Questions Regarding the Authority of Scripture

images (8)Here are a bunch of questions that stand out to me when I read discussions between Mormons and other Christians regarding the authority of scripture:

1. Does the authority of scripture always depend on facts not fully described in the text?

2. Does the authority of scripture depend on whether it was (1) received by revelation, (2) by its uniquely accurate representation of facts, (3) something else? (If (3) what?)

3. What is the basis of the special authority of scripture over other religious texts?

4. What determines the importance of any particular idea, thought, or account in scripture?

If you have a few, let me know what you think.

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68 thoughts on “Questions Regarding the Authority of Scripture

  1. 1. Why would the authority of Scripture ever depend on facts not fully described in the text?

    2. 1 Yes, if it wasn’t revelation it wouldn’t be Scripture.
    2 Correctly understood
    3 Yes, God as the source

    3. God as the source of Scripture.

    4. I don’t know. Some ideas are clearly more prevalent. Context, genre, emphasis.

  2. @Gundek,

    With regard to Question (1)
    It seems to me that the criteria of including something in the Bible is separate from the criteria that makes a text authoritative.

    Regarding (2):

    The issue I have with the idea that all scripture is from revelation is that in many places, it is not described as revelation, but history, poetry, law, etc.

    Perhaps due to my Mormon upbringing I have always taken a very “low” view of scripture in that I don’t believe it is authoritative unless it is corroborated somehow. I am trying to figure out whether this view is still valid.

  3. I’m still not understanding question 1. I would understand the Authority of Scripture as being inherent in the source.

    Why can’t history, poetry, law etc. be revelation?

    As with most theology, I would understand Mormonism to be outside the Roman Catholic/Protestant debates about the authority of Scripture. Authority in Mainline Mormonism is priesthood authority, Scripture is a proof of that authority. At least that is how I have understood it.

  4. My understanding is that the 66 books were considered fully authentic and authoritative in that they accurately portrayed accepted doctrine, authors closely related to Jesus or an original Apostle, acceptance by the General church body, and did it testify to the values of the Holy Spirit.

  5. What cowboy said. . . but with an understanding that we are relying on the traditions of our church ancestors and the “self-authenticating” character of the scriptures (which I concede by itself opens a large enough hole for the Book of Mormon, Dianetics, and The Book of Jarenech)

  6. If it speaks to Christ and His gospel…then it is authoritative.
    That is why Luther could call the Book of James, “An epistle of straw.”

    Yes, it’s in there (the Bible)…but it’s hard to see it’s value with respect to the gospel.

  7. Jared,

    I still think that I am still missing you question, but in a sense, yes I think you can look at the authority of Scripture separately from what books are in the Canon. In that case I would start with the premise that Scripture is authoritative by its nature as divinely inspired revelation for the Church. So even if I fail to recognize a “Book” as inspired (assuming that it is), that “Book” would still be authoritative.

    Put another way, authority as a natural characteristic of Scripture, is not dependent on my ability or inability to recognize a “Book” as Scripture. So the one judge of the authority of a “Book” is its inspiration.

    There are historical, external, and internal “proofs” or tests that have been used to explain canonicity of the Books in the Bible, but I think, like Tim mentioned, the ultimate source of the canon is the self authenticating nature of Scripture.

  8. Its worth mentioning, I think the externalities, that is the history, prophecy, archaeology, etc. that supports the Bible. These are not what make the Bible scripture, or anything scripture, but I think these things are areas that we can look to give support to the spiritual truths within. I tend to think a book about the truth should reflect the truth, even outside of areas of spiritual matters. Is that necessary? No, but I offer it as a discussion point concerning the reliability of the Bible.

    I don’t every nuance as to the final adoption of the current Canon, but the relation in time and space between the authors and the events that transpired, and our ability to confirm the events, is a differentiator between the Bible and other religious books.

    Others may disagree, and that’s OK. But I bring up the point for consideration and discussion.

  9. I need some extrapolation of how scripture is “self-authenticating”. I want to understand a rigorous approach to this concept. As it is, it looks like: tradition, tradition, tradition.

  10. A side note that summed up one side of this debate for me: I recently heard someone say this with tongue in cheek. “I put my trust in Father, Son and Holy Bible.”

