Sacred Dance #8: Idolatry and Scriptural Authority

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
– Matthew 28:18

I never really thought about it this way until it was pointed out by N.T. Wright in his book The Last Word, but the issue of where Christian “authority” resides is pretty well settled.

The scriptures don’t claim to have any authority. Rather, they claim that Jesus has all authority. For that reason, I don’t think that “authoritative” is a good word to describe the Christian scriptures. In fact, if anything, I think it could be considered downright idolatrous.

Idolatry, at its heart, is worshiping something other than God. It follows, then, that when we ascribe authority to something other than God – when we give it control over our lives – we have committed an act of idolatry.

Scripture exists as a means by which we can come to know God, but scripture is not itself God. When we begin to follow scripture indiscriminately, ignoring the very thing that it seeks to reveal in the process, we are not worshipping God.

In fact, when we think of scripture in terms of its “authority” – it loses its potency. For the next few posts, I want to illustrate why I believe this is the case.

In short, I will first argue that scripture can only be considered “authoritative” if it provides instruction or guidance, yet very little of what we encounter in scripture fits into either of these categories… and efforts to force the issue by attempting to reduce every verse and story down to some discernable, divine instruction will only lead to frustration.

Second, I will argue – using the examples of human slavery and the subjugation of women – that, if the limits of our moral understanding are defined by scripture, our capacity for understanding good is actually diminished. God must be found – in the words of an older hymn – “beyond the sacred page.”

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