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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Is the Bible the Ultimate Authority?

Don Stewart :: Does the Bible Ever Appeal to Human Reason as a Source of Authority?

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Question 9

Does the Bible Ever Appeal to Human Reason as a Source of Authority?

The Protestant position is that the Bible is the final authority on all matters of faith and practice. The Scripture, not human reason, is the ultimate source on every issue in which it speaks. Does this mean there is no place for reason? Are we not supposed to think, or use our minds? Just believe?

A number of points need to be made about this issue. They include the following:

  1. Our Human Mind Is Limited: This Includes Our Reasoning Powers

    Scripture reinforces the fact that the human mind is limited. In the Book of Job, the following question was asked:

    Can you discover the essence of God? Can you find out the perfection of the Almighty? It is higher than the heavens?what can you do? It is deeper than Sheol?what can you know? (Job 11:7-8 NET)

    We cannot know the perfection of the Almighty. Indeed, the only things we can know about God is what He reveals to us. Otherwise, we can know nothing for certain.

    Paul wrote about the limitations of our own human minds when compared with the mighty ways of God. He put it this way in his letter to the Romans:

    O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! (Romans 11:33 KJV)

    God’s ways cannot be understood by humans. They are beyond our understanding.

  2. The Bible Is Not Against All Human Reasoning or Thinking

    Although unaided human reason cannot come up with any final answers on its own, the Bible does not downplay the use of reason or thinking.

Job Wanted to Reason with God

We read about the patriarch Job wishing to reason with God. The Scripture records Job desiring to speak to God:

Surely I would speak to the Almighty, and I desire to reason with God. (Job 13:3 KJV)

The New Living Translation renders the verse this way:

Oh, how I long to speak directly to the Almighty. I want to argue my case with God himself. (Job 13:3 NLT)

Therefore, the Lord recognizes the desire of humans to reason or to speak with Him. He understands our desire to have some sort of communication with Him.

The Lord Encouraged Reasoning with Him

On one occasion, the Lord seemingly encourages reasoning or discussion with Him. We read the following in the Book of the prophet Isaiah.

The New International Version sees this as being argumentative. It says:

“Come now, let us argue this out,” says the LORD. “No matter how deep the stain of your sins, I can remove it. I can make you as clean as freshly fallen snow. Even if you are stained as red as crimson, I can make you as white as wool.” (Isaiah 1:18 NIV)

The Bible is certainly not against human reason or humans using their reasoning powers. He wants us to think, to weigh and evaluate things.

Paul Spent Time Reasoning with Unbelievers from Scripture

The Bible says that the Apostle Paul reasoned with unbelievers from the Scriptures. We read the following in the Book of Acts:

Paul went to the Jews in the synagogue, as he customarily did, and on three Sabbath days he addressed them from the scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and to rise from the dead, saying, “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.” (Acts 17:2-3 NET)

Paul went to the synagogues every Sabbath to persuade the people about Jesus being the “Christ,” or “Messiah.” Later, in the Book of Acts, we read about Paul doing this again. The Bible speaks of Paul in this manner:

He addressed both Jews and Greeks in the synagogue every Sabbath, attempting to persuade them. (Acts 18:4 NET)

There is another instance recorded in the Book of Acts where Paul went into the synagogues and reasoned with the people:

When they reached Ephesus, Paul left Priscilla and Aquila behind there, but he himself went into the synagogue and addressed the Jews. (Acts 18:19 NET)

Later, it says he reasoned with Felix the governor:

As he reasoned with them about righteousness and self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was terrified. “Go away for now,” he replied. “When it is more convenient, I’ll call for you again.” (Acts 24:25 NLT)

Paul certainly found the need to use reason when talking to people about Jesus. The Bible repeatedly challenges people to think for themselves ? to make their own decisions about what they believe. These decisions should be based upon what God has revealed.

Human reason has its limits. The people of Berea were applauded for searching the Scripture.

We read in the Book of Acts about their desire to test things by the written Word:

These Jews were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they eagerly received the message, examining the scriptures carefully every day to see if these things were so. (Acts 17:11 NET)

Notice that those in Berea were called “opened minded.” Using the Scripture, they examined everything carefully. Therefore, we find that there is both a proper, and an improper, use of reason.

Believers Are Encouraged to Think to Make Our Own Godly Choices

The Bible encourages believers to make godly choices. This assumes that we have the ability to choose. For example, Joshua emphasized to the people of Israel that they must make their own choice. He said the following:

“If you have no desire to worship the Lord, choose today whom you will worship, whether it be the gods whom your ancestors worshiped beyond the river, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living. But I and my family will worship the Lord!” (Joshua 24:15 NET)

The Apostle Paul commanded believers to think on those things that are right. He wrote the following to the Philippians:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8 NET)

The Message says it this way:

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. (Philippians 4:8 MsgB)

All of this assumes that believers can, and should, make godly choices.

In addition, Paul also said that we should test all things. He wrote to the Thessalonians with the following command:

But examine all things; hold fast to what is good. (1 Thessalonians 5:21 NET)

Jesus asked His disciples to make a thoughtful decision about Him. We read about this in Matthew:

Then he [Jesus] asked them, “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God?” (Matthew 16:15-16 NLT)

Again, we find that Scripture is not opposed to the godly use of reason. Indeed, it not at all.

In fact, Paul said that presenting ourselves to the Lord is “our reasonable worship.” He wrote the following to the Romans:

Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice?alive, holy, and pleasing to God?which is your reasonable service. (Romans 12:1 NET)

It is reasonable for believers to present ourselves to the living God in a way which is pleasing to Him.

Consequently, from a study of the Scripture we find that reason has its place. However, Scripture points out that unaided human reason will get us nowhere; we are to reason things out by examining the Scripture. It is the only infallible source of divine truth.

Summary - Question 9
Does the Bible Ever Appeal to Human Reason as a Source of Authority?

While the Bible, and the Bible alone, is our final guide for all matters of faith and practice, the Bible is not against human reasoning. To the contrary, Scripture encourages people to reason. The Bible encourages people to think; to weigh and evaluate the truth.

What the Bible is against is unaided human reason that attempts to judge Scripture.

None of us are in a position to judge Scripture; it is to judge us! Therefore, reason must always submit itself to the truth of God’s Word. This is the way that God intended it to be.

What Are Some of the Things That Christians Mistakenly Emphasize in Place of Scripture? ← Prior Section
It Is Fact, Not Fiction Next Section →
CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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