December 5, 2020

Another Look: My View of Scripture (updated)

Bible. Photo by

Bible. Photo by

Here is another look at something I wrote back in 2011. I present again, for your consideration and discussion, a summary of my perspective on Scripture (at this point in my understanding). It has increased from ten points to eleven in five years, and has been updated in a few places.

  • The Bible is from God. It is one of the means by which God has made himself known to human beings. The various books of the Bible were composed and edited and put together under the mysterious method of “inspiration,” by which God worked mostly through normal human processes to communicate his message.
  • The Bible is incarnational. That is, it comes to us in fully human form, taking the words of people written in their own times, from within their own cultures, according to the genres and literary conventions common to their day, and within the confines of their own limited perspectives, to communicate God’s message.
  • The Bible involves a complex conversation of faith over time. The Bible contains multiple voices, a diversity of narrative and theological perspectives, and a development of thought over time. For example, Joshua and Judges present two sides of the conquest of Canaan. Ecclesiastes and Job protest the wisdom tradition represented by a book like Proverbs, which even in its own pages presents several points of view. The “history” of Chronicles presents a different scenario of the same events than we see in the books of Kings. This diversity is only a problem if we expect the Bible to be something it is not—a timeless and perfectly consistent, always harmonizable record that is precise in every detail according to modern standards of accuracy.


  • The Bible came to us through the community of faith. Recognizing that there were human processes involved in the final editing and canonization of the Bible also highlights how God used people to bring the Bible as a final product to the world. The Hebrew Bible was put together mostly during and after the Babylonian exile. The church took nearly four centuries to complete the canonization process for the New Testament. Our understanding of the nature, authority, and message of Scripture must take these human processes into account as well.
  • The Bible is the church’s primary authority (Prima Scriptura). The fact that the church functioned for the first four centuries of its life without a complete Bible means that it cannot have sole authority apart from the church, the Holy Spirit, and the apostolic traditions (the “rule of faith”). For Protestants, at the very least this means we must make a fresh commitment to learning church history, the creeds, and the early Church Fathers for a fuller understanding and practice of the faith.
  • The Bible is true. “True” is a better way of describing the Bible than “inerrant” or “infallible” or any such words that grow out of modern categories. After all, what is an “inerrant” poem? An “infallible” story? The Bible is true because it tells the truth about God, the state of the world, human life and death, sin and salvation, wisdom and foolishness. But most of all because it tells the truth about the Truth himself and leads its readers to him.
  • The Bible is God’s story. Any individual passage or part of the Bible should be read and interpreted in the light of its big picture, its overall pattern and message. This is the point of having a biblical “canon” — an accepted “library” of inspired books that have been recognized to work together to communicate a divine message. The final form of the Bible tells a “Christotelic” story. From “in the beginning” to “in the end of days” the story constantly develops and moves forward to its culmination in Christ and the new creation. This story must always determine our emphases when interpreting its message.
  • The Bible’s central focus is Jesus. The apostles testify that Jesus taught them to see that the purpose of the Torah, Prophets, and Writings is to point to him and his good news, which restores God’s blessing to all creation. The New Testament, of course, tells Jesus’ story and accounts of the apostolic community that experienced and spread his good news. The Bible is not God’s final word, but is rather a primary witness to Jesus, God’s final Word.
  • The Bible does not contain every detail of God’s will for his people’s lives. In the Bible, God gives adequate instructions to guide his people to practice lives of love for God and neighbor. On the other hand, God expects that many implications of the Gospel will be worked out only over the course of time, in and through (and despite!) his people, until the consummation of the age. The Bible is not a “handbook” for living, with detailed instructions for every aspect of life. The Bible is not “sufficient” to answer all of life’s questions. It was not designed to do that, and we risk becoming pharisaical if we try to maintain that opinion.
  • The Bible must be interpreted and constantly reinterpreted. No one simply “believes what the Bible teaches.” People have put together any number of “statements of faith” and doctrinal statements over the course of history, claiming to represent “what the Bible teaches,” and they do not all agree. This should give us pause. Interpreting the Bible means participating in complex conversations and debates akin to the conversations within the scriptures themselves. Furthermore, as human knowledge grows and we understand facts of history and science, etc., more fully, our approach to the ancient writings in the Bible will change too. This does not mean we are ceding “authority” to human disciplines over the Bible itself. It simply reflects the reality of increasing knowledge and the ongoing task of seeking deeper wisdom.
  • The Bible doesn’t need me or anyone else to defend it. Christians do not need to prove that the Bible is a perfect book, free from “error” (as we define it today) in every way in order to have a secure faith or to present a case for Christ to the world. We need a credible, reliable witness that is self-attesting in its divine truthfulness, beauty, and power. This we have in the Bible.