  11. I actually believe that early Christians gave a lot of weight to authenticity of the different books of the NT. Why else would they agree to include books that hold to lower Christologies and in some cases, even challenge the Trinitarian view of Jesus? It certainly explains the inclusion of James, which looks like a challenge to Paul. It also could easily pass for non-Christian wisdom literature, if you take out the greeting. TO my memory,that’s the only reference to Christ the whole book. Yes, it was very old and linked to the half brother of Jesus – throw it in there.

  12. When I was a missionary, I was generally baffled by what seemed blatant Bible-worship by many of the Evangelicals whom I met with. My LDS view was that all scripture must be self authenticating in that the Spirit had to be manifest in the ideas, the text had to reflect spiritual reality. I had no problem with anything in the Bible, I had a problem with accepting it as scripture, or anything as scripture, without authentication.

    Now I tend to see the Bible as text that was crafted by people who believed that they knew what they were talking about before they sat down to write, and chosen by people who recognized that the authors reflected what they agreed was the truth i.e. more like law and less like revelation.

    Thus, it seems that books of the Bible are true not because it was chosen by the Holy Spirit for us to accept as a matter of faith, but because they reflect the most important facts relating to God. My main problem was the doctrine that the Bible alone could reflect these facts, i.e. the exclusively dead-hand approach, and that the entire Bible must be accepted as equally authoritative.

  13. James is the classic example. Is it there simply because of the perceived authority of the author, or because of the critical importance of what it is saying? In either case the authority of the text must be found outside the text.

  14. @Christian J,

    I have some thoughts on self-authentication that might answer your question. . . still hashing them out in a draft post.

  15. May I offer a few answers?

    Q. Does the authority of scripture always depend on facts not fully described in the text?
    A. I would say the authority of any scripture is dependent only on the fact that it was directly inspired by God. Whether we recognize that inspiration or not cannot alter its authority, only our perception. Thus, the more important question is to determine how one recognizes something as scripture, or inspired (as all things so inspired are scripture – D&C 68: 4). There is also some question as to level of authority that scripture is given, for not all serves the same purpose.

    Q. Does the authority of scripture depend on whether it was (1) received by revelation, (2) by its uniquely accurate representation of facts, (3) something else? (If (3) what?)
    A. Revelation is what makes something scripture, and thus gives it is authority. Generally this results in a uniquely accurate representation of facts, but that is a result not a cause. Revelation means the ultimate source is God himself, and there is no greater authority.

    Q. What is the basis of the special authority of scripture over other religious texts?
    A. Generally scriptures is considered to be more than just well written stories and advice. It is a written record given directly by God. The one writing is acting more as a scribe than an author. Other religious texts, though they may contain great wisdom, are from the men who write them, and are not directly from God.

    Q. What determines the importance of any particular idea, thought, or account in scripture?
    A. That would depend on the circumstances of the one reading it at the time. It is a general rule that the more frequently something is stated in scripture the more important it is, but for some people the more obscure thoughts become the most important due to personal trials.

    Christian J
    James actually mentions Christ by name in chapter 2, when he tells us “have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ…with respect of persons” Everything he says afterwards is to expound on the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ. To me this makes it clear that James is teaching the gospel of Christ, but is addressing the more practical concerns of living it rather than the more abstract concerns of believing it. This is why he makes his comparison of faith and works. He is stressing that believing is not enough if we are not also living it.

  16. I need some extrapolation of how scripture is “self-authenticating”. I want to understand a rigorous approach to this concept. As it is, it looks like: tradition, tradition, tradition.

    A side note that summed up one side of this debate for me: I recently heard someone say this with tongue in cheek. “I put my trust in Father, Son and Holy Bible.”

    The “self-authenticating” function of scripture needs to be held in check with tradition. It isn’t a trump card or something that can be used to justify anything. It’s very much inline with Moroni’s promise in many regards.

    Your side note is very much the case for those Evangelical traditions that are bent toward cessasionism (the gifts of the Holy Spirit have ceased. i.e. John MacArthur, Dallas Theological Seminary)

  17. I don’t have a problem with James. It does strike a different tone than Paul’s letters, but what is the message of the book of James but to show charity and act in faith. Vital messages.

    That the supposed author is who he is said tp have been certainly does put him as someone close to Jesus and in the know of the church.

