Defining Scriptural Authority

circular reasoningChristians tend to use Scripture. Let’s not kid ourselves. It is difficult to be a Christian and not have sometime, or another, used Scripture. For some, it is the central aspect of the faith. For others, it is a guide of some sort. Many use it as a proof-text while others use it story time.

What I want to briefly speak to is the issue of scriptural authority (SA) and how we use it, towards the proper use of it.

First, in an extremely unbiblical view, there are those on the far right, almost cultic side, of SA. For instance, there is the Pure Life Ministries proclaiming as the first tenet of their statement of faith that they “believe the Bible is the inspired and infallible and authoritative Word of God.” That covers some ground, doesn’t it? But, let us dig further. In another place, they write,

Pure Life Ministries is founded upon the authority of the Word of God as the supreme and all-sufficient Truth for overcoming sin.

Do you see the problem here? They now incorporate “all-sufficient” into the idolization of Scripture. By this circular logic, Pure Life needs nothing else except their own interpretation of Scripture. No psychology, no science, no medical help. This is the same tactic so-called faith healers use to slaughter innocent children when they refuse medical help. After all, medical help is not in Scripture. Focus what is going on here. The Trinity is not as important as their view of Scripture. The death and resurrection of Christ is not as important as their view of Scripture. What is important is to cement in their follows that the leaders are the sole determining factor of what “the bible says.”

They remove Tradition, Reason, and the intellect from reading Scripture. The interpretation must not be challenged, either by question or by reason. Further, there is no help outside of Scripture. In effect, they have replaced God with the bible, as is so evidence in their statement of faith.

This, in case you don’t get it, is the wrong approach to SA.

The Articles of Religion says plainly enough that Scripture contains all things necessary for salvation. Scripture then begins not a rule book, but a guide book. It allows for us to differ over some things, accept reason and Tradition, and to remain united. SA is not about providing for us everything, on every topic. It is not about restricting what we use to live or use to read Scripture. It is about focusing on the topics in Scripture showing us we are in need of salvation.

The all-sufficient approach must require someone to seek their life structure from Scripture in such a way as to divorce the Text from reality. Do they likewise seek only medical help as offered in Scripture? What of finances? Where is the license in Scripture for such groups as Pure Life Ministries? Rather, in a moderated SA, wherein Scripture provides for us the authoritative narrative do we understand our need for salvation as well as our individual responsibilities.

Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

16 thoughts on “Defining Scriptural Authority”

  1. Quoting the Bible becomes a way of simplifying arguments, getting rid of complexities, and avoiding having to deal with gray areas.

  2. I am blogging here my answer, Joel, and I think you may just love it… if you excuse me for being such a simpleton… ;)

  3. LOL, Joel, your takedown of Pure Life’s statement on the authority of the Bible is like me saying to you, “I need a car so I can come see you preach.” Then you go off reminding me that I am horribly short-sighted because I also need fuel, licenses, luggage, a road, directions, and money for food along the way. Most of our Christian walk is informed by the Bible, and that Bible instructs us to look to reason, tradition, and spirituality. Yeah, their statement is oversimplified and they probably didn’t spend a lot of time thinking things through the way some of us would. But it’s like when I teach the first Bible study to a new person who starts coming to our church, I ask, “Do you believe the Bible is true?” If they say yes, we’re good to go. We don’t get into a big debate about the meaning of the word, “true.” And that circle thing is just silly. The reason I believe the Bible is true is because the historicity of the resurrection validates Jesus’ validation of the Scriptures.

  4. You’re funny. He started with Christ crucified. His message was validated by the power of the Spirit in signs and wonders. Hurtado writes at length about the experiential dimension being an important contributing factor to the rapid spread of Christianity in Lord Jesus Christ. In his writings, Paul holds the OT in high regard. In Berea, his preaching was judged by the Scriptures. The implication is that if the Bereans had found that his preaching was against Scripture, his preaching should be rejected. And when I preach to the lost, I don’t start with “The Bible is true,” but I use it as the source material for the preaching.

    1. Arvo, the Bereans were already holders of Scripture. You are confusing the two. To preach first “the bible is true” is to paint oneself into a corner of evidences that are not.

      I have no need to place Scripture over Christ. In some parts of Christianity, it is supposed one must learn Elizabethan English in order to read Scripture (the KJV-1611) and then to come to Christ. This placement of Scripture, in poorly designed theological terms, above Christ is a sign of where their heart, and faith, lies.

  5. Exactly. I highly doubt that the ministry you cited starts with “the Bible is true.” That ministry is trying to help people with sexual sin. They say this, “Our goal is not just the modification of your outward behavior, but the complete transformation of your life through the power of Jesus Christ.” They also say, “We think the biggest factor is the immersion in a prayerfully consecrated atmosphere where the presence of God is real and powerful, where you readily come into deep repentance and genuine communion with your loving Father.” So the premise is not the Bible is true, but that Christ will empower their getting better as the counselees develop a relationship with Him..

    1. Except… they list Scripture first and demand that Scripture is all sufficient. Thus, their entire program is based, poorly, on the idea that Scripture is more than “true” but that it is some sort of medical guide book.

      This false god of biblicalism saturates their ideology.

      1. Maybe you know them better than I do. I’m just reading their website. I’m more convinced by what they actually do than what they say. They seem to be doing something good with a healthy mix of Scripture, prayer, spirituality, and so on. I have learned that people often say things like their statement about Scripture, but when it comes down to it, they don’t really mean what they thought they meant. I made a woman cry in a hermeneutics class I taught when she realized that she could no longer say that every word of the Bible is literally true. She didn’t really understand what she was saying. She recovered well and had a wonderful fresh insight into the Scriptures she loved. I’m guessing those guys probably don’t know what they mean, either.

  6. I was concerned with this as well…”We believe that Christ’s death on the cross provides healing for the human body, in answer to believing prayer, if and when it is in the sovereign will of God for that person. (Isaiah 53:4-5; Matthew 8:16,17; James 5:14-16)”
    All for God healing folks and believe that it happens, but we shouldn’t cut out medical professionals. The main tenant being scriptural infallibility is rough is a little rough as well. Even if that is your held belief, it relies on the ability of the Holy Spirit to illuminate the scriptures based upon your acceptance of Christ as the spirit is now indwelling in you. Seeing that as the number one thing turns me off and I am a Christian now. I admire them for what they are trying to do, but I don’t see their approach really helping many who are unbelievers. It may be attractive to believers who struggle, but that is all I could see. All in all I think that the approach of groups like http://www.xxxchurch.com/ do a much better job with outreach and helping a wide swath of people who are struggling, (not to mention some great marketing stuff in their store) but that is just me.

  7. They say that healing only occurs because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. That does not require a doctor or other medical professional. Worse, if healing only happens because of Christ’s sacrifice, it implies if one is not a Christian, you can not be healed. Last I checked, there are atheists in recovery all over the world. It also benignly implies that if you are healed, you are a Christian so everything with your faith is fine.

  8. I don’t see “only.” I knows there are people out there who don’t believe in medicine but that are very rare. I see nothing on their website that suggests that.

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