I have noticed that my view of the Bible is changing over the last couple of years. Actually, what I think is happening is that I am actually forming a view of the Bible. I guess that sounds odd coming from a person who has been a Christian for over twenty years. I think what is happening is that I’ve stopped just accepting what others say about it, and as a result I’m developing a deeper respect for it. I am noticing, though, that I have a strong reaction against what I hear others say the Bible is and how we should look at it.
Let me start off by saying that I teach the Bible, and I really, really like reading it. I think it’s inspired. I’m not knocking the Bible, but just the way some people look at it. Here’s the latest example. I was looking over a website of a parachurch organization that a friend pointed out. They have a place where you can order some of their materials, and at the bottom of the order form is a link to their statement of faith. I clicked on the link and read the statement, and here’s the line about the Bible which bothered me: “Christians must submit to its divine authority.” I stopped reading and thought, “The Bible has authority over me? I have to submit to a book? When did this happen?”
Now, I guess the authors of this statement are thinking this: “God has authority over me. God wrote the Bible. Therefore, the Bible has authority over me.” However, the choice of words here is telling; the book itself has some sort of power. I told this to my wife, and she responded, “Ah, it’s a magic book.”
And that’s just it. The Bible isn’t a magic book. It has no authority in itself. (I’m sure this makes the fundies fume.) The Bible is a communication from the one who does have authority. Here’s an example: I recently won a court judgment against a tenant that I had to evict. My proof of this judgment is a piece of paper. I can take this paper and go to the tenant’s employer and begin to garnish wages. Now, the piece of paper has no authority in itself. It only represents the authority of its author, in this case the county government. The employer knows that the paper shows the wishes of the author, and he has bound himself to obey the author — not the paper.
I think the distinction is subtle, yet vitally important. Yes, the paper tells us what the author wants us to know. Yes, the reading the paper is just like hearing the author speak those written words into our ears. However, we have not bound ourselves to the paper. We owe our allegiance to the person who wrote the paper.
I heard a radio preacher the other day say much the same thing as was in this statement of faith. Several times he said we are to submit ourselves to the authority of the Bible. Nowhere did he mention that we are to submit to God, or to each other, or to our spouses. Sigh.
So we are substituting the Bible for God. We submit to the Bible. The Bible has authority. It’s “the Bible says….” and “the Bible teaches….” I disagree. God never gave authority to a book. He has authority, and he gives it to people. If those people write things down, then it’s still the authority of that person (and God behind him) that we recognize. There’s a big difference, as now I feel a connection to those people and the legacy they’ve left us, rather than just reading a textbook and feeling like there’s a test coming.