The Bible is Authoritative (not Authoritarian)

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

We call the Bible authoritative for the Christian life but we are seem to forget what it means for something to have authority but not being authoritarian. Knowing if the Bible is authoritative or authoritarian may be thought of in terms of where the Bible is located in our lives. Namely, does the Bible have the first or last word?

Major court cases in the United States ask a number of questions to make a judgement. Among the first questions asked is "what does the Constitution say?" The Constitution for the Untied States is authoritative for the rule of law. The Constitution did not say much about Native people living in the early days of the Untied States. When Chief Standing Bear sued for a writ of habeas corpus the government took the Constitution as an authority and saw the Constitution did not even consider Natives as human. By the end of the case, the judge ruled that an Indian is a person". When the judge gave the Constitution the first word on the matter, he did so because there is deep respect and reverence for the Constitution. The Constitution is authoritative, not Authoritarian.

When something is Authoritarian, we do not give it the first word, we give it the last word. When the bumper sticker says, "The Bible says it, I believe it" the last statement is "that settles it!" This gives the impression that the Bible is no longer authoritative but more Authoritarian in that person's life. Authoritarian systems cannot and do not tolerate questions or deviations. There is not room for interpretation or grey. Kings of old would make a decree and then say "thus says the King!" If you had any questions, the King had the last word and that was that. The King was the Authoritarian ruler and others were to fall in line. Those who did not were not out of the King's punishment.

The Bible is authoritative for me. I have great respect and reverence for the Bible. It has the first word in my life because it is authoritative. I have too much respect for the Bible (and God has too much love for me) to make the Bible Authoritarian for Christians.