Systematic Theology Series #1: Biblical Authority

I took my midterm for Systematic Theology I this past Wednesday, which was all essay.  I suppose some studied by way of memorizing outlines of facts... and perhaps I should have.  But instead, I wrote essays.  Since I didn't get to turn them in, I thought, "Why waste them?  I should share them with my blog friends."  So here you go!  They obviously aren't as well thought out and documented as they would be if I were turning them in as papers, but hopefully they will be thought-provoking and beneficial.  They are a bit academic, so if you're not into that, feel free to pass.  I won't be offended.  :)  The first post is on the nature of biblical authority.  All Christians believe the Bible has authority, but what kind and how much?  More importantly, WHY? 

The nature of the authority of the Bible is a slippery one, and ultimately one based on faith. The people of God believe the Bible has God as its author, and if God is indeed its author, then it truly has ultimate authority. If it has ultimate authority as the Word of God, as it claims to, then all of its contents are authoritative for all of humanity, whether they recognize it or not. Furthermore, the Bible itself communicates that God is the only true god and His Word is the only ultimately and fully true message from Him. It contains the Story of His creation—its fall, His purpose and action to redeem it, and His plan to ultimately re-create it all. The Story is told through a variety of authors in various times and places, and is expressed in a variety of literary forms. The Bible itself claims that God inspired these authors, thus making these words His Word to us.

So why doesn’t everyone just accept these facts? If there is a God, and He wrote a book, why on earth would anyone be stupid enough to ignore it?! The simple answer is, Because they don’t believe that it is true revelation from God, and perhaps whether a God even exists. Thus, whatever it says about itself makes no apparent difference to them, for they do not see it as having authority. So how does one discover that the Bible truly is God’s book, vested with ultimate, divine authority? There are four basic sources from which one may derive this answer, without any of which a case for divine authorship would be seriously undermined, if not rendered impossible: (1) the consistent, internal testimony of the source, (2) the corroborating testimony of historical sources, (3) the testimony of the influence and impact of the book in the world, and (4) one’s personal experience (including the inner witness of the Spirit). These sources of understanding can be summarized in three arguments.

(1) The Biblical Argument. Scripture itself teaches that it is the divinely inspired and authoritative “Word of God”, and thus infallible and inerrant. The logic behind this is as follows: (a) If there is a God and he is trustworthy, then whatever he reveals of himself will be trustworthy; (b) Trustworthiness is only as good as the accuracy of the message being communicated; (c) God has revealed himself in Scripture; (d) therefore, Scripture is trustworthy. This is what the Bible teaches. Whether you believe this to be true is another matter. So consider the next two arguments.

(2) The Historical Argument. This is the burden of establishing the text, for the text is the ultimate reference point for understanding the nature of its own authority, as we have already established. If the text was written by people other than those by whom it claims to have been written, then its claims are suspect, if not moot. This becomes particularly acute when considering what it claims about the criteria for apostleship (the role of faithfully passing on the Gospel), namely, that they must be personal witnesses to the person of Christ, or appointed by someone who was. Fortunately (but not surprisingly), the Bible measures up to historical scrutiny quite well due to the number of early manuscripts, which, when cross-analyzed, result in an extraordinarily accurate reconstruction of the original text, even by secular standards. Secondly, the corroboration of extra-biblical documents of similar age testify to the historical veracity of the Bible.

(3) The Experiential Argument. This argument is twofold: (a) the Bible has exerted greater influence on the world than any other book, and this influence has been profoundly positive, wherever it was obeyed rather than misused; (b) the message of the Bible (the Gospel), through the Holy Spirit, has brought one into a relationship with the Living God, providing the believer a tangible means of apprehending God. This includes the transformation the believer has experienced as a result of God’s grace working through faith-full obedience to His Word.

The Argument for Infallibility and Inerrancy. From a historical perspective, we know that inerrancy and infallibility have been the position of the church throughout virtually all of history, and the burden of proof is therefore on those who wish to disprove it. However, no original manuscripts are extant, so it is currently impossible to disprove it. (It must be noted that neither can proponents prove it.) From a theological-philosophical perspective, the Biblical teaching that God is perfect, holy, good, right, loving, and just requires that He reveal Himself to sinful humanity, and do so in a meaningful way. It also requires that He do so in an accurate way. This requirement is what is meant by infallibility. The Scripture, as Scripture, cannot err, because it is from God, who is perfect, loving, and just. Because it cannot err, therefore it does not err, i.e. it is “inerrant”. This, of course, means that the original documents penned by the authors were free of error, both in terms of historical reliability (including internal corroboration) and theological coherence.

Considering these basic arguments, then, it is reasonable to conclude that God is indeed the author, for we have no reason for believing otherwise which trumps the multitudinous and powerful reasons for believing that it is so. Therefore, if God is its author, then what it says about God is completely true and reliable, thus bridging the gap between actual authority and recognized (and thus actualized) authority.

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