The Authority of the Word

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

Psalm 1:1-2 ESV

“In the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17), or “You will not surely die… you will be like God” (Genesis 3:4-5). These two opposing claims of authority were laid before our ancestors, the word of their Creator or of a mysteriously crafty serpent. Being contradictory statements, Adam and Eve were forced to believe one and reject the other. They embraced the serpent’s antiwisdom, and with this first sin, death came to humanity, just as God said.

Although we have not heard the audible whisper from a physical serpent, his lie still prevails, but so does God’s Word. More than a command to avoid a particular fruit, we now have an entire library of books written by God for our benefit, that we may know Him and His Son. And although we have the privilege of holding these God-spoken Scriptures in our hands, the echo continues to ring in our minds: “You will not surely die.” The serpent’s first and enduring strategy of assault is to foster a disregard for the authority of God’s Word, for that is the birth of sin.

Even for we who are raised to life from the deadness of our sins in Jesus Christ, who is the embodied Word of God, the lie still reverberates. We have tasted and seen the goodness of God through the hearing of His Word which has given us Christ, and by His Word we rejoice and believe that our justification has been fully accomplished by Christ and our future glorification is entirely secure. Yet even while we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ, we still continue to sin. Daily, we reject God’s Word as our authority, choosing (at least for a moment) to believe that sin is harmless. In many ways, our sanctification, which is our earthly walk with Christ, is one continuous battle to believe the authority of God’s Word, to trust God or to yield to the serpent’s lie.

The structure for our time here is simple. This sermon contains two parts and two texts. First, we will study the doctrine of why we hold to the authority of Scripture in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, and second, we will seek to apply this teaching to our daily walk by considering the words of Psalm 1:1-2.

THE DOCTRINE // 2 TIMOTHY 3:16-17

All Scripture is breathed out by God. Three questions must be answered in order to understand this deceptively simple phrase: 1) Who is God?, 2) What is Scripture?, and 3) What does breathed out mean? Hopefully, most of us are familiar with these questions and already know the answers, so I will move through them as quickly as I can.

First, who is God? The New City Catechism helpfully summarizes the teachings of Scripture by saying, “God is the creator and sustainer of everyone and everything. He is eternal, infinite, and unchangeable in his power and perfection, goodness and glory, wisdom, justice, and truth. Nothing happens except through him and by his will.”[1] For the purposes of our study, allow me to make special note of God’s authority as described in this answer. As the creator and sustainer of all things, He “is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen” (1 Timothy 6:15-16). This is the one true and living God.

Second, what is Scripture? The Apostle Paul is here using Scripture as a title for what many of us today call the Bible (which means book). The Word of God is also an appropriate title, and the Old Testament is fond of calling it the Law, as we will see in a moment. So, the Bible, Scripture, Word of God, and the Law are all titles for the same collection of sixty-six canonical books, divided into the Old and New Testaments, that we look to today.

You may also note that Paul refers to the Bible as Scripture (singular), but they are also called the Scriptures (plural) just as often.[2] In fact, Jesus Himself tended to use the singular and plural pretty interchangeably. I think this is because the Bible is simultaneously both a collection of books and one single book.

Third, what does breathed out mean? This means that all Scripture was written by the inspiration of God. Peter plainly tells us that no “Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophesy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21). Moses physically wrote Genesis, but his writing was carried along by the Holy Spirit, making both Moses and God the authors of Genesis.

This means, of course, that all Scripture is the very Word of God, which subsequently also means that all Scripture bears the authority of God Himself. A king’s edict or the president’s executive order are written words that are representing and enacting the authority of the person himself; likewise, the God-breathed Scriptures possess the sovereign authority of the almighty Creator of heaven and earth. This makes the Bible the greatest treasure that we can possess upon this earth. “More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb” (Psalm 19:10). The Scriptures are both beautiful and authoritative because they come from the mouth of God. As we read the Bible, we read God’s message to us and the rest of humanity. If we desire to hear God speak audibly, we only have to read the Bible aloud or listen an audio reading.

And this is true for all Scripture. This means that we believe that God breathed out passages of the Bible that we find difficult. While we affirm the perspicuity (or clarity) of Scripture, we understand that to be for primary matters of doctrine and salvation. A simple survey of the Bible finds both God’s oneness and Trinity readily on display. Likewise, our salvation from sin only by the grace of God through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ, who is both God and man, is clearly presented. But some matters that do not divide orthodoxy from heresy are not so blatant, such as the proper view of the millennium reign of Christ. Yet these kind of conflicting interpretations do not negate the authority of the Word; rather, it often seems God allows differing views of secondary and tertiary issues for the benefit of the church collective. For example, a postmillennialist generally views Christ as the Glorifier of His church, while a premillennialist tends to see Him as the Rescuer of His church, but both provide understandings of eschatology that are needed for the church as a whole. Also, I say this as an amillennialist who sees Christ more as the Builder[3] of His church and who is thankful for my pre- and postmillennial brothers and sisters.