• • •

Photo by at Flickr. Creative Commons License


  1. I’m heading back towards the ancient church. I find it really hard that protestants have such differing views of God & how he works in the world – some beautiful, some hideous. I need more than I have to help me settle on which one is the truest picture of God, so I feel like I’m heading into the arms of the orthodox classical Christian consensus to find a home from which to start again with Prima but not Sola Scriptura.

    • Call it what you will – “maturity”, cynicism, hypercriticality – but I am now convinced that there is no “truest” Christian denomination/tradition. I think each denomination/tradition sees and reflects some aspect of God better than others, and each has deep flaws. It’s a question, if we have a choice in the matter, of which one we can best serve, which one will teach us what we need to know, and which one has flaws we can live with.

      • Rick Ro. says

        Yep Totally agree.

      • Do you think there’s no ‘truer’ theological consensus? I don’t mean in every detail, but in the important stuff? How else do you sort between differing pictures of God & what he’s up to, who he loves & so on?

        • I think the ‘true’ consensus lies in the three ecumenical creeds (Apostles’, Nicean, Athanasian) – as you say, the important stuff. I think the only other criteria for sorting between differing pictures of God is how well they reflect on the life and work of Jesus. Too much beyond that, and you end up elevating your own cultural distinctives as co-equal to (or worse, indistinguishable from) the rest of Christian theology.

          • Robert F says

            Eeyore, The Eastern Orthodox Church does not use the Apostles’ Creed, and the Athanasian Creed is not very popular with the Orthodox either. I guess we have to build consensus on the Nicene alone.

          • There is nothing in the Apostles Creed that isn’t covered in greater depth in the Nicean Creed, so no big deal there (and I flat out refuse to get sucked into the whole ‘filioque clause’ nonsense). As for the Athanasian Creed, I didn’t find any eastern sources repudiating it even if it is rarely used (and is also rarely used in the West too). So what’s the objection?

          • Robert F says

            It’s not an objection; but the consensus you talk about is built essentially on the Nicene Creed. That’s what I said.

            But none of the Creeds mentions Holy Communion, which I would think would have to be part of any consensus, because it’s very “important stuff”. Nor do they mention Baptism, which again seems like it would have to be part of any consensus. Do you disagree?

          • Important, yes, but also far more likely to start fights. Do we sprinkle, dip or dunk? Kids or no kids? Open or closed communion? Leavened bread or unleavened? Wine or grape juice? How often?

            It does also raise the question of why the early church chose not to explicitly mention the sacraments in the Creeds…

          • Robert F says

            Well, the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds were written to address theological controversies that were occurring at the time; they were not meant to provide a comprehensive and exhaustive base line of beliefs that one had to meet to be considered Christian. When we use them that way, we are anachronistically projecting our contemporary concerns onto the Church Fathers, who had quite different concerns when composing the Creeds.

            I don’t think the Apostles’ Creed was meant as a comprehensive expression of belief, either; remember that it was used by the early Church at Baptism, so the concurrent enactment of the sacrament alongside the profession of the Creed would indicate that both are equally important to basic Christian belief. Remember too that the first thing done immediately after Baptism of an adult, or infant old enough to eat food, in the ancient Church was participation in Holy Communion. The Apostles’ Creed was intimately related to both Sacraments: the Creed led into Baptism, and Baptism led into the Eucharist, all in the same rite and one following immediately on the other.

    • Robert F says

      God bless you on your journey into the ancient church. If it’s the right place for you, I hope that God makes your path to it straight, and your time in it good and pleasant.

      But I grew up Roman Catholic, and currently spend some time among Catholics, though I’ve been Protestant for some time now, and I can tell you this: Among Roman Catholics, clergy and laity alike, there are many very differing views of God, and how he works in the world. Oh, you may be able to distill a doctrinal orthodoxy if you study real hard, and select carefully from your studies what seems right to you, but you will always find others who consider themselves orthodox and disagree with you, and you will always have to choose.

      Whatever views you hold, what will be most important from the institutional perspective is formal obedience to Roman authority. As long as you don’t openly challenge the authority of the Magisterium in a public way, and as long as you obey certain rules, you will be left alone to believe what your conscience tells you that you should. You will belong to a large and old communion with a worldwide membership and institution; that is a good and wonderful. But you should not imagine that belonging to it will relieve you of the subjective anxiety and weight of making your own choices among a wide array of possibilities in terms of belief; in this, you will be no different than a Protestant, though you will be in a bigger “house”, with some more non-negotiable rules for belonging.

