Is the Bible an authority?

To a lot of Christians this is an easy question to answer. In fact, many would answer that the Bible is The Authority, not just an Authority. Of course if you’re familiar with my previous writings, you might have noticed that I very intentionally said “an Authority,” not, “the Authority.”
So I’m not asking the question “Is the Bible ‘The’ authority in our lives?” I’ve unequivocally given my answer that it is not, and have argued for that in other posts.
Rather, I’m asking the question, “Is it “an” authority in our lives? Well, actually, I’m not addressing that particular question. Rather, I’m addressing the questions we should be asking first, which is “What is Authority and what is the Bible?” In other words, we need to first define our terms before we can actually ask this question.
So what is the Bible? Now, I think this is actually more than one question. But in particular, I’m asking about which Biblical canon is the Bible. It might surprise you to know there is no universally accepted biblical canon in the Christian Church. The Orthodox have their canon, the Catholic theirs, and the Protestants their very own canon.
I deal with the problem of the diversity of canons in another post, so I won’t go to deep into that.  Click here if you want to read about it Why I Don’t Affirm Sola Scriptura (Part Three) But basically, my own thoughts are that because there really has never been an accepted canon by all Christians everywhere, it seems to be that whatever the “biblical canon” is, it’s not static but fluid. The line between what is scripture and what is not actually scripture is grey. Now, of course I think there are some writings (non-Christian writings for example) that definitely are not, and should not, be considered scripture. But as my youth pastor use to say, I digress.
Whether or not I actually answered the first question should be debated, but for the sake of brevity lets move on to answer the question I think rarely gets asked.
So what about authority? In a certain sense I don’t have a problem with the Bible as “an” authority, depending on how we understand the concept of authority (using the standard “over and above” concept of authority). I do have a problem with the saying, “we as the church must stand under scripture.” How can something logically prior (the church) stand under something historically subsequent (the scriptures)? The church created scripture (that’s a historical fact). So how can we stand under something that we created? Does a parent stand under their child? Using the same logic it would be like saying, “God must stand under us even though God was before us and is our creator.” So to say that we stand “under the authority of scripture” makes no sense under the common paradigm of authority. But, even within the concept of authority as I understand it, it still doesn’t make sense. So, before I get ahead of myself, and before I explain my understanding of authority, I want to first point out something N.T. Wright has said regarding the authority of scripture. And, I would reckon he has the common understanding of the term authority (over and above).
N.T. Wright has said both in his book “Scripture and the Authority of God” and his book “Surprised by Scripture” that really, Scripture has no authority in and of itself. He uses the example that when Jesus gave his commission he didn’t say, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to the books you blokes are gonna go and put together and call the Bible.” Instead (ironically recorded in the Bible) he says, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.” The Bible, according to Wright, can only be a shorthand for God’s Authority. And I agree with that much of what he has too say. Regardless of how one understands authority, I believe this much to remain true. So onto how I understand authority!
I believe Authority to be best understood when we frame the concept within a Theology Of God that says God’s very nature is Uncontrolling Love. (See Thomas Jay Oord’s book “The Uncontrolling Love of God.”) Any other theology, I think, too quickly departs from this pinnacle of Christian Theology, and makes God out to be a controlling figure that ultimately, for too many Christians, becomes our justification for having a controlling and dictatorial understanding of authority. It gives us permission to have unjust churches and political systems that perpetuate the oppression of the weak, poor, the immigrant, the ostracized, the heretics (whom we deal with by the heresy of killing them, or in modern times socially killing them), and the killing of others whom we choose to consider our enemies. We excuse ourselves by saying, “they went against the authority set up by God!”
Of course, this is all predicated on a false, particular, assuming, and unquestioned definition of what Authority is, and what the very nature of God is, and what that Authority is derived from in the first place. This is, I believe, to be the worst of definitions regarding both God’s very nature and the authority that depends on that nature. The God we see in Jesus (Jesus being the Full Revelation Of God, showing us what God is like and has always been like) is not some authoritarian dictator ruling in the clouds like Zeus “over and above” earthly subjects. God is actually Incarnational coming down not to rule over us like a (worldly) king, but to live “among” and beside us as a friend. Being a God whose very nature isn’t coercive but leads by loving persuasion. With the advent of the Incarnation we can never again affirm an “over and above” God, or concept of Authority, but, as Jesus shows us in the Incarnation, the reality of God and God’s Authority is a “side-by-side” and “among” kind of nature and authority.
So if we’re using this definition of authority (and I think we should, for it seems more in line with God’s very nature), I don’t have a problem with saying the Bible is “an” (not “the”) authority in the sense that Christ is our authority and the Bible is “a” shorthand for this authority, but it is not the only shorthand for the authority of Christ.
Obviously, this a lot to try and flesh out in 1000 words. This is not the definite word on this issue, nor is it the end of the conversation, but the beginning of one.

