Just a couple of years back, the well-known N.T. Wright reworked a book of his that looked at the nature of Scripture. This republished effort is entitled Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today. Really, the purpose is to bring some fresh thoughts into the mix regarding the authority of Scripture, bringing us past all of the debate between conservatives and liberals.
I particularly wanted to post two striking quotes, which are found early on in the book in the first chapter. I believe these two quotes are central to our understanding not just a theology of Scripture, but also the nature of God himself.
The first comes to us in these words:
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”. (p21)
This is absolutely vital to understanding God and his work amongst creation. The word of God, the final word, is that of Jesus Christ himself. As I have looked to express before, if we have anything at all in regards to our faith, we have a Christ-centred faith. Christ is central in all that we believe, proclaim and live.
It is very true that the Scripture attests and points to this central word-logos of God, the divine Son of God. But Scripture finds itself subservient to a greater purpose, which is that of not first and foremost endorsing itself but ultimately confirming the great Word of God, Christ.
And, not to mention, that the incarnation of the Living Word (the divine becoming flesh) informs and energises our understanding of every other aspect of theology: creation, humanity, church, mission, eschatology, etc.
Wright then goes on to speak about the authority of Scripture:
When we take the phrase “the authority of scripture” out of its suitcase [unpack it], then, we recognise that it can have Christian meaning only if we are referring to the scripture’s authority in a delegated or mediated sense from that which God himself possesses and that which Jesus possesses as the risen Lord and Son of God, the Immanuel. It must mean, if it means anything Christian, “the authority of God exercised through scripture.” (p22)
To this, my heart cries out – Exactly!
If our Christian faith is centred in Christ, then whatever we approach – Scripture, ecclesiology, eschatology, soteriology, etc – must be centred in recognising the authority of Christ. For Jesus did not say, himself, that, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Scripture.’ Rather, we know he correctly stated: ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me‘ (Matt 28:18).
This does not negate an all-important passage like 2 Tim 3:14-17, nor others, for the church has always held Scripture as central and authoritative to our faith and life. But there is something, or someone, bigger. If the written word is seen on par with the Living Word, then we could begin moving towards an over-identification regarding Scripture, or possibly worse. Jesus himself warned the Pharisees:
You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (John 5:39-40)
Now, this is not to pit Christ and Scripture against one another. It simply recognises which takes precedence. As I once heard a pastor and seminary professor state: The ancient church believed in the Bible because of Christ; modern evangelicals believe in Christ because of the Bible.
So this might be a more robust statement in regards to the authority in the Christian life: Christ is our great authority and Scripture is the main avenue of the exercising of his authority in the church and world. Therefore, I believe it vital that our confession communicate the Bible’s responsibility to point to the authority and lordship of the one who now claims all authority in heaven and earth – Jesus the Christ, the divine and living Word of God.
Hi Scott – intersting blog – thanks … though I am still wondering whether I have really caught what you are trying to say!
I am not sure what the implications are in recognising that the Word becoming flesh eclipses the providential provision of the word in written form.
Your suggestion seems to be saying that many are focusing on a lesser truth at the expense of a greater one. If so, what have we missed?
Good question. Sometimes my points make no point. 🙂 In the end, I could summarise my desire as two-fold: a) make Christ primary and b) help us approach Scripture on its own terms rather than our terms.
I think we are called to recognise what is primary in our Christian faith, which is the one after whom we are named, mainly Christ. Christ takes precedence. In the end, I don’t want to pit Christ against Scripture, and I recognise Scripture as the great primary written tool in attesting to him. But he takes precedence, and always will. And in my desire for us to recognise Scripture on the terms it gives us about itself, I am more and more wary of people attaching particular terms, ideas and expectations to Scripture that could cause problems, if not great harm. You’ll see an example of an expectation many people place upon Scripture in my most recent article from today.
I hope this fleshes out my desire a little more.