      • Robert F says

        Even the number of rules that one must obey to be Catholic, and the definition of what constitutes obedience, differs among recognized Roman Catholic theologians, so you’ll have to make your own informed decision about what these are. What you will not be allowed to do is publicly challenge the authority of the Magisterium by presenting teaching different from its own in certain areas, specifically teaching regarding its own authority, and teaching regarding human sexuality.

        The advantages of belonging to an old and relatively stable worldwide communion and institution are considerable, but they are mostly institutional, and can be illusory. None of this will give you an epistemological advantage over any Protestant. We are all in the same boat with regard to matters of certitude.

      • Burro [Mule] says

        There are ways to be catholic that don’t involve obedience to Rome, but you can’t do it by ingesting the sad medicine of relativism and despair.

        There are things about Christ you will never know if all you have is the Bible, an epistemology of doubt, and a do-it-yourself attitude. You need communion with the Church Catholic spread across space and time.

        Christ loves mankind, and He will not allow those who truly thirst after Him to go unslaked. The astounding thing is that He even saves, to a degree, [to the uttermost? dare I believe it?] slackers and dilettantes like me.

        • Robert F says

          Those of us who do not find the institutional claims of Rome or Orthodoxy convincing, regarding either their authority or uniformity with the church across the ages, have no choice but to remain Protestant, in one way or another.

          • Burro [Mule] says

            There are also the Copts. There is a lot of semper ubique et ab omnibus among what you call Protestants, such as Miguel’s brand of Lutheranism or the continuing Anglicans. A chivalrous veneration of our Lord’s mother seems to be a touchstone of real small-c catholicism. Not that our Lady is the be-all and end-all of catholicism, but denying her her true honor, or being niggardly and stingy with her due praise gets you all bound up with matters of the Incarnation and propels you towards a kind of semi-Gnosticism and what HUG calls “puffy cloud heaven”.

            It was not the institutional claims of Orthodoxy that convinced me, but the presence of our Lord the Spirit. I’m not ready for an institution yet.

          • Christiane says

            Hi BURRO,
            thanks for mentioning the Coptic Christians . . . one of the earliest Christian communities to form was in Egypt . . . I hope people will not forget the courage of the Coptic martyrs who died for their faith in Christ at the hands of ISIS. These were workers who had come for employment, but were rounded up as Christians and beheaded.
            The Coptic martyrs come from a faith that professes Christ with these words prior to the reading of the Holy Gospel in their liturgical worship in community:

            “. . . You are the Life of us all, the Salvation of us all, the Hope of us all, the Healing of us all, and the Resurrection of us all.”

            At the moment of their death when the martyrs called on Jesus for help, it was not their first acknowledgement of Christ as Lord.

          • Robert F says

            Mule, Let me preface this by saying that I don’t want anything I’m saying now to dishonor anyone’s search for or understanding of God, or the path they feel called to in following Christ.

            I’m content to be described as semi-Gnostic, if by Gnostic you mean having a tendency toward a spiritualized understanding of Christian faith, and an aversion to locating much authority in institutional Christianity. If by Gnostic you are referring to the historical characteristic of thinking that one must have access to a special knowledge to attain salvation, then I’m not Gnostic in the least; you may be more Gnostic in this sense than I am, since I believe that redemption is universal, and is rooted in relationship that cannot be quantified and cannot be secured by beliefs or practices.

            I’m afraid the I just have no great appreciation for Mary, nor do I have anything against her. For me, the sacred feminine is in God’s identity; I feel no need to aver confidence in the historical reliability of the traditions surrounding Mary, anymore than I do in the Saints. So if you want to put me in your cubbyhole definition of semi-Gnostic, go right ahead. I have no problem with that.

      • Hmm, I don’t remember mentioning the Catholic church. I was thinking more of the ancient creeds, the early church, the Orthodox church & classical Christian consensus that people such as Thomas Oden point to in his work. There is definitely a set of received beliefs regarding central issues that appeared early on, & from which other things have diverged. I find the God of the Orthodox to be kind & good in ways later determinist Gods are not. I also find the aspect of continuity important.

        (Although I was christened & confirmed Catholic & would just need one really long confession to be back in the bosom of Rome.)

        • Dana Ames says


          I too was brought up Catholic, and it would have been very easy for me to revert, also with a very long confession, after +30 years as a Protestant. I too was on a journey toward ” the ancient creeds, the early church, the Orthodox church & classical Christian consensus that people such as Thomas Oden point to in his work.” I didn’t know when I started out that after about 6 years it would be the Orthodox Church that would begin to come into focus, and that a couple of years later I would end up (figuratively) pounding on the doors, begging to be received. The biggest impetus for me was finding an organically coherent theology pointing to a God who is truly Good and Loves Mankind; I have not found that anywhere else.