4 thoughts on “Is the Bible an authority?

  1. The conservative believer might say people see the Bible as the voice of God in print, so to speak.
    Paul commended the believers of his day for accepting his letters as scripture “We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers.” (1 Thess 2:13) This predisposes the reader to see Paul’s words as words, not as the Word of God, Logos.
    Was he speaking metaphorically? or was he being literal?
    Peter made a reference in 2 Peter 3:16 about Paul’s writing being like “other scriptures.” That makes two apostles agreeing with each other that the letters we find recorded inthe New Testament were considered -in their day- as scripture.
    How did the ancients view scripture?
    Paul, at least, seemed to consider his own writing as authoritative, as having come directly from God, and to carry the same weight as the Hebrew scriptures in the lives of those who were born again (that’s a lot of weight, coming from a former Pharisee!).
    I am intrigued with your overall premise that Jesus is our final authority, and we know Him, hear Him, and understand Him by His indwelling Spirit (I’m paraphrasing, and using my own language. Have I represented you correctly?) first, and by the Bible as a reference written by those who knew Him, or knew of Him, in His day.

    1. The word of God that Paul is referring too is not his letters he had written, but the gospel message. The context is regarding his missionary efforts to the Thessalonians. He only wrote letters to them after he had left and they had accepted “the word (logos) or God” aka the gospel message. The letters were one of his ways to stay connected with the churches that he planted after he had left them to continue to plant churches in other cities. So in other words I think Paul is referring to his words as being the words he first spoke when he first went among the Thessalonians to plant churches. Does that makes sense?
      As to whether he was speaking metaphorically of literally I think he was saying the Gospel message (the word of God) he was preaching wasn’t a message he made up but one that he received from his revelation of Christ on the road to Damascus.
      Most biblical scholars do bot believe Peter to have written 2 peter. I think the date for 2 Peter is somewhere around 100-150 A.D. I don’t imagine that Paul believed he was writing scripture as much as he was merely writing letters to the church’s that he had planted. I think its probably a bit anachronistic to say that Paul believed he was writing scripture, or that when he refers to “the word of God” he’s referring to the bible.
      Acts 17:11 says, “These Jews were more receptive than those in Thessalonica, for they welcomed the message (logos in Greek, some other translations say “word”) very eagerly and examined the scriptures (Graphe in Greek) every day to see whether these things were so.”
      I think when we read scripture because we think the bible is the word of God when the biblical authors refer to the word of God we presuppose that they meant the same thing as we do when we say the word of God. In other words I think the biblical authors saw the word of God as, the gospel message, a prophetic message, and most importantly Christ. I don’t think they saw scripture as the word of God in any primary sense and maybe not at all. Whoever wrote Acts for instance does not use logos (mostly translated as “word” sometimes as here as “message”) synonymously with Graphe (always translated as scripture). Logos is never translated as Scripture, and neither is Rhema the other word translated as “word”.
      As for Paul having considered his writings come directly from God, I’m not sure that that is in any of his texts. When he refers to the word of God it is always the gospel message, prophetic message, or Christ, but not his writings. So send me some scriptures and we can hash it out. #biblenerds
      As for you’re very last paragraph, I do think you represented me well!

  2. Hey joanne, thanks for your comment.
    From what I understand scholars believe 1 Thessalonians to be Paul’s first letter. If this is the case, then Paul could not be using the phrase “God’s Word” to refer to his letters since this is the first time he’s written them anything.
    When the authors of the New Testament use the term “God’s word” there not referring to scripture that I have ever seen in context. But I believe we who understand the Bible in that way project that onto the text. Acts 17 says that they accepted the word (logos) of God and compared it with the scriptures (Graphe) to see if they were true. The author of Acts for instance doesn’t use scripture and the word synonymously.

  3. hmm. Guess I’d want to go back to that text and see what the Greek says, rather than what a translator has chosen for me to see. It’s the phrase “when you received *the word of God* that *you heard from us,* you accepted it *not as a human word* but as what *it really is, God’s word.*
    That sounds like Paul indicating what he gave out were actually words from God Himself.
    Which is why I am so interested in discovering–if such a thing is even possible–how the ancients viewed their scriptures. Peter said Paul’s letters were like “other scriptures”–what do you think Peter meant?

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