Wednesday, 21 September 2005

Does Scripture derive its authority from the church?

Does Scripture derive its authority from the church? This was a pressing problem faced by Protestant theologians in the sixteenth century. In his Institutio, Calvin condemned the notion that “the eternal and inviolable truth of God could depend on the will of men,” and he called this a “great insult to the Holy Spirit (magno cum ludibrio Spiritus sancti)” (1.7.1).

In Calvin’s view, “to subject the oracles of God to the judgment of men, making their validity depend upon human whim, is a blasphemy which deserves not to be mentioned (blasphemia indigna est quae commemoretur)” (4.9.14).

And he adds that “these ravings (rabulae) are admirably refuted by a single expression of the apostle. Paul testifies that the church is ‘built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets’” (1.7.2)—not that the testimony of the apostles and prophets rests on the church.

How then can we place our confidence in the authority of Scripture? How can we be sure that Scripture is truly the Word of God? Here Calvin rightly appeals not to evidence or reason, but to the witness of the Holy Spirit—that is, to God’s own self-witness in Holy Scripture. “Our faith,” Calvin writes, “is not established until we have a perfect conviction that God is its author. Thus the highest proof of Scripture is ... the character of God whose speaking it is (a Dei loquentis persona sumitur)” (1.7.4).

We become certain of the authority of Scripture only when we hear God’s voice in Scripture—i.e., when we hear God himself personally speaking the gospel. Certainty comes from hearing this voice. To look for certainty anywhere else—in rational proofs, or in the authority of the church—is to betray the authority of Scripture. And to betray the authority of Scripture is to betray the authority of God himself.

15 Comments:

Ken said...

I don't think that's what's being done, Ben.

The authority of the Church rests on its inspiration by the Spirit. Those apostles and prophets are the Church; that is, the Church is the historic community of those who are saved. It is the unity of believers, seeking and praying and inspired by the Spirit, that establishes canon, that establishes doctrine, and which witnesses to God and Christ Jesus; in essence, the Church doing precisely what you say in the second last paragraph and the first half of the last (which I agree with wholeheartedly). To betray the Church's historic role as trustee of the divine revelation, dehistoricizes theology and thus makes it no better the philosphical musings of any individual human being. And, I think you end up where you trying not to be, namely at a formal definition of the inspiration of Scripture.

Jim said...

Hello Ben-
fact is, the Church gave birth to the Scriptures, Scripture did not give birth to the Church. Thus, the Church is prior to Scripture and therefore the font of Scripture.

olympiada said...

So how can we hear God's voice in the scripture? What are we listening for?

Ken said...

Hey Jim... we agree on a point, though probably for different reasons. Neat.

Ben Myers said...

I don't know what should astonish me more, Jim: your argument, or the fact that you and Ken agree about something! ;)

In any case, I think there is a sharp difference between saying that the church is historically the source of Scripture (which is obviously the case), and saying that the church is the source of Scripture's authority. If we believe that the authority of Scripture lies "outside itself" in the speaking of God, then clearly the question cannot be settled simply by an appeal to the historical source of the biblical writings.

To put this another way: if the authority of Scripture has nothing to do with the text qua text, but only with the text's subject-matter, then the question of the textual history of Scripture is basically irrelevant to the question of Scripture's authority.

Jim said...

Scripture derives its authority from the Church which gave birth to it. It is authorized and legitimized by the Church and made meaningful in the hearts of individuals by the theopneustos of the Spirit.

Ken said...

Ben: If it is merely the subject-matter that gives authority to Scripture and there is formal quality of the text that distinguishes it, I see no real source for the authority of Scripture. Why are not other texts that deal with the same subject-matter authoritative? I just don't see how your argument works. At best, it works in the abstract but, so far as I can tell, your argument does not stand on anything tangible or practical.

Ken said...

should read: "there is no formal quality..."

eddie said...

We are going to encounter problems because the term "authority" does not naturally fit the Bible, especially the gospels as narratives. What i suggest we do is drop the langauge of authority, and find something else.

In this vein, i suggest that if the content of the scriptures is true, or if it is God addressing us, then it has a claim on our lives. This is different from talking about the 'subject-matter of scripture', because it does not seperate the subject from its scriptural presentation. This position still holds the scriptures to be the principle articulation of the truth against which all others must be tested. On what grounds this can be done, i am not sure. Any suggestions??

eddie said...

...oh thats right, the church's traditional decleration.

Ken said...

Nope. I won't drop the word authority. The Church has the Bible an, or in some cases the, authority for Christian Faith. Also, I do believe it fits the Bible quite nicely, though perhaps arguably the OT better than the NT.

eddie said...

im saying that we should drop the language of authority, not the centrality of the bible.

eddie said...

im saying that we should drop the language of authority, not the centrality of the bible.

eddie said...

...oh thats right, the church's traditional decleration.

Ken said...

should read: "there is no formal quality..."

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