          May our good Lord help you along the way. One of His biggest helps for me was Fr Stephen 🙂


          • Thanks so much Dana. I just have to find a way forward from being scared of who God may be, all the time. (Doesn’t help I’m off with depression, even so this has always been an issue for me within protestant circles). It was clicking on Father Stephen on here, randomly, that started me off on this…I then read an article on orthodox theology which seemed so familiar, so like the CS Lewis books I had read & agreed with. It just seemed at once so familiar & so strange to read about a God so positive towards humanity & all of creation. So it’s worth starting there, with the theology of the early church & only moving on if I feel there’s a need .

            What’s it like being a woman in the Orthodox Church?

          • Dana Ames says

            That was one of the 2 truly difficult things I had to work through. The short answer is, it’s good – so much better than in the conservative Protestant world.

            The long answer revolves around several things:
            -living in the US as opposed to “the old country”,
            -Orthodoxy seeing women as fully human and honoring women as apostles, teachers, academics, lay leaders, etc, every bit as much as men,
            -Orthodox anthropology mitigating the bad effects of abuse of ordained status by males (yes, it happens) and cultural gender essentialism that can rear its head,
            -the particular Orthodox focus on Christ as The First Truly Human Being, and how that ultimately doesn’t have to do with male vs female. Ft John Behr was a big help for me with the latter, after I read & listened to him on this a few times.

            Depression is not an issue in the Orthodox Church – that is, it’s no more of an issue than anything else. Everyone suffers – that seems to be a surprise for a lot of people, but is no surprise in EO.

            I found this recently, better articulated than I could have expressed at the time, but sort of ideal was what impelled me toward the ancient Church:

            Email me at ldames at pacific dot net if you want to talk in more detail.


        • Robert F says

          My apologies. I said things uncalled for; it would have been enough to wish you well along your way. I’m afraid my knee-jerk reaction kicked in, and then I didn’t step back for perspective. My negative experience with Catholicism is mine, and it’s wrong to project it as the likely outcome for other people.

          I think the violence of my reaction to this particular subject is rooted in irrational fear, fear that the mainlines I frequent will dissolve, or change under me into something I cannot live with, and I will be left out here in an empty wilderness, since neither becoming evangelical nor reverting to Catholicism (or becoming Orthodox) are possible for me and my wife. I’m sure I’ll die before my fear could be realized, so it’s totally irrational; but even if it wasn’t, it would be wrong to bid you anything but good tidings on your journey; certainly it’s wrong to warn you of the pitfalls you might meet.

          My apologies.

          • Danielle says

            The possible direction and fate of the mainlines weighs on me too. Whatever the shifts and fortunes of the American mainlines turns out to be, I certainly hope it will not be a collapse, as some like to predict; the mainline is where I’ve managed to find a place to practice, and arrive at some measure of peace, and hold onto faith and conscience at the same time. I’d be rather heartsick if this particular section of the religious landscape were to evaporate.

          • Thanks Robert, I was a bit thrown by your responses & I appreciate your reflection on them. For me it is about finding a space to think about a God who I have found disablingly scary at times. I think it’d just be very peaceful to be amongst, even just intellectually, those who have always believed Jesus loves every person in humanity, & wants all to be saved by him, & have never swerved off into any of the shennanigans of later determinismic views that undercut that in so many ways. I want the confidence of the early church that whatever election means, it’s not that. It’s as simple as that really. I know I can love that God.

            But along those lines I also wish the best for you, & for you to be able to rest in God too.

    • Rick Ro. says

      Blessings to you, beaker. God is good, Jesus is GOOD News. Anything that takes you toward that (and away from something that isn’t that) will be a good journey for you.

      • Danielle says


        Beaker, you wrote, ” I just have to find a way forward from being scared of who God may be, all the time.” I did a great inward squirm when I read this, because I’m familiar with trying to live with and carry around that kind of feeling. Dread can be so paralyzing.

        I’m appending my comment to Rick’s, because his comment rings very true to me. Anything that offers hope and a picture of God’s goodness and love is a good thing. Peace to you in these coming days.

  2. A beautiful summary chaplain. Might I add that because His Word became flesh and His Word was always supposed to be understood through our redeemed flesh, His Spirit has used the church as a vessel to present His Word and interpret it. Ther is one Lord, one faith, one baptism and to be in union with Christ means a discipleship in line with those who handed on the faith, as in John 17. Our forefathers guarded the faith through a multistranded “net” of apostolic succession, episcopy, creeds, councils and monasticism. That was the context of the canons formation. Books that verified the unspoken tradition handed down, were in. They became “prima”, as they had a fuller account of the “rule of faith” already being lived out. As we develop societal thought & reinterpret the scriptures, one eye needs to remain on the patristic post Apostolic past.

