Are the Scriptures Authoritative?

God in bible

biblicalI want to challenge the idea that the scriptures are the final authority on matters of practice and faith. (So in this post I will mainly be referring to people who believe that.)

What’s your basis for truth?

Most christians will probably say “the bible!” (although what they really mean is their interpretation of the bible).

But why do you trust the scriptures in the first place? Because someone told you you should. But why did they? Because someone told them they should. We can trace this tradition all the way back to a limited group of “elite” early church fathers. So you value their opinion regarding their choice of scriptures and use those scriptures to determine your theology.

Ironically, however, the early church believers chose the writings that aligned well with the theology they already held. They didn’t, like is commonly done today, go to the scriptures to determine their theology. It was the complete opposite. (I’ve written about this in greater detail here.) Furthermore, as scribes made copies of the scriptures they changed what was written to match up with their own theology (see Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why by Bart Ehrman).

Most christians consider belief in a divinely authoritative bible a necessary belief to be considered an “insider.” But no biblical author claims that the scriptures are the source of truth, only Jesus, and the church as its pillar. It is not even included in any way in the creeds of the early church. The early church did, however, often refer to the scriptures. This tells us that the scriptures had value to the early church, but it wasn’t authoritative (until a few people said it was hundreds of years later).

The term “the scriptures” sounds very “holy”; in out time it definitely carries the connotation of embodying truth and being authoritative. In the Greek, however, it just means “writings.” So when 2 Peter 3:16 calls Paul’s epistles “other scriptures” it just means “other writings,” which doesn’t necessarily refer to sacred texts but writings that are read publicly in church gatherings. (The Jews did not consider all of their writings in their “scriptures” to be of equal value. In particular, they considered everything other than the Torah to be merely commentary on and subject to the Torah.)

GodInTheBoxThe scriptures have a lot to say about authority, but not once is authority ascribed to the scriptures themselves. Rather, it is consistently ascribed to Jesus.

Perhaps we can speak of Paul’s letters as being authoritative, but only in reference to the people to whom they were written; it was the “word of God” for those churches at those times. Paul didn’t claim authority over churches in which he hadn’t been the original sharer of the Gospel. There is no compelling reason to think that what God said through Paul to churches at that time was meant for all churches throughout the ages. God spoke to specific people in a specific situations, which is something he still does.

Therefore, we can learn from Paul’s writings, but they don’t have authority over us like they did for his original recipients. Yes, we can learn from what God did in the past, but God does different things in different situations at different times. The same is true today – God speaking through someone by the Holy Spirit is the word of God for the people it is intended for (while not neglecting to test the word by Holy Spirit).

The idea that the scriptures are the only authority stems from the mindset of the Reformation in which there was a major reaction against any kind of human authority in the church when it came to doctrine. Protestants wanted something more stable than fickle human beings, so they chose the scriptures.

When someone decides their basis for truth (for example, a combination of the scriptures, history, experience, and current community), it will merely be their opinion rather than something that can be argued to apply to all people. In other words, it will be a personal belief. Contrary to the hopes of Protestants in the Reformation, it is impossible to remove all subjectivity and have a common, fully objective basis for truth. Truth is a person (according to the scriptures, at least), and a person is experienced, which is necessarily subjective.

There’s a reason why Jesus (and not the scriptures) is called the “Word of God” in the scriptures; he (and not the scriptures) is the greatest revelation of who God is. When we instead deem the scriptures to be the “Word of God” (or even the “word of God”) we turn the scriptures into a puzzle-book of secret gnostic wisdom or a book of true answers to dogmatic and ethical questions. But that is backwards.

Bibles do not reveal truth about God; God reveals truth in bibles.

I find it funny when people claim that “anything God says will line up with the scriptures.” I used to say that all the time (and wholeheartedly believed it, too!), but I have become intellectually honest enough with myself to the point where I can ask, says who? The scriptures themselves don’t say that; therefore by the claim’s own logic God did not say that because it actually says to test things by Holy Spirit, not by “the Holy Bible.” This is merely a tradition of man that artificially limits what God can say (although only in people’s minds). The method for discerning truth that is demonstrated and taught throughout the New Testament is not to check if it says so in the scriptures, but communication with Holy Spirit and the handing down of the tradition of the apostles (of which adding canonical writings or sacred texts is not a part).

truth everywhereUltimately, bibles cannot escape subjectivity and be used in an “absolute” way as a basis for truth. You can choose to make the scriptures authoritative for yourself if you want to, and that’s fine. But to say that God has made it so for all humanity will forever remain an assumption.

