Scripture and the Authority of God

I have a few book reviews to catch up on, the first being N.T. Wright’s, Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today. I finished the book quite a while back, but am glad to now share some reflections about the book. This book is actually an updated version of the first published, The Last Word: Scripture and the Authority of God.

I have regularly voiced the perspective that I see Wright as one of the greater theologians of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Though his expertise lies in New Testament theology and early Christian history, he is able to give thought-provoking comments into a wide range of biblio-theological areas. And he does not disappoint with his insightful thoughts on Scripture.

To start out, his major thesis in the book could easily be summarised with these words:

‘the phrase “authority of scripture” can make Christian sense only if it is shorthand for “the authority of the triune God, exercised somehow through scripture.’ (p21).

He goes on just a few sentences later:

‘When John declares that “in the beginning was the word,” he does not reach a climax with “and the word was written down” but “and the word became flesh”. The letter to the Hebrews speaks glowingly of God speaking through scripture in time past, but insists now, at last, God has spoken through his own son (1:1-2). Since these are themselves “scriptural” statements, that means that scripture itself points – authoritatively, if it does indeed possess authority! – away from itself and to the fact that final and true authority belongs to God himself, now delegated to Jesus Christ. It is Jesus, according to John 8:39-40, who speaks the truth which he has heard from God.’ (p21)

And, so, Wright spends the next 170 pages or so fleshing out how God expresses his authority in and through Scripture.

Specifically, in ch.3, Wright looks at the role of Jesus fulfilling Scripture. He suggests that, in Christ’s fulfilment of the Scripture, Christ did not merely envisage himself as fulfilling a few scattered verses or acts or prophetic utterances here and there, but rather the entire Scriptural narrative of Israel summarised in his own life, death and resurrection (see pp41-43). This, of course, is a theme that would come through many of Wright’s other works.

Moving on, chs.4-6 lay out how the church of 2000 years has variously understood the authority of God expressed in Scripture. Though only so much can be addressed in a shorter volume, there are plenty of important issues that arise within the book, such as: the preaching of the apostolic church, the discussion around canon, allegorical and literal approaches, development of tradition, sola scriptura, the place of reason in our understanding of Scripture, and other topics that arise following the Enlightenment. All of these would be of great interest to any evangelical interested in a brief but hearty understanding of the role of Scripture in church history.

As a side note, Wright addresses in ch.2 how Israel approached the authority of Scripture, all the while looking at Jesus’ approach in his ch.3.

The following chapters, chs.7-8, are very practical in nature, addressing possible misreadings of Scripture and how to focus back on the right track. In one place, I greatly appreciate how Wright expresses the role and connection of Scripture with the church’s great kingdom mission:

‘The whole of my argument so far leads to the following major conclusion: that the shorthand phrase “the authority of scripture,” when unpacked, offers a picture of God’s sovereign and saving plan for the entire cosmos, dramatically inaugurated by Jesus himself, and now to be implemented through the Spirit-led life of the church precisely as the scripture-reading community……

……This means that “the authority of scripture” is most truly put into operation as the church goes to work in the world on behalf of the gospel, the good news that in Jesus Christ the living God has defeated the powers of evil and begun the work of new creation.’ (p115-116)

The final two chapters are even more practical in that Wright lays out two ‘case studies’ on particular scriptural topics. The two case studies chosen, the Sabbath and monogamy, are not highly controversial for today. And maybe that is great wisdom, knowing all the in’s and out’s cannot be addressed on an issue within 25-30 pages.

If one is wanting a deep and mind-boggling reading on different hermeneutical approaches, or how the canon came about, or what the term theopneustos (‘God-breathed’) entails, this book might disappoint. But if you are looking for a sound, evangelical approach to understanding how God expresses his authority in Scripture and how God’s people have understood the authoritative role of Scripture for the past millennia, then this book will stand as a solid introduction to such a topic.

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