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Don Stewart :: What Are the Some Non-Biblical Views toward Ultimate Authority?

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Don Stewart

The Bible is God's revealed Word to humanity. There are, however, a variety of other ways in which people have approached the issue of ultimate authority apart from Holy Scripture. Each of these views denies that the Bible is the final authoritative source on all matters of which it speaks. These non-biblical approaches include the following.

1. Human Reason

For many people, human reason, or rationalism, is the final source of authority on all matters. Humans are the ones who are the final determiners of what is true and what is not. There is no outside source of authority to determine what is truth. When this is applied to the Bible, it denies that God has revealed Himself to humanity. Under this approach the Bible is not viewed as authoritative but rather as a piece of religious literature. Agnostics, atheists, as well as theological liberals would fall into this category.

Response

Human reason, as brilliant as it may be, is always limited. Even the best human minds are pathetically limited in what they know or can know. Human reason, therefore, is an inadequate way to establish authority in any realm. In addition, Scripture says that human reason, unaided by Scripture, cannot understand spiritual things. Paul wrote.

Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God's Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14).

The Bible says the Scriptures are to judge humanity - humanity is not to judge the Scriptures. We read in the Book of Hebrews.

For the Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Hebrews 4:12,13).

Unaided human reason cannot speak with authority on any matter.

2. Personal Feelings

Some people have developed their theories of ultimate authority purely upon human feelings. This is usually as a reaction to human reason being the final source of authority. Since our knowledge is limited and not always reliable, humans must resort to feelings to determine what is true. Therefore, experience, not reason, becomes the final judge of all matters.

Response

Personal feelings also place the final source of authority somewhere apart from the Bible. Feelings can be misleading - they are not always an accurate guide as to what is true. Furthermore, what if two people have different feelings about the same issue? Who or what determines what is correct? Appealing to personal feelings does not solve the authority problem.

Human nature, either in its reason or feelings, becomes the final source of authority for these first two perspectives. However the Bible says that the human mind is hostile to God. Paul wrote.

The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so (Romans 8:7).

Consequently humans should never make themselves the final word on any matter.

3. Neoorthodoxy

Neoorthodoxy means the "new orthodoxy." It is a religious point of view that places the final authority in Jesus Christ, not humanity. However the Neoorthodox position is that the Bible is not an infallible guide to all matters of faith and practice. It believes that it contains misstatements and errors. The Bible is only a witness to the Word of God. It only becomes authoritative at the moment it speaks to the individual. Each individual must determine what is, and what is not, the word of God within the Scripture. Consequently it makes the believers personal experience with Christ as the final determiner of what is true and what is not.

Response

If one relies on personal experience alone, even while acknowledging Jesus Christ, there is no ultimate standard of authority. We again have the problem of what to do when two people disagree on a certain issue. There is no way of knowing whom, if any one, is right about the matter.

Although believers have the Holy Spirit to guide them, they are still fallen human beings. Each of us has a different temperament as well as different amounts of training. Therefore the understanding that the Holy Spirit gives each believer varies from person to person. The existence of the various Christian denominations proves this point.

4. The Church

There is the perspective that Jesus entrusted all authority to the church on the earth. He gave this authority to His immediate disciples who passed it on to others. As the years went by, and different situations have arisen, it is the church that has the authority to say what is right and what is wrong - not the Bible.

The Roman Catholic Church

The position of the Roman Catholic Church is that they are the final authority on all spiritual issues. They believe Bible is the product of the church, therefore only the church is capable of interpreting the Bible. In addition, they believe that the Scriptures are incomplete. All matters of faith and practice are determined by their interpretation of the Scripture. Tradition is also placed on an equal level with the Scriptures. The Roman Catholic Church claims to be the infallible interpreter of both tradition and the Bible. They also claim the authority to add revelation in addition to the Scripture. In the past they have used this power with such doctrines as the Immaculate Conception of Mary, and the infallibility of the Pope.

The Bible, therefore, is not the final standard of truth - rather it is the Roman Catholic Church and their infallible interpretation of it.

The Church Existed Before The New Testament

It is also argued that since the church existed before the New Testament, then it must have authority over it.

Eastern Orthodoxy Also Places Tradition Over Scripture

Eastern Orthodoxy, like Roman Catholicism, finds its authority in tradition rather than Scripture. The Bible does not have the final say on matters of faith and practice. The Eastern Orthodox Church is the final authority on spiritual matters.

Response

There are a number of problems with placing the authority of the church over the authority of Scripture. First, there is no biblical basis for this position; second, what happens when the two conflict; third, the Bible warns us about placing tradition over Scripture. Finally, the Bible did exist before the church - the Old Testament.

There Is No Scriptural Basis For This Belief

There is no Scriptural basis for this belief. The authority of Jesus was given to His immediate disciples and not to anyone else. There is no passage in Scripture that teaches the authority of Jesus was passed down from His immediate disciples to others.

