J. I. Packer on Biblical Authority

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Note from the editor: Welcome to The Roundtable where we invite TGC Canada’s editors to share insights from various Christian works. The purpose of sharing these insights is to equip, teach, and encourage you. In today’s post, Chance Faulkner provides a number of quotations from J.I. Packer on the authority of Scripture. 

 


In 1958, J.I. Packer published his work “Fundamentalism” and the Word of God. What makes this work timeless is that it continues to speak to our present state—60 years later! As in Packer’s day, many within the church attack the authority of Scripture. And so this work is a well-needed read for pastors and lay people alike.

Here are some of my favourite quotes which speak to our present situation from chapter 3: Authority:

“The problem of authority is the most fundamental problem that the Christian Church ever faces. This is because Christianity is built on truth: that is to say, on the content of divine revelation” (42).

“Modern man, skeptical and indifferent as he is to dogmatic pronouncements about the supernatural order, may find it hard to take seriously the idea that one’s own eternal welfare may depend on what one believes; but the apostles were sure that it was so. Theological error was to them a grim reality, as was the spiritual shipwreck which comes in its wake” (43).

“We must expect to find error constantly assailing the truth; Christendom will always be a theological battlefield. But in that case the Christian’s most pressing need in every age is to have a reliable principle by which he may test the conflicting voices that claim to speak for Christianity and so make out amid their discordant clamour what he ought to believe and do” (43–44).

“The deepest cleavages in Christendom are doctrinal; and the deepest doctrinal cleavages are those which result from disagreement about authority” (44).

“Those who disagree as to the principle of authority and, in consequence, as to the right method of theology, can reach no significant agreement on anything else” (45).

“The Bible … does not need to be supplemented and interpreted by tradition, or revised and corrected by reason. Instead, it demands to sit in judgement on the dictates of both; for the words of men must be tried by the Word of God” (48).

“The proper ground for believing a thing is that God says it in His written Word, and a readiness to take God’s word and accept what He asserts in the Bible is thus fundamental to faith” (48).

“Jesus Christ, the Son of God incarnate, who claimed divine authority for all that He did and taught, both confirmed the absolute authority of the Old Testament for others and submitted to it unreservedly Himself” (55).

“As well as endorsing the principle of biblical authority in its application to others, the Lord submitted to it Himself. He read the Old Testament as the word of His Father” (56).

“In life and death … our Lord devoted himself to fulfilling the Scriptures” (58).

“The gospels assure us that the historic Israelite belief in the divine authority of the Old Testament was the foundation of Christ’s whole ministry. He challenged current interpretations of Scripture, but shared and endorsed the accepted view of its nature and status as an authoritative utterance of God” (58).

“Christ’s answer to the problem of authority can be summed up as follows: 1. The Old Testament is to be received on His authority (over and above its own witness in itself) as the authoritative written utterances of God, abidingly true and trustworthy. Its divine authority and His confirm each other, so that not to accept both would be to accept neither. 2. To learn what they must believe and do, His disciples are not to regard His words alone, but to take his teaching and the Old Testament together, reading the old revelation as the presupposition of the new and the new as both expounding and augmenting the old. In conjunction with Christ’s teaching the written word of the Old Testament retains its full, divine authority” (59).

“If [Jesus’ claim to be divine] is false, there is no compelling reason to believe anything else that He said. If we accept Christ’s claims, therefore, we commit ourselves to believe all that He taught—on his authority. If we refuse to believe some part of what he taught, we are in effect are denying Him to be the divine Messiah—on our own authority” (59).

“The question, “What think ye of the Old Testament”, resolves into the question, “What think ye of Christ? And our answer to the first proclaims our answer to the second” (59).

“If we reject [Jesus’] attitude to the Old Testament, we are saying in effect that He founded Christianity on a fallacy” (60).

“To undercut Christ’s teaching about the authority of the Old Testament is to strike at His own authority at the most fundamental point” (61).

“Others tell us that the final authority for Christians is not Scripture, but Christ, whom we must regard as standing apart from Scripture and above it. He is its Judge; and we, as His disciples, must judge Scripture by Him, receiving only what is in harmony with His life and teaching and rejecting all that is not. But who is this Christ, the Judge of Scripture? Not the Christ of the New Testament and of History. That Christ does not judge Scripture; he obeys and fulfills it. By word and deed he endorses the authority of the whole of it. Certainly, He is the final authority for Christians; that is precisely why Christians are to acknowledge the authority of Scripture. Christ teaches them to do so” (61).

“[The authority of the Apostles] had been given by Christ through His word of commission and His gift of the Spirit. He had promised the twelve that the Spirit should come to teach them what in His own earthly ministry He had left unsaid, and he had kept his promise; so that the apostolic teaching was in reality the complete and final version of His own” (64).

“The churches must bow to Paul’s rulings, and those who will not must be put out of fellowship till they have come to a better mind (Gal. 2:7; 2 Cor. 10:8, 13:10). Apostolic utterances are the truth of Christ and possess the authority of Christ; they are to be received as words of God, because what they convey is, in fact, the word of God” (64).

“To deny the normative authority of Scripture over the Church is to misconceive the nature of Christianity, and in effect, to deny the Lordship of Christ” (68).

“Christ rules, as Jehovah rule, by the written Word… Those who acknowledge the Lordship of Christ are bound to accept the principle of biblical authority” (68).

May we hear and obey the voice of our Good Shepherd in all of Scripture.

Sola Christus, Sola Scriptura

 


J.I. Packer, “Fundamentalism” and the Word of God, (London: Inter-Varsity Fellowship, 1965), 41–74.

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