Why the Bible is Not the Final Authority!

The Bible is God’s inerrant Word, but who and how the Word is interpreted can become its final authority for doctrine and life.

If you are under the influence of a Baptist minister, then you will be taught from the Bible that the baptism of infants is unbiblical.  If you are under the influence of a Presbyterian minister, then you will be persuaded by examining the Bible that covenant baptism is biblical.  If you change views, most likely you have changed teachers or changed the books that you read.  In real life, your appointed or preferred interpreter of the Bible becomes the final authority — and not the Bible itself.

 

Of course, I believe that the Bible is the inerrant and infallible word of God.  But, here is the problem.  Someone has to interpret the Bible and generally that person who interprets the Bible becomes the final authority in the life of those under his (or her) power and influence.

If you are under the influence of a Baptist minister, then you will be taught from the Bible that the baptism of infants is unbiblical.  If you are under the influence of a Presbyterian minister, then you will be persuaded by examining the Bible that covenant baptism is biblical.  If you change views, most likely you have changed teachers or changed the books that you read.  In real life, your appointed or preferred interpreter of the Bible becomes the final authority — and not the Bible itself.

It’s similar to the United States Constitution.  Regardless of what you have been taught in political thought, the Constitution is not the final authority in the land. The Supreme Court is!  This body interprets what the Constitution means (with a five-person majority) and that is the final law of the land.  Therefore, the Supreme Court is the ultimate authority because the Supreme Court is the ultimate interpreter of the law.  What the Supreme Court says about abortion and homosexual marriage is the final law of the land—no ifs, ands, or buts.

The recent presidential election was for some Christians a referendum on who gets to interpret the Constitution, and therefore who gets to be the final authority in the land.  I argue elsewhere that the original Constitution was a humanistic document (even in its original intent) because it recognized no higher authority than man. Thus, the meaning of the Constitution will always be the result of political power struggles of various ideological (theological) factions in this nation.

Why not study the Bible itself and come to your own conclusions?   We all do well to study the Bible, but who is to say that your interpretations will be right or wrong?  Your conscience may be clear about your conclusions, but ultimately your conscience does not determine objective truth.  Why is your interpretation any better than the opposing interpretation of others, when all such persons go to the Bible in good faith? My problem with the personal and private interpretation of the Bible (which is so popular in America) is that it creates a thousand popes.  Are a thousand popes any better than the one Pope in the Roman Catholic Church?  I really wonder about that.

So, what is a person to do?  Well, let me give you my answer.  Take refuge in the consensus of great pious and godly men.  In the 17th Century, the English Parliament called together the best Christian minds in England and Scotland to meet at Westminster Abbey to settle the issue of so many conflicting interpretations of the Bible.  After a number of years, they composed the Westminster Confession of Faith. This is the final authority in the Presbyterian Church (conservative Presbyterian churches) with regard to what the Bible teaches about most major areas of life.  All Presbyterian elders in these churches vow to teach this particular interpretation of the Bible.  Therefore, even in Presbyterianism, the final authority is not particularly the Bible, but rather the interpretation as stated in the Westminster Confession of Faith.  Thus, the lens of the Confession interpreting the Bible becomes the ultimate truth as taught in the Presbyterian Church.

As the United States Constitution in all its glory is not in reality the final law of the land, so likewise the Bible in all its glory is not the final law in the church.  In practice, the Interpreters are the final arbitrators of truth.

In conclusion, choose your teachers wisely.  Be careful of charisma, charm, and even passion.  Remember, in real life, unless you are very unique, your appointed interpreter of the law will be your final authority.  In my view, better to trust in the men at the Westminster Assembly years ago, than in personal and private interpretations in the modern age.

Larry E. Ball is a retired minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is now a CPA. He lives in Kingsport, Tennessee.