Scripture's precedence is not chronological

Protestants, especially Evangelicals, have a bad habit of defending Scripture's precedence with respect to the present-day church community by reference to its otherness, that is, its status as a text that precedes the community in time and stands over against it as an entity of which it is not the source. This is a bad habit because some members of the church (i.e., the apostles and their co-laborers) did write Scripture—the New Testament in this case—and, moreover, textuality per se does not require ancient provenance. It is a bad habit, further, because it is an unnecessary argument.

Thinking about that bad habit put me in mind of a brief discussion late in my dissertation, discussing John Howard Yoder's theology of Scripture. There I write, "Yoder is right to argue for Scripture’s independence, or externality. This claim entails neither denial of Scripture’s human craftsmanship or ecclesial habitat (which Yoder acknowledges), nor reference to its antiquity or alien cultural origins (which Yoder does at times fall prey to), but rather recognition of its integral, inassimilable character as other than and prior to the church."

To that I append the following footnote: "Primarily in the sense of having priority (i.e., authority, precedence), but also, in part, chronological priority. Israel and its Scriptures preceded Pentecost absolutely, and the apostles and their writings precede the rest of the church for the most part. But note that neither chronological priority nor cultural alienness is a sufficient condition for true otherness or authority. The pope is other than me, but contemporaneous and perhaps culturally familiar. Those latter two features do not ipso facto nullify his (potential and potentially infallible) authority over me."

If—and it is quite a conditional, I admit—the bishop of Rome stands to the church catholic today as the apostles did to the church in their day, then neither Scripture's antiquity nor its status as a text that I did not author have no bearing on its authority for me. Better arguments are required to secure its authority and, more specifically, what Yoder calls its "independence" over against the church.


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