How to Establish Divine Authority




I. Thesis: Through seeking to understand what practices are right and wrong for Christians, biblical interpreters have discovered the following hermeneutical principle of inclusion and exclusion that is operational in both testaments.

Whatever is without biblical authority is excluded from Christian faith and practice; therefore, to act without biblical authority lacks God’s approval. As Christians, we must honor the silence of the Scriptures and abide by the pattern of worship, work, doctrine, organization and spirit set forth in the New Testament. General authority includes everything within the bounds of the authorizing statement; specific authority excludes every form, means, and method outside the bounds of the authorizing specific authority; having no biblical authority excludes whatever Scripture is silent about. I do not mean that there was a perfect local church in the New Testament that we should strive to be just like. I do mean that we must strive to be just like the directives and correctives given in God’s perfect word.

II. The motive for this principle is not just to be different, narrow, and judgmental.
A. We do not simply wish to be different, but we are only striving to do right by submitting to the authority of God.
B. We do not delight in saying others are wrong; we only strive to know and to aid others in knowing what is right and what is wrong. Because of our love for God, we want to please Him, and it is by knowing what is right and what is wrong that we know how to submit to and  please Him.

C. We want to assume that all who profess Christianity want to know His will and are willing to submit to it when they come to know it..

D. We assume that others are as sincere as we are and wish to treat them as we wish to be treated–let God judge their motives.

III. We do not question the motives of those engaging in activities that are without biblical authority nor deny that God’s grace reaches those in Christ who are sincerely wrong.
A. We are not saying that unauthorized activity is wrong in itself, but it is wrong when practiced on occasions when it is not authorized by the Bible.
B. We do not mean to say nor imply that all who engage in unauthorized activities are vicious and rebellious haters of God and of truth.
C. We neither believe nor teach that there is no grace for those in Christ who are doing wrong because of imperfect understanding.
D. We do not desire to judge who is lost or saved.
E. We are only saying that involvement in activities that are without biblical authority is wrong, and we must never persist doing what we know is wrong.

IV. We wish to avoid Pharisaic attitudes and unwarranted legalism, but we want to submit to the authority of the Scriptures.
A. We do not want to be like the Pharisees who delight in condemning and throwing stones at others while we are blinded to our own errors.
B. We do not wish to be legalists who claim that we can be saved only if we are perfectly correct in understanding and in conduct.
C. On the other hand, we do not wish to be libertines who don’t strive to know the will of God, use freedom in Christ as an occasion to the flesh, or sin because we are not under law but under grace (Gal. 5:13; Rom 6:15).
D. Neither do we want to be antinomians who don’t believe God has a law for us.

V. We wish to understand the balance of law, grace and faith.
A. We are not under law as a basis of salvation, but under grace as the grounds of our salvation (Rom. 6:15).
B. Christ not only gives us grace to save us, but He also gives us truth to guide us (John 1:14, 17; 4:24; 14:6; 17:17).
C. A saving faith is a submissive faith that seeks to know and obey God’s will (Rom. 1:5; 16:26; Gal. 5:6; James 2:14-26; Heb. 11; cf. Acts 6:7).
1. Submissive faith seeks to know God’s will–what is right and what is wrong.
2. Faith that deliberately chooses to remain ignorant or disregards truth also forfeits grace (Heb. 10:26).
D. Christianity is truly a religion of mercy, but it is also a religion of authority. When Christ extended His grace, He did not also give His authority over to men. He extended grace to men under authority.
E. Christianity is a religion of grace, but it is also a religion of law.
F. Christianity is a religion of love, but it is also a religion of truth. When Christ calls for love and unity, He did not declare his standard of right and wrong null and void. He taught unity through both submission and the extension of grace.
G. We must serve and worship Christ in spirit, but we must worship and serve Him in truth (John 4:24).

VI. Any rule that allows religious action without biblical authority makes man his own authority concerning what to do in the work and worship of the church and opens the door to innumerable unauthorized practices.


