The short answer is yes. A case in point appears in a recent article by retired Anglican minister Albert Radcliffe. Radcliffe argues that the Bible is a “library of conflicting viewpoints,” and cannot be the last word on the Church of England’s debates on the moral status of homosexuality and women pastors. He argues that even within the pages of the Bible we read about “rigorists” who prefer the letter of the law and about the “humanitarians” who don’t allow the Bible to be the last word. According to Radcliffe, someone like Ezra was in the former category, and Jesus was in the latter.
As you might imagine, the upshot of this hermeneutic is devastating to the functional authority of the Bible to whoever adopts it. Radcliffe writes:
“The Bible cannot be used, therefore, to close moral and theological debate. Its pronouncements on the social role of women and the acceptance of gays are not authoritative in the sense that they are given by God to end all discussion. They are open to the same sort of revision found in the Old Testament when scripture argues with scripture and afterwards when Jesus debated with his opponents. General Synod’s discussions are part of humanity’s ongoing debate with God through scripture and the unending disputes scripture provokes.”
Apart from the obvious futility of debating God, Radcliffe’s article has a number of problems with it. Chief among them is the notion that the Bible contradicts itselfâ€”that it is a “library of conflicting viewpoints”â€”and that it exercises no authority on the issues it speaks to. It’s just supposed to provoke our moral imaginations, which may or may not be in concert with the Scriptures.
It’s helpful to remind ourselves that this is not the way that the apostles and Jesus spoke about the Scriptures. For them, the Bible was the word of God written and completely authoritative for all of life.
Jesus called two men “foolish” for failing to believe “all” of what the Old Testament scriptures teach (Luke 24:25). For Jesus, it wasn’t enough to believe some of the Bible. Christ’s followers must believe all of what the Bible teaches, and they emphatically must not debate with God. The apostle Paul famously said it this way, “All scripture is God-breathed” (1 Timothy 3:16). By that he meant that meant that all of the scriptures are God’s word written. As God’s word, they can no more contradict themselves than God can contradict Himself.
Radcliffe’s article is tragically mistaken, but it does highlight something important. The debate over homosexuality and the role of women is nothing less than a debate about the functional authority of the Bible. Some will submit to that authority, and others will kick against it. The difference between these two groups is all the difference in the world. Unfortunately, some people still don’t see it that way. Hopefully, by God’s grace, they will see it sooner rather than later (2 Timothy 2:25).