The Authority of Scripture
An exploration of what the authority of scripture actually means. An exploration of what is meant when people say the Bible is the inspired word of God and how that effects it's authority.
What do we mean by the authority of scripture and does it matter?
People often get confused over what Christians claim about the Bible. This is something that Christians themselves get confused (and upset about). You will find that there is a broad range of beliefs about the Bible among Christians ranging from one extreme of believing that every word is directly inspired by God, through to those who doubt any of it is inspired by God but is just a manmade collection of writings. The vast majority of Christians hold a position somewhere in between these two extremes.
On its own the Bible would be a very useful collection of historical documents that tell us a great deal about the ancient world. But Christians want to claim something more about these books and this is that God inspired them to be written and that these writings can be regarded as having authority about faith; they are more than just history.
For most Christians this does not mean that every word was dictated by God but instead it means that God was working through certain people making sure that God's will could be known through what was written. Christians generally believe that God inspired the Bible writers so that they could get Gods points across accurately, but the writers then used their own words to write down what God was inspiring them to write about.
This is an important point to understand because it is often assumed that if we found a mistake in the Bible (for example someone in the Bible said that the mustard seed was the smallest seed and it turned out not to be the smallest - this is in fact something that Jesus says) then the whole authority of the Bible is undermined and it all comes crashing down in a heap of lies. Just to make one small point though before we continue - the mustard seed was the smallest seed known at the time the words of Jesus were written down.
The truth that there may be things in the Bible that are not 100% accurate does not undermine the ability of the Bible to tell us about God. The only thing that could destroy the authority of the Bible is if we discovered that some of the main elements of what it claims are wrong e.g. God does not exist; but this is obvious stuff.
Christians sometimes use the word inerrant to describe the Bible. Again this does not mean that every single word is accurate but simply that the concepts about God and life that it presents are 100% true.
The truth is that there are some things in the Bible that can be confusing. For instance if the Bible were dictated by God how come there are differences between the gospels, etc.
You see Christianity does not stand on the Bible but on the figure of Jesus Christ. The Bible is not God - although it has some pretty important information for us about God.
Does this mean that we can't trust what the Bible says?
Not at all. The Bible has been proved time and again to be amazingly historically accurate. For instance science has discovered an order to the way the earth, the universe and people were made. Leaving aside the discussion of evolution verses creation (this is beyond the scope of this course) the Genesis account is amazingly accurate as regards this order. Now how could someone in the ancient world have known this? Is this just a good guess or something more at work?
But if the Bible has mistakes in it how can we trust our lives to what it says?
The Bible is often described as a canon (not something that fires things at enemies) which means literally a measuring rod. The Bible is the standard against which we can assess our faith. If we believe something that is contradicted by the Bible then we are wrong to believe it.
The authority of scripture is found not in its accuracy on every detail of science or history but on the truth that it was inspired by God. This is a difficult argument because we can't go up to God and ask if this is indeed what God intended (at least not in any physical sense). So we have to rely on the fact that the church has said that they believe this to be the word of God. And the church is able to do this because it has been testing the authority of scripture for over 2000 years.
I can certainly testify that I believe there is something different about the Bible than other books (and I read a great many books). Reading the Bible reveals God in ways that nothing else can.
Many of the claimed contradictions in the Bible are not in fact contradictions at all.