    But recognize the 4 points I listed above are mere criteria that helped those who put the Canon together but are not requirements per se. One of them could have much more weight than another, as far as I understand the process.

    Jared said: “Thus, it seems that books of the Bible are true not because it was chosen by the Holy Spirit for us to accept as a matter of faith, but because they reflect the most important facts relating to God”

    Don’t underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit in these matters. Having said that, remember also the importance of doctrine within Christianity. Unlike other faiths, the details do, and did matter, and so it is not surprising to believe that they wanted a group of consistent messages about that doctrine. The role of the Spirit in this can be huge, by the way, on many different levels.

  18. good point shematwater. I still think the inclusion of James should lead us to believe that the canon was compiled with more than theological continuity in mind. The books does look to be very early and the belief that it was the half brother of Jesus (who thought he was crazy during his mortal ministry) would have been irresistible factors.

  19. Jared said

    Now I tend to see the Bible as text that was crafted by people who believed that they knew what they were talking about before they sat down to write, and chosen by people who recognized that the authors reflected what they agreed was the truth i.e. more like law and less like revelation.

    I think I can agree with that

    James is the classic example. Is it there simply because of the perceived authority of the author, or because of the critical importance of what it is saying? In either case the authority of the text must be found outside the text.

    Yep. I would say with all the books of the NT it is both. We know about other letters Paul wrote that were for whatever reason were not preserved. I’m guessing they lacked the spiritual truth worthy of preservation. On the other side of the coin “The Shepherd of Hermas” is generally regarded as spiritually and theologically sound and worthy of devotional study. It was not included in the canon because the author lacked authority (because it was written too late).

  20. Tim, I need more. “self-authenticating” sounds like, “The Bible is true, because the Bible says the Bible is true.” This can’t be the rigorous approach can it?

    “Tradition” is a reasonable criteria, but it places a ton of faith in the architects of said tradition.

    There’s an applicable quote that floats around the Mormon internet (I think Seth R. may have said it.)

    “If there’s one thing Mormons excel at, it’s enshrining the status quo and assuming that if we do anything, there must be a good reason for it, and if there’s a good reason, it must have been revealed as the only way to do it, and if so, then it must have always been that way in all dispensations.”

    I see this as no less a problem for Evangelicals. Even if your local church calls itself “non-denominational” or “Bible-based”.

  21. And I appreciate you bringing up the nuances of all this and the comparison to Moroni’s promise. Because I still have a post of yours stuck in my head, where you challenged Mormons to read and pray about other elevated texts – just like we ask people to read the Book of Mormon. Its a very good point that I think applies to Christian views of the Bible as well.

  22. Christian, you earlier said that basing faith in the Bible off historical events is dangerous, but it applies here. If what it says is historically accurate, and the more we find out, the more that is proven historically accurate, these historical events authenticate the Bible. So it is with prophecy: we can look at what was said to happen at some point in the future and see if that event did in fact take place. There are two areas where external points come together to speak to the authenticity of a religious work.

    At some point, it is necessary to ask how much more is needed before you accept the Bible, or any religious book, as truth.

  23. Tim, I need more. “self-authenticating” sounds like, “The Bible is true, because the Bible says the Bible is true.” This can’t be the rigorous approach can it?

    No, it’s more like “the Holy Spirit testifies of it’s authenticity as well as its own power to cut to the human soul.” But like I said, this is coupled with the rigor and the traditions that established the canon.

  24. you challenged Mormons to read and pray about other elevated texts – just like we ask people to read the Book of Mormon. Its a very good point that I think applies to Christian views of the Bible as well.

    For what it’s worth I’m open to the canon being open.

  25. Christian,

    My thoughts on self-authentication have been influenced by Michael Kruger and some of his writing on the canon. I would explain self-authentication as three supporting legs of a stool: the first is providential exposure and care, the second covers attributes of canonicity, and third is the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit that produces reception of Scripture and belief.

    Providential exposure and care explains God’s guiding will in the exposure of Scripture to the Church so that it can be recognized and His care in preserving and proliferating Scripture.

    The Attributes of canonicity are internal and external characteristics, divine quality, apostolic origin, reception by the Church etc.

    Finally the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit enables the recognition of Scripture and belief.