  3. This piece is mainly aimed at Evangelicals and it’s a good one. I can no longer tolerate lectures on the Bible disguised as sermons, but this would make a good “teaching series” for those still in that comfort zone. At first I thought what took me about eleven minutes to read would make a nice eleven week teaching. I revised that as I thought it out to eleven months, it’s that much of a jump for a lot of people.

    My mind can’t handle eleven anythings, eggs, months, Apostles, it needs twelve. The twelfth teaching in my view should be on the Holy Spirit, which in my view most folks are as ignorant about as the Bible. Start the Bible teaching the Sunday after Pentecost and do that twelfth Holy Spirit part during Eastertime leading up to Pentecost. Leave time each week at the end for questions and comments. Have a fire extinguisher handy.

    On second thought, it would be a shame to confine this series to some little Baptist Church somewhere, it ought to be available as a book or on DVD’s, something actually worthwhile on the shelf of the Christian bookstore, tho likely banned along with Rob Bell and other radicals and heretics. Good work, CM, keep on truckin’!

    • Dana Ames says

      Good word, Charlie – you’re right about the fire extinguisher – made me laugh! But really, it is that much of a jump. I had to be prepared beforehand to even lift up my foot as the first movement…


  4. I accept many authorities outside of Scripture, but rather than calling it a primary authority, I believe it is the highest authority. It is the authority by which all other authorities are measured, the norm to which other norms conform. I believe the term “cannon” means “measuring stick,” and so the purpose of the Scriptures is not necessarily just to tell us everything true, but rather, to be a standard against which we measure other claims.

    When it comes to reinterpretation, I do not think the wheel of Christian theology needs to be reinvented by every generation (though I do recognize how this tends to happen to some extent). Rather that “reinterpreting,” I prefer to continue refining my understanding of the text, to dig deeper, and to be challenged by different perspectives. I’m very leery of the kind of dogmatic iconoclasm that insists that institutional dogma must be overturned. That’s usually how new religions are started.

    Generally speaking, sometimes a “new” interpretation is now what is needed at all, but rather, a return to an older one that was unfortunately forgotten. As you mention in your comment about engaging the past. I really don’t think the church has been completely wrong about something crucial for all of 2000 years, even if there is plenty of doctrinal disagreement. I’m giving tradition a strong hand here, and suggesting that “new interpretations” are often the problem, and the source of err that leads us astray. Our reason ought, IMO, to submit itself to the text and tradition. We should be skeptical of the power of our ulterior motives to lead us to justify what we’d rather believe, because we so often seek comfort over truth. Let the text speak first, and then the voice of the dead. Allow them to still our minds to receive that which our minds cannot achieve on its own. Only after these things have been rightly considered and meditated on should we endeavor to make sense of the text. Reason is the devil’s whore, and sometimes it is better to just let the Bible remain confusing than to force a resolution upon it that proceeds from our unchecked philosophical presuppositions. If the Bible is God speaking, he reserves the right to be not so easily understood by mortals.

    • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says

      Maybe. Saying that Scripture is the highest authority is really the same thing as saying that one’s tradition is the highest authority, because one is not apt to revere the dang an sich. That’s not a bad thing, but I get itchy and scratchy when people fail to recognize the epistemic implications of their dogma. Of course, I realize that any human claim to knowledge is ultimately recursive, but I have yet to experience anyone come to a pure, unmediated understanding of Scripture. So many claims that Scripture is authoritative in any severe way ends up being a post hoc ergo propter hoc.

      • but I have yet to experience anyone come to a pure, unmediated understanding of Scripture

        Except for Jesus, right? That God himself came to earth and taught us how to understand the OT is kind of an epistemological game changer.

        Sure, the rest of us are not Jesus. We will continually grow in our understanding. That doesn’t mean there is a level playing field between the things we make up (tradition), and the things we believe to be inspired and breathed out by God (scripture). The latter ought to drive and refine the former.

        It’s only post hoc if we treat it like the Steve Colbert character when he says “First of all, it’s not my logic, it’s God’s logic, as written in the Bible, every word of which is true. And we know every word is true because the Bible says that the Bible is true, and if you remember from earlier in this sentence, every word of the Bible is true.”

        There is a form of “sola scriptura” within Protestantism that only believes in Jesus because the Bible says so. In Lutheranism, we rather only take the Bible seriously because Jesus did. Christ, and not the Scriptures, is the basis for the “authority” of the Bible. And by authority, I don’t mean power, as the book itself makes no decisions. Rather, it is simply the place to which we can go where we know were are sure to find the true words of eternal life.

    • I accept many authorities outside of Scripture, but rather than calling it a primary authority, I believe it is the highest authority.

