Ascertaining Bible Authority

From those that deny that the Scriptures are the sole source of authority to those that stand on the principle of sola scriptura for all their doctrine and practice, everyone that seeks to live a life acceptable to God must account for themselves against the Scriptural record in some fashion. In the study Ascertaining Bible Authority, Roy C. Deaver has produced a work that presents some basic interpretive principles and considerations for the Christian that seeks a sound foundation for establishing authority. The work is divided into 13 individual sections with a series of questions at the end of each section for further consideration; obviously the work’s intent is to be used as a teaching tool for those engaged in a quarterly teaching system. Three appendices are also included that address the authority issue presented in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 (“Appendix A”), and bro. Deaver’s answer to two letters (“Appendix B” and “Appendix C”).

As Deaver notes in the first lesson, when one studies how to ascertain Bible authority there are at least “three fundamental propositions: (1) God IS, (2) the Bible is the Word of God, and (3) God has given us the Bible to guide us in this life and to take us to the heaven when this life is over” (1). These propositions work in concert, but it is the third that forms the basis for Deaver’s study. Since the Scriptures claim to be the inspired word of God, it must be the concern of every Christian to have the authority of Jesus’s name behind their practice and doctrine (Col. 3:17). Further, as Deaver notes, it is not only an obligation but the honor of the Christian to “walk by faith” (2 Cor. 5:17) – Christians are governed by the standard of faith. Paul, in the letter to the Romans, makes it very clear that it is in the hearing of Scriptures that faith is developed (Rom. 10:17). When the Christian acts without Scriptural authority for their practice and doctrine it is impossible to act from a standard of faith as outlined by the Scriptures; therefore, not pleasing God (Heb. 11:6). This line of reasoning permeates the work from beginning to end as Deaver explores the principles that guide hermeneutical reasoning in the application of authority.

In the early lessons Deaver explores the idea of Biblical Inspiration and the authority of Jesus and the apostles to act as the mouthpieces of God to our world. Further, since Jesus and the apostles form the source of authority for the Christian, this means there is a pattern inherent in the Scriptural record that must be adhered to. In “Lesson Five,” Deaver discusses the fact that many see faith as something that takes them past the evidence in a blind leap, but it is maintained by the writer that faith “does not mean an absence of evidence. In fact, faith requires evidence, and there can be no faith where there is no evidence” (23). It should be noted that Deaver making appeal to the line of reasoning that was presented in the first lesson.

Prior to beginning the real heart of the work, Deaver delves into the area of epistemology noting that knowledge comes in two specific methods: learning by experience or learning by contemplation; further, when one learns by contemplation, this involves two methods of reasoning: inductive or deductive. When learning by contemplation, there is a “law of rationality” that states an individual “ought to justify our conclusions by adequate evidence.” It is insisted by Deaver that real knowledge excludes “guesses, speculations, probabilities, and possibilities,” and what is really being considered are conclusions that are demanded by the evidence as presented by the Scriptures. Those conclusions can therefore be a matter of knowledge just as if those conclusions were arrived at by direct experience (29).

It is across lessons seven and eight that Deaver begins the work of determining how the individual ascertains Biblical authority with practical application. Prior to beginning though, a basic proposition is presented and is later encouraged to be memorized:

Proposition: The Scriptures teach that in Christian work and worship we must do only that which is authorized by the word of God. A corollary to this proposition would be: It is possible for human beings to ascertain that which is authorized by the word of God. An additional corollary to this proposition would be: It is possible for human beings to practice in Christian work and worship only that which is authorized by the word of God. (35)

After this, several significant distinctions are noted: old/new (as regarding the testaments and dispensations that are seen in the Scriptures), faith/opinion (where opinion does not demand unity), temporary/permanent, circumstance/condition (the difference between what occurs as a natural extension of an action and what must occur to produce an action), incidental/essential, means/principle, and custom/law. These distinctions help the exegete handle the word of God in a method that is consistent with finding evidence for what is authoritative for the Christian.

It is at this point in the study that many will balk at Deaver’s conclusions, for across lessons 9-11 the discussion turns to the often-maligned authoritative rubric of command, example, and necessary inference. Under the heading of command, the discussion is centered on the ideas of “action and obligation” rather than the traditional distinctions of direct/indirect and positive/negative commands. Also, under this section there is a discussion of dealing with the silence of Scriptures. The position taken by Deaver in this section is opposite to those that see the silence of Scriptures as authority to act; i.e., “The Bible authorizes by WHAT IT SAYS – NOT BY WHAT IT DOES NOT SAY!” (emp. Deaver, 49).

