Can We Accept the Bible as Authoritative Today?

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Can We Accept the Bible as Authoritative Today?

Can We Accept the Bible as Authoritative Today?

Assemblies of God 16 Fundamental Truths

#1: The Scriptures Inspired
The Scriptures, both the Old and New Testaments, are verbally inspired of God and are the revelation of God to man, the infallible, authoritative rule of faith and conduct. (2 Timothy 3:15-17; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Peter 1:21).

What does ‘the Bible as authoritative’ mean? Rev Dr Ng  explains.

One of the crucial questions confronting Christians today is: “Can we still accept the Bible as authoritative today?” This leads to two further questions: (1) Can a book, like the Bible, be authoritative? and (2) How can we exercise biblical authority today? A careful examination of the Bible as an authoritative book is necessary for understanding the possible authoritative functions of the Bible, and answering the crucial question: “Can we still accept the Bible as authoritative today?”

Being an Authoritative Book
“Authority” is a relational term that is subject to change over time and context. Traditionally, authority has the idea of “controlling people or situations.” One has the idea that authority is the place where we go to find the answers to life’s questions in order to regulate everything properly. When applied to the Bible, the traditional concept emphasizes that the Bible is the authoritative source for finding correct answers for many life questions. Consequently, David Scott (2002, 11-24), observes that people react differently to this authoritative claim of the Bible based on their personal persuasions.

The first group, which favors individualism—whether relying on self-discovery or experience as the key to authoritative ideal—tends to see themselves as the final authority on what is truth. As such, they are not able to accept an external source like the Bible to be the authoritative source for truth. Much emphasis is given to self-actualization as they seek to discover their full potential. Instead of the Bible, they become the authority for truth.

Perceiving human experience and public knowledge as the basis for truth, the second group believes in the claims of modern scientific theories. They claim that truth must be empirical and repeatable. In times of crisis, they would turn to sociology, psychology, or economics for guidance because the Bible is deemed inadequate. Thus, they replace the Bible with modern scientists as their final authority.

The third group, which favors emancipation, sees the need to regain their authenticity and autonomy by freeing themselves from various “social oppressions” that threaten their personal integrity. One is not surprised to see them opposing vehemently to older church traditions, including the authority of the Bible. For instance, the women liberation movement opposes the traditional “oppressive structures” sanctioned by the church’s traditional interpretation of the Bible that limits women participation in ministry. Hence, the “oppressed” often hold deep resentment and prejudices in their struggles against the “oppressive” authority of the Bible.

Favoring “professionalism,” the fourth group sees authority in terms of professional competence. They believe in the authority of those who are professionally trained, the experts. They would much rather trust in the authority of those who have been trained professionally or hold relevant degrees, or who have received awards and recognition for their expertise than in the authority of the Bible. The words of these experts are thus held in higher esteem than the words of the Bible.

To the fifth group, which favors postmodernism, everything is relative. They question the validity of traditional and modern authority, including biblical authority. Having seen the ambivalence of modern worldviews, they become skeptical about overarching worldviews. Similarly, there is growing opinion that the Bible is more a “morally suspect document” than an authoritative book since it has been used to justify various notorious human endeavors, like environmental degradation and oppression of minority. As such, they choose not to trust in any authority.

Finally, even the group that has a “high view” of biblical authority views its authority in three different ways. Some see the Bible as a repository of timeless truth that transcends space and time. Others see it as a witness to primary events. Yet others see it as a resource with timeless function. Nevertheless, their common assumption is that biblical authority is static.

However, the reactions of all six groups are less than satisfactory with regard to the authority of the Bible. Not only have they been unduly influenced by their personal persuasion, they have also missed the most important aspect—the divine-human origin of the Bible, that the Bible was written by men under the inspiration of God through the Holy Spirit. The Bible is authoritative because God is the ultimate author behind the human author and the Holy Spirit is the agent that communicates understanding and guides us into its truth.

In short, the Bible is a book of faith. Yet, we cannot forget that the writings in the Bible are socio-culturally conditioned. In order to derive any biblical principles in context, we must decontextualize the narratives before re-contextualizing them into our contemporary socio-cultural setting. We cannot use the wrong lens of perspective and expect to get a perfect picture shot. The Bible will only be God’s Word to us when we accept the Bible as an authoritative book of faith and acknowledge the socio-cultural gap.

Exercising Biblical Authority
Since the Bible is God’s Word to humanity, it is authoritative “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16 NRSV). Yet, a proper exercise of the authoritative functions of the Bible must consider the four possible levels of biblical authority (David Dockery 2008, 7-8):

  • Specific moral teachings or universal commands (e.g., the prohibition against stealing in Exodus 20:15and Ephesians 4:28 applies to all people at all times)
  • General teachings with universal authority  (e.g., the principle of justice and/or love may be applied in employee-employer relationships, familial relationships,or broader societal situations)
  • Teachings with implied authority (e.g., abstinence from alcoholic beverages is implied rather than commanded in Ephesians5:18)
  • Teachingswith general authority (e.g., contemporary issues which are not addressed specifically [Where to work? Whom to marry? What church to join?] may make use of broad biblical principles)

In conclusion, we can still accept the Bible as authoritative today. At the same time, we need to recognize that the Bible was written under different socio-cultural contexts. Thus, the level of biblical authority is dynamic, not static. Biblical teachings may belong to different levels of authority, namely:

(1) specific moral teachings and universal commands, (2) general teachings with universal application,  (3) teachings with more implicit authority, and (4) teachings with general application.

Ultimately, we must exercise all levels of biblical authority under the direction of the Holy Spirit.

About Rev Dr Casey Ng

Rev Dr  Casey  Ng  has  been a pastor, teacher, and an education consultant for  over 35  years.  He  is  currently  the Vice-President at ACTS College, Singapore.

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