      We should talk sometime about “Biblical privilege”, or “protestant privilege” or something I’m unsure the correct term of. Similar to white privilege, there are a lot of things we take for granted.

      For instance, I place my education and reading comprehension level higher than that of Scripture. Why is that? Because it’s the unseen authority that allows Scripture to be an authority.

      “Well duh!” Well, no duh.

      It is the authority by which all other authorities are measured, the norm to which other norms conform.

      My dictionary, thesaurus, literature studies, Biblical historians, and more…would disagree. TBH, that line of thought, isolated in and of itself, is the root of KJV-Onlyism. I know you ain’t going there, but…it’s right there.

      • Robert F says

        StuartB. I’ve exited out the other side of believing that there is a stable human authority, either written or transmitted in tradition, that requires that all other norms conform to it. It doesn’t work for me; no norm has ever introduced itself to me in a way that compelled me to believe it was the authoritative measure.

      • Dana Ames says

        The whole Authority thing (esp as regards written authority) is a late medieval/Renaissance development in Western thought, fueled by the advent of the printing press, and taken into the conceptual center of the Reformation. The Eastern Church didn’t have that kind of discussion viz Scripture – it knew from the beginning that it wasn’t a matter of authority, but rather of – da-da-da-dah! –


        Not simply of the written word, but even more so of who Jesus is and the Meaning of the Cross & Resurrection, esp with relation to the OT. Remember, the NT documents did not exist in the first 30 or so years of the Church. Which interpretation coalesced in those first decades? Read the Apostoic Fathers, the writings of Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus’ “Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching” to find out – all set down within the first 150 years ad, and with I. having known Polycarp, stretching back into C1 even from that distance.

        But be aware that if you take seriously Ch Mike’s point “For Protestants, at the very least this means we must make a fresh commitment to learning church history, the creeds, and the early Church Fathers for a fuller understanding and practice of the faith,” you may end up quite “high” on the liturgical ladder…


        • Robert F says

          But doesn’t that mean that in the East, interpretation became authoritative, Dana? How does that change the basic terms? You say that for the Eastern Church it wasn’t a matter of authority, but rather of interpretation; but it seems like for the Eastern Church it’s a matter of an interpretation that became authoritative. You’re still dealing with authority.

          • Dana Ames says

            The interpretation can be described as “authoritative”, yes, but not in the same way. The interpretation came about, in the first years, because of questions people were asking in the face of the witness of people (martyrs and others) who had an encounter with the living Christ, not because a certain body of people declared specific dogma first. In fact, there really is not a lot of dogma or other legal-type writing. Unlike the Catholic Church, Orthodoxy doesn’t have multiple volumes of canon law, and there wasn’t even a catechism written until the 1700s (I think); we still don’t have one formal catechism for everyone. Our Canons would fill one medium-sized volume, and they are not considered to be the most important writings, but rather addressing “housekeeping” sorts of issues..

            What we do have, though, is about 30 books that contain prayers and hymns (liturgical poetry), including many direct quotes from Scripture and even more scriptural allusions, that are chanted in the yearly, monthly, weekly and daily cycles of worship. The Psalms feature prominently and many are considered as prophecy as well as hymnography. In that worship literature, we hear certain things over and over and over; those things are the dogmatic expressions of the Church, the interpretation of Scripture that was given by Christ Himself in the days following the Resurrection, and then illumined by the HS on and immediately after Pentecost:

            God is good and loves mankind (as a whole). including every person.
            God is Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
            Jesus is both God and Man.
            God through Christ has rescued humanity from death, has united us (and all creation) to himself, and has made available to us his very Spirit so that we can keep turning to him and little by little come to live as the loving, faithful, self-giving human beings we were created to be.
            …and the few other things we hear that are derivative from those. (Including what we believe about Mary, whose meaning is derived from what she & Jesus say & do in relation to one another in the Gospels and then from the typology in the OT; the Protorvangelium is not our primary source for what is expressed in the hymnography about her.)

            We don’t have a theory about “development of doctrine”. We believe Jesus gave the interpretation of who God is and what he is up to, primarily in Himself as attested to by the OT, faithful bishops/”overseers” handed it down in a trustworthy manner (to include the writings of the Christian scriptures), and it was more specifically articulated in later years in order to meet the questions and heresies that arose. There is a consensus about the most important things. If you want to label that consensus “authority”, okay – just realize that it’s not legalistic. It’s always been primarily about the Church’s communal experience of Christ, not about who has the power to promulgate doctrine. Different mindset. There are Orthodox, mostly Protestant converts, who look up the chapter-and-verse quotes in Patristic writings to prove whatever point they want to make, but that’s not the Orthodox way. It’s the Consensus that matters.

