Edward F. Lundwall, Jr.
Just for the sake of argument, what authority can the New Testament documents have without the doctrine of verbal plenary inspiration? This doctrine states that every word in the entire biblical text was inspired by the Holy Spirit so that there are no errors in the original Scriptures.
Why should we even consider such a question? A number of parties have set aside any real authority of the New Testament by denying the verbal plenary inspiration. Through out Church history the supreme authority of the New Testament has been set aside in effect by making Church or cult authority to be equal to that of the Bible.
The Roman Catholic Church has said that the Church had the authority to give them the authority of canonicity, so therefore it has the imputed power to teaching of equal authority. So for the sake of argument how do the New Testament documents stack up as sources of authority just as epistles from the early period of Church history?
What claims can they have as historical documents?
1. Historically authority.
From multiple extra biblical evidence, it has been established that they come from the first century, i.e., the time they profess to report. Further, that they are authored by their traditional authors.
a. Any document has no more authority than its author(s). The Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution have authority because their authors were the duly appointed representatives of the people in two authorizations: 1. The delegates were authorized to put together a revision of the Articles of Confederation of the original States. 2. The finished documents were ratified by the elected State Assemblies. Therefore, these documents had the authority of the combined people of the United States.
b. Who were the human authors of the New Testament documents? What authority did they have? They claimed to be or accounts of eye witnesses of what they wrote (1 Peter l:2; 2 Peter 1:16). The apostolic authors claimed not only to be first hand students of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that they accurately transmitted His message (Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1, 2). Most of the authors claimed to be Apostles of Christ, Christ’s authoritative representatives (Matt 10:2; Gal 1:1, 12; Eph 2:19, 20; 2 Peter 3:2, 16, 17).
They claimed, and the Church accepted their claim, that they were the officially appointed representatives by the Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of many others that heard Christ. Those that were not, did not claim to be, but the early Church agreed that they either wrote under the supervision of an Apostle or that what they said was the Apostolic message, i.e. what was established by what the Apostles taught. Again, the witness of history agrees with their claim. Both during their life times and afterwards, the most reliable witnesses ratified these claims. Even their enemies and heretics agreed with their claims of being the Christ authorized messengers .
c. The conclusion of the historical evidence:
Therefore, their teachings were reliably those of the Lord Jesus Christ. Now, if one professes to be a Christian and a logical and objectively honest person in the face of evidence, the New Testament documents have the cumulative authority of Christ. Of all other religious teachers, organizations and professed prophets, which have objectively substantiated evidence that can come close to equaling the authority of the authors of the New Testament? Not one!
2. Historically and source wise, the unavoidable conclusion:
So, therefore, even without the traditional doctrine of the infallibility of Holy Spirit inspiration, there can be no greater set of documents or religious teaching that can compete with those of the New Testament documents. To challenge their teachings, their grammatically established doctrines is to challenge the authority of Christ. How can one do this and still claim to accept himself as a believer and a follower of Christ?
And if one accepts the New Testament documents as the authoritative teachings of Christ, then he must accept their infallibility, because this is their uniform teaching of themselves.