  26. I have read the BoM.
    I found it to be antithetical to Holy Scripture (the Bible).

    The BoM speaks against Baptizing infants. The Bible does not. The BoM speaks of a perfection project that the person must engage in. The Bible does not. The BoM is centered on ‘what we do’…or should not do. The Bible does not.

    That’s just for starters. But that is enough right there to toss the BoM in the trash can.

  27. If Mormons could preach a message similar to this one:

    theoldadam.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/christian-discipleship-step-2.mp3

    then I would be all for them and call them a church.

  28. A problem I have with leaving the determination of scripture to personal experience is that it makes the individual stronger than anything else. If it is a purely individual and private thing, whose to criticize anyone else for believing anything? If it is an individual and private thing, one can determine ultimate truth for themselves, apart from reality.

    I happen to believe truth is truth, and God is truth, and we are not free to put our own definitions to truth and be expected to be considered correct. So, with scripture, if it is God breathed or inspired, there is a right and wrong way to define scripture. We are not free to determine what is scripture and what is not on our own.

    That means that factors external to us are required to determine what is scripture. Feelings alone are not enough. I listed 4 factors above that the fathers who put together the canon used, and I think they make sense. The books have to be credible, and they have to have a credible genesis. Books can contain spiritual truths but not be close enough to the source to be considered scripture.

    I guess that means we have to make sure we define scripture adequately. I can think of many books I have read that were spiritually accurate and compelling. That alone does not make them scripture. The author may have had the real presence of God with them when the work was penned. So I am not sure that scripture merely means a book inspired by God that contains spiritual truths.

    Something more is needed. I agree with Tim that I don’t think the Canon is necessarily closed. But what would be that something more that I would consider a new writing to be scripture? Is it originality? Is it the mark of God? Is it consistency with previous scripture? Is it to mark the coming/arrival of Christ? Something else?

    I don’t know.

  29. Just to put a little perspective here, the Early Church, or those Christians of the first two centuries, actually had a number of Canons. “The Shepherd of Hermas” as well as a letter from Barnabus was included in many of those early canons. Other books were also included, but were later rejected at the Council of Nicea. Were these books inspired by God, and thus truly scripture? I think that is hard to say, but what is obviously true is that a large portion of early Christians considered them to be so.
    I stand by my statement that anything that is directly inspired by God is scripture. That includes spoken words from inspired sermons as well as simple conversations when “Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say.” (Luke 12: 12) All these things are scripture.

    What I think the canon does is helps us identify certain things as scripture, and gives us a starting place when studying the gospel. This is why the canon is known to the LDS as the standard works. They are not the only scriptures out there, but they are those that are used as the standard to assist us in identifying other sources of scripture. They were made standard by those that we accept as prophets who were called of God for this purpose, and accepted as such by those we have inherited the Gospel from. That is the external proof for them, and all other scriptures are accepted by the individual based on their conformity to that standard and the testimony of the spirit.

  30. Cowboy,

    I don’t think self-authentication is a model of Scripture being determined by personal experience.

    Self-authentication takes the God inspired production, reception, transmission and preservation of Scripture and says this entire God inspired process helps a Christian understand the authenticity of Scripture.

    In the same was self-authentication uses the divine qualities inherent in Scripture harmony, apostolic origin, efficacy, etc. as an application of Scriptures authenticity.

    I also don’t think that the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit is something that causes “that your bosom shall burn within you…” I think it is more profound, in that it is the Holy Spirit that overcomes our sinful nature and enables the Christian to believe the authenticity of Scripture.

    I don’t think that the self-authentication of Scripture is immune from accusations of being a circular argument, but no foundational authority is.

  31. Shem,

    The Council of Nicaea had absolutely nothing to do with the formation of the Canon, you might be thinking about the Third Council of Carthage?

  32. Gundek, I know. That’s why I did not use the term self-authentication. Earlier, Christian, I think in the other thread, mentioned that the Spirit guides him to determine what is scripture. Its also what Shem seems to allude to.

  33. More and more, i see the scriptures as either mythical or philosophical. When they are mythical, such as in much of Genesis, I evaluate them based on what the symbolism and typology represents. This is generally how Jews interpret them. (Keep in mind to say that they are mythical does not say anything about what happened in history.) When I read the Gospels, I see the parables, and most of the events, as explicitly mythical, yet pointing to a truth beyond the text.

