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.