much as we love books, we must love Christ and people more. The evangelist needs the scholar and the scholar needs the evangelist. Even more, the church needs scholarly evangelists and evangelistic scholars, men and women who love the God not only with heart and soul but mind as well.
First of all, we are to place the evangelistic ministry of Christ above everything else that we are to learn or do. In 1936, Professor C.H. Dodd wrote a book, entitled "The Apostolic Preaching and Its Development." This book is one of the most important and positive contributions to New Testament science in our generation. And I may add that it will more than repay the prayerful and careful perusal of preachers of the gospel.
This work points out that the central message of apostolic preaching was the person and work of the Lord Jesus. There were five main emphases in the kerygma. The first was the fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures in relation to the coming of the Messiah. The second emphasis was on the earthly life of Jesus. The third emphasis was on the death of Christ. The fourth emphasis was on the resurrection and exaltation of the Lord. And the fifth and last emphasis was on repentance and your faith, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ in the light of coming judgment.
The prime task of the Christian preacher is not to get men to undertake the impossible task of solve their social and economic problems in the light of the Sermon on the Mount, but to call them to repent and to submit to the rule of God. For Jesus, it is clear, was not the expounder of a noble system of ethics, nor a reformer of society, but a proclaimer of God’s will, in obedience to which He Himself lived, spoke, suffered and died.
Only as we make Christ our message does preaching become powerful. There is little to encourage us to belief that God will bless our preaching or our homiletics or our oratory. But, we can be sure that, when we preach Christ, the Spirit of power will overshadow us.
A missionary for many years in Angola, West Africa, used to recall an important lesson he learned during the days of his training. Studying under a famous evangelist, who took his students out on fieldwork, he was puzzled again and again by the seemingly lack of response to the powerful preaching of this man of God.
One night, he approached the evangelist in this manner. He said, "I cannot understand it. The place was packed with people. The power of God was present to save and yet so very few answered the call to repentance and faith." The old man paused for a moment and, then with a smile made this statement, "Young man, the salvation in human life is the sovereign work of God. We must leave the results to Him. Our task is to preach Christ and Him crucified." And then he added, and remember this, "God is always pleased when His Son well spoken of." Amen! God grant it! God grant it!
Well, that’s the lecture for this morning. I tell you, the privilege of proclaiming the work of our Lord, His life, His fulfillment of prophecy, His suffering, His atonement, His resurrection, His coming again, Oh, dear me. What a wonderful privilege! If I could ever see that, my own testimony. As I’ve said, my mother’s father was a physician in the Confederate Army, all through the War of the Confederacy. My grandfather was a physician. I got to meet him before he died.
Well anyway, my mother had it in her heart that I was going to be a doctor like her father. And, I mean, she committed her life to that. She took me to Amarillo and put me in high school there in order that I could prepare to be a physician. She took me to Baylor University and put me in school there and did it in order that I could prepare to be a doctor. And I enrolled in all those pre-med courses, every one of them.
But, from the remembrance of my earliest childhood I felt called of God to be a preacher, to declare the message of the Lord. So, when I went down to Baylor the first thing I did was to take my Bible and go down there on the streets and up there into the jail, and preach the ineffaceable word of the living Christ. I did that.
And when I was seventeen, I began pastoring and preaching in little country churches, and holding revivals under arbors and under tabernacles. And I did that with all of the strength of my body, and continued it. And my mother, finally, after these many, many years, was reconciled to my being a preacher. But, I sure did pour my soul and heart on to preacher.
During these years and years and years, I have been called to many different things. For example, I was asked to president of three different universities. One of them was the college of our Baptist denomination in Mississippi. We call it a university. They used the word Mississippi College. One morning, I received a telephone call at the parsonage here in Dallas. And the man on the other end of the line said, "I am the chairman of the committee to choose a president for our college. And we have, unanimously, chosen you." Then he added, "We’re not asking you to give an answer now. But, pray about it for these two weeks. And two weeks from now, at this exact time, I will call on the telephone and you give me your answer, after you’ve prayed about it."
Two weeks later, at that exact time, the telephone rang. And I answered it. And the man on the other end of the line said, "Are you prepared to give me an answer? Have you prayed it through?" I had no idea what he was talking about. But, I had enough presence of mind to keep him talking. Finally, it came to my head. He asked me to pray about being president of Mississippi College.
