One of the most enjoyable aspects of speaking to different groups on the reliability of the Bible is the Q&A time. It is an exciting (and risky) affair because you never know what you are going to get.
Then again, sometimes you do know what you are going to get. Over the years, one question has been asked more than all others combined: “What are the best books to read on the authority of the Bible?”
Due to the popularity of that question, I have compiled an annotated list of the 10 best books on this topic. It goes without saying that such a list is highly selective (and debatable). So many good books deserve to be included.
But my list is guided by these main criteria: (a) books that focus on the theological side of biblical authority and not as much on the historical evidences for the Bible’s history (though some overlap is inevitable); (b) books that are “modern,” meaning they have been written sometime between the Reformation and the present (otherwise, many patristic works would make the list); and (c) books that are rigorously orthodox (for this reason, Karl Barth’s Dogmatics is not on the list despite the fact that it has been influential on the modern church’s view of Scripture).
With these criteria in mind, let’s take a look at the top 10:
10. D. A. Carson and John Woodbridge, eds., Scripture and Truth (Baker, 1983); idem, Hermeneutics, Authority, and Canon (Zondervan, 1986).
Even though this first entry technically includes two books, I am regarding them together since the same authors edited both of them. I appreciate that these books gather together some of the best evangelical scholars who cover a wide variety of contemporary issues related to biblical authority. There are essays from theological, philosophical, historical, hermeneutical, and exegetical perspectives. Although some of the essays need to be updated (some are 30 years old), they constitute an indispensable treasure trove of material on the authority of the Bible.
9. Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Prolegomena (vol. 1): Part IV: Revelation (Baker Academic, 2003).
I don’t prefer to use systematic theologies in this list, but Bavinck’s work is too important to pass up. Bavinck originally published his Gereformeerde Dogmatiek from 1895 to 1901, and we are blessed to have it translated into English. It provides the quintessential introduction to a Reformed view of Revelation and Scripture, and one can hear echoes of Bavinck for generations to come in major scholars such as Geerhardus Vos, Cornelius Van Til, Herman Ridderbos, and Louis Berkhof. If you find these Dutch theologians difficult to understand then go back and read the one on whose shoulders they are standing: Bavinck.
8. E. J. Young, Thy Word Is Truth (Banner of Truth, 1963).
Young was a vigorous defender of the authority of Scripture, and this book embodies the ethos of his scholarship. It focuses primarily on the extent of inspiration (against those who try to limit it), and the doctrine of inerrancy (against those who suggest the Bible makes mistakes). This book lays out the foundational truths about the authority of the Bible in a clear and compelling manner. Young even covers a number of alleged contradictions and offers helpful solutions. All pastors should read this book.
7. Ned Stonehouse and Paul Woolley, eds., The Infallible Word: A Symposium by the Members of the Faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary (P&R, 1946).
This fine collection of essays by the faculty of Westminster is too frequently overlooked. With articles from Murray, Young, Stonehouse, and Van Til, and a foreword from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, it is difficult to know how it has been forgotten. The most important article is the first, by John Murray, where he lays out the self-attesting nature of Scripture and the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit that helps God’s people identify Scripture. In a world where most defend the authority of Scripture purely on the basis of historical evidence, Murray brings a refreshing and welcome perspective. Our doctrine of Scripture needs to include serious reflection on the issue of Scripture’s self-authentication, and this volume is the place to start.
6. J.I. Packer, ’Fundamentalism’ and the Word of God (Eerdmans, 1958).
This little book is one of my all-time favorites. It is small, but it packs a punch. The book is written in the context of the early 20th-century controversies over “fundamentalism” and whether we can (or should) still embrace traditional beliefs about the authority of the Bible. Carefully, patiently, and methodically, Packer walks through all the key issues related to these debates and impressively defends the traditional view. This is a great book to give to a fellow Christian struggling with these issues.
5. William Whitaker, Disputations on Holy Scripture (Soli Deo Gloria, 2000).
Don’t let the date of this book fool you. Whitaker lived from 1547 to 1595, during the height of the Protestant Reformation, and dedicated the book to William Cecil, chancellor of Cambridge University. This book is a masterful defense of the Protestant view of the Bible. Whitaker spends considerable time defending the self-authenticating nature of Scripture and contrasts it effectively with the Roman Catholic approach. This book is also overlooked in many discussions and deserves a much wider reading. Thanks to Soli Deo Gloria publishers, we don’t have to try to read it in Latin.
