Biblical Authority in Christian Ethics

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Justin Collett

Christian Ethics

What does it mean for the Bible to have authority in Christian ethics?

Sitting comfortably and dying on a cross are not concepts often joined together. Yet our culture conditions individuals to pursue fulfillment and comfort. Martin Luther King, Jr. remarked that our preachers like to preach “nice little soothing sermons on how to relax and how to be happy” or “go ye into all the world and keep your blood pressure down and I will make you a well-adjusted personality.” However, “My Bible tells me that Good Friday comes before Easter,”1 and the cross is not a piece of jewelry you wear but something you die on. But when I am honest, the idea of lowering my blood pressure often captures the depth of my Christian longing. These words capture my casual faith against Christ’s explicit call to the Christian—a sacrificial call that shatters my fragile delusion, namely that I am a wonderful Christian who actually grants real authority to the Bible in shaping my life. In light of this indictment, how should the Bible shape my life and ethics? What authoritative Biblical teachings should guide my Christian formation? Should I grow a beard like Jesus? Or give away all my possessions? Or should I stone my future daughters if they offend me? I will explore the areas of authority-as-such, the Bible and its rightful authority, Biblical interpretation and a normative hermeneutic, Christian ethics, and the conclusion of my analysis in an endeavor to answer the following question: What does it mean for the Bible to have authority in Christian ethics?

Points of Trajectory

I would like to clarify this argument by providing several points of trajectory, more detail pertaining to the areas of interest, and a clearer picture of the overall shape this paper will take. A question such as, What does it mean for the Bible to have authority in Christian ethics? can take hundreds of different directions, each of which build a cogent argument and emphasize particular traditions or hermeneutics or understanding of ethics. Obviously, I write from a Christian perspective and in no way do I believe the following should be regarded as even fractionally exhaustive. I have chosen several essential points, as I see them, which are vital in relation to the question. As stated above, I will give explicit attention to several broad areas of interest: the essence of authority-as-such, perspectives on the Bible that give rise to its inherent and rightful authority, the broad scope of the art in Biblical interpretation, my own take on a normative hermeneutic for reading the Bible, specifically in regards to Christian ethics. The reader will notice that these areas of focus are difficult to separate. For example, deciding what the Bible is shapes the interpretation and possibly its conceived authority based on the on the outcome of the reading on the side of the reader, whereas the amount of authority given to the Bible “up-front” will shape what the Bible is and its subsequent readings. As another example, I may claim that I grant the Bible authority in Christian ethics—loosely my way of living in the world as a Christian—but if my actions do not attest to its authority in my actions or ethics then in reality do I render my claim void? Bonhoeffer even states, “Cheap grace therefore amounts to a denial of the living Word of God, in fact, a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God.”2 Therefore, the matters are mutually dependent and definitely subjective and such is characteristic of this study. That said I turn now to authority-as-such to begin the exploration.

I. Authority-as-Such

What do we consider authority-as-such? That is, how do we conceive of the essence of authority as an objective characteristic or attribute not in relation to a particular context? Most definitions describe the attribute in relation to a person, which makes deriving an objective, working definition difficult achieve. A general working...
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