Modern Religious Questions, Part III: For God So Loved the World that He Sent a Book?
This is a great question and one that is answered differently by different people and different denominations.
Protestant Christianity traditionally holds the Bible as their only authority in matters of faith and the church. This is a doctrine developed by the Martin Luther himself, called Sola Scriptura.
To raise the Bible to such a level as supreme authority in the Church makes two things happen. One, it places all the burden of Christianity on the Bible. And, two, makes the Bible an object of faith itself.
First, if all the faith rests only on exactly what the Bible says then if the Bible can be proved as unreliable on any point the whole house comes crumbling down. Two, if all my faith’s authority is in the Bible, I have to believe in the Bible (i.e. have faith in it). The problem with this is that in Christianity our faith is in Christ, not the Bible. We hold that the Bible testifies accurately to Christ, but our faith is in Him not the book.
This is one category where, in my opinion, Christianity differs from Islam. Islam is, by nature, a religion based on a book– the Qur’an. Indeed, Muslims consider the miracle of Islam to be the Qur’an– to them it is God’s full revelation to humankind.
From a Christian point of view, we hold the Bible to be God’s inspired word. But, Christianity is not based on a book– it is based on a Person. From a Christian point of view, the Bible is not God’s revelation of Himself to humankind; Jesus is God’s revelation of Himself (God loves the world by sending Himself, not a book) — we believe that God desires intimate communion with humankind, not just submission to His will. Knowing God is not through understanding words (though words help); it is from intimate connection with Him through Christ.
The Bible was produced by the Church for the Church — and therefore we believe it is infallible. Though the Christian faith is based on seeing the life, death and resurrection of Jesus as true historical events, questions of historicity of the Bible sometimes miss the point. The point of the Bible is the spiritual health and truth of the Christian and the Church. It is not primarily a history, biology, or journalism textbook.
In the previous two posts I’ve tried to show that it is not so simple just to dismiss the Bible as unreliable from a textual and historical point of view. It is more reliable than many people think. Also, we must remember that Christ is known and experienced in the Church and in individuals and has been for thousands of years. The New Testament flowed out of the Church and her knowledge and experience. It is, therefore, only properly understood within the context in which it was created.
My thanks goes out to those who are not interested in religious topics– the themes of my writing vary widely, even though the last three have been a series on the Bible. Thanks for your patience and please keep reading!