FAQs on Biblical Authority
What is biblical authority?
As the written word of God, the Bible is the supreme and final authority in faith and practice. It functions as the norm which the church’s tradition, reason, and experience must serve. Its authority is established in the believer and church’s life by the testimony of the Holy Spirit—the same Spirit that inspired the writers of Scripture and that now converts and makes holy those who listen to Scripture. The Bible’s primary purpose is to confront us with the Word of God in the person of Jesus Christ through whom God’s grace and truth are definitively revealed (John 1:14, 17).
How does biblical authority relate to the question of authorship?
All Scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit. But this does not mean that the human authors were God’s passive robots nor that God dictated to them what they wrote. In a way that goes beyond human comprehension, God was at work in the process of writing the documents that make up our Bible: divine revelation was incarnate in human words, much like the mystery of the person of Jesus Christ, who was fully divine and fully human. Just as Jesus of Nazareth astounded people with his authority when he spoke (Matt 7:28–29), so God speaks authoritatively through Scripture with its variety of human authors, cultural expressions, and literary genres.
Why are students at Azusa Pacific University required to purchase the Oxford Annotated Bible (NRSV w/Apocrypha)?
There are four reasons this edition of the Bible is chosen:
- Students save money having to purchase only one Bible for all of their Bible/theology classes.
- The contributors to the Oxford Annotated Bible are some of the most well-respected scholars in the world.
- The NRSV of the Oxford Annotated Bible is a strong translation that takes into account the most recent scholarship on the ancient manuscripts.
- Professors can assign readings from the important literature (the Apocrypha) written during the time between the Testaments—this literature was known, read, and referred to by New Testament authors. Moreover, this literature and its historical setting is important for understanding many of the terms that appear in the Gospel accounts, including “Sadducees,” “Pharisees,” and “the abomination of desolation,” among others.
Is the Division of Religion and Philosophy associated with any denomination? (To what part of the Christian family do we belong?)
Azusa Pacific University was founded in 1899 as the Training School for Christian Workers. Although Quakers and Methodists (Wesleyans) started the school, the founders decided to “make the school interdenominational.” A shared church history in the American Holiness Movement helped to bind together the early ecumenical group of educators.
C.P. Haggard, who served as APU’s president for 39 years, identified the university as “evangelical” by basing its “Statement of Faith” in the 1940s on that of the National Association of Evangelicals. But he modified the statement by grafting it onto the “Daily Living Expectations,” distinctive of the Wesleyan and Holiness traditions. Haggard strengthened the Wesleyan and Holiness traditions of the University in the 1960s, when Los Angeles Pacific College and Arlington College merged with Azusa Pacific College, which were affiliated with the Free Methodist Church and Church of God (Anderson), respectively. These churches were part of the historic Holiness branches of Methodism.
Over the years, Azusa Pacific University fortified its Wesleyanism through such documents as the University’s “Essence Statement” (1979) and “Position Statement on Evangelical Commitment” (2006), which explicitly mention the university’s identification with the Wesleyan and Holiness traditions. Azusa Pacific also supported the multi-year Wesleyan Holiness Study Project (2003-2006) as an ecumenical effort to bring together diverse churches and denominations that consider Holiness important to their beliefs, values, and practices. They included Quaker, Methodist, Holiness, Pentecostal, and other independent churches. Today, APU presents itself as a Christian University that is both evangelical and ecumenical, and the School of Theology remains the heart of its Wesleyan and Holiness theological heritage.
How does Wesleyanism inform our understanding of biblical authority?
John Wesley believed in the “authority” and “sufficiency” of Scripture for “all things necessary to salvation.” These affirmations reflect the “Thirty-nine Articles” of Anglicanism (1571), which influenced the Methodist “Articles of Religion” (1784). Wesley was Anglican, and his Methodist movement affirmed the primacy of biblical authority. He also affirmed the genuine—albeit secondary—religious authority of church tradition, critical thinking, and relevant experience for reflecting upon and living out Christianity.
