Summary: Jesus is lord of his church through the Scriptures
What is Scripture? What are our scriptures?
Wordnet from Princeton Uni defines Scriptures as ‘any writing that is regarded as sacred by a religious group’. Scripture is the religious writings that help form the basis of a religious group. For Christianity scripture (or the scriptures) is the Bible.
Now that might seem pretty simple. What is Scripture for followers of Jesus? It is the bible. However the issue can get a little bit more complicated if we ask some different people. Imagine if we went on a journey and started across the road and went to the local Greek Orthodox Church and asked the priest, how many books make up the Bible? We might get the answer something like, ‘well I think that there are 66 books that make up the Bible’. If then carry on a little further and asked another Greek Orthodox priest he might tell us, ‘well I think that there are 69 books that make up the bible’. Again a little further on and we might get the answer ‘I think that there are 81 books in the bible’. If we asked a Catholic priest he would tell us – no there are 73 books in the bible.
One of the basic questions for us as followers of Christ is what are actually the books that are ‘scripture’? For us as evangelical Protestants, we believe that there are 66 books of the Bible. The others some include and others don’t. We as Protestants believe can be helpful but not authoritative. One of the major differences between the catholic, orthodox and protestant churches is their understanding of the list of books that makes up the bible. And I’ll explain a bit about why that is later on.
What makes this collection of books, or writings so special for us? What do they represent? The short answer is that they represent the things that God has said. However they are the things that God said to certain people at certain times.
A fuller answer deals with the New Testament and the Old Testament separately. The New Testament consists of those writings which are linked to the eyewitnesses of Jesus and contain information about his teaching and life as well as how that information is worked out in the lives of those that follow Jesus. Or in short, it contains the revealing of the person of Jesus, what he did, and how that plays out in life. The Old Testament contains the records of God speaking to the people of Israel, the chosen people of God (until the coming of Jesus). For us as Protestants it is as accepted by those people. Ultimately these books contain the information God has chosen to reveal to us about himself.
How is that authoritative?
The short answer is that God said it! To put it in terms of American foreign policy, he has the biggest guns so therefore we better do what he says.
A fuller answer to the question is that God has made as in his image. It is our responsibility to live up to that image. We are to live in a way that ‘images’ his character. We see this in a number of places in Scripture. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:48) Jesus tells us that we are to be ‘perfect as your heavenly father is perfect’. We are to be as God is. God is love. We are to love. God is truth. We are to ‘walk in the truth’. We, our lives, our characters, need to reflect God’s character. In this way we can understand that all of Scripture reveals to us God’s character and therefore all of Scripture is binding on us. The Old Testament law doesn’t pass away. The nature of the way it relates to us now is different. It shows to us how God’s character was to be lived out in a community of people in the ancient times. The difference in culture, language, history (with the revelation of Jesus’ death and the way it deals with our sin and makes a way open for directly to God) means that we live out God’s character in a different way today. But that doesn’t change the fact that the ancient laws of the Bible reveal God’s character.
However the Scriptures record God’s way of revealing his character and this is God’s way of ruling our lives. If we start with the concept of God’s law we see that this is God’s way of ruling our lives. He chose to start revealing himself through a story and then a law. He related to Abraham and showed he was faithful. He didn’t set up Abraham as a King to rule. He related to him in his life and recorded it as story. He then revealed himself to Moses and gave him the law. He didn’t set up Moses as a King. He gave him laws through which people would be ruled by God. And it wasn’t up to Moses to enforce the laws; it was up to the people of the community. It was only much, much later when people had shown they didn’t really want to be directly ruled by God that God first set up Saul and then David as a king. God’s chosen way to rule his people is through his scriptures.