Arminians and Wesleyans on the Authority of Scripture
By Spencer Gear
THE ARMINIAN MAGAZINE. Issue 1. Spring 2011. Volume 29.
Date Posted July, 2011

The principle of Jacob Arminius (AD 1560-1609) for understanding biblical authority was based on

the authority of any word or writing whatsoever depends upon its author, as the word 'authority' indicates; and it is just as great as the veracity and the power, that is, the auqeutia, of the author. But God is of infallible veracity, and is neither capable of deceiving nor of being deceived; and of irrefragable power, that is, supreme over the creatures. If, therefore, He is the Author of Scripture, its authority is totally dependent on Him alone (1977, vol. 1, p. 397, emphasis in original).

He opposed the "Popish writers" who stated that "the Church is of greater antiquity than the Scriptures; and they are not authentic except by the authority of the Church" (cited in Arminius 1977, vol. 1, p. 398). He believed that "the very arguments by which the Scriptures are Divine, they are also [proved to be] Canonical,"

for as they are Divine because given by God, not because they are "received from men;" so they are canonical, and are so called in an active sense, because they prescribe a Canon or rule, and not passively, because they are reckoned for a Canon, or because they are taken into the Canon (1977, vol. 1, p. 401).

How are we persuaded that the Scriptures of Old and New Testaments are Divine? Arminius gave three "essentials": (1) "The external testimony of men"; (2) "The arguments contained in the Scriptures themselves"; and (3) "The internal witness of God" (1977, vol. 1, p. 402).

Arminius could occasionally give the impression that he may have believed in partial infallibility of the Scriptures in salvation matters only:

That all things which have been , are now, or to the final consummation will be necessary for salvation, have been of old perfectly inspired, declared and written; and that no other revelation or tradition, than those which have been inspired, declared and contained in the scriptures, is necessary to the salvation of the church. (2 Tim. iii,16; Matt. iv, 3,4; xxii,29; Acts xvii,28.) Indeed we assert, that whatsoever relates to the doctrine of truth is so perfectly comprehended in the scriptures (1977, vol. 1, p. 423).

However, Arminius clarified his doctrine of Scripture in six of his seventy-nine private disputations that address the authority, perfection, perspicuity and efficacy of Scripture (1977, vol. 2, pp. 14-25). Here his bibliology is stated emphatically. He wrote of God communicating his word orally, at first, and then in writing

so that we now have the infallible word of God in no other place than in the Scriptures . . . The authority of the word of God, which is comprised in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, lies both in the veracity of the whole narration, and of all the declarations, whether they be those about things past, about things present, or about those which are to come, and in the power of the commands and prohibitions, which are contained in the divine word (vol. 2, pp. 15, 16-17).

In his opposition to Roman Catholic doctrine, he stated that "to affirm 'that the authority of the Scriptures depends upon the church, because the church is more ancient than the Scriptures,' is a falsehood, a foolish speech, an implication of manifold contradictions and blasphemy" (vol. 2, p. 18).

John Wesley (AD 1703-1791) contended that "there are four grand and powerful arguments which strongly induce us to believe that the Bible must be from God; viz., miracles, prophecies, the goodness of the doctrine, and the moral character of the penmen." He proposed "a short, clear, and strong argument to prove the divine inspiration of the holy Scriptures":

The Bible must be the invention either of good men or angels, bad men or devils, or of God.
1. It could not be the invention of good men or angels; for they neither would nor could make a book, and tell lies all the time they were writing it, saying, "Thus saith the Lord," when it was their own invention.
2. It could not be the invention of bad men or devils; for they would not make a book which commands all duty, forbids all sin, and condemns their souls to hell to all eternity.
3. Therefore, I draw this conclusion, that the Bible must be given by divine inspiration (Wesley 1872, vol. 11, p. 484).

"The Twenty-five Articles of Religion of the Methodist Church, from the Discipline of 1808, collated against Wesley's original text in The Sunday Service of the Methodists, 1784," in Article 5, "The Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation," states:

The Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical books of the Old and New Testament of whose authority was never any doubt in the church (Bratcher 2006).

Elsewhere in his writings, John Wesley (1872) supported the infallibility of Scripture: "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God;' consequently, all Scripture is infallibly true" (vol. 5, p. 193). He infers that the Scripture presents "the very words of the oracles of God" (vol. 6, p. 117). Mr. Jenyns wrote an "admired tract," titled, "Internal Evidence of the Christian Religion," in which he stated, "All Scripture is not given by inspiration of God; but the writers of it were sometimes left to themselves, and consequently made some mistakes." In his Journal of 24th August 1776, Wesley replied, "Nay, if there be any mistakes in the Bible, there may as well be a thousand. If there be one falsehood in that book, it did not come from the God of truth" (1872, vol. 4, p. 82).