I. The Christianity of the Bible operates exclusively by divine authority in all its faith and practices.

A. There are several views of authority in religion.
1. The atheist holds the view that there is no God over man.
2. The theists who reject the Judaeo-Christian view of God exclude the authority of God, Christ, and the Bible.
3. Non-Christian Jews reject the authority of Christ and the New Testament, and are guided by the Old Testament plus their traditions (Matt. 15:1-9).
4. Catholics claim that the church is the mother of the Scripture and that her ecclesiastical laws have the same/or more binding force as the Bible–that the Bible is not our only guide.
5. Protestantism generally proposes to require what is expressly enjoined, to reject what is expressly forbidden, and to feel free to practice what is not expressly forbidden (whether authorized or not).
6. Modern cults and creedalists give homage to the Bible, but they accept their church rules as having a binding force equal to the Bible–often preferring them over the Bible.
7. Those who are committed to restoring New Testament Christianity propose to observe everything that is required by expressed statement, necessary implication, or approved apostolic example; to abstain from everything that is forbidden by expressed statement, necessary implication, or apostolic example; and to refrain from everything that is not authorized by expressed statement, necessary implication, or apostolic example.

B. Biblical authority is essential to make a belief or practice acceptable to God.
1. There are two possible sources of authority (Matt. 21:23-27). Some operate by the authority of men. Some strive to act only by the authority of God.
2. Man must seek God’s authority for his actions. Human thoughts and ways cannot compare to the thoughts and ways of God (Isa. 55:8, 9). The way of man is not in himself (Jer. 10:23). Jesus Christ is Lord–i.e., the only one who has a right to master, direct, govern, or control our lives (Mt. 28:18; 1 Pet. 3:15; Mt. 7:21; Lk. 6:46).
3. God authorizes and guides through the Bible. God deserves to be in authority. He is creator of man and all things (Gen. 1-3; Jn. 1:1-18). He is Sustainer of all things (Acts 17:28-29; Col. 1:16-17). ( He owns us through redemption (I Cor. 6:19, 20; 10:26).
Christ exercises exclusive authority, which He administers through apostolic teachings. God gave all authority to the resurrected Christ (Matt. 28: 18-20; Eph. l:22, 23; Col. l:18). The Apostles were endowed with authority through the Holy Spirit (John 14:26; 16:13; Matt. 16:18, 19), and their word became normative–God’s divine standard (Gal. 1:6-9). The apostles had the power to set forth divine teachings through laying their hands on select people in the church. Others upon whom the Apostles laid their hands set forth an authoritative message (I Cor. 12-14; Acts 8; Eph. 3:5).
The Scripture is God’s exclusive source of authority in religion (2 Tim. 3:16,17; James 1:25; Gal. 1:6-9; I Cor. 4:6; 2 John 9-11; Jude 3; Rev. 22:18,19; Matt. 15: 1-9; Mark 7:1-7; Matt. 7:13-22). The inspired apostolic teachings were the source of the only one true Christian faith (Eph. 4:4, 5); this faith is revealed in the New Testament (Gal. 1:23; 3:23; Rom. 10:17), and we must act by faith (2 Cor. 5:7; Heb. 11:6).
4. The Bible authorizes in three ways. An expressed statement authorizes actions. An expressed account of action sanctions the action. And an expressed command requires the action.
When an express statement, text, or context necessarily implies something not expressed, the necessary implication authorizes faith and practices.
An approved account of action authorizes. However, an approved example may only gives permission. But an example is binding when it is obvious that the action is a response to a background command or antecedent theology.
5.Biblical authority may only permit an action, but, on the other hand, it may require the action. Statements and implications that describe give permission. Statements and implications with the force of command require an action.
Examples may be binding, but they may give permission without being binding imperatives. When an account of action illustrates antecedent theology (i.e., has a background command or is rooted in he nature of God), it binds a required action. Also, when a reported action is done in response to a necessary implication, it has binding force. Likewise, when an account of action gives evidence that the action was required, it is of binding force.
6. Biblical authority may be local and temporary, or it may be universal and permanent. When the context of an authorization expressly limits the time, purpose and its subjects, it is local and temporary. Also, authority is local and temporary when the account or its context implies it was limited in time and scope (e.g. Gen. 6:13-22; 2 Tim. 4:9-18). Likewise, subsequent revelation might limit the time and scope of the authority by indicating a change. Without the foregoing limitations, authority is universal and permanent.
7. Biblical authority may be inclusive or exclusive. General authority that does not specify persons, methods, times, places,
things, or means authorizes anything within the limits (i.e., bounds) of the authorizing statement, example, command, or implication.
Specific authority that gives specific guidance regarding time, place, method, means, etc. excludes anything that is an addition to that which is specified (cf. point III).
Specific and general authority relate to current questions and concepts in the following ways. (a) Specific authority imposes form, but general authority grants freedom. (b) Specific authority is exclusive, but general authority is inclusive. (c) Specific authority makes particulars matters of faith, but general authority leaves particulars in the area of opinion. (d) Specific authority binds particulars as law, but general authority leaves particulars as matters of expediency or opinion. (e) To either forbid or require a specific in the realm of general biblical authority is creedalism and is inspired by demonic forces (Matt. 16:18, 19; I Tim. 4:1-4). (f) To allow anything excluded by specific authority is liberalism and is without the approval and blessing of God–is wrong (II John 9-11).
Note the following observations regarding pattern authority and the silence of the Scripture. a. When authority is specific, the following propositions are true: (a) Specific authority establishes an exclusive form or pattern. (b) The silence of the Scriptures regarding particulars not included requires that we neither require nor allow any activity excluded by specific authority.
When authority is general, the following propositions are true:
(a) General authority forbids that any form or pattern be required, but that freedom be allowed in regard to the particulars within the limits of that general authority. (b) Therefore, under general authority, the silence of the Scriptures in regard to particulars forbids any rules either forbidding or requiring particulars within the bounds of such general authority.
By the authority given to them by Christ (i.e., the keys of the kingdom), the inspired writers bound the church to some forms (i.e., patterns) and loosed the church (i.e., granted freedom) in other areas, according to what God had bound or loosed in heaven (Mt. 16:18, 19).
(a)We honor the silence of the Scriptures by neither loosing what God has bound (i.e., granting freedom in areas where He specified form) nor binding what God has loosed (i.e., imposing form where He granted freedom). (b) In keeping with this, where the Bible speaks, we speak; and where the Bible is silent, we are silent. (c) Likewise, we seek to practice Christianity according to the pattern set forth in the New Testament. (d) In other words, we are seeking to restore the forms and freedoms Christ teaches in the New Testament in the lives of believers and churches today.

