EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fourth of five articles by David S. Dockery, president of Union University in Jackson, Tenn., on the authority of the Bible. The five articles were published as one article in the February 2008 issue of SBC Life, journal of the Southern Baptist Convention (www.sbclife.org).
JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)–We have seen that the Bible is authoritative since it is God’s Word to men and women. Guidelines for interpretation enable us to hear and respond to God’s Word in our cultural settings. Yet we need to ask: How do we apply these guidelines to such contemporary issues as decision making and ethical practices?
We can recognize that some biblical teachings are specific and universal commands that speak directly to people in all cultures. Some general teachings have universal application. Some biblical principles have implicit authority. Finally, some matters can be addressed only by finding biblical guidelines that can be applied to that issue or question. The following examples will help us understand these guidelines.
1. Passages such as prohibitions against stealing (Exodus 20:15; Ephesians 4:28) are direct teachings that apply to all people in all times.
2. General teachings on love or justice can be applied to various situations in different settings. People in employee/employer relationships, family relationships, or broader societal situations must seek to apply principles of justice and love in these settings.
3. Teachings about drunkenness (Ephesians 5:18) must be obeyed. Applications about abstinence from alcoholic beverages are implied rather than being direct teachings. Thus, the level of authority is different from the previous examples.
4. Some contemporary issues are not addressed specifically in Scripture. Where should we work? Whom should we marry? What church should we join? We must approach each of these matters by trying to apply biblical principles.
The answer to these issues must be dealt with differently by each of us under the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
Understanding that various levels of authority are in the Bible helps us understand that a commitment to biblical authority is not out-of-date. The general teachings of Scripture reveal God’s will in a variety of ways. The direct, implied and applied principles of Scripture can cross the temporal, social, linguistic and cultural barriers. Thus, we can affirm the adequacy, sufficiency and authority of the Bible for modern men and women. The Bible can speak, at various levels, to challenges and issues we face in our day.
David S. Dockery is president of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee.