Scripture is the Sole Arbiter

Whilst acknowledging the Lord's gift of teachers to His people (Ephesians 4:11) we maintain that Scripture is the sole arbiter in matters of Christian doctrine and practice and that received traditions and opinions, however widespread or ancient and however vigorously supported by men of whatever eminence, learning and godliness, are of no binding authority except in so far as they are clearly demonstrable from the Word of God (Romans 10:17; 1 Peter 1:24-25).

The final authority

As our name suggests, we encourage all readers of Open Bible Trust publications to read the articles and booklets with an "open Bible" and compare what the contributing authors say with what is written in the Bible. This is because we view the Bible as the final authority on Christian matters. In this, we uphold the example of the Bereans in Acts 17:10-12. These verses tell us that many of the people of Berea examined the Scriptures daily to see if what Paul was preaching was true, and for this action the Word commends them. There are two main lessons that may be gleaned from this short passage.

The sole arbiter

The first is that we should treat the Bible as the sole arbiter of what is correct in matters of Christian doctrine and practice. The Bereans compared the words of Paul to the words of Scripture, and were then able to better assess the validity of what he was preaching to them. The second lesson is that those who teach in our churches and Bible study groups should not be offended when someone asks them to support a certain viewpoint from Scripture. None of us are infallible, no matter how many degrees in theology we might have or how many years we have studied the Scriptures.

The measure

The Bible is the very thoughts and words of God Himself, who cannot lie. The Scriptures are therefore the instrument by which all beliefs and doctrines should be measured. However, there is a trend among some Christians today to acknowledge the Bible's authority by word of mouth alone. That is, lip service is given to the high place of Scripture, but in reality many of us can be swept along by the personal opinion of others and the moral viewpoints of the day. Sadly, this can be combined with a tendency not to look carefully at the words of the Scriptures themselves. In this way we gain Bible knowledge "second-hand", from church leaders and friends, from hymns and Christian songs, from books and cassettes. Such a method of "learning" can be helpful, and may be necessary when we first become a Christian, but it can also take us further and further away from the truth that is written in the Word of God. The Bible must be always consulted to see if what is being taught is so. It must be used for verification, for it is the sole arbiter and ultimate authority.

The God of the Bible

Among other things, the Bible is a collection of books about God, and His dealings with mankind. There is much we can learn, and many things we may never know, but how can we expect to know the things of God apart from what He, as the Author of the Book, chooses to reveal to us about Himself? If we do not examine the Bible for these things, then we are only guessing or making things up. The revelation of His will and plans have been made by Himself, and we have it written for us in the Scriptures - God's words and thoughts (2 Timothy 3:15-16). It is therefore significant that the Lord Jesus, as part of the Godhead, is often recorded quoting the Old Testament (e.g. at His temptations, Luke 4:1-12; see also Matthew 11:10; 21:13, etc). He clearly treated the Scriptures as a source of authority. Likewise, the writers of the New Testament commonly use the phrase "it is written" in their epistles in reference to the Old Testament books (Romans 1:17; 1 Peter 1:16, etc). Even though they mostly lived in times when God was not silent as to further revelation, it was the Scriptures that formed the basis of their teaching. Of course, they only had the Old Testament, but they treated the only Bible they had with great respect and care, and it was the guide-post by which all doctrine was measured.

Things not in the Bible

Conversely, there are many things that are not revealed in the Bible. For instance, many prophecies await fulfillment. Also there are many details in prophecy which we will not know until they come to pass, for the written Word does not reveal everything, but reveals those things people need to know, and what God in His grace would have us know (1 Corinthians 13:12). Some things we just cannot be sure of, and while we may hold certain beliefs or develop theories about this or that, if they are not clearly set out before us in the Scriptures, we must take care not to be too dogmatic about them, and be prepared to change our minds if someone challenges our beliefs and theories with Scriptural evidence. One only needs to look at the many examples in history where often very learned and faithful people have tried to predict the date of the Lord's return, only to leave many innocent believers devastated. In many of these cases, there is a dispensational aspect that has been ignored. However, even more often, something has been read into a verse of Scripture that was not really there. The perpetrator has not been able to see the possibility that he could be mistaken, for the Biblical support for that date was scant, or even non-existent.

Visions and the Bible

In times past, God often spoke through prophets and gave them visions. Mostly they were linked with Israel while they were still God's chosen nation; that is before Acts 28. Today, it is not impossible for the Lord to speak to us via some supernatural medium, but it is certainly not normal in this current age. In the end, such divine experiences, if they are indeed that, must be compared with the Scriptures and must be consistent with them. All that aside, it is more appropriate for us today to ask the Lord for His spirit of revelation to guide our study and understanding of the Bible. God is its author, and it is therefore to be believed, to be handled with care, to be taken to heart, to be acted upon, and to be the final authority on topics related to our faith (2 Timothy 3:16).