Scripture, Authority and Function

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16)

I’ve noticed a trend among Churches that wish to express the truth of scripture (or the lack thereof) to focus their comments on whether or not the scriptures are factual (ie. accord to reality itself). While I have a very definite opinion on that particular debate (I believe that the Scriptures are true), I fear that the evangelical church may have missed something very importnat while debating the factuality of scripture, and conflated that with a debate about scriptural authority.

The common way of expressing trust in the authority of scripture is to say that it is “true” and that all decisions and teaching must accord with it. This is true, and a very necessary part of what Christians must mean when they say that scriptures are authoritative.My problem isn’t with whether or not that statement is a good expression of scriptural authority as far as it goe, but that it effectively does not go far enough.

When a Christian speaks about Biblical authority, I beleive that we must recognize that the authority of scripture is active. It has a point in the life of the believer and the Church. It fulfills a function. All of this is far more powerful than a passive “fact check” role for scripture. The result is that many in the Church can assert the validity and authority of scripture while never seeing it as important for the individual believer’s life. This is an unbiblical idea.

As we can see from the above quote, scriptural authority is a functional authority, it is good for teaching and reproof (usually more passive roles for most believers who are recipients of teaching, and receive reproof when they do something wrong), but it is also good for “training in righteousness that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work”.

This is far more than a claim that the scriptures are factually true, it is a claim that the scriptures fulfill a role of conforming the believer to a Godly image. Scripture alters the very believer personally so that they might effectively be different. It is not just an appeal court, nor just a “life manual”. It is a training manual. We do not simply check it when we have a decision to make, or when we need instructions for some situation we find ourselves in (though it is useful in those roles too), but primarilly the Christian interacts with scripture to interact with the word of God and to be changed by it. It is a training manual as well as a basic instruction book.

The result is that rather than letting our Bibles be read haphazardly as we feel the need, or as a way of checking the ideas we face, or even of personal inspiration, the Bible should be read by believers as a training regime. We read it not just to be educated, but to be transformed. A believer reads the Bible, not just when they feel the need, but regularly, because to do otherwise is to ignore it’s function.

So a believer should:

1) Read the Bible regularly. Yes, even when you don’t feel like it. I don’t always feel like going to the gym every day. While I can often get away with not exercising for a day or two, flab comes back if I ignore it too long. The same is true of our training in Godliness for which the Bible is useful.

2) Read the Bible systematically. I generally find it easier to focus on training that which I can already do well, but the scripture says that we are to be prepared for every good work, not just the ones that fit our desires for today. I can’t just focus on the red letters in the Gospel, or just the New Testament, or just the letters, as to do so would give me unbalanced training. Balanced training is why the gym has many exercise machines, and it’s why the Bible has many books. Christians should avail themselves of everything God has provided for our development.

3) Read the Bible reflectively. It won’t be much help if you simply hurry through the scriptures without taking the time to reflect on it, and understand if you’ve got what it’s saying right. At the gym, I can misuse machines so that my training doesn’t help me, or worse, harms me. At the gym that means I check to be sure I’m doing it right, for scripture, I reflect on it.

Grace to you all, dear readers.

Author: Stephen Dawe

Steve is a part-time vocational elder Calvary Baptist Church, St. John's as well as a full-time student at Memorial University of Newfoundland, in the Religious Studies Department.

11 thoughts on “Scripture, Authority and Function”

  1. Er, I have. Why should that convince me that I am wrong?

    Perhaps there’s a book I missed? Which would you recommend?

  2. Christian: Read the Bible. It will convince you I’m right.

    Atheist: Uh, I have. Read Dawkins/Hitchins/Shermer/Gould/etc. It will convince you I’m right.

    Christian: Uh, I have.

    Yes, blog comments are an excellent conversion tool. We should all keep them up, because they are clearly working so well.

  3. Honestly, I said nothing about the Bible convincing an atheist that I’m right. I didn’t say that, because I don’t believe it.

    That isn’t the point of the blog post in any case.

  4. Oh, I know. I was really talking about the general tone of comment sections on Christian and atheist sites. (I bet you see the same things on Muslim and other sites.)

    It looked like that was where this was heading, that’s all.

    I just watched a Scientologist try to take over the comments section on an atheist blog, so maybe I jumped to conclusions about where your friend was trying to steer the conversation. It’s tiring to watch and your blog is above all of that.

  5. [blockquote]All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching…[/blockquote]

    Both of these primary claims are false; the first is the older lie, the second is the lie the believer has to foist on himself.

    Be honest: you find the use of scripture profitable, in this day and age?

  6. Hey Megan,

    (sigh) yeah. I’m usually happy to discuss theology with people, but I dunno, I don’t think some of the people messaging me here really want to hear what I’m saying, they just want to attack a Christian. (because apparently none of us have ever considered what they’re saying).

    I’m wondering if I shouldn’t just delete pointlessly argumentative comments.

  7. Well, I think personal insults are generally in bad taste, especially on the person’s blog.

    But I might be unusually sensitive this week, having spent days deleting really nasty spam from my YouTube channel.

  8. I love what you have written here, regarding the proper use of the Bible.
    The use you describe (the Bible as “training”) is exactly the way the Bible has been used, through most of Church history, because this is exactly the way it is used in the Daily Office, in its Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Anglican forms.
    Anon! Back to the future!

  9. Unfortunately, as a friend pointed out offline, the statements I made about the function of scripture as opposed to the factuality of scripture have led many to affirm the former while denying the latter (while evangelicals seem to do the opposite).

    The result in either case is that the scriptures are undermined.

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