The Issue Behind [Every?] Issue: The Authority of the Bible and Its Author

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In his lecture How the Bible Is Being Challenged in Our World Today, Michael Kruger of Reformed Theological Seminary suggests that behind every issue is the question of: "What is your ultimate authority?" He explores the common use of the critical pair of words "for you" as people no longer talk about absolute rights or wrongs, but "what is right or wrong for you." His bottom line in his analysis is that in today's anti-authority world, we are witnessing a "battle of authorities" between the authority of the self, and that of the Bible and its Author.

Application:

What if someone came to you and challenged your understanding of something in the Bible with the words, "Well, we really don't know...we wonder if that is true...that was Paul writing...that was Moses writing...and after all my way of interpreting the Bible is that Jesus loves everyone."

The assertions made by this person effectively undercut the authority of the Bible on a number of points:

  1. God has made it perfectly clear what we should know. Whether we want to obey it, is really the question. The assertion that we "really don't know" is an appeal to ignorance, but cleverly the person has put themselves in the authoritative position of telling people what they can or can not know regarding the intentions of the LORD of the Bible and denying the fact that it is an objective standard.
  2. The statement that we are wondering "if that is true" sounds very humble at first flush, but it likely has an underlying idea that as long as there is no moral absolutes in the Bible, then a person could never be accused of going against its clear teachings. This self-authoritative "fudge factor" opens the door to any and all interpretations.  
  3. The statement that it was Paul or Moses writing, undercuts the belief in Biblical inspiration where the Holy Spirit guides the human authors of the Bible, including Paul or Moses. ((2 Tim 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21). Even Jesus said that King David spoke under inspiration of the Holy Spirit ( Matt 22:43).
  4. The statement "my way of interpreting" is a vital clue to where this person is coming from. Instantly we know that they have elevated their personal interpretation over that of the global and historical church and even Reformed hermeneutics.
  5. The statement that the interpretive grid of "Jesus loves everyone" has a superficial appeal of things like motherhood and apple pie. How can you argue with them? Yet the very statement is a challenge to the Bible's authority, as we cannot pit the love of Jesus against his standards as a King of a Kingdom, nor the fact that He is the Judge, and in time those who have not bent the knee to Him will face "the wrath of the Lamb." In effect the person has cherry-picked the Bible under their own authority, and declared that this is the interpretive grid that should be imposed on the whole Bible. Thus the person is not submitted to the witness of the entire Scripture, but rather the entire Scripture needs to be subjected to their grid.

Summary:

Michael Kruger rightly assets that in dialogue with a person it is vitally important to be cognizant of the questions, "what authority are you using and what authority is the person you are talking to using?" He does this because he is seeing, just as the example above, that there is a pervasive tendency in our culture and even in the church for people to set themselves up as the ultimate authority. His closing statement is an appropriate response: "God's Word is the only thing powerful enough, mighty enough, strong enough  to cut through the morass of post-modernity today."

Question:

If sheep recognize the voice of their shepherd, would it not be true as well that true followers of the Great Shepherd would recognize and obey His voice, which is clearly heard through the Scripture? Do we really take the words "thus says the LORD" with the same trembling that a subject of a king in the Ancient Near East would receive them? Or have we allowed ourselves and some people to effectively say, "I will tell you what 'thus says the LORD' means?

Additional resources:

  1. Michael  Kruger spoke at the Gospel Coalition on the subject of the self-attestation of the Bible and talks about how the Bible reads the reader and how it is an encounter with the Living God, link here.  [Updated link]  http://tgc-audio.s3.amazonaws.com/2015%20National%20Conference/2015%20NC...'s%20Word_%20Recovering%20the%20Doctrine%20of%20a%20Self-Authenticating%20Scripture.mp3
  2. Kruger references Wayne Grudem's document "Scripture's Self-Attestation and the Problem of Formulating a Doctrine of Scripture" where he shows, for instance, that the phrase "thus says the LORD" carries the same weightiness as a royal edict that an Ancient Near Eastern king would issue to his subjects (Isaiah 36-37). He shows from Jeremiah 23 and 28 that if a false prophet spoke "not from the mouth of the LORD" disaster was inevitable.
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Thanks John for an interesting article that addresses the issue of authority, especially the authority of the Bible.

Is the Bible as authoritative as Kruger or you make it out to be?  The only people who recognize the authority of the Bible are Christians, and by their commitment it is doubtful if many of them really recognize its authority either.  You must recognize that there are a multitude of religions and sects that have their own sources of authority, just like Christians.  For instance Muslims believe the Koran was given to Mohamad by God through the angel Gabriel. Therefore the Koran is the absolute authoritative word of God.  Like Christians, Muslims believed that their Scriptures are absolutely inspired of God and are without error.  Mormons, likewise, believe the book of Mormon (initially the twelve golden plates) was given to Joseph Smith by the angel Moroni, and therefore is also the inspired word of God and capable of giving correct interpretation to the Bible.  All religions have their so-called inspired and authoritative Scriptures that represent ultimate authority.  