Over time, this fourfold understanding of religious authority became known as the “Wesleyan quadrilateral,” which includes Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. But the quadrilateral considers Scripture the final authority in matters of Christian beliefs, values, and practices. Thus, Wesley agreed with the Protestant Reformers with regard to sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”) as being the final religious authority. Azusa Pacific University embraced this Wesleyan heritage in the development of its “Statement of Faith.” In addition, the University drew upon ecumenical language from the National Association of Evangelicals’ “Statement of Faith,” which describes Scripture as “the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.” The term “inspiration,” of course, comes from Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16), and “infallible” reflects the “Westminster Confession” (1625), a Reformed confession. Their usage preserves centuries of Protestant and ecumenical understandings of the nature of biblical authority, and delimits both modernist and fundamentalist innovations in describing Scripture. Modernist and fundamentalist understandings of biblical authority are thought to be more dependent upon the Enlightenment than upon Scripture itself.
Today, APU continues to be informed by Wesleyanism, as well as by ecumenical Protestantism, in its understanding of biblical authority. The 2006 “Position Statement on Evangelical Commitment” states: “Reflecting our Wesleyan-Holiness heritage, we consider right living important along with right belief. We seek truth primarily through Scripture and integrate other sources such as reason, tradition, and experience.” Scripture represents the University’s primary religious authority, but it is a complex understanding, which integrates the best hermeneutical tools in interpreting Scripture. Although Christians may advocate simple faith, Wesley never understood it to be simplistic. If biblical authority is to be relevant today, then it must be promoted in ways that both conserve and progress in its understanding, assessment, and application of Scripture.
What is distinctly evangelical about the Division of Religion and Philosophy?
Every year, we sign our university’s statement of faith, which is a solidly evangelical affirmation that directly reflects the language of the National Association of Evangelicals’ statement of faith. While this is true, the better answer to what makes us distinctly evangelical is that each faculty member approaches his or her discipline with the three concerns that have characterized evangelicalism since its beginning: the desire to discern the truths of Christianity (orthodoxy), a search for how we might best apply those truths in our callings (orthopraxy), and the aspiration to experience transformation and encourage Christ-likeness in others (orthopathy).
How do the faculty seek to instill a love of Scripture in their students?
Everyone is fond of a love letter, especially when the recipient knows that the sender is wonderful and lovely. The Bible is more than a letter; and God, the sender, exceeds our ideas of wonderful and lovely. This gives us more reasons to love the Bible. We believe that our students grow in love for the Bible when they learn what it says about God and His people, and how the cherished gift of Scripture came to our hands. It is both the story in the Bible and of the Bible that inspires love for the Bible. We therefore tell both stories in ever-deepening stages throughout the journey of our students. At the same time, we do not neglect to share how God has touched us and continues to do so through the gift of Scripture, so that our students may know of our own love for the Bible and the personal quality of our devotion.
Do you have course offerings that address global Christian perspectives?
Some of our most exciting courses are Global Biblical Interpretation and Theologies of Liberation. In these classes, we examine the unique perspectives of various cultures worldwide and the important contributions each culture’s values have made to the understanding of the rich, multifaceted truths of Scripture and theology. In some of our introductory Bible courses, we also introduce students at a basic level to the role that culture plays. Our upper-division theology course entitled Contemporary Christian Thought also addresses global theologies. Finally, we are committed to incorporating the contributions of scholars from outside of the United States. Our faculty includes scholars from Korea, Greece, Cameroon, Honduras, and Romania, all of whom offer important global perspectives to our students. As such, as a division, we share a strong commitment to hearing the voices of people from all cultures as we join in studying and interpreting the Bible together.
How does academic study of the Bible differ from devotional study of the Bible?
Within the Wesleyan evangelical tradition that Azusa Pacific University represents, all forms of Bible study, whether academic or devotional, take place within a commitment to the inspiration and authority of the Bible. However, the academic ways of studying the Bible that we emphasize in our APU Bible and theology classes ask different questions than devotional study does, and use different methods to answer them. While devotional uses of the Bible focus directly on how the Bible can build up our spiritual lives and our relationship with God, academic study asks literary, theological, and historical questions that increase our understanding of the Bible, its God, and its world. In the classroom, we critically employ different approaches to biblical interpretation in order to strengthen our grasp of the meaning and significance of biblical passages in their original context, in Christian history, and in our lives today. In this way, the understanding of the Bible we gain by using scholarly methods enhances and deepens our devotional study of the Bible.