18
Jan
09

Feminist Perspectives on Biblical Authority (Part 2)

Continued from The Creation Story or go to the Table of Contents

BIBLICAL AUTHORITY

The “authority of scripture” has quite a range of meanings in Christian theology and, for the purposes of this essay, will be discussed in quite broad strokes with relation to scriptures. The status of authority extends from scripture simply being considered the word of God. This is viewed in several ways, and is to some extent indicative of how we approach God. Some consider scripture to be the actual word of God, every jot and tittle written by God’s hand or, in more common thought, written by human hand through the direct inspiration of God. Generally, this view of scriptural authority results in a somewhat literal, or even inerrant, understanding of scripture in which equal truth is found in all its parts.[1]

Through the centuries leading up to the Reformation, the authority of scripture was generally augmented by the external authority of the apostles, the Church Fathers and a host of predominantly men, making up the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic or Orthodox Churches, who participated in developing a normalized interpretation.[2] With the Reformation came the rejection by many Protestants of much, but by no means all, of the external authority and a reliance on scripture alone as normative for Christian belief. Some Protestants like Calvin, while still maintaining the authority of scripture to order the Christian life, acknowledged that humans who were fallible wrote it and, therefore, it was not thoroughly inerrant.[3]

The next major change in biblical studies occurred during the 18th century Enlightenment when more rigorous scientific investigative strategies developed as a result of the Renaissance for the study of secular classic texts, were applied to the scriptures by primarily German theologians.[4] Historical-critical methods raised, and continue to bring, serious questions about the legitimacy of long-held assumptions about authorship, historicity, continuity and, of course, authority. Literary criticism, also initially developed to study secular literature, and the disciplines of the social sciences eventually was applied to scripture, again bringing many older and even newer hypotheses about authority into question.

Over time, more and more Christian theologians and churchgoers began to infuse scripture with a more liberal authority, recognizing that within its pages there is truth in that “to which it witnesses”[5], while also bearing in mind that it has been recorded, interpreted, embellished and altered by fallible humans. In response to the aforementioned liberal approaches to reading scripture many ‘conservative’ Christians attempted to straddle a middle ground maintaining an elevated sense of authority for scripture, without giving it the status of absolute inerrancy. This is summed up in the adage (of unknown origin), “The Bible is truth, but the difficulty for all Christians is determining what in scripture is truth for all time, and what is truth for a time.”

Continued: Feminist Theology

Or Return to Table of Contents

[1] Richardson, Alan & Bowden, John, Editors. 1983. The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press), 59.

[2] Gottwald, Norman K. 1985. The Hebrew Bible – A Socio-Literary Introduction. (Philadelphia: Fortress press.), 8.

[3] Christopher Burchill, Calvin against the Calvinists, lecture delivered at a conference in Aberdeen, 1984.  [http://www74.homepage.villanova.edu/christopher.burchill/my%20papers/Calvin%20against%20the%20Calvinists.pdf] accessed 4/4/04.

[4] Gottwald, 10.

[5] Richardson & Bowden, 59.


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... or, preaching from both ends

WELL, HELLO! YOU’RE HERE.

That's too bad - I'm so sorry. Oh, well, just try to make the best of it. What you'll find here is a variety of essays and ramblings to do with things theological, social, whimsical and, sometimes, all three. I don't write to get famous - trust me, I've been told how futile that would be - but to express myself. I love to communicate and browbeat - ummm, I mean dialogue - about the things I find intriguing. Since you're here, and the door's locked, why don't you stay a while. There's a page bar under the header with links to information about us - I mean me. Don't forget to tell me what you think - in a nice way, I mean.

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