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It is no secret that Christians consider the Bible consisting of the Old and New Testaments to be their holy writings. However, what sway should these ancient writings have over a believer’s daily life? Is the Bible really at odds with modern scientific understandings? Are these sacred written records really the inspired words of God; or are they simply a mixture of ancient philosophy, poetry, history, and myths? In other words, how can the Bible be authoritative?

 

In speaking on this subject, decorated Biblical scholar, N. T. Wright suggested that this single question is really two. First, how can book be authoritative? Second, in what manner does a book exercise this authority?[1] These two questions will frame our discussion.

 

In respect to the first question, it must first be clarified what is meant by authority. Many Christians, especially in the reformed traditions, understand authority as the database where a person goes to find the answer for specific questions. In other words, it is a collection of data to which for any question posed will give a positive or negative answer in order to control or manage any given situation. For example, we might turn to a house painter who has years of experience in order to determine the proper technique to achieve a desired result. In many ways, the Bible does function in this compacity. We find such examples in the books Leviticus, Paul’s letters, Deuteronomy, Proverbs etc.…

 

However, what do we do with such books Ester? What about the Song of Solomon or even the Gospels? These are mostly narrative driven books. This fact makes the view of authority when applied to the problematic. There is the well-known extreme example of the person who is struggling with suicidal ideation. So, the person prays and tells God that they will open the Bible at random and the first verse they read they will do as the will of God. So they open the Bible and read John 13:27 which says, “As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.

So Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.”” The person then goes and kills themselves.

 

Now clearly this an extreme example of the data collection perspective of authority that borders on the ridiculous. However, it highlights the problem very effectively. The Bible is a collection of different writings. These collected writings are composed of different authors, styles and genres. They have different authorial intent, and cultural content. Therefore, the Bible is not merely a collection of data upon which some basis for action can be determined. If this is true, perhaps, then, it is a collection of truths which simply stand the test of time. That will be the subject of part 2 of this discussion.

 

 

Wright, N. T. “How Can the Bible Be Authoritative? (the Laing Lecture for 1989).” Vox Evangelica 21 (1991): 7.

 

 

[1] N. T. Wright, “How Can the Bible Be Authoritative? (the Laing Lecture for 1989),” Vox Evangelica 21 (1991).