4. John Owen, The Divine Original: Authority, Self-Evidencing Light, and Power of the Scriptures, vol. 16 of Owen’s Collected Works (Banner of Truth, 1988).
Moving forward one century from Whitaker, Owen provides one of the finest articulations of the Reformed doctrine of Scripture from the Puritan era. He too focuses on the self-authenticating nature of Scripture and the role of the Holy Spirit, contrasting it with alternative models, particular Roman Catholic. This is vintage Owen: thorough, meticulous, verbose, and utterly profound. Be warned: this is no light beach reading. It is a heavy slog to get through anything Owen writes. But the reward is worth it.
3. Meredith Kline, The Structure of Biblical Authority (1971).
Kline is one of the most original Christian thinkers in the last century, and this book is no exception. He approaches the issue of biblical authority from a distinctive angle, namely the covenantal structure of the Old Testament. Kline argues that the idea of an authoritative text derives directly from God’s covenant-making activities. You can’t understand the authority of the Bible if you don’t understand the nature of the covenant. This is a no-frills book (I still have my original copy from when I had Kline as a professor; pea-green cover and all), but it is truly ground-breaking.
2. John Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God (P&R, 2010).
If you are looking for a comprehensive, profound, and utterly biblical treatment of the authority of Scripture from a Reformed perspective, then this is the book. This is the fourth installment in Frame’s series, A Theology of Lordship, but is really the most foundational volume (although The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God is right up there). There is hardly an issue Frame doesn’t cover, or a question he doesn’t answer. And his answers are so clear and balanced that it makes you wonder why you ever had that question in the first place. No one is better than Frame at making complex ideas simple (some scholars seem to have the opposite gift). This book is a treasure trove of wisdom that every pastor needs to have on the shelf ready at hand.
1. B. B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, with intro by Van Til (P&R, 1948).
Classics are classics for a reason. Warfield’s work still stands out today as one of the most cogent, insightful, and helpful works on the authority of Scripture. It aptly represents the ethos of Old Princeton and is the gold standard for a distinctively Reformed view of the Bible’s inspiration. Warfield’s insights are so applicable to modern-day issues that it is easy to forget the content is more than 100 years old. In addition, Van Til’s introduction (68 pages long) is immensely helpful. It provides a presuppositional context for Warfield’s work, and reminds the reader that Van Til and Warfield had more in common than some people assume (though there are still differences).
Honorable mentions: Herman Ridderbos, Redemptive History and the New Testament Scriptures (P&R, 1963); Cornelius Van Til, The Doctrine of Scripture (P&R, 1967); Kevin DeYoung, Taking God at His Word (Crossway, 2014); J.W. Montgomery, ed., God’s Inerrant Word (Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, 1974); Carl F.H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, 4 vols. (Word, 1979); Timothy Ward, Words of Life: Scripture as the Living and Active Word of God (IVP Academic, 2009); R.L. Harris, Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978); J.W. Wenham, Christ and the Bible (Downer’s Grove, Il: InterVarsity, 1972); Greg Beale, The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism (Crossway, 2008); Paul Wells, Taking the Bible at Its Word (Christian Focus, 2013).
Note: An edited version of this article originally appeared on The Gospel Coalition Website.
Thanks Mike, very helpful to have this list. Looking at things from a different perspective would it be fair to say that we haven’t had a decent book on the doctrine of Scripture by a biblical scholar for fifty years?
Michael Kruger says
Thanks, Peter. Good to hear from you. I guess it depends on what you mean by “biblical” scholar. Do you mean that most of the books on the list come from theologians, and not scholars trained in the Bible? If so, I think that is quite natural given that the doctrine of Scripture is just that, a doctrine, with a rich theological rationale. Moreover, my list, as you can see in my introduction, was already weighted to books that deal more directly with the theology of Scripture.
I guess I was thinking that biblical scholars tend to have a keener appreciation of the phenomena of Scripture than some of our more doctrinal brethren; that we’ve had at least half a dozen challenges to a strong and high view of Scripture from biblical scholars on the left of evangelicalism operating at least in part from the phenomena; and that that is the book I would really like to read.
Michael Kruger says
Thanks, Pete. That explanation helps. However, I do think a number of books have been written that address more phenomenological issues as you describe. Greg Beale, a NT scholars, has written in direct response to Peter Enns, and addresses many of these issues (I mention his book in my “honorable mentions” section). I would also add John Currid’s book, Against the Gods. Currid is an OT scholar who addresses the relationship between the OT and ANE literature, another issue raised by Enns.
