Vol.XVII No.I Pg.4
March 1980

Ultimate Authority

Robert F. Turner

Bernard Ramm defines authority as "That right or power to command action or compliance, or to determine belief or custom, expecting obedience from those under authority, and in turn giving responsible account for the claim to right and power." (Pattern of Authority, p.10.) He suggests two sources of authority: Superior Position, and Truth; and he calls these Imperial and Veracious authority. This may sound a bit abstract, but if you are seriously interested in a study of authority it will pay you to begin with this concept.

Ultimate Authority demands a Position absolutely supreme; and Truth so pure as to be the eternal source of truth. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (p. 334) carries some thought provoking remarks on this, with this conclusion: "— the authority is God ... He alone is self-existent and supreme, who is what He is of His own right. If God exists, He is the ultimate criterion and power of truth and reality. All truth inheres in Him and issues from Him. The problem of authority thus becomes one with the proof and definition of God." What I.S.B.E. postulates — "if God exists" — Paul declares: "God that made the world... He is Lord" (Acts 17:23-f).

This article does not propose to argue God's existence, but to offer some thoughts on the demands of ultimate authority. As an opener, there can be no ultimacy in authority which depends upon its subjects for validity. GOD is not established by human reasoning. Divine TRUTH is not relative, applying to man's acceptance for its credentials. If any standard exists by which God must be tried, He becomes subordinate to that standard. That which is ultimate "is its own witness and judge. All that reason can say about it is the dictum of Parmenides: 'it is'." (Cf. 1 Cor. 2:15-f)

A second great principle about the ultimate God is that only God can reveal God. Man can not take" Him, or 'find' Him by exploration. Paul wrote "the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God" (1 Cor. 2:11). The Bible is not the product of man's search for God, but the revelation of God to man. Many modern scholars say God revealed Himself in acts, and the Bible is a record of those acts and what men have deduced from them. This is an effort to escape the weight of doctrinal information set forth in God's word. It makes stated truth subject to man's interpretation of those acts — makes man superior to the Word. But though God used "earthen vessels" for His truth (2 Cor. 4:7), He guided their words so that what they wrote and said were His words (1 Cor. 2:13; 1 Thes. 2:13). This is the wholly consistent means by which an ultimate God communicates with His creatures.

And this establishes a third great principle. The relationship between God and man is direct. Many feel that such a principle demands some mystical communication between God and each individual — that the Bible becomes a "third party" or sacerdotal element, or kind of "priest." Historic churches, especially the Catholic, make "the church" this element, so only through it may men reach God. In the Reformation and Restoration this was a primary issue, but today we are (continued next page)