    When I read Paul, I see what he is saying in philosophical context. Some of what he says represents his cultural context (they are letters to churches, not philosophical treatises) but the thrust is using argument to analyze important questions and point to a truth beyond the text, i.e. salvation in Christ. Salvation in Christ is not precisely definable, but I think that Paul points to it, as well as the parables of the kingdom of heaven.

    So, for better or worse, when I look for understanding in the scriptures, I have abandoned any magical or historical view of the text and look only for the meaning.

    Of course this makes it hard to make the leap to full orthodoxy because accepting the historical claims of either LDS or creedal Christianity requires something more than merely looking for the meaning of the text, it requires assent to certain historical facts.

  34. Jared

    I don’t think history or theology rules out symbolism or typology. I also think there is a critical distinction between magical and supernatural.

  35. What is the distinction between magical and supernatural?

    My answer would be that the supernatural is anything that is beyond what we can grasp nature to be. Magic is a mythical method of explaining events that is not based in philosophy (especially the philosophy of science). Supernatural events will always lend themselves to magical/mythical explanations because philosophy can’t explain them.

  36. That begs the question, what is the difference between magic and prayer, righteousness, and forms of spirituality that invoke supernatural power?

    I suppose this comes down to what is the difference between satan and God. Still very mysterious to me.

  37. Perhaps that is what makes something scripture to me. The text points to the mysterious and hidden depths of God’s promise rather than the clear promises and payoffs of idolatry.

  38. Gundeck

    The burning of the bosom is simply the easiest way to put into words the profound influence of the spirit. When the Spirit communicates it does so primarily through a direct link to our spirit; a communication that is profound and so touching that it frequently produces a physical sensation. This is attested to by the disciples on the Road to Emaus (Luke 24: 32) when they say their heart burned within them. These disciples declared they should have recognized Christ because his spirit was strong enough to cause a physical sensation.
    I like this quote that explains it well. Elder S. Dilworth Young said: “If I am to receive revelation from the Lord, I must be in harmony with him by keeping his commandments. Then as needed, according to his wisdom, his word will come into my mind through my thoughts, accompanied by a feeling in the region of my bosom. It is a feeling which cannot be described, but the nearest word we have is ‘burn’ or ‘burning.’ Accompanying this always is a feeling of peace, a further witness that what one heard is right.” (“The Still Small Voice,” Ensign, May 1976, p. 23.)

    And sorry about the bad reference to the council. I haven’t quite gotten them all straightened out in my head yet.

    Cowboy

    While I would say the spirit guides, I would emphasize the word guides. The Spirit, in my experience, does not simply tell one something very often, but rather prompts and guides them until that have arrived at the truth.
    Personally, when I would to determine if something is scripture I first consider the source. There are people that I accept as prophets, and when those people speak in their calling I will generally accept what they say as scripture. As such, I have always considered the Ensign magazine (at least those parts written by the General Authorities) to be scripture, especially the conference editions. Books that are directly commissioned by the church, such as “Jesus the Christ” I would also call scripture.
    I am very hesitant to call scripture what is spoken in local meetings, though I frequently feel the spirit in connection with it.

  39. Shem,

    I don’t think anyone would dispute that a visit from the risen Lord would cause a strong emotional response, but I am thinking a little more on the lines of 1 Cor 2:10 ff. or Isa 59:21.

    Why hasn’t the LDS Church added The Shepherd of Hermas or the Epistle of Barnabas to their canon?

  40. Gundeck

    I didn’t say emotional, I said physical. It is a spiritual communication that causes a physical sensation. The emotional aspect would be the feeling of peace, not the burning.

    Now, I am also talking about 1 Corinthians 2: 10 and Isaiah 59: 21. These things are known through a communication of the Spirit, but are still frequently accompanied by the physical sensation that is described as burning. The things of God can only be known through the Spirit, and one that has the Spirit doesn’t simply know them. They still must seek them out, and when they find them they recognize them through that communication of the Spirit.
    Remember that the idea of burning is simply the best word we have to describe something far more glorious.