What happens when Scripture and the church conflict as they have in the past? Who are we to believe? Is it the church or the Bible? Furthermore, which church do we believe? The Roman Catholic or the Eastern Orthodox? They do not agree on every issue.

Tradition Over Scripture Is Condemned By Paul And Jesus

This approach also places tradition over the Scriptures. The Bible does teach that certain traditions do have their place. Paul wrote.

So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter (2 Thessalonians 2:15).

Again he wrote to the Thessalonians.

Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us (2 Thessalonians 3:6).

However, Jesus repeatedly chided the religious leaders for putting ungodly traditions over the Word of God.

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, "Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands before they eat." He answered them, "And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?" (Matthew 15:1-3).

The Word of God has always been the final authority for God's people. Traditions can only be accepted if they conform to what God has previously revealed.

Jesus, Paul, And Tradition

Jesus was critical of the idea that human tradition was elevated to a place superior to Scripture. While Paul taught certain things that were consistent with rabbinic tradition that was consistent with the Old Testament, He was also critical of that tradition. At some points Jewish tradition reflected the truths of Scripture and then at other points it contradicted it.

Each Individual Has Their Own Responsibility

Furthermore, the Bible says that each individual is responsible for studying the Bible on his or her own. Paul wrote.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).

The New Testament nowhere teaches that the church is the final authority on all matters. It is only the Scriptures themselves that constitute God's final Word.

The New Testament Existed Before The Church

The truth of God existed before the church in the form of the Old Testament. In addition, the New Testament was completely written before the Roman Catholic Church existed. Therefore the church has no claims over the Bible.

5. The Bible And Additional Revelation

Many non-Christian cults have additional revelation apart from the Bible. This revelation is considered as authoritative or more authoritative than Scripture. They add to God's Word with their so-called revelation. The final source of authority is that particular revelation, not the Bible. Although they may claim to believe the Bible is the authoritative Word of God, it is always interpreted in light of the further revelation or from their center of authority. In some cases, it is the teachings of only one person.

Response

The problem with this perspective is that the teaching from the additional revelation always contradicts the Scripture at some point - usually at many points. Both cannot be true at the same time. Either the Bible is incorrect or the teaching of the additional revelation is incorrect. Furthermore additional revelation is not necessary because the faith has been once-and-for-all delivered. Jude wrote.

Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints (Jude 3).

6. The Bible Is One Of Many Religious Revelations

In some religious groups the Bible is considered as a divinely given revelation. However it is looked at as one of many sacred books that humanity has received. Some believe that further revelation has come from God after the New Testament era that has added truth to Scripture.

Response

Holy Scripture is not one of many divine revelations that have been given to humanity; it is the only one. The Bible warns about adding or subtracting to what the God of the Bible has revealed. Moses wrote.

You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you (Deuteronomy 4:2).

7. The Bible's Authority Is Now Out-Of-Date

Another perspective concerning the Bible's authority is its rejection by modern humanity. The Bible may have been fine for those in the ancient world, but it is out-of-date for those of us living in modern times. Because times have changed, modern humankind does not have to accept everything in Scripture as true. People can feel free to pick and choose which parts they believe and obey.

Response

This view assumes that our modern thinking is correct and the Bible is wrong. If God has revealed Himself in a written record, then it should be for all places and all times, not just the ancient world. Why would He reveal His truth to one generation and not to the next? If each human can choose for his or her self what they wish to believe in Scripture, then all the authority is stripped from it. The end result is a mixture of a number of different belief systems but it certainly isn't the Christian faith.

The Bible Alone Should Be Trusted

All of the above views are less that what the Scripture says about its own authority. The Bible alone - not by human reason, popes, or church councils, solves decisions over Christian doctrine. Apart from the Scripture, Christians has no other written document or source of authority for the their faith. The Bible alone is the sole basis for teaching, proclamation of the faith, evangelism, missions, and Christian conduct.

Summary

While the Scripture clearly teaches that it alone is the final authority in all matters of faith and practice there are other approaches that people continue to take that are at odds with this view. This includes those who make human reason as the final authority on all matters.

Others place their own feelings as the source of truth. Neoorthodoxy, while acknowledging Christ, rejects the Scriptures as an infallible source. There are those who place the final authority in the church, rather than the Scriptures. Many of the cults have a separate revelation apart from the Bible.

There are some who accept the Bible as one of many revelations from God. Also there are some who believe the Bible once had authority but does not hold absolute truth for modern humanity.

All of these approaches fall short of what the Bible teaches about God and how He has revealed Himself to humanity. The final authority must alone rest in the divinely inspired Word of God. No other source provides reliable answers to the basic questions of humankind.
CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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