Monday, August 24, 2020

Biblical Authority and Caution in Saying More than Scripture

With regard to Biblical authority and interpretation, I have taught learners for years to be very careful not to state more than what the Bible states when preaching or teaching from a Biblical text.

I have usually given persons some version of this statement, with it's play on words about authors, authorship and authority:  

"Never state authoritatively what the authors of Scripture do not write from their authorship!"

I recently had a pastor suggest that two unnamed "angels" in Acts 1:10 are the (so-called) archangels Gabriel and Michael. 

I pointed out to this pastor that in this passage of Scripture the two men are not referenced nor described as "angels" as he stated. They are not named, either.  These men are not even described as descending from heaven, nor appearing mysteriously, only "suddenly."   The fact that these men, too, were only "standing beside" the other apostles, and  them" some other verbs  of "hovering" or "floating" nearby also requires examination and study.   The fact that they were "dressed in white" is noteworthy, though this is not the "dazzling" white of Jesus' clothing in Luke 9 so it may not be the same power/impact.

I cautioned this pastor, as I have cautioned many with innumerable issues of interpretation:  "It may be that these two men *were* angels, and that they *were* Michael and Gabriel. And yet, you should not state this as an authoritative fact as the Bible never states this."  

And, I told him, "If you explore this as a possible preaching point, you should be certain your audience knows that you are going beyond what the authors of Scripture stated as you explore preaching points or teaching issues."

Pastors certainly can and should explore beyond what Scripture says to explore the textures and contours of a Biblical passage.  Jewish Interpretation and Midrash, Rabbinic teaching, and Christian Exposition has done this for centuries.  And yet, each person proclaiming, preaching or teaching *from* Scripture should insure their audience(s) know when they have moved beyond what the Biblical text explicitly states and declares. 

"Never state authoritatively what the authors of Scripture do not write from their authorship!"

Another variant of the same idea:

"Do not speak authoritatively for or from Scripture, where the authors themselves do not write authoritatively." 

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