“The Bible says!” was the unceasing assertion of the most notable evangelist of the 20th century—Billy Graham. For Graham, the Bible served as the essential bedrock of all of all his preaching and the repeated assertion of “the Bible says” rooted his Gospel proclamation in the authority of Scriptural revelation. As John Stott said of Graham, “He’s a man of the Bible” (Drummond, The Evangelist, vii).
In his book Deep & Wide, and in recent talks and interviews, prominent pastor and author Andy Stanley has argued that preachers should avoid saying, “The Bible says” in favor of of simply citing the human biblical author. He reasons, “In using phrases like ‘the Bible says,’ we assume a person is a Christian, because only a Christian takes the Old Testament and the New Testament as authoritative. So if I am going to preach to people who aren’t Christians I have to leverage a different point of authority if I am going to expect them to track along with me” (Link).
With Andy Stanley’s widespread influence in evangelicalism his assertion deserves a response. First, I do not follow the logic that asserting “the Bible says” is tantamount to assuming all hearers are Christians. It is rather a declaration that you are not speaking on your own authority but rather as an “ambassador of Christ” (2 Cor 5:20) proclaiming the “word of Christ” (Rom 10:17). In 1949, Billy Graham faced a similar argument from his friend Chuck Templeton. Templeton argued that a preacher should not simply assert the authority of the Bible to people who do not accept its authority from his friend.
Templeton told Graham, “People no longer accept the Bible as being inspired the way you do. Your faith is too simple. Your language out of date. You’re going to have to learn the new jargon if you’re going to be successful in your ministry” (Graham, Just as I Am, 138). Graham responded to Templeton saying, “I have observed when I preach the Bible straight, no question, no doubts, no hesitation, then I have a power that’s beyond me. It’s something I don’t completely understand. But I just know I’ve found when I say ‘the Bible says’—God gives me a power, this incredible power” (Aiken, Billy Graham: His Life and Influence, 62).
What Stanley describes as a barrier to reaching lost people for Christ is what Graham believed was the source of his evangelistic power. Hershael York perceptively notes, “Stanley’s reasoning is unsettling. It suggests that unbelievers cannot relate to ‘the Bible says’ because the phrase grants equal authority to all parts of the Bible” (Link). Stanley proceeds as if the preacher should separate the authority of Christ from the authority of the Scriptural “word of Christ” (Rom 10:17). That is the very thing that Jesus said could not be done when he said, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31) and “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39).
In the October 15, 1956 inaugural issue of Christianity Today, founder Billy Graham authored the article, “Biblical Authority in Evangelism.” He wrote,
When Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine; for he taught them as one having authority” (Matt. 7:28, 29). Is not this authoritative note part of the secret of the earthly ministry of Christ? The great prophets of the past had also spoken with authority. The impact of their preaching cannot be traced simply to an authoritative technique. Nor was it based on confidence merely in the rightness of their own speculations. Their secret is traceable to nothing less than the confidence that they were the mediators of Divine revelation.
Stanley also claims, “Technically it is incorrect to say, ‘The Bible says . . .’ or ‘The Bible teaches. . . .’ The Bible doesn’t really say or teach anything.” While Stanley declares that he believes in the infallibility and inerrancy of the Scripture, he also believes that asserting so in sermons by saying, “the Bible says” creates “an unnecessary obstacle to faith” (Deep & Wide). Stanley says, “Using phrases like “The Bible says,” is a modern phenomenon” (Link).
The claim is shocking since the practice is as old as the Scriptures themselves. “The Scripture says” is language directly from the Bible (John 7:38, 42, Rom 10:11, 1 Tim 5:18). Old Princeton theologian B.B. Warfield’s doctrine of Scripture can rightly be summarized as what the Bible says, God says. He declared the Bible to be “a book which may be frankly appealed to at any point with the assurance that whatever if may be found to say, that is the Word of God” (Works, 1:52). In defending the authority of Scripture in an 1899 article, “It says: Scripture says: God says,” Warfield notes how the biblical writers show an absolute identification “of Scripture with the speaking God” (Works, 1:284). The biblical writers emphatically speak of the Bible as saying and teaching. Below are listed two classes of Scripture that Warfield notes reveal the absolute identification of “the Scripture with the living voice of God” (Works, 1:283).
Scriptures are Spoken of as if they were God
And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” – Galatians 3:8
I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:3
For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” – Romans 9:17
But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth. – Exodus 9:16
Warfield summarizes, “These acts could be attributed to ‘Scripture’ only as the result of such a habitual identification, in the mind of the writer, of the text of Scripture with God as speaking, that it became natural to use the term ‘Scriptures says,’ when what was really intended was “God, as recorded in Scripture, said’” (Works, 1:283-284).
God is Spoken of as if He were the Scriptures
He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’ – Matthew 19:4-5
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. – Genesis 2:24
And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, “‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? – Acts 4:24-25
Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? – Psalm 2:1
And as for the fact that he raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way, “‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.’ Therefore he says also in another psalm, “‘You will not let your Holy One see corruption.’ – Acts 13:34-35
Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. – Isaiah 55:3
For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. – Psalm 16:10
Warfield summarizes, “It is not God however, in whose mouth these sayings are placed in the text of the Old Testament: they are the words of others, recorded in the text of Scripture as to or of God. They could be attributed to God only through such habitual identification, in the minds of the writers, of the text of Scripture with the utterances of God that it had become natural to use the term ‘God says’ when what was really intended was ‘Scripture, the Word of God, says” (Works, 1:284).
The apostle Paul declares, “All Scripture is breathed out by God” and subsequently commands shepherds of Christ to “preach the Word” (2 Tim 3:16, 4:2). The implication is that preachers should unapologetically declare the divine origin and authority of the entirety of the Bible. The divine origin of Christ-centered biblical revelation is the reason it has the power “to make you wise for salvation” (2 Tim 3:15). It was not the writers of Scripture who were inspired; it was their writings. The only reason it matters what Moses says, Isaiah says, Paul says, and Peter says is because of what the Bible says.