    As to the Shepherd of Hermas and the Epistle of Barnabus, they would fall into the category of Apocryphal works. Of this God has said
    “Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you concerning the Apocrypha—There are many things contained therein that are true, and it is mostly translated correctly; There are many things contained therein that are not true, which are interpolations by the hands of men. Verily, I say unto you, that it is not needful that the Apocrypha should be translated. Therefore, whoso readeth it, let him understand, for the Spirit manifesteth truth; And whoso is enlightened by the Spirit shall obtain benefit therefrom; And whoso receiveth not by the Spirit, cannot be benefited. Therefore it is not needful that it should be translated. Amen.” (D&C 93)

    In other words the church as a whole doesn’t need them, but if individuals wish to read them they can gain great benefits, as long as they have the spirit to guide them.

  41. Shem,

    You didn’t say emotional Luke did.

    The Shepherd of Hermas and the Epistle of Barnabus are not part of the Apocrypha.

  42. “Earlier, Christian, I think in the other thread, mentioned that the Spirit guides him to determine what is scripture.”

    Let me be clear that:

    A. Every year I attempt to read/listen to the Protestant Bible in its entirety.
    B. I do this because I am open to the idea that there are hidden truths everywhere in the text. It may take my entire life to see something in a verse that I’ve read many times. I have that hope.
    C. I can’t even tell you right now which parts of the Bible I find worthy of being scripture. Its a continual process.
    D. I also personally believe that big chunks of the Bible (including parts of the Gospels) are not historical. This does not make them necessarily untrue or dishonest in my opinion
    E. Overall I’m just opposed to the idea of Biblical infallibility in principle. I don’t start with that premise. I still find the 66 books worthy of deep reflection and study.

    “A problem I have with leaving the determination of scripture to personal experience is that it makes the individual stronger than anything else. If it is a purely individual and private thing, whose to criticize anyone else for believing anything? If it is an individual and private thing, one can determine ultimate truth for themselves, apart from reality.”

    I like this comment and most of the rest. You mentioned this as “self serving” when I posed it and I would reply that every attempt to define scripture is self serving – or without objectivity. BUT, I will say that having *consensus* is very powerful and is basically the only difference between my approach and the men who gave the their particular version of the Bible. They to were serving a very specific goal. The Reformers going back to the Hebrew text of the Tanakh is a perfect example of this. And that even was not that long ago in the grand scheme of Christianity.

  43. Slowcowboy – I really fail to see how the “externalities” as you call them help make the Bible a divine text. How does an archeology find identifying the city of Capernaum tell us anything about whether Jesus was the Son of God? Or whether he was resurrected? How does the fact that there was a city in Corinth tell us whether Paul’s epistles to the Corinthian saints represented the word of God?

    Many of the geographic locations described in the Iliad have been confirmed through archeology. Does that mean we should worship Zeus or any other Greek deity?

    All that archeology and other historical finds can do is confirm that (at least in some cases) the geographic locations actually existed and/or that some of the individuals may have actually been real people. In many places in the Bible, such confirmation does not exist. In other places, the Bible actually contradicts the surrounding historical record. Regardless, none of it ever actually confirms any of the spiritual value of the text.

  44. JT, it doesn’t, and I said that. The finds don’t make anything true about a book spiritually. I don’t deny that in the slightest. What the finds do, however, is validate the book as a credible document. Its not some fiction made up without a basis in reality. Doesn’t prove God or Christ or anything besides showing that there really was a House of David, for instance, but personally, I find a book with that historical accuracy more credible on the spiritual matters than one with no historical fact.

  45. Slowcowboy – I see the veiled point you are trying to make, and I think it is misguided on both fronts (re: both the Bible and the BofM).

  46. but personally, I find a book with that historical accuracy more credible on the spiritual matters than one with no historical fact.

    Sure, but “historical accuracy” in the modern sense has so little to do with the Bible that this simply looks like partisan wishful thinking to make the claim that it is a documentary account of historical facts.

  47. How so? While true there is much to be discovered, much has been discovered, and despite attempts to destroy the ‘myth’ of God by showing the historical accounts to be fiction, they continue to support the Biblical narrative with their finds.

    Contrast that with the BoM and other religious books.

    Now, I submit that a spiritual truth need not be contained in a historical truth. I just believe historical accuracy supports the credibility of the truth.

  48. SC – I recommend picking up an introductory college textbook on the OT and NT that covers the historical background of each from a secular perspective (e.g, this or this – both published by Oxford University Press). The argument is not as cut and dry as you make it out to be.

