How much authority you grant the Bible, determines how the Bible will affect your understanding of God and human nature.
Author’s Note: This essay was coauthored by Nova Seeker and Jack.
Concerning the authority of the Bible, there are basically four positions, summarized in the following four truth statements.
- The Bible is a book of wisdom, written in figurative language, and rich in allusion, metaphor, and hyperbole, among many other rhetorical devices.
- The Bible is an anthropological artifact – a historical record of Ancient Near East (ANE) Hebrew literature.
- The scriptures are God breathed! The Bible was written by great men of faith, inspired by the Holy Spirit.
- God spoke, men wrote! The Bible is the infallible Word of God.
These views are listed in order of increasing authority being ascribed to the scriptures.
- Most people can readily accept the first, in conceding that the Bible has philosophical and literary value.
- The second point is a little harder, as it requires one to accept the assertion that the Bible is true and historically accurate.
- The third point is where we begin to separate the true believers — those who recognize the power of faith and the work of the Holy Spirit.
- The fourth point ascribes all authority of the Holy Scriptures to God Himself. This is where people begin to stumble, and are therefore hesitant to accept this as last statement as truth.
The question is, how far down the list will we venture to accept as truth?
For the remainder of this essay, I’m going to focus on the differences between (2), (3), and (4), because this is actually the source of the Dissemination and Dissolution behind the current day church.
How Differences in the Recognition of Biblical Authority Play Out
First, we note that (3) is only different from (2) in that the former recognizes the power and authority of the Holy Spirit. But if we consider the relative similarities and differences between two human writings, one of which is 3,000 years old and one of which is 10 years old, and both are written through inspiration by men of faith, then we are left to treat these two writings as more or less equal in authority. At this point, many humans will have many reasons to test the value of each one according to the applicable relevancy.
About the difference between (3) and (4), if the Bible is only considered to be the faith-inspired religious writings of religious humans who were living a long time ago — to be revered in some ways, but not to be considered binding, and to be considered fallible in places, contradictory in others, and certainly nothing God spoke or specifically instructed – then the Bible becomes “ancient human written words about God”, albeit written by men of faith, rather than the “revealed eternal Word of God”.
These are two very different things, obviously.
- The former is fallible, contradictory, and not binding.
- The latter is infallible and doesn’t contradict itself, and is binding eternally.
Once you engage in that shift, the entire game changes. If the Bible is simply “ancient, human-written words about God”, then it is not inherently more truthful or accurate than any contemporary, human-written words about God.
Comparing the Conservative vs. Progressive Views of Scripture
The conservative view accepts that the source that is 3,000 years old is very likely to have an accurate understanding of any number of things, as compared to the more recent writing. This is because the older source has weathered the test of time, and still continues to speak to the human soul. It has also survived through all the human strife and warfare over the millennia, which suggests that God must have had a hand in preserving it. So from this perspective, these ancient human writings which were sincerely inspired by the genuine faith of people who lived 2000 years ago and longer, carry a weighty authority. Those who read the ancient texts with an eye to discern what in them is still “relevant” today, 2000 years later, tend to come to the conclusion that human nature is the same, and that God has never changed. Thus, the conservative view embraces the eternal, infallible aspects of point (4).
The “Progressive” view postulates that the source that is 3,000 years old is invariably considered to be much more likely to have an inaccurate understanding of any number of things, as compared to the more recent writing, due to lower levels of human knowledge about any number of things at the time. So if we’re really just dealing with ancient human writings which were sincerely inspired by the genuine faith of people who lived 2000 years ago and longer, most people will approach them with a more skeptical eye so as to discern what in them is still “relevant” today, 2000 years later, and what is, by comparison, “out of date”. Thus, the “Progressive” view stops at point (3).
How Differences in the Recognition of Biblical Authority Undermine the Church
This regression from (4) to (3), and even to (2) is, in fact, precisely what we have seen done in the church over the past few decades. This is especially true when it comes to what Paul has written about various matters of Christian moral behavior and church discipline, most recently concerning the ordination of women to ministry, and then the status of homosexual sex and the permissibility of homosexual “marriages”.
What is being done in these cases is that the Pauline epistles are being regarded as a human writing from an era long past, and therefore “out of date” in many ways. Instead of scrutinizing any contextual differences that might affect the exegesis, these are routinely ignored. Disregarding the cultural context is fine, because Paul’s “ancient words about God”, are still intact in their “spiritual” content. But the more “human” aspects of them are “updated” by ignoring the central underlying truths about God and human nature, all in favor of a more recent, post-modern interpretation, which St. Paul could not have had. The principle behind this approach is that it is immaterial what Paul “intended”, because Paul was writing his own religious ideas, inspired by his faith in God, which were based on the context in which he lived — so we can ignore the matters he writes about that we think are different from the context in which we live, such as matters pertaining to women, marriage, sex and so on.
The whole thing is fallacious (and arrogant), of course, but it’s based on a demotion of the status of the Bible from the infallible Word of God to a collection of fallible “ancient writings about God”.