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The Sole Authority of God’s Word

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In part one of this series, we examined the biblical pattern of reminder, and especially Peter’s effort to remind his readers of the basic truths of the Gospel, which he declares in 2 Peter 1:12–15 . By repeatedly coming back to the essentials, Peter sought to prevent his readers from being led astray by false teachers who denied Christ and the Gospel.

In part two, we considered the Gospel message and the exhortations and warnings that emerge from it. The most basic element of Christianity is the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith, giving us peace with God through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Because we are united to Christ by faith and indwelled by the Holy Spirit, we have power from God to live rightly. Since we have this power, we are to make every effort toward obedience, which is a sign that He is actually at work in us.

In this final part, we’ll consider the authority on which we make these assertions: the prophetic and apostolic witness, which comes to us with divine authority in the Bible. In contrast to the false teachers, Peter’s testimony about Jesus Christ was not invented but was what he and the other apostles saw with their own eyes. Jesus’ coming confirms the authority of the Scriptures, which are the standard on which pastors today must depend and to which they must return as they remind themselves and their congregations of the basics.

The only genuine pastoral authority that ever exists comes by the wielding of the Word of God brought home by the Spirit of God to the lives of the people of God.

An Eyewitness Account

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. (2 Peter 1:16–18)

The way verse 16 begins implies that Peter is defending himself against an accusation coming from false teachers. We can imagine that some of people were saying, “You don’t want to go with that guy Peter. He’s just been making things up. Come with us, and we’ll show you the true way.”

But he wasn’t not making it up. In fact, he was a witness of these things. As Eugene Peterson paraphrases it, “We were there for the preview! We saw it with our own eyes” (2 Peter 1:16 MSG). Specifically, he is referring to the transfiguration, during which He saw the glory of the Lord Jesus revealed and heard the Father’s testimony about the Son. He is not inventing something out of his mind; he is reporting what he and other disciples saw.

We get a similar testimony from the apostle John: “That … which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life … we proclaim also to you.” (1 John 1:1–3). Paul, too, asserted that he proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ not because of anyone else’s testimony but because he had seen and heard the risen and exalted Lord on the Damascus Road: “The gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. … I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:11–12). The authority of the Gospel they preached came from the fact that they had seen it themselves and, by the Spirit’s power, could testify to it.

It’s not speculation. It’s not invention. The transfiguration that Peter witnessed, along with James and John, was something a preview of what it will be like when the Lord Jesus returns: the manifestation of glory, the appearance of the Old Testament saints in the company of the New Testament disciples, the kingly Son in all of His honor, and the presence of the divine Father. And Peter’s message, he tells us, was based upon what he and his fellow apostles both saw and heard: “We were eyewitnesses …. We ourselves heard this very voice.”

That is the Word they proclaimed to us, and it is what they wrote for us in the New Testament Scriptures. As Christians, we don’t stake our confidence in a succession of infallible popes or modern-day prophets, but we have a deposit of inspired and infallible truth. We have the Bible. True apostolic succession is found in the ongoing communication of the Gospel that the apostles preached, “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). Therefore, the only genuine pastoral authority that ever exists comes by the wielding of the Word of God brought home by the Spirit of God to the lives of the people of God.  Pastoral authority is found only in the authority of the Scriptures.

When anyone comes around claiming to have some new message, we need to point them back to the authority and sufficiency of the message we have in the Scriptures.

Dick Lucas has written, “There is a natural craving for a voice from heaven. That indeed has been given …, but not to us.”1   A voice has come from heaven, but it came to the apostles. The apostles’ truth is now inscripturated for us. We do not have to strain ourselves listening for a voice or make up stories about voices to give ourselves credibility, for the voice has come from heaven to them, and they have now conveyed it to us. We never need to take our congregations beyond the Bible. We never need to take our congregations beyond apostolic practice and apostolic teaching. And when anyone comes around claiming to have some new message, we need to point them back to the authority and sufficiency of the message we have in the Scriptures. 

Indeed, Peter will begin chapter 2 by talking about individuals who were making bold claims, who were full of fake anecdotes, and who were luring in those who were looking for some fresh message. These are the false teachers who make it necessary for Peter and those of us who followed him to go back to the basics again and again. Peter says the answer to these teachers lies in the certainty, authority, and sufficiency of Scripture.

The Certainty of the Word

And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:19–21)


In verses 19–21, Peter turns his own readers to their Bibles—that is, to what we call the Old Testament—with the words “We have the prophetic word more fully confirmed.” John Calvin seems to get to the heart of this when he writes, “The authority of the Word of God is the same as it was in the beginning, and then it was given further confirmation than before by the advent of Christ.”2 In other words, the truth of all of the prophetic material that is pointing forward found its complete validity in Jesus, the Truth made flesh. So Peter does what every pastor who wants to be faithful must do: constantly turn men and women back to the Bible.