Furthermore, Christians tend to be less knowledgeable about the Old Testament than the New because it requires a more intensive study to understand and, if we are honest, seems to yield less of a reward than simply reading from the New. Yet as Christians, we do not hold the New Testament as superior to the Old. We certainly believe that the Old Testament is completed by God’s giving of the New, yet we also believe that the New Testament would be incomplete without the Old. We hold to both together as the written Word of God. Regardless of the difficulty of the passage or our lack of interest, we should resolve to know and hear all of God’s Word to us.

While our value for the Scriptures is unspeakably enormous, we should note that they do not themselves grant eternal life. Instead, the Bible reveals to us the God who holds eternal life. The Bible’s infinite value comes because it is our means of knowing God and Jesus Christ. Jesus says this very thought in John 5:39-40.

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.

Before concluding this overview of the Scripture’s authority, we need to pause and consider one last thing.

If Paul truly does mean that ALL Scripture is inspired by God, then we have the duty to submit ourselves to it regardless of whether we like what it says or not. By believing that every word of Scripture is breathed out by God, we can no longer ignore unpleasant parts of God’s Word. We must face all of it, together as a whole, letting God speak to us. If we do not give the Scriptures the right to contradict and correct us, we will never know the God that authored them. You simply cannot know God without all of Scripture.

THE APPLICATION // PSALM 1:1-2

I have chosen not to belabor the doctrine of Scripture’s authority because I believe that most of you agree that the Bible as God’s Word should be our highest authority. Let us, instead, spend the remainder of our time discussing how the truth applies to us presently, or as the Puritans said, let us discuss the use of this doctrine.

Psalm 1 is the prelude, the opening doxology, to the rest of the Psalter, and it describes a theme that runs throughout the Bible. Genesis 2-3 described this theme as the choice between the words of God or of Satan. Proverbs calls it the choice between wisdom or foolishness (what Owen Strachan calls antiwisdom). Paul said it is either being dead in sin or alive with Christ. Jesus said it is a walk down either an easy, broad path that ends in destruction or a hard, narrow path that leads to life everlasting. Psalm 1 calls it being either blessed or wicked.

The blessed man is the focal point of the psalm. Biblically, to be blessed is to be favored by God. Abraham was blessed because God favored him. God chose him from among his family. God covenanted with him. God sustained him. He was a blessed man because he was God’s man. Conversely, the wicked are disconnected from God, still “alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds” (Colossians 1:21). To belong to God means being blessed, wise, and alive, while rejecting God is wickedness, foolishness, and death. And each and every person must walk down one of these two paths.

Our blessedness, of course, is fixed by the grace of God flowing to us from the work of Jesus Christ through faith. Yet we must still walk with Him. Our justification is sealed once for all by the sacrifice of Christ, but our sanctification is a process of daily submitting to Him. In the same letter that Paul wrote that we have been “made alive together with Christ… and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:5-6); the apostle also said to “look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise” (Ephesians 5:15).

How then do we walk with Christ in the authority of His Word? We delight in it and meditate upon it. We consume the Scriptures, hungry to know Christ more. We steep ourselves within them. And notice that verse 1 also provides the opposite acts of wickedness. If we do not meditate upon the Scriptures, we will instead walk in the counsel of the wicked, sit in the seat of scoffers, and stand in the way of sinners.

Solomon’s declaration that “the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing” (Ecclesiastes 1:8) has only become truer in our present day. The flood of voices and counsel does not cease, especially from the screens and speakers of our devices. Sadly, this means that we can easily find ourselves confessing the authority of the Word, while practically walking in the counsel of the wicked. We submit ourselves to the pattern of the world rather than the way of the LORD.

Allow me to provide a rather pointed example, but it is indeed only an example of a much larger trend. On April 8th, Albert Mohler discussed the ending of the long-running sitcom Modern Family on his podcast The Briefing. In that episode, he reflects how the series’ depiction of a gay couple impacted our society’s reception of homosexuality in general. He points out:

It is worth noting that the Modern Family program, by its very title, again, Modern Family, was insinuating that the family now is something different than the family had been in the past. And it was not only about normalizing a same sex couple and their adopted child as a family, it was also about looking at three different families all linked together in an extended family and only one of those families was a traditional two parent, husband and wife home, with the children living in the home. Otherwise, it was a post dual divorce blended family, as they are known, or it was the same sex couple and the household that they had established.[4]

The very premise behind this television series, therefore, is a rejection of the biblical presentation of the family, a rejection of the Bible’s authority over the family. Is, therefore, watching such a program only harmless entertainment, or is it sitting in the seat with those who scoff at the instructions of God? The problem with considering entertainment harmless is that stories have ways of shaping us at a subconscious level, and consuming an abundance of worldly stories will inevitably mold us into worldly people, who begin to submit ourselves to the authority of the culture around us rather than the Word of God.