The first Wesleyan systematic theologian, Richard Watson (AD 1781-1833), declared that

the sacred writers composed their works under so plenary and immediate an influence of the Holy Spirit, that God may be said to speak by them to man, and not merely that they spoke to men in the name of God, and by his authority (cited in Geisler 2002, p. 308).

Later American Methodist systematic theologian, John Miley (AD 1813-1895), formerly professor at Drew University, believed "the question of inspiration concerns the agency of the Holy Spirit in the authorship of the Scriptures. . . . In inspiration the definite purpose is an authoritative communication of truth from God, whether by the spoken or written word"(1893/1989, vol.2, pp. 479-480). For Miley, was God's authoritative communication inerrant? He taught that an influence of the Holy Spirit within the minds of the biblical writers "preserved them from serious error in teaching" but "the theory of a common verbal inspiration is beset with very serious difficulties—enough, indeed, to disprove it" because "the theory cannot be reconciled with the manifest human elements in the structure of Scripture" (vol. 2, p. 483-484). However, Miley wants to maintain some aspect of the truthfulness of Scripture with his statement that "inspiration is thus the divine warrant of truth in the Scriptures" (vol. 2, p. 488) but the biblical writers were not used to produce an inerrant Bible, but only one which was preserved "from serious error."

Coming out of the contemporary Wesleyan tradition, Robert Mattke (2000), warned:

of biblical authority continues to be debated vigorously. Much of the tension seems to spring from the fact that the Bible is a divine human book. Our position with regard to Scripture needs to be arrived at without minimizing the Bible's divinity or excusing its humanity. We need not look too far back to see what happens to theology when the Scriptures are fragmented. We need to be cautious lest the authority of Scripture be slowly eroded and we end up without a "sure word of prophecy" (II Peter 1:19).

Wesleyan scholar, Wilber T. Dayton, of Asbury Theological Seminary, USA, wrote:

If an inerrant Bible is related to a high view of God and to the authority of Jesus Christ, both as a direct implication of them and as our source of knowledge concerning them, who could deny the importance of biblical inerrancy to Christian theology? To deny or ignore biblical inerrancy would be to pull out the keystone and let the whole structure of theology collapse. Certainty could not survive in any area of doctrine. Man would be left to the subjectivity of his own opinions (1993-2005).

Dayton offered ten propositions with a brief commentary on them to "underscore the crucial importance of biblical inerrancy to Christian theology" in his Wesleyan understanding (1993-2005). Elsewhere Dayton wrote that "the absolute authority and total reliability of the Bible was taken for granted in early Wesleyanism . . . Nothing would have been more repugnant to original Methodism than to cast doubt on the Word of God, the very source of life" (cited in Geisler 2002, p. 308)

Thomas C. Oden of Drew University asks, "By what authority or on what ground does Christian teaching rest? How does the worshiping community know what it seems to know?" His response, as a Methodist, is a reliance on the Wesleyan quadrilateral: "The study of God relies constantly upon an interdependent quadrilateral of sources on the basis of which the confessing community can articulate, make consistent, and integrate the witness to revelation." This quadrilateral consists of "scripture, tradition, experience, and reason, all of which depend upon and exist as a response to their necessary premise: revelation." He regards all of these dimensions of authority as "functionally operative, although often implicitly, in the most representative of classical Christian teachers: Irenaeus, John Chrysostom, Ambrose, Augustine, and John of Damascus." However, he does regard Christian Scripture as having the "primary" function while tradition, experience and reason are "secondary" (1987, pp. 330-331, emphasis in original). As for the nature of Scripture, "divinely inspired Scripture is the utterly reliable source and norm of Christian theology" (p. 335).

Arminius, J. 1977 (transl. Nichols, J. & Bagnall, W. R.), The Writings of James Arminius, 3 vols, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Bratcher, D. 2005, 'C. S. Lewis on inerrancy, inspiration and historicity of Scripture', Available from: The Voice [Online], [4 February 2006].
Dayton, W. T. 1993-2005, 'Theology and biblical inerrancy', Available from:Wesley Center [Online], [25 April 2006].
Geisler, N. 2002, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, BethanyHouse, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Mattke, R. A. 2000, 'Integration of truth in John Wesley', Available from: Wesley Center for Applied Theology [Online], [24 April 2006].
Miley, J. 1893, 1989, Systematic Theology, 2 vols, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Massachusetts.
Oden, T. C. 1987, The Living God, Systematic Theology: Volume One, HarperSanFrancisco, San Francisco.
Wesley J. 1872, The Works of John Wesley, 3rd edn, 14 vols, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan (reprinted 1978).