A Different Perspective

N. T. Wright on Biblical Authourity

I read something this morning that I would like to share with you all.  I hope you will take the time to read it and be blessed by it.  It is about the much misunderstood topic of Biblical authourity by N. T. Wright, from his Laing Lecture in 1989.

I am not a follower of N. T. Wright.  I am also not Anglican, as he is, and so I don’t suppose I will find 100% agreement with him.  This is in fact the first of his writings I’ve ever read.  Someone who I have been debating with on the inerrancy of the Bible thought I would find it interesting, so I went to the trouble of reading it.  I’m glad I did!

I found it very profound, and he showed a lot of wisdom and understanding of the power and authourity and will of God for man.  I can’t point to anything I disagree with in what he said.  He basically unraveled my mind on this topic of the Bible and how it is handled today.  It was a painstakingly way to get to the heart of the matter, but I think anyone who is looking for understanding should go the lengths of reading it all.

I also feel that, even though he may not say so, his writing communicates what I have been trying to distinguish between the infallibility of God and the supposed infallibility of the Bible. I like how he repeatedly said we should “let the Bible be the Bible“!  And I will add, let God be God!

Of all he said, these passages that I’ve selected are, for me, the crux of the matter, and should help us see the place and authourity of the Bible in our lives as Christians, being people of God.  If properly grasped, we will not be in danger of idolizing or misusing or belittling the Bible.

“Then, we have to ask, if we are to get to the authority of scripture. How does God exercise that authority? Again and again, in the biblical story itself we see that he does so through human agents anointed and equipped by the Holy Spirit. And this is itself an expression of his love, because he does not will, simply to come into the world in a blinding flash of light and obliterate all opposition. He wants to reveal himself meaningfully within the space/time universe not just passing it by tangentially; to reveal himself in judgement and in mercy in a way which will save people. So, we get the prophets. We get obedient writers in the Old Testament, not only prophets but those who wrote the psalms and so on. As the climax of the story we get Jesus himself as the great prophet, but how much more than a prophet. And, we then get Jesus’ people as the anointed ones. And within that sequence there is a very significant passage, namely 1 Kings 22. Micaiah, the son of Imlah (one of the great prophets who didn’t leave any writing behind him but who certainly knew what his business was) stands up against the wicked king, Ahab. The false prophets of Israel at the time were saying to Ahab, ‘Go up against Ramoth-gilead and fight and you will triumph. Yahweh will give it into your hand’. This is especially interesting, because the false prophets appear to have everything going for them. They are quoting Deuteronomy 33—one of them makes horns and puts them on his head and says, ‘with these you will crush the enemy until they are overthrown’. They had scripture on their side, so it seemed. They had tradition on their side; after all, Yahweh was the God of Battles and he would fight for Israel. They had reason on their side; Israel and Judah together can beat these northern enemies quite easily. But they didn’t have God on their side. Micaiah had stood in the council of the Lord and in that private, strange, secret meeting he had learned that even the apparent scriptural authority which these prophets had, and the apparent tradition and reason, wasn’t good enough; God wanted to judge Ahab and so save Israel. And so God delegated his authority to the prophet Micaiah who, inspired by the Spirit, stood humbly in the council of God and then stood boldly in the councils of men. He put his life and liberty on the line, like Daniel and so many others. That is how God brought his authority to bear on Israel: not by revealing to them a set of timeless truths, but by delegating his authority to obedient men through whose words he brought judgement and salvation to Israel and the world.

And how much more must we say of Jesus. Jesus the great prophet; Jesus who rules from the cross in judgement and love; Jesus who says: all authority is given to me, so you go and get on with the job. I hope the irony of that has not escaped you. So too in Acts 1, we find: God has all authority . . . so that you will receive power. Again, the irony. How can we resolve that irony? By holding firmly to what the New Testament gives us, which is the strong theology of the authoritative Holy Spirit. Jesus’ people are to be the anointed ones through whom God still works authoritatively [my emphasis]. And then, in order that the church may be the church—may be the people of God for the world—God, by that same Holy Spirit, equips men in the first generation to write the new covenant documentation. This is to be the new covenant documentation which gives the foundation charter and the characteristic direction and identity to the people of God, who are to be the people of God for the world.”


