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I recently read an article that claimed evangelicals were dividing into two camps, one that saw the Bible as the ultimate authority and one that saw Jesus as the ultimate authority. Supposedly the Bible oriented evangelicals were social conservatives and the Jesus oriented evangelicals were social progressives. But I ask, why do we have to choose between the two? Indeed I would argue that if you choose one you must accept the other.

1st what does the Bible say about its relationship to Jesus? In Luke 24:44-46 it says that all the Scriptures were written about Jesus. Therefore to really honor the Bible one must interpret it Christocentrically because that is what the Bible teaches.

2nd, what does Jesus say about the Bible? In Matthew 5:17-19 he says not one letter of it will pass away until heaven and earth pass away. NT scholar John Wenham wrote a book called Jesus and the Bible in which he showed Jesus’ view of Scripture was extremely high, very much like the view traditional Christians have always held. Therefore if one wants to honor Jesus, one must hold the Bible to be the Word of God, the highest authority for faith and life, because that is how Jesus viewed it.

Therefore, we have been presented with a false dichotomy. One doesn’t have to choose between Jesus and the Bible as our ultimate authority. If you choose Jesus, you must also choose the Bible because Jesus held the Bible in the highest regard. If one chooses the Bible, one must also choose Jesus for the Bible says Jesus is the true subject of the Bible.

How has this false dichotomy developed. 1st, some Christians have wanted to treat the Bible as a rule book for self-salvation or social control and power. They don’t want to see the Bible as primarily the story of God’s grace and salvation. If the latter is true, all human righteousness is a failure and one must be radically dependent on God’s mercy for salvation. Then the Bible’s chief purpose is to expose our sinfulness and drive us to Christ. It’s not a means of boosting our self worth or enabling us to achieve material/social greatness or determining who the good people and who the bad people are. Interpreting the Bible Christocentrically keeps our own sin and the greatest of God’s salvation in Christ ever before us.

2ndly, some Christians have wanted to drive a wedge between Jesus and the Bible because they don’t like some of the things the Bible teaches. By saying they follow Jesus, not the Bible, they can feel free to reject anything in the Bible they find difficult. The trouble is first, as noted above, that’s not how Jesus viewed the Bible and thus to reject it is to reject him. Secondly, if the Bible is untrustworthy as the authority of our faith in some areas, how do we know it is accurate in its account of Jesus. Perhaps the parts that are in error are all the passages about grace, mercy, love,  helping the poor, etc. To reject the Bible then, is to render Jesus unknowable because then we can all just pick and choose the parts of Jesus we like to make our own mini designer christs that contradict one another.

Though it be an affront to human pride, we must accept both Jesus and the Bible as equal authorities as Jesus is God and the Bible is God’s Word. All the Bible still applies to us regardless of how that much that makes it difficult for us to live in whatever culture we belong too. But the Bible must always be interpreted through the life, teachings and work of Christ which slays our self-righteousness and makes us humble.

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4 thoughts on “Is the Bible or Jesus Our Ultimate Authority? Yes

  1. Indeed the Bible must be interpreted through the teachings of Jesus. Thus in Mk. 7:19 it says Jesus declared all foods clean (doing away with all the food laws in the Old Testament). So Jesus is the ultimate authority on this subject, over against the O.T.

    Even in a passage like Mt. 5:17-20 (about Jesus fulfilling, not destroying, the law of Moses), 5:21-48 shows that the fulfillment changed some laws (like an eye for an eye). These teachings of Jesus are about how his disciples should live (in his new covenant).

    • Thanks for reading and thanks for your thoughtful comments. I don’t think we are to far apart practically, but I might phrase things a little differently. I think the OT food laws still apply to us in Jesus, but what that means is the spiritual point still applies while the ceremony has passed away. The spiritual point is that we are to be different from the world, but now we practice that with moral principles, not ceremonies. The ceremonies (don’t eat certain foods) were training wheels that OT believers had to teach them (and us through them) to follow God even when that puts us in conflict the cultures that surround us. Under the new covenant in Jesus, the training wheels have been removed (food laws done away with), but spiritually we must still be different morally and spiritually. Since Jesus is the Word of God, the OT (God’s Word) was given to us through him and it still applies to us. But in redemptive history it contains many ceremonies that were just given for a short time to be object lessons. Those ceremonies he did away with when he came to do his great work, but the spiritual point behind them still applies.

      As for the Matthew 5 passage, Jesus is not annulling the OT, but giving an alternative interpretation of it from those of the rabbis and teachers of the Law. He never says, “it is written and I am doing away with it.” He says, “you have heard it said.” That is, “you have heard the following interpretation, but I am going to give you the true interpretation”. Matthew 5 is not about Jesus doing away with the OT but presenting Jesus as the true Rabbi who gives its correct interpretation (as opposed to the false teaching of the scribes and Pharisees.) Part of Jesus fulfilling the Law is his giving us its true meaning. It still applies to us through his interpretive grid.

      As I said, I don’t think we are too far away from one another theologically. My post is addressing those who say we can ignore, for instance, biblical sexual ethics, because the love and grace of Jesus is what counts, not anything else in the Bible.

  2. Jesus did continue the O.T. view of adultery as a sin (as well as fornication), and in Mt. 5:27-28 interpreted adultery more fully in terms of impure thoughts and designs. In Mt. 5:38-43, where he speaks of the O.T. law about “an eye for an eye,” he is not just giving a new or true interpretation; he is saying no more revenge or punishment (as far as what his disciples in his new kingdom should do).

  3. We will just have to agree to disagree. I don’t think Jesus would do in Mt 5:38-43 what he said we shouldn’t do in Mt 5:17-20 — ie do away with part of the law. Also, he would have said “it is written” instead of “you have heard it said” if he was talking about what the Scripture said. Instead he is talking about how that verse was being misinterpreted in his day. He is saying the purpose of that verse originally was to limit revenge, not encourage it, which is how the teachers of his day were interpreting it. Peace in Jesus. Thanks for the dialog.

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