Confession: What is Scripture?

Throughout this semester, I will be posting the situational "confessional briefs" I am writing for one of my classes. These are 750-800 word answers to common questions about faith, which must include bountiful biblical references and ancient/modern theological texts. My goal here is not to set out conversation ending pronouncements, but start a conversation around the table of grace. Join me!

Question: What is the nature of Scripture? What authority does it have in a Christian life?

Context: For this question, I am imagining a church member who has always assumed some level of importance in the Scriptures because we study them in Sunday School and Worship. This person has encountered teaching on TV throwing around words like “inerrant”, and now wonders if our church uses this word.

I confess...

     Scripture is the incomparable source and norm of the Christian life: an authority under which we submit ourselves, and where we expect to find the very revelation of God. The 66 books of the Old and New Testament are not God, but are the holy, human accounts of God’s work and revelation through Jesus Christ and the communities called to follow the Spirit. Scripture is the grand narrative of the people of God encountering the divine in the normal patterns of their life.

     The Hebrew Scriptures begin with narrative, leading to a law/rule of life, followed by wisdom literature explaining that law, and prophets calling the people back to it. Despite this intense emphasis on following the law, the prophet Hosea records God to say, “I desire steadfast love, and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hs 6:6). Therefore, our understandings of Scripture will help us follow the way of God more closely rather than simply construct a litany of laws and precepts. Scripture in this understanding is authoritative, leading us in the name of and through the power of the Good Shepherd, not a tyrannical dictator. Because the Hebrew Bible has gained its authority over millennia of utilization in the oral and written traditions of the people of God, and because it was widely used by Jesus, its place in the canon is assured. The authority of the New Testament was recognized by the Church through time but seems to solidify quickly as the author of 2 Peter seems to already be placing the Pauline epistles in conversation with “the other Scriptures” as he writes (2 Pt 3:16). The Scriptures did not need to be “approved” by the powers of the empire, as some might suggest: the church has been recognizing their unique authority since well before the stain of “Christian” empire and colonialism distorted the faith.

     Of what use then is this unique text in Christian practice? From the very earliest writings about Christianity, Scripture has played a role in worship, instruction, and discipleship. Early Christian writer Justin records that on Sunday the community would gather and “the memoirs of the Apostles or the writings of the prophet [were] read.”[1] This reading of the Scriptures, paired immediately with the eucharist comprised the vast majority of this early church liturgy: the words of God’s people instructed, challenged, and encouraged the community even as the Word of God in Jesus was broken for them in communion. Though we have faced the unique challenges of our history and present context, Scripture plays a shockingly similar role in the life of a modern believer. Homiletics professor Anna Florence compares Scripture to a refrigerator of raw ingredients: delicious and life giving to our hungry, tired bodies if prepared in the correct, creative context. She pictures small group studies and communal worship as the opportunity to “open that gorgeously stocked scriptural fridge and, together, learn how to prepare what’s in it. Learn to be community readers as well as solitary readers, so we can feed ourselves and others.”[2] Though we are beloved children of God, made in the divine image, this broken world leaves us hungry: hungry for resurrection, redemption, and justice. The witness of the Scriptures are one way God then feeds us so that we might go about the Lord’s will. Through the immersive narratives, the nuggets of wisdom, the honest psalms, the parables of Jesus, and the letters of his followers, we get a glimpse of God’s vision for the world, and what it might look like to follow that narrow Way.

Is scripture then “inerrant”, meaning that every detail in every verse is scientifically accurate as recorded? I certainly hope not! One cannot get through the first two chapters of Genesis without seeing significant differences in how these authors record creation. What matters to us is that these words are true in instruction, and in them we together find a drink of living water in a dry land. In living into the Scriptures with one another, we rehearse a story generations of God’s people have found to be something breathed out by God, profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training (2 Tim 3:16).

[1] Justin, Apology I. lxvii, Republished in Documents of the Christian Church, Ed. Henry Bettenson & Chris Maunder, 4th ed., (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 71.

[2] Anna Carter Florence, Rehearsing Scripture: Discovering God’s Word in Community, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 2018), 6.