Inside the back cover of every issue of Priscilla Papers, we publish Christians for Biblical Equality’s “Statement of Faith.”
We do that so that everyone, including potential authors, will know what we affirm and, therefore, what topics and treatments of topics will be acceptable within our doctrinal borders.
The very first entry one encounters in our statement is this: “We believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God, is reliable, and is the final authority for faith and practice.”
What exactly do we mean by that?
“I believe” in Latin is credo, which morphed from the Anglo-Saxon creda to Middle English’s crede to become the basis of the English word “creed.” In my fundamentalist youth, my birth church was suspicious of “creeping creedalism,” by which we imagined the faith of Jesus Christ was pinned to a dusty page like a hapless butterfly, struggling and then dying into a moribund neo-orthodoxy. In those days we knew nothing about the Nicaean Creed of a.d. 325, the Chalcedonian Definition of the Faith of a.d. 451, the Westminster Confession, or any of the other great historic declarations of Christian dogma (what it is exactly all Christians must believe to be true Christians). However, we unwittingly built our belief systems on these creeds’ interpretations of the gospel. For example, the word “Trinity” was not in the Bible, but the concept had been explicated in the creeds from the disciples of the disciples’ careful analysis of Scripture, and, having received the teaching as truth, we affirmed it. In fact, our church developed its own statement of what we believed as a church. None of us knew such a declaration, such a statement, was in reality a “creed.” But we knew it was what we believed. So, no matter how “independent” of all other Christians we imagined ourselves to be, just as all other Christians do, we made our creed, too—our “this is what we believe.” And, like all Christians, we based our beliefs on the Bible. We at CBE, of course, do not imagine ourselves as independent from the body of Christ, but as a central part of it. So, too, very consciously, then, we at CBE have made our “creed,” and we recognize the same basis and authority for our faith as do all Christians independent and interdependent: We believe in the Bible.
And what we believe about it is: “the Bible is the inspired Word of God.” The word “inspire” (this time contributed from the Latin inspirare through the Old French inspirer on through Middle English’s inspiren), as a theological term, means “God-breathed,” as God breathed life into the first human (Gen. 2:7). So Paul counsels Timothy, his disciple, in 2 Timothy 3:16, that in a similar way God breathed life-giving wisdom into the human writers of Scripture. The first human, the Adam, did not become a non-thinking robot as a result of God’s breath, but instead became a living, self-determining creature. Likewise, the authors of Scripture did not perform automatic writing, like Spiritists of the nineteenth century when claiming to channel some dead poet, but instead kept their own particular writing styles while the life-giving inspiration of God guided their thoughts and words.
We trust what they wrote. We rely on it. We maintain what is called a “high view” of Scripture in our organization and in our pages and, therefore, do not dismiss difficult-to-understand scriptures as mistakes, interpolations, or unenlightened thinking in the original text. Since corruptions do enter later manuscripts of the Bible, our authors do hunt for the earliest and most likely true texts. In a similar manner, since erroneous and oppressive interpretations have been made historically of the Bible, our authors reassess and challenge these misinterpretations and seek to lead out more accurate understandings of the text.
“And is the final authority”
Therefore, we affirm the Bible as authoritative. It is, in fact, our final authority. We do not pick and choose what we want to believe in it. We do, however, understand that it is a literary and historical text and that we need to interpret those ancient words and find their appropriate application to today. But, as we do so, we realize we are working with our final authority. Such a stance is hard to declare and maintain in today’s pluralistic world. It was hard to do that in the first century; it is hard to do it today—that is, to stand against what the Apostle Paul called the “spirit of this world” (1 Cor. 12), and the Apostle John “the spirit of error” (1 John 4:6). Thomas Hazlitt dubbed it “the spirit of the age” (a.d. 1825), which also may be Paul’s “spirit of bondage” (Rom. 8:15). Like a strong wind, this spirit inspires and moves us too, as it does most secular cultures. It motivates us in the West, particularly, to be accepting, affirming, supportive, understanding, and inclusive.