*****

Also see:

What is the Bible?: Authority (by Rob Bell)
http://robbellcom.tumblr.com/post/70613417528/what-is-the-bible-part-28-authority

What is the basis of your faith? (by Andre Rabe)
http://hearhim.net/wordpress/2013/11/15/what-is-the-basis-of-your-faith/

The Jesus Lens: Can we question the New Testament?
http://www.therebelgod.com/2014/01/the-jesus-lens-can-we-question-new.html#comment-form

Creatio Ex Deo

god-creating-ex-nihilo

I want to challenge a commonly assumed theory called creatio ex nihilo. This is the idea that when God created the universe, he created it out of nothing. It posits that God didn’t mold or reshape stuff that already existed but made the stuff itself appear out of nowhere.

For starters, the concept of creatio ex nihilo is practically nonexistent in the scriptures. There is talk about what God created (namely, everything; Genesis 1, Hebrews 11:3, Revelation 4:11), but there is almost no talk about how God created (which is what this doctrine expresses).

So how did this idea originate? The theory was invented by theologians to counter notions in other creation myths, Gnosticism, Stoicism, and Middle Platonism. Whenever I see that an idea has emerged in this way, I feel safe dismissing it because its emergence was not due to good reasons for believing it but merely because it was useful at that particular time in history for combating particular ideas.

But what else, other than out of nothing, could God have created with?

How about creatio ex deo.

Creation out of the substance of God himself.

Heresy!

Now be patient with me. I think there’s more evidence for this view than for creatio ex nihilo, so check it out.

Let’s start with the creation story itself in Genesis. Here we find the little there is in the scriptures about how God created. How does it say God created? He simply uttered some words, speaking the world into existence. But what is the Word of God?

Jesus.

Stop and think about that for a second.

After forming a man, God breathed into him; only then does the man become a “living being” (Genesis 2:7). Jesus later emulates this event by breathing on his disciples and saying, “receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22). Is it really a stretch, then, to understand the original breathing into Adam as an infusion of God himself and the “receiving” of Holy Spirit as a realization and manifestation of that reality?

adam-and-the-breath-of-god-nadine-rippelmeyer

Let’s move on to some other scriptures.

“In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). “One God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:6). “…Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11). Theses verses hint us toward panentheism (not pantheism), the idea that the universe is in God and God is in every part of the universe, that God interpenetrates every part of nature, yet is distinct from it. This should not be a surprising concept, for how could anything exist apart from God? “In [Christ] all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). This would mean that in the very act of creation God carved out space in himself so that we could be. It was a display of divine humility.

So if creatio ex deo is true, what does it entail?

That God gave birth to humanity.

That God shared his very substance with us in bringing us into being.

That by creating us Deity increased itself as a family.

That we inherited eternal being and personhood in God.

That I am mind-blown.

*****

Also see:

Creatio Ex Nihilo: The Problem
http://thomasjayoord.com/index.php/blog/archives/creatio_ex_nihilo_the_problem/

Born of God – Really? by John Gavazzoni
http://www.christianuniversalist.org/articles/bornofgod.html

Distractive Biblical Obsession (Part 3)

bible

Part 2

Bibles can be read too much

I’d like to propose that bibles can be read too much. In other words, you can waste time reading bibles, and bibles can be given too high of a place in a believer’s life.

Many teach that the more time you spend reading bibles, the stronger your relationship with God will be. Spending time reading bibles is equated with spending time with God, and knowing your bible is equated with knowing the Truth.

But we can know the scriptures but not know the Word of God, Jesus Christ.

This is precisely what was demonstrated by the Pharisees during Jesus’ time on earth.

The reason many like the concept of the scriptures as the ultimate revelation from God is because it is concrete and understandable (or so they think). When people lack the faith to experience relationship with Jesus in their own lives (which can often be something that is not by sight), they turn to bibles to rely on the written records of the experiences of other people and thus miss out.

Of course, the scriptures are good and God speaks to us through them. But part of the reason for that is because some people spend tons of time reading them. God works with what he’s got. When people expect to encounter him especially when reading bibles, that’s when they will.

People only experience what they expect.

