Tuesday, December 01, 2009

So, what do we mean when we say the Bible is the Word of God?

Previously I have posted the problems with inerrancy, argument from autographs, and our limitation in constructing a doctrine of inspiration of scripture.

If you have read through and agree with these three points that I have raised, then the chances are you might be asking, "So what do we make of the Bible? Is it still authoritative?" These are questions related to the authority of the Bible.

Here's one answer that may address all those concerns:

N. T. Wright expresses well that “the notion of the ‘authority of scripture’ is a shorthand expression for God’s authority, exercised somehow through scripture”[18]. And the scripture attests that Jesus as the delegate of God’s “final and true authority”.[19] Therefore God’s authority is “best understood within the context of God’s kingdom”, in God’s “sovereign power accomplishing [the] renewal of all creation” through the life and career of Jesus, and then through the readers of this context.[20]

Scripture, viewed in this way, with its multi-facets are united together as one grand on-going story. Thence the authority of God’s people is derived from this ‘shorthand expression’ rather than grounded in their own institutionalisation as the Church.[21]

This goes against the Roman Catholics’ understanding that the Church has the authority to the extent of superseding that of the scripture.[22] They are mistaken. If the scripture is best understood within God’s accomplishment in the world and so, as Wolfhart Pannenberg puts it, a “reflex of his activity in history”[23], then the Church is found within the scripture rather than the other way around. Therefore in a derivative sense, the Christian community recognizes the authority of the Bible as God’s authority for “teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” unto the Church (2 Timothy 3.16).

John Webster phrased this elegantly, “[T]he authority of Scripture is the authority of the church's Lord and his gospel, and so cannot be made an immanent feature of ecclesial existence. Scripture's authority within the church is a function of Scripture's authority over the church. The church's acknowledgement of Scripture's authority is not an act of self-government, but an exposure to judgement, to a source not simply of authorisation but also and supremely of interrogation.”[24]

In short, following Wright, Williams, and Webster, the location of the Bible is within God's authority in the world, God’s economy in creation-renewal, and in the event of revealing the God-self to the world. The scripture is here understood as the ever-motioning 'context' for all these. Hence the Bible as the Word of God is the open context of which God’s operating and engaging authority enshrined through and within which God’s people found themselves, rather than a mere closed text that witness only to the past.

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[18] N. T. Wright, How Can The Bible Be Authoritative?, http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Bible_Authoritative.htm (accessed 23 November 2009).

[19] N. T. Wright, Scripture and the Authority of God (UK: SPCK, 2005), 17-18. Mk 1.22, 27, 11.27-33, Mt 7.29, 21.23-27, 28.18, 2 Cor 10.8, Acts 9.14, 26.10, 12.

[20] Ibid, 20-22.

[21] ‘Church’ with a capital ‘C’ is used to refer to the universal followers of Christ, undivided by denomination or churches.

[22] “[T]he authority of scripture was subsumed under the authority of the Church. That is, the authority of scripture was only one aspect of the authority of the Church, which could also appeal to the rule of faith and the tradition it believed to have been handed down by Christ to the apostles and through them to the Church.” David R. Law, Inspiration (UK: Continuum, 2001), 41.

[23] As quoted in Frank Hasel, Scripture in the Theologies of W. Pannenberg and D. G. Bloesch (USA: Peter Lang, 1996), 116-117.

[24] John Webster, Holy Scripture (USA: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 56-57. Italics original.

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