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Bible Engagement Blog


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Authority of the Bible

Bible engagement rests on the belief that there should be an unswerving acknowledgement and commitment to the centrality and authority of the Bible.

The Bible is authoritative because all authority belongs to God and is of God. In the Old Testament, the Father exercises authority through the creation of all that is, through His dealings with His people, and through many significant events. In the New Testament, Christ exercises and claims all authority (cf. Matthew 28:18).

Furthermore, the Bible is authoritative because God speaks and sustains His Word. Bible engagement rests on the understanding that the Spirit gives life to the Word and does so by enabling the reader or listener to hear the Word and live it out.

As the Anglican theologian, N. T. Wright says, It is enormously important that we see the role of scripture not simply as being to provide true information about, or even an accurate running commentary upon, the work of God in salvation and new creation, but as taking an active part within that ongoing purpose.”

A central insight of the Reformation is that God is the absolute authority. If God is the absolute authority then the Bible can’t contend for that authority. How then, if the authority of the Bible cannot be considered absolute, should its authority be understood? The answer to this question, according to Wright, is that the authority of Scripture is “delegated or mediated … from that which God himself possesses.” So when we use the phrase “the authority of the Bible,” it can only make sense if it’s a shorthand for “the authority of … God exercised … through Scripture.”

So what? Why is the authority of the Bible important? For many reasons. One reason is that the purpose or goal of authority is to bring us to a place of liberty – to set us free so that we come to know fullness of life in Christ Jesus (cf. John 10:10). God expresses His authority through judging and condemning sin in the world in a way that will save and sanctify people. His intent is to redeem and remake the world, through the sovereign exercise of His power and love, so that we can be fully human.

Scripture texts like Romans 15:4, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, and Hebrews 4:12 indicate that the Bible is an integral component in God’s plan, i.e., it’s part of the means by which God directs the process of salvation and sanctification. Wright says that the Bible “is designed to function through human beings, through the church, through people who, living still by the Spirit, have their life moulded by this Spirit-inspired book.”

In recognizing that the Bible is designed to function through us, then the exercise of God’s authority to make us fully human is not an end in itself. God saves and sanctifies us for a purpose. Our purpose is to do what Jesus did (cf. John 20:21). We are to go into the world to speak and enact His will. The Great Commandment (cf. Matthew 22:37-39) and the Great Commission (cf. Matthew 28:19-20), in particular, serve to direct us to these ends.

All told, Bible engagement can only happen when we submit our authority to God’s authority. It’s hypocrisy to affirm the authority of the Scriptures but functionally disobey them in our everyday lives. We cannot and must not usurp God’s authority by replacing it with self-sovereignty. Bible engagement can’t happen if we do not surrender our inclination to control God. Quite simply, when we engage with the Word we cannot and should not try to fit God into our preconceived ideas of what He should be like or what He should do.

The Bible is not an end in itself. God is God – we must receive His Word as people under His authority and act on it in ways that bring honour and glory to Him. That’s not to say that coming under the authority of God and His Word is a fait accompli for most of us. Oxford academic director Ida Glaser observes that “In fact, none of us starts by accepting God’s revelation in Christ or in the Bible … we need God to lead us to this understanding and he leads us all in different ways.”

© Scripture Union Canada 2020

2 Corinthians 4:5


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Scripture and the Authority of God

In Scripture and the Authority of God, N. T. Wright argues for the authority of Scripture which “is really a shorthand for ‘the authority of God exercised through scripture’; and God’s authority is not merely his right to control and order the church, but his sovereign power, exercised in and through Jesus and the Spirit, to bring all things in heaven and on earth into subjection to his judging and healing rule.”

Scripture and the Authority of God is a timely read for anyone seeking to understand the authority of Scripture as it relates to culture, history, tradition, reason and experience. To spike your curiosity, here are some quotable gems:

Reading and studying scripture has been seen as central to how we are to grow in the love of God; how we come to understand God and his truth more fully; and how we can develop the moral muscle to live in accordance with the gospel of Jesus even when everything seems to be pulling the other way.

The authority of scripture … can only have any Christian meaning if we are referring to scripture’s authority in a delegated or mediated sense from that which God himself possesses, and that which Jesus possesses as the risen Lord and Son of God, the Emmanuel.

It is enormously important that we see the role of scripture not simply as being to provide true information about, or even an accurate running commentary upon, the work of God in salvation and new creation, but as taking an active part within that ongoing purpose.

Scripture is there to be a means of God’s action in and through us – which will include, but go far beyond, the mere conveying of information.

I cannot conceive of daily communion with God without scripture at its centre.

Authority, particularly when we locate it within the notion of God’s kingdom … is the sovereign rule of God sweeping through creation to judge and to heal. It is the powerful love of God in Jesus Christ, putting sin to death and launching new creation. It is the fresh, bracing and energizing wind of the Spirit.

Because all human beings including devout Christians are prey to serious and multi-layered self-deception, including in their traditions and their reasoning, that ‘authority’ is needed in the first place.

We read scripture in order to be refreshed in our memory and understanding of the story within which we ourselves are actors, to be reminded where it has come from, where it is going to, and hence what our own part within it ought to be.

Scripture’s authority is thus seen to best advantage in its formation of the mind of the church, and its stiffening of our resolve, as we work to implement the resurrection of Jesus, and so to anticipate the day when God will make all things new, and justice, joy and peace will triumph.

‘The authority of scripture’ refers not least to God’s work through scripture to reveal Jesus, to speak in life-changing power to the hearts and minds of individuals, and to transform them by the Spirit’s healing love.

The Bible itself offers a model for its own reading, which involves knowing where we are within the overall drama and what is appropriate within each act.

It is vital that we understand scripture, and our relation to it, in terms of some kind of overarching narrative which makes sense of the texts. We cannot reduce scripture to a set of ‘timeless truths’ on the one hand, or to being merely the fuel for devotions on the other, without being deeply disloyal, at a structural level, to scripture itself.

We must be committed to a totally contextual reading of scripture. Each word must be understood within its own verse, each verse within its own chapter, each chapter within its own book, and each book within its own historical, cultural and indeed canonical setting.

It is not simply the Bible’s context that we must understand … it is equally important that we understand and appreciate our own, and the way it predisposes us to highlight some things in the Bible and quietly ignore others.

A contextual reading is in fact an incarnational reading of scripture, paying attention to the full humanity both of the text and of its reader.

The various crises in the Western church of our day – decline in numbers and resources, moral dilemmas, internal division, failure to present the gospel coherently to a new generation – all these and more should drive us to pray for scripture to be given its head once more, for teachers and preachers who can open the Bible in the power of the Spirit, to give the church the energy and direction it needs for its mission and renew it in its love for God; and above all, for God’s word to do its work in the world.

© Scripture Union Canada 2016

2 Corinthians 4:5