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.)
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).
Ultimately, 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.
What is the Bible?: Authority (by Rob Bell)
What is the basis of your faith? (by Andre Rabe)
The Jesus Lens: Can we question the New Testament?