“And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God…”1 Thessalonians 2:13
Whether we will admit it or not, we come to the Bible with presuppositions. We come with a certain disposition, a state of mind, a perspective. Fundamentally, we come to the Scriptures either with or without faith–and this makes all the difference: “For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened” (Hebrews 4:2).
The gift of faith changes the way we receive “the message.” This is why Paul thanked God without ceasing. When the Thessalonians enthusiastically received his gospel, they didn’t think they were receiving some new philosophy or some new manmade religion or some new spiritual fad. They believed they were receiving the very Word of God. Paul is celebrating the clear evidence of faith.
Believers receive the Scriptures with faith. With Paul, we believe the words contained in the Bible are not merely the words of men but the Word of God. This believe shapes how we understand the Word’s origin and its authority.
The Word’s Origin.
Let’s talk about the Bible’s origin. Did the words of the Bible originate in the mind of men or in the mind of God? Are they first and foremost the words of God or the words of men? If you will only admit that they are the words of men—it does not matter whether you think they are the words of enlightened men, spiritual men, very wise men—if you believe they are merely the words of men, then they are utterly powerless.
We live in a post-postmodern society engaged in a war of the words of men. Every man and woman uses his words to try to exercise power over others. The person, party, or movement with the most persuasive and aggressive and loudest words wins.
Friends, if the Christian Scriptures are just the words of men, then we are no different from anyone else. Our religious book is just an attempt to exercise political or social or cultural power over others through human words.
Sadly, many professing Christians live as though this were true. They act as though the Bible needs help evolving for the 21st century. The Bible embarrasses itself at times and needs someone to fix its makeup, so to speak. So they alter or explain away parts of the Bible to try to make it more competitive for today’s market.
It’s a matter of origin. Is the Bible just a library of outdated religious thoughts–the best intentions of people who lived long ago, or is it the product of the mind of the omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresence Lord of the universe? Because if this book really is God-breathed (as it claims to be–2 Timothy 3:16), it doesn’t need our help. It doesn’t need our assistance. It doesn’t need us to doll it up so that it can keep up with the times. The God who spoke these words can do just fine on his own to make sure that he has the last word.
The Word’s Authority.
However, the faith of a new believer also acknowledges the Word’s authority. Let’s say my kids are coloring, and my son wants a certain marker that his sister is keeping to herself. First, he tries, “Give me that marker.” She refuses. What’s the next thing he does? He runs and finds dad and says, “She won’t give me the marker. She’s keeping it all to herself.” Then depending on the mood, I say, “Tell your sister to give you the marker.” Then, he goes back and says the exact same thing, but one thing is different: “Daddy says, give me that marker.” What has changed? The level of authority. The second time, the command isn’t coming from her brother; it’s coming from her father.
It’s the same way with the Word of God. If 1 Thessalonians or Leviticus or Romans are merely the words of men, we are dealing with equals–men just like us. However, if they are commands given through men from God, we are dealing with a superior–the Almighty God himself.
The issue of authority crops up in interesting places. Take red-letter editions of the Bible, for instance. If you haven’t seen one, a red-letter edition of the Bible is one where the quotes in the Gospels attributed to Jesus are in red letters and all of the rest are in black.
Here’s the possible danger with red-letter editions. You may be tempted to think the words in red are more important, more authoritative, than the ones in black. But what color are all of the words in 1 Thessalonians? Black. Here’s the thing: Every letter in 1 Thessalonians is as red as any jot or tittle uttered by the mouth of Jesus when he walked this earth.
If you want to make a distinction, Paul says, it’s this: While every book on every shelf in every library and on every Kindle and in every newsfeed is written in black, the Word of God alone is written in red. From Genesis 1 to Revelation 22, every single letter is soaked through and through with the authority of King Jesus who has sealed its words with his own blood.
The Word of God is the only book in all the world that carried with it the authority to forgive sins against the Lord of the Universe, the power to grant salvation to all who believe, the good news that the King has died and been raised and grants eternal life to all who repent. And so, whether we are reading Law of Moses from Leviticus or Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount in Matthew or the instructions of Paul in 1 Thessalonians, there is not a varying level of authority. All of these words are the Word of God.
There are men and women who style themselves preachers of the Gospel who will discredit commands that don’t jibe with today’s culture–for instance in 1 Timothy regarding gender roles in the church or in Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6 regarding homosexual practice–because they are the words of Paul not the words of Jesus. But Paul reminds us that true believers don’t make any distinction. The words of Jesus, the words of Moses, the words of Isaiah, the words of Paul—they are all the Word of God. They all carry equal authority.
To be a follower of Jesus Christ is to totally surrender to Word of our King. We receive his Word all or nothing. Either Jesus is the King, or I am. The desire to reject parts of Paul’s letters as “words of men” is a desire to reject the authority of Jesus Christ. They are no less the King’s commands because they are sent by a messenger.
This is what we believe. We believe in the divine origin and divine authority of the Word because it is the Word of God.