I used to believe that I could only encounter God when I prayed, read bibles, or sang worship songs. Consequently, those were about the only times I in fact did consciously encounter God. But when I began to believe that I could encounter him anywhere and everywhere, I began encountering him in every facet of life, whether I was drinking coffee, working, or watching a movie.

What about the Bereans? Weren’t they more noble for searching the scriptures?

Go read Acts 17:1-13. The Bereans that were written about were Berean Jews who knew the OT well. The reason their searching of the scriptures was noble was because they were confirming that Jesus is the promised Messiah according to the scriptures, not because studying the scriptures has merit in and of itself. It doesn’t even say that they kept studying after confirming that Jesus is the promised Messiah. The OT foreshadowed the coming of the Messiah. The Bereans correctly used the OT to discern whether Jesus really was the Messiah. Thus they were “more noble” than the Thessalonians because the Thessalonians didn’t do that but rather got jealous and tried to abuse Paul.

If you, like many, have at some point said, “I just don’t feel like reading the bible,” I don’t blame you. After reading the same thing hundreds of times it is normal for people to not want to read it again. But when people are told and believe that bibles have divine properties (e.g. that it is living, breathing, and active (Hebrews 4:12), which is actually a reference to Jesus), they will continue reading it despite their feelings, telling themselves, “I just need to persevere and push through my emotions.”

I encourage such people to learn to trust their feelings and emotions, which are not independent of God.

Where would you like to encounter him today?

Part 4

Distractive Biblical Obsession (Part 2)

bible revelation

Part 1

Bibles are not the number one way God speaks to us

At least, according to bibles they’re not. Jesus, the Word of God, is, and he lives in us.

In Exodus 20:18-19 Israel in essence says, “Hey God, quit talking to us. If you want to tell us something, please write something down for us that we can always refer to. We don’t want to talk with you. But if you feel like you have to say something to us other than what you wrote down, you can talk through Moses. But don’t talk directly to us.” Israel thus began relating with God through rules and regulations.

Yet after more than a thousand years of studying their scriptures, the Jews could not recognize the Messiah to which it pointed. Why should we expect to fare any better?

Consider also that making bibles the central way God speaks to us effectively puts some at a disadvantage. It makes reading, and more specifically verbal communication, the most important form of communication with God. But the truth is that some people are better and are more interested in and capable of that kind of communication than others. For example, dyslexics and those in cultures that do not have systems for writing down their language. Do they need a “Moses,” a mediator other than Jesus, to communicate with their Daddy? Sounds like the Old Covenant to me.

I write this to those of you who cannot read…Discover Christ in you, and read him. Your illiteracy is in no way a limitation for God to reveal himself. – Madame Guyon

Further, since reading bibles requires interpretation, those with the most biblical knowledge would also have the greatest advantage. Those who have not gone to seminary or received some kind of formal training are made to be dependent on their pastor or some teacher, who is supposedly more capable of hearing God through reading bibles due to their informed interpretations.

Yet those who preceded the Law, such as Abraham, had no problem directly communicating with God without need for an external mediator or writings even while completely lacking in any knowledge of God. How much more us, in whom Christ has been revealed!

Part 3

Is “The Word of God” a Book or a Person?

“The bible is the word of God.”

We’ve all heard it before. But today you’re going to hear something different. The opposite, in fact.

The bible is not the word of God.

Some of you just wrote me off as a heretic, but I hope you can restrain any assumptions as to what I mean by that statement and keep reading to understand what I am and am not saying.

Here’s the heart of what I want to get at: Jesus is the Word of God.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).

“…His name is called The Word of God” (Revelation 19:13).

Now, before we go any further…

To those of you who are thinking that this is merely a matter of semantics – do not naively presume that this is merely another phrase used to refer to the bible. Language is a powerful tool that can be and is used to influence people’s thinking. And one of the reasons I am writing this is to help you see how the things you believe and the ways you think are affected by the way you hear Christians talk.

Even without any explicit mention, ideas such as the legitimacy and divine origin of the bible’s canonization, inspiration, authority, infallibility/inerrancy, that the bible is the greatest (or only) way God speaks to us, etc. are inherently connoted in the phrase “the word of God.”

