The Authority of the Bible

By: Dr. Jack Graham

To the casual reader of the four gospels, it could be easy to overlook that Jesus Christ knew the Old Testament Scriptures from start to finish, and this despite not one mention of having a copy of the Law, Prophets or Writings as He traveled throughout the land of Israel. Indeed, He couldn’t have had a personal copy much as we have our own copy of the Bible today because copies of Scripture were kept only in the synagogues. And yet the words of the Old Testament flowed from His lips with clarity and ease as He spoke. From His youngest years to adulthood, Jesus must have devoted significant time to the study and memorization of the Old Testament; we do well to remind ourselves when reading the four gospels that when Jesus makes reference to or quotes the Old Testament, He is doing it spontaneously and from memory.

From the beginning to the end of his life, Jesus’ attitude toward the Word of God was of submission to its authority. As a 12-year-old boy, He astounded the scribes—the teachers of the Law—in the temple courts, both by His questions and His answers concerning the things of God. At the outset of His public ministry, Jesus was led by the Spirit into a conflict with Satan himself. Jesus resisted all of Satan’s temptations by submitting to the authority of the Word: “It is written … it is written … it is said …” says Luke 4:4, 8, 12. “It is written”—or its counterpart, “that the Scripture might be fulfilled”—became the phrase the disciples heard more than any other, such as is reflected in the following verses:

Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’” —Matthew 26:31

For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born. —Mark 14:21

For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: “And he was numbered with the transgressors.” For what is written about me has its fulfillment. —Luke 22:37

I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, “He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.” —John 13:18

While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. —John 17:12

Shortly after Jesus’ temptations-in-the desert experience, in a synagogue in Nazareth, He revealed Himself as the Messiah or the “anointed one” to the Jewish leaders by reading and then applying to Himself the Messianic passage from Isaiah 61:1–2, also cited in Luke 4:14–21. Admittedly He could have saved Himself a mess of trouble by sitting quietly in the synagogue instead of acknowledging that He, in fact, was the long-awaited one. Whatever the cost, He knew He had to obey the Word and teach what was true.

Finally, He revealed that His earthly mission included suffering and even death, His reference point always including Old Testament prophecies concerning the suffering Messiah.

As a relatively young man in his early 30s, humanly speaking, Jesus maintained an astounding grasp of the Word of God and remained totally submissive to its authority.

Throughout His life, Christ seemed to be committed to two things: the will of the Father in heaven, and the authority of Scripture. And yet He saw them as somehow inseparable. His submission to the authority of Scripture was the way he demonstrated His submission to the Father. In Matthew 5:17, Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” He fulfilled what was written in Scripture with the same fidelity with which He fulfilled what His Father in heaven commanded Him to do. The Father’s words, whether given to Him directly or written in the pages of the Old Testament, were the authoritative Word of God. “Forever, O LORD, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens,” Psalm 119:89 declares. The Word and will of God is (present tense) settled forever; therefore, Jesus never questioned it. Anyone who is a follower of Jesus Christ can rest assured in the very same claim.