            There is *a lot* of theologumena, because it’s okay to think, esp about things that haven’t been fully revealed. These thoughts don’t generally cause a stir, much less automatically get people branded as heretics. There are many Orthodox who don’t like, for example, that a few of the saintly theologians have believed that God will eventually bring everyone to ultimate healing & union with himself by his love, without coercion or violation of anyone’s will. But those saintly theologians have never been condemned, because they agree with the consensus in everything else, and there is no dogma about what happens after the Judgment. That hasn’t been revealed in Scripture, so dogma about that is speculative at best, and O. doesn’t get into speculation 🙂

            Again, I would highly recommend Philip Sherrard”s “Church, Papacy and Schism” (3rd ed.) for a very good understanding of how the different mindsets in the w. and e. parts of Christendom arose.


        • Authority vs. interpretation is a false dichotomy. We are still in agreement on the text which must be interpreted and applied, even if our interpretations vary. Interpretation does not take away from the authority of scripture until interpretations of the Koran are considered equally determinative of the substance of Christian faith. So long as it is the Bible itself we wrestle with, it is the master, and we are its students in the school of hermeneutics.

          • …and continuing down that analogy, the early church Fathers, the ecumenical creeds, and the confessions of our tradition are our tutors in this school.

    • I’m curious – what changes or reforms or advancements have been made to Lutheranism since the time of Luther, and which ones are deemed Good Things compared to the ones that are Bad Things?

      • Charles Fines says

        Stuart, Lutherans no longer vilify Jews and for the most part are abashed and ashamed of Old Martin in this area. I would call that a Good Thing. They also don’t much publicly vilify Catholics. Other than that, the strict Lutherans seem to still be pretty much caught up in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Their doctrine takes a book to state and doesn’t much concern itself with love or the Holy Spirit. Martin was going to be a lawyer before he became a monk/priest/professor of theology.

        Please don’t lump the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in with most other Lutherans in your investigations. Most ELCA folks don’t pay a whole lot of attention to strict Lutheran dogma, which is why I like them and Miguel sees them riding downhill in a handbasket. In any town in this country I would go into any ELCA church expecting to be met with warmth and any other Lutheran Church I would expect to be excluded from their table and wouldn’t give them the opportunity. Doesn’t mean there can’t be exceptions and surprises.

        I would say the main Good Thing Martin left us was the freedom to choose our place and manner of worship and belief, even if he didn’t mean to and would be appalled at things today. Too late. In doctrine, his understanding of what happens in Communion, while necessarily fuzzy, is still the best in my view and occupies a place of spiritual reality here and now in between the magical Catholic rite and the empty Reformed ritual. Episcopalians are pretty close in practice. That’s only my view and a lot of people will disagree with it.

        As to Bad Things, I think we primarily have Martin to thank for the view of Scripture that rises above God as ultimate authority and infects so much of Protestantism. Martin also came down on the side of no free will, tho not as blatantly as the Calvinists. I consider free will to be at the core of our human dilemma, and those who deny it are perhaps the only people I have nothing to say to. You could spend twenty years studying Luther and you would find both contradictions and growth, but in the end you would find cutting edge thought from five hundred years ago that is no longer cutting edge and sometimes out to lunch. Give the ELCA a chance to share love with you, but go for the cutting edge wherever Spirit leads you. That’s Spirit, not ego.

        • Charles, you’re wrong on most counts here.

          Their doctrine takes a book to state and doesn’t much concern itself with love or the Holy Spirit.

          Actually, confessional Lutheranism has a very robust pneumatology, and love of neighbor is one of primary emphasis. See under “doctrine of vocation.” Our whole focus in life is to be of love and service to God and neighbor.

          Most ELCA is not “riding downhill in a handbasket,” like most mainline progressive denoms they’re filled with good people, but steered by a militant progressive extreme. My experience in life has been that I’ve been overwhelmed by the love and support of religious conservatives in my life, while supposedly non-dogmatic progressives have been much more apt to give you grief over doctrinal differences. This caricature that traditionalists are cold and unfeeling simply has not been borne out in the reality that I’ve lived. I have seen and received such intense levels of niceness, affirmation, and acceptance in the LCMS that I occasionally have to pinch myself. I could tell you stories.

          I think freedom of religion cannot be attributed to Luther. IIRC, this was a Baptist innovation. Credit where credit is due.

          Episcopalians are pretty close in practice. That’s only my view and a lot of people will disagree with it.

          You’d be surprised how many confessional Lutherans will quickly affirm that authentic Anglicanism is our closest kin of theological tradition, and not just on the issue of communion. Of course, most of us are also rather envious of their fine music programs.

