moral authority?

I’ve been having a few email conversations with friends about the topic of moral authority as it relates to the Bible. I have so many incomplete thoughts about this right now - but a few that have taken shape as a result of these conversations and some things I’ve been reading.

The basis of all of this is the approach that many Christians have with the Bible. I think this approach is summed in this common question from Christians: “What does the Bible have to say about _______?” The question carries the idea that the Bible is some kind of manual for life; that everything has a solution or answer in the Bible, and that solution or answer is relevant at face value to a contemporary Christian community.

Another way to state the standard approach of Christian’s today is that the Bible is a type of trump card in nearly every area - science, history, morality, ethics, etc. Science says one thing - the Bible says another. Culture says one thing - the Bible says another. In every case, the idea is that the Bible wins.

I have a problem with this. The problem seems to be that many of us Christians read the Bible - an ancient document translated from many manuscripts that are written in languages that are no longer used - at face value with no regard to our own preconceptions.

Please hear me on this: I am not saying the Bible is not relevant in any way. I’m saying that it is a living breathing document that is interpreted by the community of believers and applied to that community in the way the community feels is best, and all of this is through the guidance of God’s Spirit. One must approach the book as aware of preconceptions as possible and know that it is God who speaks, and not the Bible itself.

To make the Bible a type of owners manual for all humanity, in my opinion, severely cheapens it. The Bible is meant to be so much more. It is the beautiful story of how God has redeemed and is redeeming all of God’s creation back to God.

Back to the idea of the Bible being the moral authority - that also is something that ignores what the Bible is intended to communicate. And is seems so often, even in the Bible, that it is culture that determines morality, and the Bible expresses the cultural morality not as authoritative, but more as an expression of how the community of God understood God.

Take marriage as an example. The definition of marriage has changed throughout history - even through the Bible. The are points in the biblical narrative that polygamy is acceptable, when at other points, marriage is defined as being one man and his wife (the wording of “his wife” is very intentional). Both are presented in the biblical drama as somewhat normative. It seems to be more what the culture deemed as acceptable than some kind of moral authority the Bible is expressing. Now, marriage is between one man and one woman - as equal partners (admittedly, this is not true everywhere, but seems more and more true with relationships in the US). Again, this is a redefinition. One might say a marriage based on the standard patriarchal attitude in the Bible is now morally wrong - and I believe that’s right and good! Sure, the morality expressed in the Bible would be in contradiction to this, but cultural morality would say otherwise. And why not? Why is it so bad that the community would determine what is moral for that community at that time instead of forcing the morality of a dead culture on people today?

These are just some incomplete thoughts, and I hope to come back to them later... maybe with a few of your own comments in mind.

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