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The Authority of Scripture

This is long and I don't have time to comment on it right now (not that I really know what I'd say), but I'd like to hear any of y'all's (whoa...two apostrophes in one word...) thoughts on this article by John Franke if you so choose. From what I can tell, this is roughly N.T. Wright's view on the authority of scripture as well. You can read it in the context of the rest of the article here.


The point of departure for this affirmation of Scripture as the norming norm for theology lies in the Protestant principle of authority articulated in confessions such as The Westminster Confession of Faith, which states: “The Supreme Judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of counsels, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other than the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.” This statement reflects the concern of the Reformed tradition to bind Word and Spirit together as a means of providing the conceptual framework for authority in the Christian faith and brings into focus the sense in which the Bible is conceived of as the norming norm for theology.

The assertion that our final authority is the Spirit speaking through Scripture means that Christian belief and practice cannot be determined merely by appeal to either the exegesis of Scripture carried out apart from the life of the believer and the believing community or to any “word from the Spirit” that stands in contradiction to biblical exegesis. The reading and interpretation of the text is for the purpose of listening to the voice of the Spirit who speaks in and through Scripture to the church in the present. This implies that the Bible is authoritative in that it is the vehicle through which the Spirit speaks. In other words, the authority of the Bible, as the instrument through which the Spirit speaks, is ultimately bound up with the authority of the Spirit. Christians acknowledge the Bible as Scripture because the Spirit has spoken, now speaks, and will continue to speak with authority through the canonical texts of Scripture. The Christian community came to confess the authority of Scripture because it experienced the power and truth of the Spirit of God through writings that were, according to their testimony and confession, “animated with the Spirit of Christ.” Following the testimony of the church of all ages, we too look to the biblical texts to hear the Spirit’s voice. In declaring the biblical canon to be closed at the end of the fourth century the church implicitly asserted that the work of the Spirit in inspiration had ceased. However, this did not mark the end of the Spirit’s activity in connection with Scripture. On the contrary, the Spirit continues to speak to succeeding generations of Christians through the text in the ongoing work of illumination...

...Through Scripture, the Spirit continually instructs the church as the historically extended community of Christ’s followers in the midst of the opportunities and challenges of life in the contemporary world. The Bible is the instrumentality of the Spirit in that the Spirit appropriates the biblical text for the purpose of speaking to us today. This act of appropriation does not come independently of what traditional interpretation has called “the original meaning of the text.” Careful exegesis is required in an effort to understand the “original” intention of the authors by determining what they said. However, the speaking of the Spirit is not bound up solely with the supposed “original intention” of the author. Contemporary proponents of “textual intentionality” such as Paul Ricoeur explain that although an author creates a literary text, once it has been written, it takes on a life of its own. While the ways in which the text is structured shape the “meanings” the reader discerns in the text, the author’s intentions come to be “distanced” from the “meanings” of the work. In this sense, a text can be viewed metaphorically as “having its own intention.” This “textual intention” has its genesis in the author’s intention but is not exhausted by it. Therefore, we must not conclude that exegesis alone can exhaust the Spirit’s speaking to us through the text. While the Spirit appropriates the text in its internal meaning, the goal of this appropriation is to guide the church in the variegated circumstances of particular contemporary settings. Hence, we realize that the Spirit’s speaking does not come through the text in isolation but rather in the context of specific historical-cultural situations and as part of an extended interpretive tradition.

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All I know is I like how that hamster dances.

Sorry to bring up a tangent, but here is where I start to have trouble. "In declaring the biblical canon to be closed at the end of the fourth century the church implicitly asserted that the work of the Spirit in inspiration had ceased." It seems that the church decided which books were to be included in the Bible - NOT the Holy Spirit. Should James be in there? Should the Apocrypha? I really struggle with the fact that it was not the Holy Spirit coming and saying "...and these shall be the books thou shalt include, and thou shalt call them 'the Holy Bible,' and they are the words of God."

Interesting thoughts Rob. I suppose I'd respond by saying that the Spirit usually works through human means to accomplish his work. None of the books of the Bible fell into our laps as written. Instead human authors and editors, guided by the Spirit, composed the works that we have today. In the same way, the Spirit worked through the councils that closed the canon.

However, if the Church has the authority to declare the canon closed, it seems to raise interesting questions about the relationship between the authority of the Church and the authority of scripture. We Protestants give primacy to the authority of scripture over and above Church and tradition, but sometimes (as in the case of the closing of the canon) it becomes a little less clear cut.

Nothing like a little hamster dance to brighten one's day.

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