    Don’t get me wrong – I personally believe the Bible to be mostly historically accurate – more so than most Biblical scholars. I just think that it is incorrect to presume that the Bible has the secular historical high ground as far as religious texts go.

  49. You beg the question: which book may be equal to or better than the Bible? I ask not to get into peeing match or anything like that, but sincerely want to know your thoughts on the question.

  50. 1. The wording of this question puzzles me. I will answer it omitting the word “always”, and say that the authority of scripture must depend on things outside scripture, otherwise its authority is circular. Of course its authority depends on its being God’s word, but how we know which writings are God’s word and which are not, has to depend on some earthly authority — and by “authority” I mean someone authorized by God.

    2. The authority of scripture depends on its being inspired. But again, how we know it’s inspired can only be from a source authorized by God to say that it is.

    3. The basis is its being inspired.

    4. I don’t know of a simple answer to this question. Some parts are obviously more important than others, i.e. the parts that tell us how to be saved are more important than the parts that tell us what someone was wearing or how many cubits long something was. But I don’t know of a simple rule that can be applied to all of scripture in order to determine which parts are more important than others.

  51. Gundeck

    I would disagree with your perception of Luke’s account, as I think he is describing a physical sensation, but that is a matter of interpretation.
    As to the Shepherd of Hermas and the Epistle of Barnabus, I never once said they were in the Apocrypha. I said they were Apocryphal, which is different. An Apocryphal work is one whose origin is in question. This includes many books, epistles, gospels, and other writings from both the ancient Jews and early Christians. The Apocrypha is a collection of such works that was included with the Jewish scriptures, and thus adopted by the Christians. No such collection exists for apocryphal work of the Christian era, but these books are still apocryphal in nature.

  52. Ah, the D&C. Care to expand, JT?

    I understand the D&C to be fairly narrow in its historical scope and geographic area, so do you have anything to suggest it is reliable on a broad scale, besides its spiritual ‘revelations’?

  53. SC – I think the first thing to remember is that the Bible isn’t one book. It is an anthology of (66?)(73?)(80?) books from various authors, genres, cultures, and (as many scholars would argue) theologies that were compiled at a much later date. It is no more a single book than the whole of the Mormon canon is a single book, and is probably more comparable to the Norton Anthology of World Literature you read in college (with a dose of what we believe to be extra-biblical inspiration in its compilation). Some of the books of the Bible fit well into a secular historical framework; some do not. Do we discard or put on the shelf those books with less historical backing?

    Your argument seems to be that the Bible as a whole holds more water than other religious books because it references geographies and people that have a basis in our current secular historical understanding. As it turns out, so does the Doctrine & Covenants. In fact, it is much more historically substantiated. From a secular historical perspective, it is almost indisputable that Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Brigham Young, and the other 100+ people mentioned were in fact real people, and historical excavations of Palmyra, Kirtland, Independence, and Nauvoo and other mentioned locations across the country all confirm that they were real cities and are consistent with the text of the revelations. However, I am well aware that these historical confirmations do little to convince others of the truthfulness of Mormonism. Nor should they.

    As for your question, I would ask that you direct it at any individual book in the Bible. E.g., “do you have anything to suggest [Paul’s epistle to the Romans] is reliable on a broad scale, besides its spiritual ‘revelations’?” Interestingly, those books in the Bible that cover the widest swath of history (e.g., Genesis, 1&2 Chronicles) are the most disputed from a secular historical perspective.

  54. Ah, but JT, the D&C was put together, what about 170 years ago, and was done real time? Further, you have to put it with the Book of Mormon, which is anything but historically reliable, because the D&C does not stand alone in Mormon scripture. How long ago were the books of the Bible written? Were they recorded real time? Yet, it retains a very impressive record for its historical accuracy. For the books that were written as literature, as perhaps Song of Solomon, it reflects accurate traditions and customs of the times.

    But you seem to mistake my position on these realities such that I think the historical accuracy PROVES the Bible. It does not. It is only one tool to suggest the spiritual claims of God are also true. However, the connection is not a necessary one, and something can be historically true and spiritually wrong.