Intentionally or not, this tradition of man has been used and has served to bypass critical thinking and generate a sense of credibility for such ideas. I’m not saying these ideas are necessarily wrong, but I am saying let’s help ourselves think clearly by not call something by a name that is reserved for someone else.

lewis(Note: Some say that the bible is at least the “written word of God.” But that is a presumption. The bible does not claim to be the “written word of God.” It doesn’t even say that a “written word of God” exists. People decided to make one. It is also a mistake to say that Jesus is the capital “Word of God” while the bible is the lower case “word of God” because the Greek language did not make capital/lower case distinctions.)

When you read a bible passage and come across the phrase “the word of God,” you will interpret that passage according to what you think “the word of God” means. You will derive your definition of “the word of God” from how you have heard other people use it. But if your definition is different than the original definition used when the author wrote that passage, your flawed definition will cause faulty interpretations which will in turn lead to misconceptions. (You can see this for yourself with a few verses I provide near the end of this post.)

I read the roughly 300 bible verses (NASB) that mention “word of God” or “word of the Lord” (some people refer to the bible as “the word of our Lord”). Here’s what I found: “word of God” (appears primarily in the New Testament) and “word of the Lord” (appears primarily in Old Testament) can refer to:

  • The Law
  • The voice of God
  • A prophetic word from God
  • The Gospel
  • A specific thing Jesus said
  • Jesus

Notice anything missing?

You can find “the word of God” being preached, proclaimed, spoken, heard, received, and spread, but you won’t find it being read.

In the bible, these phrases never refer to the bible or to the Old Testament as a whole (there are other Hebrew and Greek words reserved for this purpose). If you find this hard to believe, I encourage you to check it our yourself (click “word of God” and “word of the Lord” above).

Ultimately, the misuse of this phrase has distracted us from who the bible tells us is the Word of God: Jesus Christ.

“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!” (John 5:39).

Jesus is a real person. He’s not just a historical figure you read about in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. He is with you. He is in you. He is your greatest reality.

And all the bible does is point to him.

The habit of calling the bible “the word of God” exposes the modern belief that God doesn’t speak anymore; only the bible does. But the bible itself testifies that this is a lie.

word of godThis language blinds us to the reality that Jesus speaks to us outside the bible. Calling the bible “the word of God” at best undermines the significance of Holy Spirit speaking to us, and at worst denies his activity today.

When God speaks, that is the word of God. Holy Spirit can use the bible to speak to us, but, as he demonstrates all throughout the bible, he doesn’t need a book to communicate with us. The bible is good, but it can be given too high a place in our lives when it replaces the living Word and his communication with us.

God never said he would speak only through a book, nor does the bible ever claim that it is the primary way that God communicates with us, as is so often touted today. On the contrary, Jesus said that his sheep know his voice and that Holy Spirit leads us into all truth. The ultimate revelation of the Father is Jesus himself (Hebrews 1:3, Colossians 1:15). And I don’t mean the things written about Jesus in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. We come to know God not primarily through a book, but through a living person whom we relate with.

God is forever seeking to speak Himself out to His creation. The whole bible supports this idea. God is speaking. Not God spoke, but God is speaking. He is, by His nature, continuously articulate. He fills the world with His speaking voice…And this word of God which brought all worlds into being cannot be understood to mean the Bible, for it is not a written or printed word at all, but the expression of the will of God is the breath of God filling the world with living potentiality…The Bible…is confined and limited by the necessities of ink and paper and leather. The voice of God, however, is alive and free as the sovereign God is free. – A. W. Tozer

Let’s finish by looking at a few passages that mention “the word of God.” I understand that it is natural for many to interpret these verses as referring to the bible, especially since that’s what many of us have grown up being told. But if you do believe these are talking about the bible, I’d encourage you to read the verses in context. You might be surprised with what you find.

“By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible” (Hebrews 11:3).

“For you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God…’the word of the Lord endures forever.’ And this is the word which was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:23, 25).

“For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe” (1 Thessalonians 2:13).

“…I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one” (1 John 2:14).

“Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil…And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:11,17).

“For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Hebrews 4:12-13).

Enjoy living in the Word of God, and enjoy the Word of God living within you.

*****

Also see:

The Danger in Believing the Bible is “The Word of God”

http://saintsnotsinners.org/the-danger-in-believing-the-bible-is-the-word-of-god/

The Scriptures vs The Word of God

http://www.charismaministries.org/the-scriptures-vs-the-word-of-god/

Biblical Perspective?

http://www.charismaministries.org/biblical-perspective/