Sunday, 20 October 2013

The authority of Scripture

Augustine writes
On such terms we might amuse ourselves without fear of offending each other in the field of Scripture, but I might well wonder if the amusement was not at my expense. For I confess to your Charity that I have learned to yield this respect and honour only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error. And if in these writings I am perplexed by anything which appears to me opposed to truth, I do not hesitate to suppose that either the Ms. is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand it. As to all other writings, in reading them, however great the superiority of the authors to myself in sanctity and learning, I do not accept their teaching as true on the mere ground of the opinion being held by them; but only because they have succeeded in convincing my judgment of its truth either by means of these canonical writings themselves, or by arguments addressed to my reason. I believe, my brother, that this is your own opinion as well as mine. I do not need to say that I do not suppose you to wish your books to be read like those of prophets or of apostles, concerning which it would be wrong to doubt that they are free from error. Far be such arrogance from that humble piety and just estimate of yourself which I know you to have, and without which assuredly you would not have said, “Would that I could receive your embrace, and that by converse we might aid each other in learning! (Letter 82:3)
His approach to Scripture is that it is always true, though there may be problems at the level of
  • Manuscript quality
  • Translation accuracy
  • Personal interpretation
If there are no issues identified in these 3 components then what Scripture teaches is true and completely free from error. He yields to Scripture by virtue of it being Scripture, but only to other literature in as far as it convinces him by reason.

This is my approach and as such makes Scripture completely formative. Where I disagree with Scripture I am incorrect and I must modify and correct my worldview to accommodate Scriptural teaching on the issue. It is a little more subtle in that there are passages that are quite tricky to understand and I do not need to come down definitively on a conclusion. Further, I think all Scripture is inerrant thus I need to consider what I have learnt elsewhere in the Bible. Even so, as much as I am aware and am honest with myself, my beliefs are subservient to the word.

Now other books can be formative as well, I have learnt a lot from literature over the years. Yet I still pass judgment on the truthfulness of books. I fell free to agree with anything from 0 to 100% of what a book claims. Again, I may defer a conclusion awaiting more information on a topic. The difference is that I place myself (and Scripture) over what I read, not because I am an expert on everything I read, but because I am (somewhat) responsible for what I choose to believe. Conversely I place myself under what Scripture teaches. God is its ultimate author and therefore the Bible is God's authority over my mind.

As Geisler writes in Christian Apologetics,
Jesus is God incarnate. As God, whatever He teaches is true. Jesus taught that the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament are the authoritative, written Word of God. Likewise, Jesus, who is God’s full and final revelation, promised that the Holy Spirit would guide His twelve apostles into “all truth.” The only authentic and confirmed record of apostolic teaching extant is the twenty-seven books of the New Testament. Hence, the canon of God’s revelation is closed. With these sixty-six books we have the complete and final revelation of God for the faith and practice of believers. Every spirit or prophet who claims to give a new or different revelation is not from God.

This does not mean that there is no truth in other religious writings or holy books. There is truth in Greek poetry (Acts 17:28), in the Apocrypha (Heb. 11:35), and even some truth in pseudoepigraphical writings (Jude 14), as is manifest from the New Testament of these books. The point is that the Bible and the Bible alone contains all doctrinal and ethical truth God has revealed to mankind. And the Bible alone is the canon or norm for all truth. All other alleged truth must be brought to the bar of the Holy Scriptures to be tested. The Bible and the Bible alone, all sixty-six books, has been confirmed by God through Christ to be His infallible Word

Hat tip: Calvinist International

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