11 Theses on the Meaning of Scriptural Authority
1. Our starting point for all discussions of biblical authority should begin with an affirmation of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. More needs to said on this subject than was said there, but not less. Fruitful discussion can take place only among those who can honestly sign that statement. With those who cannot sign it, our duty is that of charitable debate and refutation.
2. Obedience is a key element in exegetical understanding. Obedience is the opener of eyes. Without obedient application, the text is not really being studied.
3. Affirmations of biblical authority are worthless unless we understand that the contemporary secular challenges to biblical authority create enormous pressure on those affirming inerrancy to develop interpretive workarounds, such that inerrancy can be formally affirmed while being practically denied. Examples of such pressures today would include biblical teaching on sexuality and human origins.
4. Scripture is given to us as seed, and is therefore intended to grow and flower down through history. The Word of God is living and active and this extends to more than just the personal conversion of individuals. The living Word is intended by its growth to shape and govern all of human history. The development of unbelief in history has no authority to dictate the contents of the seed.
5. The spirit of liberalism wants to detach this life and growth from the seed, in order to shape an autonomous direction for that life and growth. The spirit of blinkered conservatism wants to keep things orthodox by keeping the seed deep frozen in the shape of a seed. But the nature of the plant depends upon absolute allegiance to the seed, and the nature of the seed requires growth and development that is fully in line with the intention of the one who gave the seed.
6. This growth means that in addition to the autographic meaning of the text, there may also be additional (non-contradictory) canonical meanings to the text. The original Masoretic text says “my ear you have opened” (Ps. 40:6), while the New Testament citation of this passage, using the LXX, says “a body you have prepared for me” (Heb. 10:5). This latter meaning is a canonical meaning, fully consistent with the autographic meaning, while plainly not meaning the same thing.
7. While no “normative revelation has been given since the completion of the New Testament writings,” canonical meanings can be expected to develop in post-apostolic history as well. Examples would be the development of the Table of Contents of Scripture itself, the growth of Trinitarian understanding, and the gracious God-given knowledge that justification is by faith alone.
8. Dealing with such issues honestly and with theological and intellectual integrity is necessary to prevent young biblical scholars from coming to believe that they must choose between inerrancy and personal honesty. Presented with this false choice, too many have discovered that choosing “personal honesty” leads them straight into professional and personal dishonesty.
9. We must therefore reject a biblicist primitivism that regards it a higher way, for example, to “get back” to chanting psalms in Hebrew. If God had been all that enamored of Hebrew, He wouldn’t have switched to Greek for the New Testament. If you had two buttons in front of you, one which would make everyone in your congregation a superb Hebraist, able to chant the psalms just the way David chanted them, and the other button giving you a congregation that contained several Greek and Hebrew scholars to help keep things honest, but the congregation was acquainted with and well-versed in the history of Christian psalms and hymns, along with other songs from around the world, in various styles, and was also a congregation engaged in composing new music for the psalter that would make David go hmmmmm, which button would you push? And, just as an aside, which one did God push?
10. The Bible itself gives us the standards of truth and accuracy that we must use in judging all things. A false precisionist approach, in which words are believed to have decimal points, seeks to judge Scripture with a set of idolatrous standards. But the Enlightenment does not judge the Bible — rather the Bible judges the Enlightenment, in part by growing right past it.
11. The Word of God is absolute truth, the breath of God, silver that has been refined seven times.
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