Thursday, October 1, 2009

Authoritative interpretation within the Bible

I have really enjoyed reading a book on Bishop Jewel of Salisbury called John Jewel and the Problem of Doctrinal Authority by W. M. Southgate (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1962). It got me thinking a little about doctrinal authority within the Bible itself:

(a) Consensus achieved over time: the canon of Scripture itself is an example of how an authoritative interpretation can be achieved through consensus - this the New Testament is received by the church as the authoritative interpretation of the Old Testament.

(b) Council referral: when certain questions arose in the early church they were settled with reference to a council (Acts 15).

(c) Consulting an apostle: when the Corinthians were troubled by some questions they referred them to the Apostle Paul.

(d) Christ's own authority: within 1 Corinthians Paul appeals to Christ's own teaching (1 Corinthians 7:10) as authoritative.

(e) Complementary collation rather than competition: the inclusion of the four gospels in the New Testament is a stunning example of the church living with variation in the authoritative interpretation of the life and teaching of Jesus. In theory the church could have chosen one and only one version of the Gospel, but it refused to do so. It accepted the four as complements rather than contradictions of each other.

In current Anglican controversy a bit of each of these strategies is being played out.

Some hope that, over time, if we are patient, gracious, and keep talking, a consensus will be achieved.

Some see the answer lying in councils. But which council? Lambeth 1998, for example, or GAFCON 2008 or General Convention 2009?

Quite a lot of consulting of apostles (i.e. their modern equivalents) is going on. But, again, who is right? JI Packer ... NT Wright ... G Robinson ... D Tutu ... R Williams?

Naturally Christ's own authority is invoked! Though curiously, for some, on one issue, it is the authority of Christ's silence on homosexuality, while for others it is the authority of Christ the upholder of the (whole of the) Law of Moses.

Then, as various views are circulating in the Communion, some wish to see the Communion decide on one, others want to attempt to hold all sincerely hold views together.

That's all I have for now.

I guess further questions to consider could include this: do our current controversies have more in common with one question within Scripture rather than another?

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