Archive for April 29th, 2011


I.                    The Concept of Authority

a.       Definition

i.      Authority itself means that right or power to command action or compliance, or to determine belief or custom, expecting obedience from those under authority, and in turn giving responsible account for the claim to right or power.[1]

                    ii.      If something is properly authoritative, it is sufficient in its ability within its proper realm to:

1.      Give truths

a.      For example, in the human realm an authority on Shakespeare presenting a seminar on Shakespeare

2.      Demand Compliance

a.      For instance, a Court decision on the defendant

3.      Capacity to enforce rules

b.      Everyone believes in some kind of ultimate authority or another

i.      Everyone have a standard of authority as the basis of why they believe something, or the basis in which they rule something as false, dictate how they ought to live, etc.

1.      Examples of statement that reveals what authority is accepted in one’s belief

a.       “I don’t believe it because it’s against what my priest believes.”

i.      In this case, the priest is the authority

b.      “That’s unconstitutional!”

i.      In this case, the Constitution is the authority

c.       “The evolutionary biologist says it is true.”

i.      In this case, the evolutionary biologist is the authority

2.      The issue is not whether one has an ultimate authority, but WHAT is their ultimate authority.

a.       Feelings? Popular opinion? For the Christian, the Bible ought to be one’s Ultimate Authority.

ii.      Objection: “I don’t have any ultimate authority.  I do whatever I want.”

1.      Then the authority in this objector’s life is his autonomous self.

a.       If man is the measuring stick of truth, values and ethics, this leads us to the problem of subjectivisim.[2]

II.                 If the Bible is the Ultimate Authority, then it must be Self-Authorizing

a.       An Ultimate Authority is the final authority

i.      Everything else is judge by this ultimate standard

1.      If everything is govern by this authoritative standard, all things must cohere with this standard including the standard itself

a.       If the ultimate authority does not cohere with the ultimate authority itself, then it is irrational since it is internally incoherent

b.      Objection: “You can’t prove the Bible as the Ultimate Authority from the Bible itself because it is circular!”

i.      But if one proves that the Bible is the Ultimate Authority by appealing to another source of authority, then the Bible ceases to be the ultimate authority since the thing that is appealed to is now the final authority

1.      The problem with this objection applies to any ultimate authority besides the Bible because the criteria in the objection is a self-defeating one and is therefore irrational.

ii.      Ultimate Authority is circular by nature

1.       In order to avoid the self-refuting dilemma mentioned above, Ultimate Authority must be in some sense circular[3]

2.      Coherence is a hallmark of rationality; yet coherence in some sense means ‘circularity’

a.      “‘Circularity’ in one’s philosophical sysem is just another name for ‘consistency’ in outlook throughout one’s system.  That is, one’s starting point and final conclusion cohere with each other.”[4]

3.      Since no other authority could authorize the Ultimate Authority, only the Ultimate Authority can authorize itself

a.       Thus, the Bible as the Ultimate Authority must be self-authorizing

III.               The Self-attestation of the authority of the Bible

a.       Since the Bible[5] is the ultimate authority, the Bible reveals its authority when[6]:

i.      It declares that His Word is eternal

1.       “Your word, O LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.” (Psalm 119:89)

a.       The ramification of the Eternal Bible means that is not only authoritative in a certain time and culture, but eternally

ii.      It declares that all His words are true

1.      “All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal” (Psalm 119:160)

iii.      It declares that it has the rights to demands eternal compliance to its laws

1.      “All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal” (Psalm 119:160)

iv.      It declares that what is written within it must be believed

1.      “Abraham repolied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them’ (Luke 16:29)

a.       From the context of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, this verse gives us the insight that one ought to listen to the content of Scriptural truths to save one from Hell

v.      It declares that the Scripture is more authoritative and powerful than any authority of man’s supernatural experiences

1.      “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” (Luke 16:31)

Notice that Scripture ought to and does has the power more convincing than someone rising from the dead.

[1] Bernard Ramm, The Pattern of Religious Authority, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans), 10.

[2] See Session two for a refutation of subjectivism.

[3] This is a loaded term, and I would distinguish it between vicious circularity.  A full discussion would be beyond the scope of this outline.  For a concise summary, I recommend the following and particularly the footnotes on its page:

Greg Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetics: Readings and Analysis (Phillipsburg, Presbyterian and Reformed), 518.

[4] Greg Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetics: Readings and Analysis (Phillipsburg, Presbyterian and Reformed), 170, footnote 42.

[5] The term Scripture, Word of God and Bible are interchangeable here.

[6] This portion of the outline is employing characteristics mentioned in the quoted definition of authority.


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