How will we ever become useful in the pulpit? In large measure, it has to do with the conviction that God stirs within our hearts concerning the Scriptures. We pastors have no ultimate authority! We can’t come to our people with ourselves or our ideas. They need the certain, authoritative, and sufficient Bible. When we lose confidence in this book, we’ll bring in the latest trends and entertainment ideas, and we’ll neglect the Word of God.

The absence of the Bible in large swaths modern Christianity is epidemic and terrifying. It is at the heart of the demise of the kind of vibrant Christianity that Peter was reminding his dear friends of in this letter. We ought to be alarmed on every occasion when people gather for praise and pay scant attention to the Bible. We ought to be deeply troubled when evangelistic outreaches are convened with no thought to the Bible at all. We ought to be really concerned to hear pleasant stories from individuals who’ve dreamt up little anecdotes to tickle ears but do not preach the Bible.

The Scriptures are not the personal insights of the prophets. They are the very Word of God to us.

In many quarters, the authoritative words of the apostles and prophets is replaced by a “prophetic word” spoken on a Sunday morning, by an academic-sounding justification of contemporary tastes, or even by the simple repetition of an ideological fad that’s been baptized in Christian terminology. But the pastor’s task is to ensure that his congregation is anchored to the Word of God and grounded in the work of Christ.

The prophets were not just out doing their best, susceptible to brighter people who would come along behind them. The Scriptures are not the product of “someone’s own interpretation.” They are not the personal insights of the prophets themselves. They are the very Word of God to us. 

Until Christ returns, there will never be any other divine light by which God’s people are to be led than the Scriptures. Eventually, the day will dawn, and the morning star will rise in our hearts; external revelation and inward illumination will combine, and we will know God as He is. In the meantime, the Scriptures have been given to us illuminate our paths. As the hymn writer says,

The heavens declare Thy glory, Lord;
In every star Thy wisdom shines;
But when our eyes behold Thy Word,
We read Thy name in firmer lines. …
Thy noblest wonders here we view
In souls renewed and sins forgiv’n;
Lord, cleanse my sins, my soul renew,
And make Thy Word my guide to heav’n.3

God doesn’t need the pastor’s mouth. Indeed, it is a mystery of His grace that He uses any of us! Those of us who have been entrusted with the gifts of teaching the Bible therefore need constantly to be saying, “It is to the Lord we look. It is to the Bible we go.” We’re under the Scriptures, we’re standing on the Scriptures, and we’re enclosed by the Scriptures so that, by the knowledge of God they reveal to us, we may worship Christ.

If that becomes the honest conviction of our hearts, then it will energize us for the task at hand, because it will give us tremendous confidence—not in ourselves but in the power of the Spirit as He works through the Word. We must always take our people back to these things, because here is where we find the only words worth hearing: the words of eternal life (John 6:68–69 ).

Back to the Basics

Reminder matters. We need to remind ourselves and our brothers and sisters in Christ of the basic truths of the Gospel, because it is in these truths that they will find life. Our reminder has the power to protect them against the false teaching that encourages them to move beyond and to deny Jesus—a temptation as prevalent in our day as it was in Peter’s.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is God’s one and only provision for humankind. In it, we have peace with God through the righteousness of Jesus Christ given to us. In it, we have power from the Holy Spirit to do the good that we could never hope to do apart from Him. There is nothing better than the simple Gospel. If we leave it behind, we leave behind God’s peace and power.

And this Gospel is preserved for us in God’s Word, so that we may measure our effectiveness in reminder by our commitment to preach the Word. If we would have our people hear the voice of God, there is nowhere else to turn. Certainly our own voices will not suffice, and the “prophetic,” academic, and trendy voices of our day and age can add nothing to God’s certain, authoritative, and sufficient Word. So let us preach the Word and in so doing preach the Gospel, bringing people again and again to the real source of their hope.

This article was adapted from the sermons “Back to the Basics” and “An Eyewitness Account” by Alistair Begg. Subscribe to get weekly blog updates.

Back to the Basics, Part One: “‘The Old, Old Story’ That Never Gets Old” 

Part Two: “Christians Are Saved by Grace. But Then What?” 

Part Three: “The Sole Authority of God’s Word” 

Dick Lucas and Christopher Green, The Message of 2 Peter and Jude: The Promise of His Coming, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1995), 23. ↩︎

John Calvin, The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews and the First and Second Epistles of St Peter, trans. William B. Johnston, ed. David W. Torrance and Thomas F. Torrance, Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1960), 340. ↩︎

Isaac Watts, “The Heavens Declare Thy Glory” (1719). Lyrics lightly altered. ↩︎

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