The Authority of Scripture - Jon Fryer
Christians believe that the Bible is Authoritative. What does that mean?
The authority of Scripture means that all the words in the Bible (as it was originally written) are God's true words, and that to disbelieve or disobey any part of the Bible is to disbelieve or disobey God Himself.
This is what the Bible claims for itself. The New Testament tells us that every word of Scripture is from God. 2 Tim 3;16 tells us that all Scripture is God-breathed. The Greek word is theopneustos which literally means 'breathed out by God', e.g. spoken. For every word in the Bible God is the One who spoke, using human beings to write down His own words. God inspired (literally 'breathed into') men to write down His words.
But how do you obey the Bible? What kind of things does the Bible say?
- Thou shalt not steal
- Thou shalt do no murder
- You shall not look lustfully at a woman… more difficult
- You shall not eat shellfish
- You shall not wear clothes made of two different materials
- If anyone sleeps with another mans wife you shall take the two of them to the edge of the village and stone them to death.
The trouble is, the Bible is not a list of rules for all time. The Ten Commandments are, but the rest of the Old Testament was written to a group of people in a specific culture in a specific place and time, and the rules that worked for them simply are not appropriate to us. If you try and take every rule literally then you rapidly become a monster. In the Simon Says game I am assuming there are some things that you just wouldn’t do –Simon Says go jump off a building, whatever. I suggest to you that the Bible is the same – its not just a list of rules to be obeyed. Instead it’s a mix of three thousand year old laws, history, poetry, stories and prophecy.
So how can I say that the Bible is authoritative if I am also saying you can not simply treat it as a list of rules like certain American churches try to do? Because the Bible is breathed by God – the Bible we have is the Bible God wants us to have. To treat it just as a list of rules is actually to disrespect the Bible and deny that it has authority, because it denies the fact that we have what God wanted us to have – the church does not need to make it into something it is not.
It is one thing to say that the Bible claims to be the words of God, but it is something else to believe and have faith in that fact. You come to believe that the Bible is god's word comes only when the Holy Spirit in and through the Bible into our hearts. 1 Cor 2;14 tells us that apart from the Holy Spirit no one will recognise the words of God. In addition, God does not take us aside and say 'See that book? I wrote it. Go and believe what it tells you.' Rather, when a Christian reads the words he recognises the voice of God just as you would recognise the style of a friend who wrote you a letter. Only by reading the Bible can you come to recognise it for what it actually is. Other arguments are useful - the Bible is historically accurate, internally consistent, prophetically accurate, a literary masterpiece and so forth and so on - but those things can not prove that the Bible is God's word. In fact, nothing can 'prove' that the Bible is God's word - If the Bible is God's word
then it has the highest authority, and to hold it up to logic or history or science or reason is to say that one of these things is more important than God, and is more trustworthy than God.
No, what we have is a record of how God has related to people over thousands of years, so we can see what he is like in lots of different circumstances. The Koran tells God’s people to submit to his rules, but that is not what the Bible does. Instead, in the Bible, God says ‘This is what I am like’ – come and have a relationship with me. The Bible by its very nature, being a mix of styles and genres and times and places, invites you to explore it, argue with it, wrestle with it, and in that process you get to know God as a real person rather than a list of rules. As you recognise the voice of a friend, so you recognise Jesus in his word.
And as you recognise God, as you get to know him, so you start to obey. Not as you obey a set of rules, but as you submit to someone you
love. I try to shape my actions and words so that they please Suzie, not because I have to obey her, but because I love her and want to please her. Likewise, as we love God, so we try to conform our minds and hearts and actions and words and thoughts to His way of thinking. The Bible is authoritative because it is God’s chosen way of describing his relation with us over the centuries – what we learn from it is not a list of rules, but a description of what God loves, what he hates, what he likes to do, how he likes to relate, and we can use that as the basis for trying to conform ourselves into ways of being that will please Him. It is authoritative because it is a true account of that relationship that can be trusted. It is authoritative because as you read it and wrestle with it, it changes you if you’ll let it, so that you become more like the one who wrote it, who is beautiful and good and perfect. As the Linkin Park song ‘Points of Authority’ says, ‘You live what you’ve learned’.
The Bible is authoritative like a half finished Shakespeare play is authoritative. You know exactly what it says, and how the people acted
up to the point where it breaks off in Act Four, and we can trust that that is what Shakespeare intended up until that point. But if we want to put on the play then the actors need to finish it themselves. They could just make up an ending out of their own heads, but that would be rubbish – it wouldn’t be Shakespeare, it wouldn’t be authoritative. They could read what has already been written and just do that part of the play, but it wouldn’t be complete. No, what they need to do is read and understand and trust all that is in the first four acts of the play, and then create the Fifth Act for themselves in the style of Shakespeare and in line with what has already been written. And that may be different everytime someone does it, but it will still be appropriate, still be Shakespeare, still be authoritative because it respects what is already there and then puts it into practice to build something new.
So it is with us. We live in the Fifth Act of the play. God has given us what comes before, but it is up to us to work out how to finish the play. We can ignore his word, but what we come up with will likely be rubbish. We can just stop where the book stops, and treat it just as dead rules, but that won’t be complete, and won’t make sense to people. OR we can look at what God has told us about how things are, and how things were, and things should be, and how things will be, and in the light of that we can work it out for ourselves. A Bible is not the word of God – it is just a book. It only becomes the living word of God when it moves from dead pages into your head, and into your heart, and you live out your life saying ‘God, this is what I’ve made of it for you, this is what I’ve made of myself in response to you, I hope you like it’. We live in the Fifth Act of the play, and what you make of it is up to you, but the only true and trustworthy guide you have for writing your part in the play is the word of God spoken to you out of all of the ages past.
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