“Let me offer you a possible model, which is not in fact simply an illustration but actually corresponds, as I shall argue, to some important features of the biblical story, which (as I have been suggesting) is that which God has given to his people as the means of his exercising his authority. Suppose there exists a Shakespeare play whose fifth act had been lost. The first four acts provide, let us suppose, such a wealth of characterization, such a crescendo of excitement within the plot, that it is generally agreed that the play ought to be staged. Nevertheless, it is felt inappropriate actually to write a fifth act once and for all: it would freeze the play into one form, and commit Shakespeare as it were to being prospectively responsible for work not in fact his own. Better, it might be felt, to give the key parts to highly trained, sensitive and experienced Shakespearian actors, who would immerse themselves in the first four acts, and in the language and culture of Shakespeare and his time, and who would then be told to work out a fifth act for themselves.

Consider the result. The first four acts, existing as they did, would be the undoubted ‘authority’ for the task in hand. That is, anyone could properly object to the new improvisation on the grounds that this or that character was now behaving inconsistently, or that this or that sub-plot or theme, adumbrated earlier, had not reached its proper resolution. This ‘authority’ of the first four acts would not consist in an implicit command that the actors should repeat the earlier pans of the play over and over again. It would consist in the fact of an as yet unfinished drama, which contained its own impetus, its own forward movement, which demanded to be concluded in the proper manner but which required of the actors a responsible entering in to the story as it stood, in order first to understand how the threads could appropriately be drawn together, and then to put that understanding into effect by speaking and acting with both innovation and consistency [my emphasis].

This model could and perhaps should be adapted further; it offers in fact quite a range of possibilities. Among the detailed moves available within this model, which I shall explore and pursue elsewhere, is the possibility of seeing the five acts as follows: (1) Creation; (2) Fall; (3) Israel; (4) Jesus. The New Testament would then form the first scene in the fifth act, giving hints as well (Rom 8; 1 Car 15; parts of the Apocalypse) of how the play is supposed to end. The church would then live under the ‘authority’ of the extant story, being required to offer something between an improvisation and an actual performance of the final act. Appeal could always be made to the inconsistency of what was being offered with a major theme or characterization in the earlier material. Such an appeal—and such an offering!—would of course require sensitivity of a high order to the whole nature of the story and to the ways in which it would be (of course) inappropriate simply to repeat verbatim passages from earlier sections….

…The model already enables us to add a footnote, albeit an important one. The Old Testament, we begin to see more clearly, is not the book of the covenant people of God in Christ in the same sense that the New Testament is. The New Testament is written to be the charter for the people of the creator God in the time between the first and second comings of Jesus; the Old Testament forms the story of the earlier acts, which are (to be sure) vital for understanding why Act 4, and hence Act 5, are what they are, but not at all appropriate to be picked up and hurled forward into Act 5 without more ado. The Old Testament has the authority that an earlier act of the play would have, no more, no less.”

and finally,

“This is how the gospels are to become authoritative. They are to become authoritative because, as they tell the story of who Jesus was for Israel in judging and redeeming Israel, so we continue that story—this is the great message of Luke, is it not—in being for the world what Jesus was for Israel. That is how the translation works. And that is why we need narrative, not timeless truth. I’m not a timeless person; I’ve got a story. The world’s not a timeless world; it’s got a story. And I’ve got a responsibility, armed with scripture, to tell the world God’s story, through song and in speech, in drama and in art [my emphasis]. We must do this by telling whatever parables are appropriate. That may well not be by standing on street corners reading chunks of scripture. It might be much more appropriate to go off and write a novel (and not a ‘Christian’ novel where half the characters are Christians and all the other half become Christians on the last page) but a novel which grips people with the structure of Christian thought, and with Christian motivation set deep into the heart and structure of the narrative, so that people would read that and resonate with it and realize that that story can be my story. After all, the story of the Bible, and the power that it possesses, is a better story than any of the power games that we play in our world. We must tell this story, and let it exercise its power in the world.”

I would give the man a standing ovation for this piece.  It is truly liberating and enlightening!  You can read the whole lecture here: http://ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Bible_Authoritative.htm

It is my prayer that God will continue to lead all of us to unity of understanding, faith and practice.  The Bible, the Church and we, the individual, Spirit-filled members, are the vehicles or vessels through which God chooses to communicate to the world and reveal Himself.  None should be said to be infallible of itself, only authouritative in as much as we bear the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and are being led by Him.

Thanks for reading and appreciating my blog.  Please be kind to share, and I always appreciate your comments too 🙂

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6 replies »

  1. This fully echoes my point of view on the matter. It is not so much reading and arguing the content of the book, but experiencing the truth and being the book.

    Liked by 1 person

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