All of us want to be loving, nice, to be liked, and to be esteemed as open-minded and contemporary. These are good values in and of themselves, and ones that pluralistic societies appreciate and reward. But the undeniable fact is that, at its core, the Bible and its witness to Jesus are exclusive, if being inclusive means making it but one of many authorities and its Christ not the final Word of God. Why do I say that? Because today it is becoming increasingly popular to set the Bible alongside other ancient texts as “parallel Scriptures,” equal conduits of God’s truth. As one influential Christian author counsels, “In a religiously plural world, a plurality of scriptures is to be expected” (Stanley J. Samartha, “Scripture and Scriptures,” in ed. R.S. Sugirtharajah, Voices from the Margin [Maryknoll: Orbis, 1995], 11). Another has “challenged Christian scholars to seriously consider re-writing the Bible so that God can be liberated from dogmas that make God the property of ethnic syndicates” (Canaan S. Banana, “The Case for a New Bible,” Voices, 69). These authors consider claims that the Bible is the final authority monopolistic and the exclusive claims of Christ to be God-Among-Us, to which the Bible is the ultimate witness, as “Christomonistic” (Samartha, “Scripture and Scriptures,” 29), a position that cannot be seen as “normative” when other scriptures make truth claims, but must be subjected to a “new hermeneutics” to adjust Christ to a “multireligious society” (Samartha, “Scripture and Scriptures,” 12).
While we egalitarian Christians are especially sensitive to concerns not to make the Bible a tool of oppression, given our commitment to champion both genders’ right to serve Christ fully across ethnic and cultural boundaries, we are yet called by that same authoritative text itself to maintain its integrity, to honor its exclusive presentation of Jesus, and to do so in league with all of our global Christian sisters and brothers in the international body of Christ.
Commitment to being nonoppressive must not dictate a jettisoning of our faith’s final authority. That would destroy that authority itself! Down that road lies Cain’s “Nod,” the land of endless wandering. Instead, we recognize with the great Danish thinker Søren Kierkegaard that the Bible is provided to us For Self Examination, as he entitled his study of Scripture. God provides it to examine us and all humanity. For what is it provided?
“For faith and practice”
As the Bible is God’s mirror to reflect to ourselves, our progress and short-fallings against God’s true expectations, our adjustments take place in our own faith—all that we think, believe, espouse—and in our own practice—all that we do, every act, every human endeavor. In short, the Bible guides the totality of our life.
Not surprisingly, then, we have noticed that articles on the Bible have always been among our most popular entries in each issue of Priscilla Papers and they account for the majority of submissions we receive. Thus, we decided to set out a feast and fill this entire issue with articles on the Bible and its interpretations.
First up, the distinguished evangelical statesperson Roger Nicole begins with an encouraging article, highlighting the many women called to lead in the Bible, while explaining that egalitarian exegesis (that is, interpretation) and a high view of Scripture are totally compatible. Next, sensitive Pastor Lorraine Anderson sets out an exegetical/experiential analysis of Genesis 3:16a that invites empathetic response. Perceptive Professor David Instone-Brewer follows with the fascinating insight that Jesus was not embroiled in a doctrinal battle over complementarian/egalitarian stances, but simply following the Scripture, when he espoused what we would today call egalitarian conclusions. Then, the innovative Virginia Gray extends the scope of egalitarian exegesis on Acts 18:24-27. Most egalitarian study of this passage has centered on considering Prisca as a teacher, the primacy of her name, her team ministry with her husband Aquila, and with Paul. Ginny assumes all this and asks the next question: What exactly was the content of Prisca and Aquila’s message to Apollos? Thereby, she takes egalitarian exegesis to a next step.
Meanwhile, novelist Ginger O’Neil, who in an upcoming issue will share her reflections on the niddah (the separation of husband and wife during the woman’s menstrual period), here provides a poetic response to Jesus’ ministry, while Professor Cynthia Westfall analyzes an important new book by the outstanding scholar Alan Johnson.
All in all, we come away with many new insights on our ultimate guide, our “final authority for faith and practice.”