Regarding the idea of example, Deaver sees the query, “When is an example binding?” as the wrong question. The question should be, “When does the Bible account of an action constitute an example?” (emp. Deaver, 52) The underlying meaning of course pointing to an example to be followed and considered binding upon the Christian. The totality of Deaver’s discussion is too lengthy to be reproduced, but two thoughts are important. First, the idea that whether an example is considered something that must be done or may be done can only be determined by the totality of the Biblical teaching on the subject being considered. Second, in a concept that is difficult to grasp at times (and will also resurface), it is noted that an example does not exclude. Determining when an account of action constitutes an example (to be followed) requires the application of the principles of Biblical hermeneutics, the application of logic, and the totality of Bible teaching on the subject at hand (55).

The section on implication begins with a statement that notes, “The authority lines not in the fact that I read it, but in the fact that God wrote it; not in the fact that I reasoned correctly, but in the fact that God implied it” (57). This is basic to the thought that everything that the Bible teaches is taught either explicitly or implicitly; further, what is taught by valid implication is just as true, binding, and authoritative as what is taught explicitly. Deaver also makes the point that it is unnecessary to speak of “necessary inference” since if the inference is valid it is necessary, and if something is not necessary it is not an inference. As noted, when an “action, fact, or teaching is absolutely DEMANDED by the Biblical information at hand … then that action, that fact, or that teaching is a matter of IMPLICATION” (emp. Deaver, 58). This is a matter of logic which, as noted with example, may be just as valid as experience when determining authority.

Deaver, in “Lesson Twelve,” makes an interesting assertion – that Biblical authority may be established by an expediency. Every obligation that is laid on the Christian by the Scriptural record involves expediency. If God specifies an obligation but does not specifically relate how that obligation should be accomplished, it is a matter of human judgment as to how the obligation may be completed. There is a brief comment on the relationship between an expedient and an optional, where an expedient is necessary to fulfill the obligation, but the expedient may, because of circumstance, be an option decided upon by human judgment. There is also a brief comment about the difference between an addition and an expedient. An addition is anything not authorized by the Scriptures, but if an expedient is demanded by the Scriptures as may be a true aid. As with the discussion of example above, an expedient cannot exclude the use of another expedient determined to be advantageous for the fulfilment of an obligation; each expedient must find its own authorization using the principles of Biblical hermeneutics, the application of logic, and the totality of Biblical teaching on the subject being considered.

Many would undoubtedly disagree with the bulk of Deaver’s conclusions and affirmations, but the study is certainly useful when seeking to lay a foundation with those unfamiliar with the basic principles of hermeneutics. One wishes that bro. Deaver had extended these chapters, as it is obvious that he had given much thought to each section, but even for those that might disagree with Deaver on these matters, the material presented is a valuable launching pad for further study and consideration. For those that maintain that the “traditional” hermeneutic of CENI is abusive and debilitating to the practice of Christianity, two thoughts. First, any system of determining Biblical authority may be adulterated and corrupted by those that use it to serve their own ends; and second, that CENI has been so abused does not destroy its usefulness as a means of determining Biblical authority.

Quotes from the work:

“Obviously then, the Christian walks by that which comes by hearing the word of God. If faith comes by hearing the word of God, then where there is no word of God there can be no faith.” (2)

“The agnostic does not say there is no God. He only says that he does not know. The belief that one should accept only what can be known by actual experience is called agnosticism.” (26)

“Whatever is offered as worship to God, which is not authorized by the New Testament, is not acceptable to Him. The fact that something is INTENDED to be worship to God does not mean that it will please God.” (47)

“It is a basic principle of Biblical hermeneutics that if and when and to the extent that God does specify the HOW in connection with the carrying out of any obligation that the HOW becomes just as binding as the obligation itself; but if and when and to the extent that God does NOT SPECIFY THE HOW, then the manner and method are left to the realm of human judgment, the realm of expediency.” (66)

“The tragedy is that so often we get so bogged down in the details and circumstances by which principles are taught that we fail to see the principles themselves. Principles are binding; customs are not.” (83)

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