I was a slow convert to satnavs. Some friends gave me their cast-off, but I rarely used it. If I followed a paper map (remember those?), then I found that I could remember the route the next time. But a satnav somehow put the navigational bit of my brain into sleep mode. So, if I used one, I couldn’t replicate the journey from memory next time I travelled that way.
But gradually, my resistance weakened. Laziness kicked in, I guess. It was easier to follow the satnav than to work out a route of my own, especially when I didn’t have a friend in the passenger seat holding the road atlas. Now I use a satnav all the time. I happily obey its ever-calm voice.
Most of the time. Last week, I ignored its instruction to take a right turn. I’d put it on because I was travelling back from an unfamiliar location. We were nearly home and back in familiar territory. The satnav was still in, and suddenly it told me to take a road I’d never taken before.
I ignored it. A few moments later, I found myself stuck in a traffic jam. My estimated time of arrival jumped by thirty minutes. I thought I knew better than the satnav, and now I was paying the price.
We like to think of ourselves as free agents who can choose what we want to do. But in fact, we live much of our lives under authority. We do what our mothers tell us (some of the time). We adhere to the laws of the road. We take orders from the boss. We follow the instruction manual. We obey the voice of the satnav.
Sometimes we might resent that authority. After all, who likes being bossed about? We moan about government regulations or unreasonable work demands. But we would moan even more if there were no government at all. Yes, there are laws we resent, but we still recognise the need for law and order. In one sense, I am free to drive on the wrong side of the road; there’s nothing to prevent me steering across the lanes. But making that choice would literally put me on a road to disaster.
Driving to a new town requires both the authority of a satnav to tell me where to go and obedience to the highway code to get me there safely.
But what about the journey of life? How do we navigate it? Or what if I want to get to God? What map do I follow? What satnav will give me the right directions?
The answer is quite simple: the only reliable guide to the journey of life is the Bible. When Christians say that Scripture is supreme, we are saying that the Bible is the authoritative guide to God. The Bible is the satnav that gives us directions for life. It’s the highway code that shows us what God requires.
An authority to speak
Scripture is supreme. This means that the Bible has authority, and so it’s important to listen carefully to what it says. That’s because what the Bible says is true. It has authority because it is reliable.
Does Wikipedia have authority? Yes, in one sense. It certainly can be a source of true information. Suppose you and a friend are arguing about who won the football World Cup in 2014. You say it was Brazil, and your friend says it was Germany. The debate is easily resolved. One of you takes out your phone and looks it up on Wikipedia. It turns out that your friend was right: it was Germany. (Guess how I know this?)
Wikipedia has the authority to settle arguments between friends. But Wikipedia is famously not 100 percent reliable. It’s only as good as its contributors. Plus, sometimes people deliberately insert false information as a prank. So, as a conscientious faculty member of Crosslands Training, I warn my students against using it. If we had to score its reliability, we might give it a mark of 80 percent.
What about a university textbook? Is that an authority we can trust? One would hope that it had been written by an expert, carefully edited, and perhaps peer reviewed. It’s presumably much more reliable than Wikipedia. But in many books, the odd typo or wrong date will get missed. Moreover, scholarship is always changing. New discoveries are made, and new theories advanced. So, while our textbook is going to score higher on our reliability scale, we can’t give it 100 percent. It has more authority than Wikipedia, but its authority is still limited.
But the Bible is 100 percent true and therefore 100 percent authoritative. William Tyndale (c. 1494–1536), who was martyred for translating the Bible into English, described it as “the touchstone” that enables us to distinguish between false doctrine and true doctrine.
The word “Scripture” in the phrase “Scripture is supreme” refers to the written Word of God that we have in the Bible. The word that is supreme can also include the proclamation of the gospel and the preaching of the Bible, but only to the extent that these faithfully reflect what is taught in Scripture. Scripture is the yardstick by which we measure the truth of everything else.
An authority to rule
The authority of the Bible goes even further, for the Bible is more than a reliable source of information. It doesn’t just tell us what— what is, what is true, and so on. It also tells us how—how we can know God and how we can live life as it is meant to be lived. The Bible is a book with implications. You can’t read it and say,“How interesting!” in a disinterested kind of way. You can’t remain detached. You’ve got to do something with the Bible once you’ve read it: either love it or hate it, accept it or reject it, obey it or disobey it. What’s not an option is neutrality.
Yes, the Bible is a book containing statements of fact. But it’s also much more than that. It’s a book with commands and invitations. Its words do something. Even when what Scripture says is not technically an imperative, its words carry big implications.
One of the Bible’s central claims is that Jesus has risen from the dead as the Lord of all (Rom. 1:1–4; 1 Cor. 15:3–4). On the face of it, that is simply a statement of fact. But it’s a statement that demands a response. If you’ve merely responded by saying, “That’s interesting,” then you’ve not really understood what the resurrection of Jesus involves. That resurrection is the confirmation that he is God’s King. It calls you to submit to Christ’s lordship and entrust your life to his care.
On my recent journey home, my satnav told me to turn right. When I ignored that command, I added thirty minutes to my journey. But that’s not a big deal in the grand scheme of things. Usually, it makes sense to recognise the authority of a satnav, but in the end, not much is at stake. However, to be told to submit to Christ and entrust your life to him is a wholly different matter. The implications are enormous—stretching throughout life and beyond, into eternity.
To say that Scripture is supreme is to say that the Bible has authority in everything that really matters—time and eternity, earth and heaven, humanity and God. Unlike your satnav, the Bible will not tell you how to get to London. Unlike Wikipedia, it will not tell you who won the World Cup in 2014. But the Bible speaks with authority when it comes to who God is, what his purposes are, who we are, how we can know him, how we can be saved from his judgement, and how we can live a life that pleases him.
An authority above every other authority
“Scripture is supreme” is a claim that the Bible has authority. But it is an even bigger claim than that. Acknowledging that something has authority is not, on its own, particularly controversial; our lives are full of sources of authority.
Let’s suppose you want to buy a new car. What do you do? You might rely on experience. Perhaps your last car was a Ford, and it worked well, so you decide to buy another Ford. Or you might rely on friends. Your mate John is a car buff, so you tell him your budget and ask for a recommendation. Or perhaps you go online and see what the experts say. Or you could look up sales figures and pick a popular model. Each of these options comes with a certain degree of authority; it makes sense to listen to the different perspectives. But what if the experts disagree? What if they each suggest a different model? At that point, you’ve got to decide who has the most authority. Whose opinion are you going to trust? Whose advice are you going to follow? How do you know which one to prefer?
To say “Scripture is supreme” is not simply to claim that the Bible has authority, but that it has supreme authority. It is the voice which matters most of all. Christians do recognise other authorities; there are other voices that rightly carry weight. But Scripture is always the voice that trumps all other voices. When forced to choose, we will always choose to follow the Bible. That’s what the doctrine of the supremacy of Scripture entails. And we will only require adherence to what can be shown to be taught by the Bible. The Reformer Martin Luther (1483– 1546) said, “What is asserted without the Scriptures or proven revelation may be held as an opinion, but need not be believed.” But what can be shown from Scripture must be believed. The Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck (1854– 1921) concludes:
[The authority of Scripture] stands on a level high above all human authority in state and society, science and art. Before it, all else must yield. For people must obey God rather than other people … Its authority, being divine, is absolute. It is entitled to be believed and obeyed by everyone at all times.
 William Tyndale, “Prologue to the Book of Genesis,” in Works of William Tyndale, ed. Henry Walter (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2010), 1:398.
 Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 1: Prolegomena, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 465.