And yet we, as Christians, discount the authority and validity of their Bibles, just as the adherents of other religions discount the authority of our Bible.  So which Scriptures are really authoritative or are any?  When reading a history book of recorded events, historians may record the actual existence of Jesus.  But history books do not record his miraculous birth and ascent from heaven to earth, nor do they record his miraculous resurrection from the dead and ascent back into heaven as historical fact.  Nor do historians record any of the miracles of other religions as historical fact.  Such miracles, whether found in the Bible, Koran, the book of Mormon or any other Scriptures are considered “faith knowledge” and not historical fact. They are subjective truth rather than objective truth or empirical truth.  It is only Christians who recognize the Bible as carrying any authority. What are the grounds by which we discount other religions and their authoritative Scriptures?  It’s the same grounds by which they discount the Bible.  So what makes Kruger or any Christian think that only the Bible is authoritative?

The person who is not a Christian looks at the account of Jesus in the Bible as an embellished account of history, much in the same way that Santa Claus is an embellished account of Saint Nicolas. The same could be said of the key characters found in the Scriptures of other religions, an embellishment of a historical character (such as Mohamad) or historical facts.  So when so few people, worldwide, recognize the Bible’s authority, over the authority of their own religions (or no religion) why would anyone acknowledge Kruger’s comment in regard to the Bible’s authority?

Beyond all this, recognize that there are thousands of Christian denominations today.  All may claim the authority of the Bible but all interpret it differently, even on key issues.  When the Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit will lead his church in all truth, it makes me wonder what has happened to the Spirit’s leading.  When churches and individuals can make the Bible say almost anything they want it to say, who is to say who has the final and authoritative word on any issue?

Thanks John for making us think.

Greetings Roger:

              I hope you listen to both of Kruger's talks as they are very enlightening, esp. his talk at the Gospel Coalition. One area he talks about is the idea that the Triune God of the Bible swears on his own name, that what He says He will do, what he does He has said. Compare that to Allah of Islam who swears 27x in the Koran. Each time it is on a created thing like a star or a mountain or even a pen. Bring both before a judge and try to find out whose word is more trustworthy and I think you would agree with me that the one who swears on his own head or his own name is the one to be believed.

            Kruger also mentions that the Bible is the voice of the Living God. Not some dead deity who is a creation of someone's over-heated imagination, but a living One. It is this Living God who speaks today through a living Word. This makes it a different genus and species from all the religious texts that you cited.

             It seems that you are having a hard time with this authority thing. As Christians we care about the Bible's authority as we care about the authority of its Author. See the Grudem article for a lot more on that. 

            Blessed New Year.

John

Thanks John for the reply.  I did look at Kruger’s talks from the Gospel Coalition, but not in their entirety.  I haven’t got the time to read everything a blogger or author suggests needs to be read.  But I did notice a basic flaw in Kruger’s arguments.  He’s assuming that whoever he is addressing in his Biblical arguments also believes that the Bible is true.  But if he’s arguing with anyone outside of the Christian persuasion, then his argument carries no weight because this other person doesn’t believe the Bible to begin with, so why would he give any credence to a book most people put in the same category as the Koran or the Book of Mormon or the Hindu Scriptures.  They all make the same claim to be God’s inspired word and all endorse teachings that cannot be objectively verified.  Whether it’s the Bible, the Koran, or the book of Mormon, the teachings of each are acknowledged by faith, apart from verifiable evidence or objectivity.

To most people it is not logical to claim that Jesus is very God come down from heaven to earth and was born in human form as a human baby, who grew up sinless to the age of 33, was crucified, died and buried but rose from the dead in three days and now has ascended to heaven from which he will come to earth once again to set up his finalized kingdom.  That’s not logical teaching but is a teaching that can only be acknowledged by faith.  The Bible’s teachings are no more logical than that of other religions.  So Kruger’s teaching at the Coalition may have made sense to you because you recognize the Bible’s authority, but to anyone else his argument carries no weight.  Just because the Bible claims to be true, doesn’t make it so.  All religions make the same claim.  So Kruger’s arguments may have made sense to you and other Christians at the Coalition, but not to others.  His argument (or apologetic) is meaningless to most people.

Kruger’s argument, in regard to God swearing by his name as opposed to the Muslim God swearing by created things like mountains or stars, makes no logical sense either.  If God is truly God, it doesn’t matter what he swears by.  What he swears by doesn’t invalidate whether he is God or not.  If the God of the Bible (the Christian God) swears by his name, or a star, or a mountain, it doesn’t change the fact that God is God.  Nor does it change the reality that the Muslim God is truly God for the Muslim.  Is Kruger trying to say our God is a better God because he swears by bigger and better things?  His argument falls short of proving anything.  And, of course, Islamic theologians will propose their own arguments to demonstrate why their God (Allah) is the one true God.

Then you suggest, John, that the Bible is the voice of the Living God.  Muslims and Hindu’s make the same claim.  They would never entertain the ridiculous suggestion that the God whom they worship is dead, and would just as persuasively suggest that the Koran or the Book of Mormon is the very voice of the living God.

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