    So, your use of the D&C would fail at this level. We can certainly get into that analysis, but suffice to make my point is that there is a consistent story of God and narrative of his peoples and promises within the Canon that the D&C disrupts.

    I have no doubt you disagree with this statement, but alas.

    My position on the accuracy and authority of the Bible derives from more than just one piece of evidence, which alone are not very strong positions. All together form a solid argument that the Bible is more than a man-made compilation of stories.

  55. “the D&C was put together, what about 170 years ago, and was done real time?” So the epistles of Paul are out then? Or do we just need to wait longer before we can canonize the D&C? Not sure why proximity in time is relevant. Plus you’re now moving the goal posts.

    “Further, you have to put it with the Book of Mormon, which is anything but historically reliable, because the D&C does not stand alone in Mormon scripture.” So because Genesis, or even the rest of the Pentateuch, is not historically reliable (from a secular perspective), do we throw out the rest of the Bible?

    “How long ago were the books of the Bible written?” Relevance? Were the NT books not scripture until they were sufficiently old?

    “Were they recorded real time?” Some (epistles of Paul), yes. Others (gospels, Pentateuch), probably not. For most, we don’t know exactly how the text was developed or even who developed it. Again, relevance?

    “Yet, it retains a very impressive record for its historical accuracy.” Again, I would recommend reading a quality text that treats the OT and NT from a secular historical perspective (such as the 2 I recommended earlier published by Oxford University Press). Based on your comments, I don’t think you are currently in a position to be credibly making this point.

    “But you seem to mistake my position on these realities such that I think the historical accuracy PROVES the Bible. It does not. It is only one tool to suggest the spiritual claims of God are also true.” Doesn’t prove, but is persuasive. Is that what you are saying? If you are saying that it’s easier to believe something that takes place in a historically known setting, I can agree with this. But I don’t think that it means that the thing in the currently unknown setting is necessarily false or even less accurate. If you believe that, then you should probably tear out some of the books out of your Bible.

    “So, your use of the D&C would fail at this level.” What level/standard are you referring to? If age and proximity are the standards you are referring to, those have already been addressed above.

    “but suffice to make my point is that there is a consistent story of God and narrative of his peoples and promises within the Canon that the D&C disrupts.” Most biblical scholars would disagree with your “consistent story of God and narrative of his peoples and promises” assertion. I, however, personally believe that there is a consistent story as you suggest, but without an ending timestamp – thus making the D&C consistent with that story, rather than disrupting it. Speaking of which, how can the D&C disrupt a story that has supposedly already ended?

    In short, it’s nice that there is a secular historical framework that the Bible sometimes fits into. In the end, however, I don’t think it is very relevant in a discussion of whether it should be scripture.

  56. This has officially devolved into the peeing match you wanted to avoid. 🙂 I don’t expect you to respond to everything, and I won’t think that you are ceding anything if you don’t respond. It’s been nice chatting with you.

    All the best,
    JT

  57. JT, I am trying not to sound condescending here, but I am not surprised you don’t get the argument.

    As to the historical basis being persuasive, yup. As to that proving a thing, nope. But the thing is that we have internal standards by which to guide our discussion of later teachings and whether they are of God, let alone scripture. Paul tells the Galatians that if you believe a teaching other than the one he taught, you are a fool and to be cursed. Several times we are told to check scripture to see if it is in line with what was taught previously. On and on we can go.

    While I agree that God can still teach us new things today, these new things must be consistent with the old. LDS teachings are not consistent with the old, and therefore cannot be considered of God or scripture.

    So, the D&C, while it may be historically accurate, fails to be a reliable book. I don’t know the scholars you reference, but referencing scholars is a common tact by Mormons. Sure, there are those who exist who raise all sorts of questions about the Bible, but there are also those who agree with what I am saying. Your appeal to authority is not convincing.

    Defining Christian scripture is more than history. Its more than spiritual truths. Its more than prophecy and consistency of message. Its all of it put together. Not one single aspect necessarily proves what is and what is not scripture. I view it as a conglomeration of the whole of circumstances.

  58. I actually do enjoy such discussions, and sometimes have a hard time knowing when to leave well enough alone. A final word on my position, that you can accept or disregard or pee on: the Bible stands above every other supposed spiritual book on all levels, and that is what makes it compelling.

    Anyway, enjoy your day!

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