Richard Klaus says
In light of Peter’s comment I thought of “Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture” edited by James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary. The authors take up some of the challenges “biblical scholars on the left of evangelicalism.”
Peter G. says
Not sure if this will meet Pete’s criteria, but a book to watch for is Carson’s edited volume coming out next year: The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures
Thank you for alerting us to this. Glad to see he got Eerdmans to publish these 1200 pages!
David Brunell says
I love these posts of Michael Kruger and am very excited to see this one. I hope to read these books. This issue was so pivotal for me in my own life when I was leaving the cult of Christian Science. I was so used to thinking of the Bible as having error and needing to be interpreted “spiritually” to be understood, that when I first came to faith in Christ all I could trust at first was Jesus’ own words. I had been used to thinking of the Bible as sort of like crude oil, and the works of the founder of Christian Science as being the refined gasoline. Even though I no longer believe she taught the truth, I was still very suspicious of Paul and of the Old Testament. I prayed to Jesus to help me know what to think about the Bible, and he led me to a wonderful Fellowship Group where the teacher was a former Indiana University math professor named Dr. T. V. Varughese. I didn’t know what the topic would be that first night I visited but it turned out to be exactly this issue about the Bible’s authority and inerrancy. He said that in defending the Bible’s claim for itself in II Tim. 3:16-17 we can take the defensive approach (defending the Bible against objections of a historical, scientific or philosophical nature) or the offensive approach. He said that although the defensive approach was helpful it was not enough, but that the “offensive” approach would be enough. He called it the Linear Argument for the Authority of the Bible (to contrast it with circular arguments), and that night I was convinced that acceptance of Jesus as Lord included within it acceptance of the entire Bible in the original Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic manuscripts as God’s inerrant, inspired, infallible Word. I am so grateful to have been led by the Lord to accept all of the Bible as true, and continue to believe that this issue is of such vital importance. So, I am very grateful to see this post with all these wonderful resources. Thank you so much, Dr. Kruger, for this and for all your wonderful posts serving the cause of Christ!
I haven’t read any of your top 10, still can I add my vote for Wenham’s Christ and the Bible. Excellent. From memory he shows that even if you only take the gospels as somewhat representative of Jesus’ life (i.e. they may contain several errors), one is still left with an authoritative Bible.
Wish we have more recent published books on this topic. All of them are written several decades ago.
Chris Nelson says
Kline was one of the most destructive forces in the last 50 years concerning the word of God, yuck.
It’s not that Kline was a destructive force, but that he penetrates so deeply into the canonical word and has thought through things with the covenantal contrast of the law and the gospel that many people can’t understand him. A theonomist won’t like him only because theonomy, like dispensationalism, does not do a solid job in handling Scripture. Kline has been an influence on gifted men like J Currid, GK Beale, and D Moo. His book The Structure of Biblical Authority is remarkable. He has an exceedingly high view of Scripture and would be in line with Warfield and the Westminster Divines.
Mitchell Elliott says
James White, in his work “Scripture Alone”, says that Martin Chemnitz’s response to Trent is really good as well.
Matthew Tringali says
Mike, thanks for this helpful blog post. I have enjoyed a lot of your posts lately. I am curious if you think this is the single biggest issue that Evangelicalism is defending against today? I know answer such a question would require a lot of nuance, but I would be satisfied with a broad answer. Hope you are well.
Ian Banks says
Of course all these books are about the sanctity and understanding of the Roman churches preserved scriptures and doctrine, can you not recommend any from another stream of thought , what about the Antiochian or Alexandrian ,. or dont they exist because the first lot burnt them! So at best, these books may well explain the Roman take on it, but what about the Docetic or Arian or even early gnostic scriptures, or Marcion et al. We shall never know, how strange it is that God preserves a scripture base, by total intolerance of any other point of view , how would Paul have fared quoting Euripedes about and to the Cretans , that wont get into the bible! How church fathers one day voting in changes are its enemies the next!(Origen, Tertullian etc) and how if enough bishops are lined up to vote then that becomes “the gospel” and God sanctioned . Which means that a majority today can bring in Gods will on homosexuality and same sex marriages and women priests and all the other hot potatoes, so that whatever a majority of bishops vote for must be God’s will. Any other recommendations for any other Christian viewpoint or does it stay with just the Roman church view?