Do the words of Jesus have more authority than the rest of Scripture?

by Luke Wayne

It has become popular to treat the words that Jesus said in the gospels as specially inspired to the neglect of the rest of Scripture. There are many professing Christians today who are willing to shrug off the plain teachings of Paul, Peter, or the prophets on a particular subject with a remark like, "Jesus never talked about it, He must not have thought it was that important. I'll go with Jesus on this one." Such remarks not only erroneously pit Jesus against the biblical authors. They also assume that the words the Gospel writers preserved from Jesus' public, earthly ministry were meant to encompass everything Jesus thought or believed by themselves in isolation from the rest of Scripture. It is as if we are to rip the quotes from Jesus out of their context and interpret them as a collection of proverbs for Christian living apart from careful biblical study. Ironically, to do this violates the very words of Jesus.

Jesus specifically commanded us to believe and obey the entirety of Scripture. He said of the Old Testament:

"If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead," (Luke 16:31).

And again of the Books of Moses, He said:

"If you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?" (John 5:47).

Jesus teaches in no uncertain terms that if we reject the truth and authority of the Old Testament, we cannot honestly believe Him either. Jesus' teaching is built firmly on the reality that the Old Testament is accurate and authoritative. Jesus roots sexual morality, marriage, and family in the Genesis account of creation (Mark 10:6-9, Matthew 19:4-5) and affirms the historicity of God's judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah (Luke 17:29, Matthew 10:15, 11:24, etc.) Jesus affirms that Noah and the Ark were historical and that the flood was a real judgment of God (Matthew 24:37-38, Luke 17:26-27). Jesus affirms the reality of Cain's murder of Abel (Matthew 23:35, Luke 11:51), the lives of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses (Mark 12:26-27), and a host of other biblical narratives. He upholds God's words to these men and the authority of the texts that report them. Jesus goes out of His way to affirm again and again that the Old Testament is historically true, morally binding, and an accurate description of the real works and judgments of God. Jesus' teaching is littered with phrases like, "have you not read this scripture?" (Mark 12:10), "have you not read in the Law?" (Matthew 12:5), "Have you not read what David did..." (Luke 6:3), and the like. Jesus believed that the Scriptures had authority over those He taught. He regarded the Old Testament writings as the very words of God that were still authoritative over His hearers. Note the particularly striking phrase in quoting from Exodus in Matthew 22:31:

"Have you not read what was spoken to you by God..."

He does not ask if you have read what Moses wrote for you, but rather what was spoken to you by God. When we read the Old Testament Scriptures, Jesus says that we are reading the very speech of God, speech which His listeners were expected to hear and obey. Indeed, since Jesus is God in the flesh, we really should regard all of the Scripture as the words of Jesus rather than simply the quotes from His earthly ministry recorded in the Gospels. Think about what Jesus said at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount:

"Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you," (Matthew 5:11-12).

When you are suffering because of Jesus, you are in good company. The prophets also suffered for Him. But for whom did the prophets suffer? They suffered for the LORD. Jesus is claiming to be the God in whose name the prophets suffered. Is it any wonder He goes on to say only a few verses later:

"Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven," (Matthew 5:16-19).

The "good works" that Jesus wants men to see in His followers, the "light" of their lives, is not only obedience to the quotes of Jesus in the gospels. It is obedience to the commands of God in all of Scripture. Jesus doesn't give us the option of saying, "well, Jesus never talked about it, so I don't care what the rest of the Bible says." Jesus told us that if the rest of the Bible says it, we have to believe it.

The New Testament authors also receive Jesus' affirmation. Jesus said to the Apostles:

"You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth," (Acts 1:8).

The Apostles were given the very Spirit of God in power and authority from Jesus Christ for the express purpose of being His unique witnesses to all the earth. Jesus said of those who He commissioned and sent:

"The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me," (Luke 10:16).

On Jesus' own authority over all heaven and earth, He sent the Apostles to teach all that He had commanded them (Matthew 28:18-20), and Paul was chosen by the risen Christ Himself as His instrument to carry His name to the nations (Acts 9:15). They wrote explicitly as the commissioned servants of Jesus Christ (Romans 1:1, James 1:1, 2 Peter 1:1, Jude 1, etc.) sent with this message. Their writings are every bit as much an accurate explanation of the teachings of Jesus as the quotes in the gospels are, and we cannot honor Christ while rejecting their words.

It is, therefore, true what Paul wrote to Timothy:

"All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work," (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

We are bound by all that God has revealed from Genesis to Revelation. May we be reverent students and obedient servants of the whole counsel of God.