          Luther’s negation of free will isn’t nearly as fatalist as Calvinism. We reject free will in spiritual matters, but embrace it in temporal maters. We believe all men are free to chose whom to marry, what vocation to pursue, and all manner of earthly things. The only thing we are incapable of is choosing righteousness, because we are spiritually dead apart from the miraculous intervention of divine grace. The new man in Christ, however, gladly chooses to fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

          There certainly is a lot of contradiction and evolution in Luther’s thought, yet he remains one of the most influential figures of the millennium. We are not, however, so concerned with being “cutting edge.” The truth is not an ever-shifting, evasive guessing game. We are simply content with the words that Christ has given us, and insist that the Gospel is simple enough for children to understand.

        • Oh, but the Pope is still the antichrist. 😛

      • StuartB, in confessional circles, we don’t believe “advances” are really necessary. There are some issues where scholars have delved deeper, but things like Luther’s anti Semitism or geocentricism have never been considered an intrinsic component of Lutheran dogma. We are only bound to what the confessions of the Book of Concord say, and that includes a VERY small selection of Luther’s writings, being equally or greater driven by Melancthon and Chemnitz. We do not even affirm the 95 thesis. Luther was revolutionary in his ideas, but there is surprisingly little of his actual writings that we stand by. He has a lot of great one liners we like to quote, which might make him seem like a sort of unofficial pope to us. But honestly, part of the reason he makes such a great father of our tradition is that we are so free to take most of what he said with a grain of salt.

        But generally speaking, we believe that the Book of Concord only states what the Bible states, by agreeing with and accurately summarizing its doctrine. Therefore there is no need for us to “evolve” on the issues they address, though they are relatively basic and limited in scope (see the Small Catechism for an executive summary targeted at a children’s comprehension). We don’t have a need for an all encompassing systematic theology (that is more of a Reformed invention), and so in peripheral issues Lutheranism is a bit more free to be somewhat of a cultural chameleon (as contrasted with neo-Puritans who have “Biblical” prescriptions to micromanage all areas of life, we leave a ton of space in our interpretation of the law to allow for quite possibly the largest extent of Christian freedom possible without embracing antinomianism.).

  5. Stuart, I agree with Miguel, take a look at Luther’s Small Catechism and see what you think. Miguel, can Stuart and I come to your church and share in the bread and wine of Jesus with you?

    • Probably, my pastor really don’t care about that kind of stuff. The LCMS is anything but consistent on this issue.

      I simply cannot take open communion as such an absolute when the overwhelming majority of present and historic Christendom rejects it. I also do not find it to be a litmus test of love because it is so much more than a token of validation, as today’s inclusivity and entitlement culture would reduce it to. I’ve been denied communion MANY times, and I seriously think it stupid to get your feelings hurt over. The priest and I went out for sushi afterwards, and he gave me some very fine gifts. Some Catholic priests DID commune me when I was a Baptist, but many who are close family friends will not. There is no love loss between us. Heck, one of them still baptized my kid!

      There is so much more that binds us together than the Lord’s table. I don’t understand completely the issues of table fellowship, but I do know that when I see people fencing the table, it isn’t because they’re jerks. It’s because they take the sacrament very seriously, they really believe what they teach, and the bear a responsibility for the care of the souls they serve.

      If you have serious issues with what a church teaches, I don’t understand the compelling need to commune with them. It seems to insist that the doctrinal differences do not matter, but that would make it silly to object to doctrinal differences in the area of closed communion.

      Churches who insist on open communion almost exclusively fall into one of two categories: Rationalists who deny the true presence of Christ in the bread and wine, or mainline progressives who play very loose with the Scriptures to accommodate the zeitgeist. Put me with the Cathodox on this one, but feel free to do as you please in your churches. I won’t demand you change your practice to accommodate my conviction.

  6. Hi Miguel,

    Further back you stated,” Rather that “reinterpreting,” Iprefer to continue refining my understanding of the text,”. I would suggest the good chaplain had this in mind when he made the comment on reinterpretation. I think it is more accurate to say, reinterpret our understanding ofcertain dogma in light of denominational nuances. For example TF Torrance repackaging Election & Reprobation after reading Athanasius. What yoe are defining is the Development of doctrine down the ages which is clarifying and growing wisdom in an original path, not modifying it to satisfy cultural demands.


    • Yes, I believe Chaplain Mike is on the same page with that. But the word “reinterpretation” is used to wedge for relativistic interpretative plurality, especially among the progressive mainlines. I thought it worth elaborating on some.

  7. “The Bible came to us through the community of faith. Recognizing that there were human processes involved in the final editing and canonization of the Bible also highlights how God used people to bring the Bible as a final product to the world. ”

    This assumes you can identify that community of faith and distinguish it from other groups that are heretics and not of the community of faith. Where is that community of faith today?