In contrast to the flood of entertainment surrounding us, Joe Barnard cites J. I. Packer as advising Christians to be in “constant meditation on the four gospels, over and above the rest of our Bible readings.” Barnard then goes on to add: “The gospels are more wonderful than any movies, any television shows, any music, any sports competitions, as well as any other books. If a man wants to behold the glory of Christ, he needs to meditate on the gospels, which is to say read them slowly, prayerfully, reverently, and submissively.”[5]

If we want to know Christ more and walk more like Him, we must give our time and attention to His Word. It is simply not enough to profess the Scriptures as our ultimate authority; we must also submit to them by knowing them and obeying them. We must be a people who like the psalmist who composed Psalm 119 find our very life bound up to God’s Word.

But our delight and joy in the Scripture can only be grown through meditation. We have used this word multiple times now but have only given the nutshell definition from Barnard, which is reading “them slowly, prayerfully, reverently, and submissively.” Meditation is the act of thinking deliberately and deeply upon God’s Word. It’s absence among God’s people today is, I believe, a significant cause of our low view of and cold devotion to the Scriptures. Thomas Watson, after all, wrote that “The reason our affections are so cold to heavenly things is because we do not warm them at the fires of holy meditation.”[6]

But how do we meditate upon Scripture? What does that look like? The Puritans helpfully differentiated between occasional and deliberate meditation. We might more appropriately retitle occasional meditation as spontaneous meditation, which is just simply turning our thoughts toward Scripture throughout the day and during the night. This is clearly the kind of meditation that the psalmist had in mind.

Yet the backbone of spontaneous meditation is deliberate meditation. This is designated time spent thinking through and pondering over the Word of God. Just as we spend time reading and praying the Word each day, so should we also meditate over what we have read. In fact, it may be helpful to think of meditation as a sort of bridge between reading and praying. This deliberate meditation also has a way of bleeding over into spontaneous meditation. After all, conscious thoughts over time have a way of becoming unconscious thoughts.

But once you have read a portion of Scripture for the day, how then do you proceed to meditate upon the Word? My suggestion[7] is that you choose a verse or even a phrase from what you have read to meditate over. You can then apply the truths of 2 Timothy 3:16-17 to your text. You can begin by confessing before the Lord your belief that this portion of Scripture is His inspired Word and asking Him to open your eyes to behold wondrous things within it. Then, since Paul has told us that all Scripture is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteous, you can then ask these kinds of questions about the text.

What does this verse teach me (about God, about Jesus, about sin, about humanity, about myself, etc.)?

What sin is God convicting and reproving me of through this verse?

How is God correcting me (i.e. my theology, thinking, lifestyle, etc.) through this verse?

Finally, pray for God’s grace to be conformed by His Spirit to His Word as you continue to train in righteousness.

Perhaps begin with our two present texts: 2 Timothy 2:16-17 and Psalm 1. Meditate over 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and pray for the Lord for grace to believe in the authority of His Word with the heart and hands as well as the head. Meditate over Psalm 1 and consider how much time and attention you give to the Scriptures and to the voices of the world. Turn away from the words that at best leave you empty-handed and at worst lead to sin and death. Turn instead to the very Word of God, and through these Writings, come to know the true and living God and His only Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We believe in the authority of the Bible; let us also submit ourselves entirely to it.


[1] This is the answer to Question 2.

[2] I tend to do the same.

[3] These three terms for describing the major eschatological views come from W. Robert Godfrey in an episode from the 4th part of his Survey of Church History series titled, Puritan Worship and Eschatology.

[4] https://albertmohler.com/2020/04/08/briefing-4-8-20

[5] Joe Barnard, The Way Forward: A Road Map of Spiritual Growth for Men in the 21st Century , 131.

[6] Thomas Watson, Heaven Taken by Storm: Showing the Holy Violence a Christian Is to Put Forth in the Pursuit After Glory, 28.

[7] I say suggestion because the Scriptures only command us to meditate over the Word, but they do not give a particular method. Therefore, suggested method is by no means intended to bind anyone’s conscience; it is only meant to help Christians recapture the importance of meditation.

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