III. Specific Biblical authority excludes all additions.

A. A common-sense approach to Bible study shows that specific authority is exclusive.
l. Jacob’s bargain with Laban for the speckled and spotted sheep, black lambs, and spotted and speckled goats excluded all other livestock; any others taken into his flock would have been “stolen” (Gen. 30:31-43).
2. God’s commandment requiring “a red heifer without defect, in which there is no blemish, and upon which a yoke has never come” and requiring “male lambs a year old without blemish” were exclusive and ruled out all that did not fit those specific descriptions or categories (Numbers 19:2; 28:3, 9, 11; 29:17, 26).
3. When Abel offered “of the firstlings of the flock” “by faith,” he offered what God required (Gen. 4:4; Heb. 11:4; Rom. 10:17), and when Cain offered something else, he did not act by faith and did not do well. His offering was not acceptable to God (Gen. 4:5-7).
4. When Noah built the ark of gopher wood as God instructed, he acted by faith and pleased God (Gen. 6:14-16; Heb. 11:7). If he had used other wood or violated the specific instructions of God, he would not have pleased God.
5. Above all, God Himself honored the principle that specific authority excludes everything except what is specified–the law of exclusion. When God planned for Christ to be our High Priest in the Christian system, He could not do so and honor the specific command in the Old Testament law that high priests must be descendants of Aaron of the tribe of Levi. So He did away with the Old Testament Law and established the New Testament Law (Hebrews 7:12-14). Before the law of Moses, God made Melchizedek (not of the specified tribe of Levi) a priest.  While “the law” was in force, only those of the tribe of Levi could be priests.   After the Law of Moses was abolished, He made Jesus (not of the specified tribe of Levi) a priest.  Specific authority demanded this! So, the law of exclusion by specific authority is an eternal and universal law–submitted to by God Himself!  Under The Old Testament Law, Christ could not be a priest on earth (Hebrews 8:4-5).

6. The above is an accepted law of language that we honor every day.  If you ask for “a cup of coffee,” this general language leaves it open for you to be served coffee with or without sugar and with or without cream.  This general language allows for either black coffee, coffee with sugar, coffee with cream, or coffee with both sugar and cream.  However, if you ask for “a cup of black coffee,” this request can only be fulfilled by coffee without sugar or cream.  The specific language is exclusive and would be violated by any addition or subtraction.

When a physician submits a prescription to the pharmacist, we expect the pharmacist to fill the prescription without addition or subtraction.  Addition to or subtraction from the specifics of the prescription could render the medicine either ineffective or fatal.  In either case, additions and subtractions are violations of the orders, unacceptable, and could lead to pharmacists having their licenses revoked.

Some say that this principle may be applied in everyday affairs such as the above, but not in a study of the Bible.  This is simply saying that in interpreting the Bible, the laws of language do not apply.  This means that some think that Bible study in not a rational pursuit.  This I cannot begin to accept.  The Bible itself indicates otherwise.  Surely, God is not irrational; neither should we be in studying His word!

