What do I believe with respect to the authority of Christian Scripture?
Well, here are my basic convictions:
I believe that the Christian faith is necessarily, intimately, and indelibly rooted in the God-authorized, God-breathed testimony of the prophetic tradition of the people of Israel and the apostolic witness of Jesus, the Messiah, as their testimonies have been preserved in the 66 canonical books of the Christian Bible.
- Furthermore, it is my conviction that all that can be known about the one, true God with certainty is to be discovered only through this testimony (e.g., God’s nature, intention, will, activity in history, purpose, etc.).
Consequently, I believe that the contention of the writers and, where appropriate, editors of Scripture is infallible and inerrant with respect to their intention.
Now, permit me to delineate some implications…
The 66 canonical books of the Christian Bible are as follows: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, The Book of the Twelve (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi), Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1, 2, & 3 John, Jude, and Revelation.
I resist the idea that the contemporary authority of Scripture lies not in God, nor in the ordained authors, but primarily in the text itself, and therefore believe that though textual criticism is a necessary and useful discipline for Christian study, the authority of Christian Scripture does not depend fundamentally on such investigations.
I do believe that the testimony of the prophets and apostles as it has been preserved in the Christian Bible is rooted in events that must be presumed to be historical and provides a God-breathed, God-authorized (and for that reason, infallible and inerrant) theological interpretation of divinely selected segments and epochs of history as well as the God-revealed trajectory of human history.
Of foundational importance to me is the insistence that the authority of the Scriptural text is not an authority to be found in the grammar and vocabulary of the text itself nor is it to be found in the receiving and reading community.
Rather it is to be found in the authority that God entrusted to the prophets and apostles as they were elected, authorized, and inspired by God both to testify to specific historical events and to provide theological interpretations of those events for those who would accept their testimony and put their faith in YHWH (The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God who delivered the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt, the God who became flesh in the person of Jesus, the Messiah). The authority of the Biblical text derives from its faithfulness to the testimony and teachings of the elect of Israel–i.e., the true prophets and apostles of YHWH.
I believe that though the early Christian community was tasked with recognizing the faithfulness of these writings to the testimony and teaching of the prophets and apostles, the community itself did not have the authority or responsibility to author or to authorize these texts.
I believe that the foundational conviction of Christian faith is a trust in the prophetic and apostolic witness to the Word of God delivered to them and entrusted through them to the Church by the Holy Spirit. However, the interpretation of Scripture and the attempt to discern the intention of the authors and, where appropriate, editors of Scripture necessarily are subjective endeavors.
For this reason, I believe that theological disagreements are healthy and necessary components of Christian community. What we must agree on, in my view, is not always the theological conclusions we draw, but the conviction that our task, in the Holy Spirit and in Christian community, is to understand and to apply the message intended by the authors and editors as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
I recognize that reading and interpreting the First Testament may require a different set of presuppositions than reading and interpreting the apostolic witness of the New Testament. There certainly will be debate over the nature and extent of those differences.
However, pertinent to this statement of faith is the awareness that First Testament prophecy sometimes predicted future events that, contextually, appear to have been outside of the original intent of the prophets themselves. This does indicate the possibility of the Holy Spirit utilizing the Scriptural text to say more than the authors and/or editors themselves intended to say.
With that said, I believe that, canonically, this expectation seems unique to prophetic and/or apocalyptic passages.
J. Thomas Johnson – updated 11/02/2016