Biblical Authority

The question that stands behind a study like the one I just read by Jaroslav Pelikan is the question of biblical authority. It is not exactly the question he asked. He asked who the Bible belongs to. That has some relevance to biblical authority. If the Bible is the church’s book, then the you or I cannot just come in off the sidelines and interpret the Bible however we wish. When someone does that, they become a cult leader rather than a faithful church member.

Still various denominations have a different view of biblical authority. Sometimes people say that Protestants believe in sola scriptura, Latin for the Bible alone. Yet when Martin Luther said, “Here I stand”, he stood on the Bible and reason. He was open to being refuted either by the Bible or by reason.

To the Bible and reason, the Anglican church added the influence of tradition. Their Book of Common Prayer was very biblical, but also much influenced by tradition. The Methodists, following John Wesley added experience to the Bible, reason, and tradition. They call these four authorities the Wesleyian quadrilateral.

Pelikan traced the interaction of the Bible and tradition. It is true that the books of the Bible were accepted on the basis of tradition in the various churches in the second century. The book of Hebrews, for example, never claimed to be a product of the apostle Paul, yet it was admitted to the canon under his name because tradition associated its ideas with those of the apostle. I think the Catholic and Orthodox would see the notion of setting the Bible over against tradition as questionable. They would say that the Bible itself grew out of a dialectic between tradition and the text.

Many Protestants acknowledge this. The American scholar, Brevard Childs, has developed a canonical hermeneutics (a school of interpretation that takes the development of scripture out of traditions, and the continuing traditions of interpretation into account).

However, I think Protestantism has to hold that the Bible’s authority in some ways overpowers the authority of traditions and experience. It partly depends what kind of traditions and experience you are talking about. Some traditions just prop up human authority of credentialed clergy or scholars. Sometimes experience is individual and internal without checks and balances in the outer world. On the other hand, things like tolerance and respectful debate can become traditions. And experience can mean checking whether theory matches reality.

It seems to me that the Bible ties us to original events that stand behind Judaism and Christianity. The Bible has authority in that it connects us to the events that give authenticity to our faith. The Exodus, and the Crucifixion and Resurrection give biblical people a bedrock of authority. This comes down to us not just in the text, but in tradional, biblically promoted experiences. I am talking about Passover and the Eucharist. People hear the stories read and share in the sacred, covenant meals. Thus, they recognize the presence and authority of One they call Lord. The authority lies not directly in the book, but in the Lord whose presence we know with the help of the book.


About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
This entry was posted in Bible, Church, Theology and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.