In many of our churches we have statements of belief posted on web pages to give ourselves and interested visitors a clear picture of what that body accepts as authoritative teaching. Here’s an example:
We believe that the Scriptures, consisting of the Old and New Testaments, are divinely inspired and without error in their original writings. They are, therefore, our final authority in faith and life.
The statement is fine as a generalization, but it would sound ridiculous if Jesus returned in glory to reign and said something that is not already written in our authorized Bibles. God is the final authority on everything.
I wouldn’t expect him to contradict what he caused to be written, but I might hope for him to say something we have not already heard; or at the very least, to clarify what we have. I’d like the above statement of faith better if it read, “They are, therefore, our final authority in faith and life until Jesus returns.”
Christians teach (and sometimes believe) that every word in the Bible carries equal weight, that every book has equal authority. In practice, however, we can demonstrate bias for certain books and teachings in many denominations, where perhaps Paul is read more than all others, or the Gospels, or prophesies of the end times, depending on what the teacher believes is the most important to emphasize.
Consider that the Bible writers – from Moses to John – were almost all Israelite. Today we would call them Jews. The exceptions were Job, Nebuchadnezzar, and Luke. Jews have a different way of understanding precedence in scripture that has helped me immensely in my own Bible studies.
The books in our Old Testament were not placed in strict chronological order for a very good reason. They were placed in order of precedence:
- Things God said directly have the highest precedence
- Things God said face to face to Moses have greater precedence than things spoken by angels
- Things Jesus said would also have precedence, but in Matthew 5:18 he affirms “Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law til all be fulfilled.”
- Things the prophets saw in dreams and visions have lesser precedence than Moses, as God plainly says in Numbers 12:8
- Things written by men as history would have lower precedence, being subject to errors which we can show occurred in some of the historical books in the LXX
- Commentary by men, such as the epistles, would have lesser precedence than all the rest
Let me be clear: I believe every word in the Bible will be completely upheld by God and fulfilled to the letter. We don’t rank the books to undermine them, we rank them to interpret them properly, in light of the precedents they were based upon.
The first five books, or Torah, had precedence, with Genesis having the most. This flies in the face of what modern Christians believe in practice, where we allow ourselves to take creation week loosely, maybe prefer that sun moon and stars appear before earth and trees, and still want to believe that our solar system and planet must be billions of years old rather than mere thousands.
When the law is given first in Exodus, and again in Deuteronomy, Exodus is considered the foundation, with Deuteronomy amplifying, like a building upon it. When two books cover the same time period, as happens in the books of Kings and Chronicles, the more authoritative books come first, with the less authoritative following as commentary.
The greater prophets and lesser prophets were ordered by the size of the books, but after them came the Ketuvim, or “the writings.” Divided into four sections, they include: poetical books (Psalms, Proverbs, and Job), the Megillot, or “scrolls” read out loud at the feasts (Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations of Jeremiah, Ecclesiastes, and Esther), prophecy (Daniel), and history (Ezra, Nehemiah, and I and II Chronicles). This ranking places Daniel after all the prophets. He must be interpreted by what his idioms and figures meant to those who came before.
For any two statements or symbols in the Old Testament that are similar, use the one that is first in order as the foundation, with the second as a special case or second example of the same thing. The Second Adam only has meaning when we know about the First Adam. The Son of David must significantly resemble David. We have to do our homework in the precedent books and stories before making sense of what comes after.
The New Testament arrangement can be taken in a similar way, with the Gospels having the greatest authority, Acts as a historical book, the letters of the apostles as commentary, and Revelation as prophesy. New Testament types and symbols are still built on the Old Testament Torah, as Jesus clearly stated earlier, but he is the one Moses spoke of in Deuteronomy 18:15-19, “the prophet” by whose words Israel would would one day be held accountable to God. The whole OT points to him.
Should we build a church on Acts Chapter Two? Should we build it on 1 Thessalonians Chapter Four? Should we build it on the book of Revelation? We build the church on Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected from the dead. All other matters are subjects for discussion. I am still a brother in Christ to anyone with a different view on secondary questions, especially when it comes to things like angels or future events.
I place a clear difference between prophesies that have occurred in history, and prophesies that are yet future. In the first case, we have some confidence in what they meant, because they are settled historical events. In the second case, we accept future things as the word of God, but do not yet know how or when they may come about. Anyone’s guess is as good an anyone else’s until they are fulfilled.
Can I worship with someone who thinks Jesus and Satan were brothers before the earth was made? If he believes with all his heart that Jesus died for the sins of the world, and has risen from the dead to go to the Father, I accept him as my brother, differences aside. When he returns in glory, ask Jesus if you dare.
As for me, When I meet him I think I’ll set aside any unresolved questions, and just worship him.