I believe Scripture, containing the 39 books of the Old Testament and 27 books of the New Testament, constitute the biblical canon***. I believe what Scripture says about itself, which is that it is “God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting…training in righteousness” and “equipp[ing]” servants of God “for every good work”. Another word for “God-breathed” is inspired. I believe that Scripture is the inspired words of God written by human agency. But, how are we supposed to read Scripture? We believe that it was given to us by God through the hands of humans across the age. What are we supposed to do with it now?
God, who has all authority, exercises his authority through the Scripture. This is what is to be understood whenever Scripture is said to be “authoritative”. Scripture is not authoritative in itself. It points outside of itself to the One who has ultimate authority. But, it is still authoritative in a lesser sense. However, though all of scripture is inspired, it is not all equally authoritative. Jesus constantly contrasts his teaching with the Old Testament teaching (“You have heard it said… but I tell you…”). This is not because the Old Testament is bad or useless. Rather, the purpose for which it was given had now been fulfilled, and it no longer has “authority” (Galatians 3:23-35).
Therefore, scripture is not, as Greg Boyd puts it, like a cook book from which one can pull ingredients from each part and hold them as equal in authority. Following the model of N.T. Wright, Scripture is to be seen as a grand play, a great narrative, which consists of five acts: 1) Creation 2) Fall 3) Israel 4) Jesus 5) The Church. We find ourselves in the fifth act of this great play.
Wright notes, “Those who live in this fifth act have an ambiguous relation to the four previous acts, not because they are being disloyal to them but precisely because they are being loyal to them as part of the story.” We view each part of the Scripture in its context and glean from it, understanding where it falls in the large narrative and how we are supposed to handle it once understanding this. This does not mean discrediting the other acts, but giving them their proper place and weight.
For example, there are things in the Bible that no Christian regards as authoritative. An example of this would be the sacrificial system of the Old Testament. Not because we just throw it away, but because we read it in light of the entire Scriptural narrative. Jesus fulfills all of the sacrificial ceremonies. Another example is a lot of the things said in the book of Job. Job’s friends says some pretty awful things when trying to “comfort” Job, things that are obviously not theologically sound. God even says this to them, in Job 42:8, “for you have not spoken of me what is right”. Yet, just because it’s in the Bible doesn’t mean it’s authoritative for us. We have to understand each portion of Scripture in light of the entire narrative, looking at each act in the proper way.
Scripture is to be read, as Peter Enns puts it, christotelically. “Telos” is the Greek word for “end”. Thus, instead of trying to read Scripture “christocentrically” or trying to “find” Jesus in all kinds of Old Testament stories, Scripture is, rather, to be read with Christ being the end to that which the Old Testament was pointing forward. The Old Testament is therefore a signpost that led (and leads) the reader to Christ. The same is true of the New Testament. Scripture finds its “Yes’ in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20).
Jesus claimed that “no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27). If this is true (or even if it’s a slight hyperbole, the point remains), then that means that no one in the Old Testament knew the Father, or at least knew him in the way of which Jesus spoke. Jesus said of John the Baptist that “among those born of women there has arisen no one greater” (Matthew 11:11). He was greater than all the prophets up until him, Jesus says. Yet, Jesus told the Pharisees that “the testimony that I have is greater than that of John” (John 5:36). Thus, Jesus’ revelation trumps that of John and, by default, the rest the Old Testament prophets. Again, not because they were bad or useless. But, because Jesus is the one to whom they point (John 5:39-40). Jesus is the center of Scripture and all of Scripture should read through the lens of Christ.
Scripture may record the words inspired by God, but only insofar as it points to the ultimate Word of God (John 1:1-14). As C.S. Lewis said, “It is Christ Himself, not the Bible, who is the true Word of God. The Bible, read in the right spirit, and with the guidance of good teachers, will bring us to Him.” After all, Jesus said to his Jewish peers, “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” Why? Because he said “you do not have his word abiding in you, because you do not believe him whom he has sent.” Jesus is the Word of God. All of Scripture points to this Word.
It is with this insight with which we should read Scripture.
*** I believe the books of the Apocrypha are useful for understanding the great narrative of Israel (the third act) and looking into the culture and thoughts of the Jewish people in their respective time period, but are not authoritative for the Church and I do not consider them canonical.