B. Willful rejection of exclusive authority invites God’s wrath.

1. When Nadab and Abihu took strange (unholy) fire into their censers they used fire God “had not commanded them,” and God punished them for their disobedience (Lev. 16:12; 10: 1-3).
2. When Korah, Dathan, and Abiram tried to impose men other than those specifically ordered for the priestly service (i.e., the sons of Levi), they were in rebellion against God, and the earth swallowed them (Number 16).
3. Hebrews 7:11-19 interprets the Old Testament regulations regarding who could serve as priests by applying the law of exclusion by specific authority. Neither Melchizedek nor Jesus, neither being of the tribe of Levi, qualified for the priesthood according to the law. They both had to be especially appointed by God; only God could set aside the law.
4. When Saul offered the burnt offering in violation of God’s specific requirement for Samuel to offer it, he displeased God and lost his favor (I Sam. 13:8-15; 10:8).
5. When the Jews added to God’s law concerning worship and by tradition or commandment or men practiced unauthorized hand washing and other ceremonies, they made their religion vain (Mark 7:1-7; Matt. 15:1-9).

C. The basic Protestant principle that approves or requires unauthorized activities in Christian work and worship contradicts the exclusive authority of Christ.
1. Zwingli, in Switzerland, advocated excluding all things not authorized by the Bible. This led to the abolition of instrumental music from worship along with other unauthorized practices (F. W. Mattox, The Eternal Kingdom, pp. 255-257).
2. Martin Luther, in Germany, advocated allowing anything not expressly forbidden. This could have allowed mass for the dead, auricular confession, purgatory, infallibility of popes, et. al. (Mattox, pp. 255-257; J. W. Shepherd, The Church, The Falling Away and the Restoration, p. 115).

D. The problem of instrumental music in Christian worship illustrates this principle.
1. All biblical references to music in Christian worship specifically refers to singing.
2. Therefore, these specific references to singing, along with the silence of the Bible on mechanical instrumental music in Christian worship, exclude mechanical instruments of music in Christian worship.
(a) All New Testament references to music in Christian worship of God exclusively call for singing (Matt. 26:30; Acts. 16:25; Eph. 5:18, 19; Col. 3:16; Heb. 13:15; James 5:13). (b) Therefore, singing is the only music authorized for the congregation (Heb. 2:12) and for the assembly of Christians specifically required on the first day of the week (I Cor. 14:15, 22, 26; 16: 1, 2).

E. The question of when to take the Lord’s Supper and how often is decided on the basis of specific authority in the New Testament.  The New Testament gives apostolic authority that is specific for when to take the Lord’s Supper; that is on the first day of every week (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:20-22; 16:1-2).  The church at Troas came together on the first day of the week for the purpose of taking the Lord’s Supper.  Paul rebuked the church at Corinth for not recognizing the purpose of their assembly as to take the Lord’s Supper.  In 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, Paul states that they came together on the first day of every week.  So the Scripture excludes any other time for taking the Lord’s Supper and requires that it be taken every first day of the week.  Likewise, the specific requirement for bread and “fruit of the vine” excludes cake and ice-cream or steak from the supper.


I. If we abide by this divine principle of Biblical interpretation, we will submit not only to express commands, but will also submit to pattern authority and the silence of the Scripture.

II. If we deny pattern authority and the restrictions imposed by the silence of the Scripture, we open the door to any and every activity that the Scripture does not expressly forbid.

William T. (Bill) Lambert, Ed. D. Professor Emeritus College of Bible and Religion Harding University Searcy, AR 72149-0001

About Dr. Bill Lambert

Born near Tylertown, MS, January 8, 1937. Son of Troy E. and Sue Lambert. Earned AA at Freed-Hardeman College (Bible); BA at Belhaven College (New Testament Greek); MA at Mississippi College (English); EdD at University of Arkansas (College Teaching of New Testament Greek and Interpretation); additional undergraduate and graduate studies in Bible, psychology, and counseling at Freed-Hardeman University, Belhaven College, and Mississippi State University. Retired from serving as administrator, professor of New Testament Literature and Interpretation at Magnilia Bible College and Harding University. Minister of the Gospel 1952 - Present; Developer of "Probing the Mind of God" method of Bible study, and co-developer of "New Creature Process" counseling method. Married to Dr. Helen Carter Lambert, two sons and one daughter; four grandsons and four granddaughters; one grandson.
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