I didn’t bother the Lord with one syllable. Why should I, about anything, including the presidency of that school? Why should I bother the Lord when I knew that I knew that I knew I had been called to be a preacher and a pastor?
There’s not anything in this world, in my humble persuasion like the privilege of opening your Bible and standing up there and proclaiming the infallible, inspired Word of the living Christ, the living God. And to do that with conviction, oh, man, with all of the thrust and power that you can pour in to that message, to do that is absolutely the greatest privilege that I know in human life. And you don’t need to worry, God will bless it. I tell you, from the beginning, and I don’t mean one day later, from the beginning, God has blessed me and has stood by my side as I have blatantly and fearlessly proclaimed the living Word of the living Christ.
And, you do that. And if one of you is a layman, teach it like that, just standing on the infallible Word of God, the rock of Christ, and teaching or preaching that infallible Book.
Oh, man! What a privilege. What a glory. Well, anybody want to ask a question or make a sarcastic comment?
Do you have an answer for that, Dr. Allen?
[Dr. Allen’s answer]
I’ll answer that. But, I want you to say first.
[Dr. Allen’s answer]
No. Just let me start there and go on with it. The eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews, have you got that in your mind? Hebrews 11, the author there goes back to the beginning, that boy, Abel, who was there in the Garden of Eden, and he goes through the heroes of the faith, all of it. And he avows that they just saw indistinctly. They saw pictures. They saw adumbrations. Then, he closes it with one of the most marvelous verses in the Bible, the last verse of that marvelous eleventh chapter of Hebrews says, "God having provided some better thing for us."
But, what he means by that is that they had the adumbrations. They had the suggestions. They had the types. They had all of those ordinances, the Law and everything else, that you could take and preach and preach Jesus. But, they could not do it, because all they had was the types. They just had the picture. But, we have the substance. And that is a marvelous thing for us. The things that they preached about and lived in the Old Testament were just pictures of what was, actually, God’s reality in the New Testament.
You take the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah. Dear me. You would think he was standing at the foot of the Cross just looking at Jesus as he describes the redeeming atonement of our souls, transgressions and sins, there on the Cross, Christ paid it, washed it away. But, he did not see the reality of it. He just had the revelation and the promise. But, we have the reality.
There it is in your Bible. And what a glorious thing it is take the Old Testament and its vision and its promise in what was going to be. And then, take your New Testament and here’s its fulfillment. This is the better thing that God has chosen for us that we have the reality of it, the exact same things that they were preaching about back there.
It’s a marvelous thing to take that Bible and, I repeat, stand up there and preach. You can preach about the atonement of the Lord from Isaiah 53 just as well as you can preach about the atonement of our Lord there on Calvary. I believe it, marvelous thing.
Well, I love looking at you. And I love preparing these lectures.
Dr. Allen, put it into your words what he is saying, I don’t quite understand.
[Dr. Allen’s answer]
The answer to that is very plain. Our Lord said, "I’m going away, but He is coming. And He will speak the things of God. And He will reveal to you the things of heaven." And He was speaking of the Holy Spirit.
And when you have in your New Testament this writing of the Holy Spirit, Jesus says that that is just as authoritative as those things you read in the Old Testament. And I can be assured of that the Holy Spirit is also God Himself.
We know God as God the Father. We know God as God the Son. And we know God as God the Holy Spirit. And these things that are written by the Holy Spirit if God, using these men as amanuenses, these things that are written by these men of God are as authoritative as the things that were written the Old Testament, because these things are inspired by the Holy Spirit.
By the response of the people of God throughout the generations. These men of God, back there in the beginning, those men of God wrote that New Testament that you have in your hands under the direction of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said that He was going to have an authoritative word. "When I’m gone, He will come and he will bring all things into your remembrance and teach you all things." We have that. And we have the testimony of the men of God who have received that testimony through all these years.
There are, for example, as you suggest, there are apocryphal books that belong to the New Testament, just as we have apocryphal books in the Old Testament. But, why are they not received as authoritative? That is the work of the Holy Spirit. The Lord has used these men who following in the train of Christ through those centuries, the Lord has used those men to affirmed that these Books are the inspired Word of God to be placed in the Bible and the others are not to be placed in the Bible. It is something that the Holy Spirit has done through these men of God through the centuries.
You want to add to that son?
Well, I love being with you. And I look forward to the next session: next Monday.