In the last post, we began to discuss the topic of Biblical authority. I highlighted the problem of viewing scripture as the database where a person goes to find the answer for specific questions. If the authority of Bible does not lie in some assumed encyclopedic quality, then maybe, its simply a collection of “timeless truths” which stand the test of time.
This approach seems to be the default fall back position of many Christians who come to understand the errors of the “encyclopedic assumption.” However, this is simply a different way of doing the same thing. A Christian who views the Bible as a collection of timeless truths are still holding on to the “encyclopedic assumption,” only now they have broken scripture up into chunks. The cohesiveness of scripture has been sacrificed for the supposed underlying truth. This leads to a sort of quasi-allegorizing of scripture. A good example of this is the interpretation of Matthew 24 as referring to Jesus second coming. When the literal sense is that Jesus is answering the question of when will the temple be destroyed (vs.1-3). Therefore, the allegorizing of the chapter results in it being stripped of its significance within the gospel of Matthew and lumped in with the book of Revelation. This causes an inverse with Biblical exegesis. Revelation becomes how Matthew 24 is understood. However, it should be that Matthew 24 and its place within the totality of Matthew’s gospel should be the key to understanding what John’s vision represented.
The question must be raised: what is the primary assumption behind these two common misperceptions of Biblical authority? The answer is a misunderstanding of how Biblical inspiration works. There is very few who would deny that the biblical books were written by specific authors to specific audiences for specific reasons within a specific cultural context. However, since we are far removed from these factors, I would suggest that Christians have largely viewed these authors as little more than dictating secretaries. In other words, God by way of the Spirit, inspired every word and punctuation within scripture for every age. Unfortunately, such a view does serious injustice to scripture.
Let us look at one example of the timeless truth perception in use. The prophet Jeremiah wrote, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (29:11). Now Christians have used this verse for generations to encourage those who were down in the goodness and sovereignty of God. There are plaques and decorations hanging on the walls of homes with these words on it. You see them posted on Facebook and Twitter on regular basis. It is quoted with such authority that one would rightly think that particular promise is for everyone at all times.
Newsflash! IT ISN’T!
Jeremiah 29:1l is not directed at anyone today. Jeremiah wrote it to comfort those Jews going into Babylonian exile. The verse comes after he encourages the exiles to make Babylon their home by integrating into their society. However, Jeremiah is reminding those integrated that God is not going to keep them in exile forever. No! He knows what he has planned and will see it through. Jeremiah 29:11 is not written for our generation and cultural context. It was written for a Babylonian exiled Jew that was leaving the promised land. This is the true meaning and purpose of the text. God did not inspire Jeremiah to write such words for twenty-first century Christian. It is not some timeless truth.
Furthermore, Paul tells us that some of his instructions concerning marriage are his own pastoral decision and not inspired by God (1 Cor 7:12), while other instructions are directly inspired by God (v.10). The Bible, then, denies itself as being a collection of timeless truths, for the author clearly indicates that he is doing it because of the cultural reality in which he exists (vs.25-26) It is clear then that Biblical authority is not in the nature of timeless truths.