Jesus said, “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” Jesus establishes the authority of the Old Testament by insisting that not even the smallest part of it (iota, dot) will be lost until it is perfectly fulfilled.
Jesus gives weight to the Old Testament’s truth by prefacing the statement with the words, “Truly” (in Greek, “Amen, I say to you” – “I affirm this for a fact”). This phrase is unique to Jesus, no other teacher is known to have used it (thirty-one times in Matthew and twenty-five times in John).
Why should this be so greatly emphasized? Obviously because the utter truthfulness and abiding authority of the Bible is critical to everything we are to know and believe as Christ’s followers. If God has spoken to us in the Bible, if the Bible is His Word, then the Bible must be truthful, because God is a God of truth; it must be reliable in all its parts, because God is utterly reliable; it must be lastingly authoritative, because God is the only ultimate and eternally abiding authority. If the Bible is not truthful, in even one of its very small parts, then it is not from God and it has no more authority over us than any other merely human document.
This is why the fiercest attacks on Christianity have always focused on this point, just as a hostile army concentrates its attack against the critical point in the opposing army’s line. Here are three ways people have tried to undermine the Bible’s authority.
First, by appealing to tradition. This was the chief problem in Jesus’ day. The Pharisees defended the law as they understood it, which meant that it had been filtered through their rabbinical traditions. Unable to keep the law (as we all are) but unwilling to come to Jesus as their Savior, they did what many people do. They trimmed the law to fit their traditions. It was still difficult to keep, but it seemed manageable. Jesus told them, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” The Sermon on the Mount explains how some distorted the law and how it ought to be interpreted.
The Pharisees were not the only ones who did this. Distorting the Bible by man-made traditions marked the Church of the Middle Ages and is what the Protestant reformers protested by the slogan sola Scriptura, which means “Scripture alone” as the believer’s ultimate authority. If we can be shown from Scripture that our traditions are wrong, then we must change our traditions if we are truly Christians.
The second assault on the Bible’s authority was to measure it by mere reason and judge it by scientific or historical assumptions – elevating reason above revelation. This assault emerged with the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, and it is still with us in the form of liberal Christianity. Liberalism judges the Bible by the measure of human reasoning alone, assuming that if what the Bible says disagrees with what we consider right or think we have discovered, then it is the Bible and not ourselves that is mistaken.
We need to use our minds – God has given us the ability to reason, and we should use it, especially when studying the Bible. But if our reason and the Bible are in conflict, our reason must bow to the Bible’s authority. This is the only reasonable thing to do if the Bible has actually been given to us by God, as Christians maintain. God knows everything we do not know and He knows it to perfection. When God tells us something, we can be sure that what He is saying can be trusted.
The first of these three assaults on the Bible was the ancient one practiced by the Pharisees and by the medieval Church. The second came from the Enlightenment and liberalism. The third hits closer to home because it is the error of evangelicals who agree with everything Jesus taught in this sermon, even arguing for the inerrancy of the Bible’s dots and iotas (jots and tittles), but who still undermine the Bible’s authority by supposing that somehow the Bible is just not adequate for the work demanded of Christians today – by denying the sufficiency of God’s Word.
Is the Bible sufficient for the Church’s evangelistic task? Many do not seem to think so since they abandon Bible teaching for “signs and wonders,” sociological techniques, and entertainment. Many attract large congregations by such methods, often on television. But trying to do God’s work in secular ways only produces secular results.
Is the Bible sufficient for growth in Christian character or godliness? Many do not believe it. So they offer self-help programs or recommend counseling instead. I am not saying these offerings have no value at all. They do in some cases. But we have more of this kind of Christianity than at any time in the long history of the Church, and for many sectors of the Church, true Christian character and godliness have never been more lacking.
Is the Bible sufficient for making an impact on society? Many do not think so. Instead of teaching the Bible, they put their effort into political action groups, lobby for changes on the Supreme Court, or try to elect increasing numbers of Christian legislators. Some of these efforts have some value, but they are not God’s way of changing either people or society. Christians need to stand on the sure foundation of God’s Word and expect God to bless it in transforming human lives. It is a matter of simple faith in God rather than unbelief.