There are two related questions that Christians face in Asia with regard to their belief in the authority of the Bible. One is the claim made by the people of other religions for the divine inspiration and the authority of their respective scriptures. The other, which is a more specific issue, is whether one can claim for the Old Testament any more authority than the scriptures of other religions, if they all represent the unfulfilled aspirations of man, and to all of which Christ and the New Testament became the fulfillment.

The Moslems in general hold an extremely exalted view of the inspiration and the authority of the Koran. Some of them even believed that every word of it was dictated by Allah to Mohammed. Some scholars say that the Koran was not created, but was eternally coexistent with God. To question the authority of the Koran is to question the authority of God himself.

Orthodox Hindus consider the vedas as having absolute authority in all matters of faith and religious practices, and also in their world view. But reason plays a significant role in the interpretation of the Hindu scriptures. Within the limits of scriptural authority, reason enjoys great freedom. But reason cannot comprehend the nature of Brahma as it is subject to and conditioned by experiences in life that are illusory.

The Hindus attribute different degrees of authority to different scriptures. The vedas belonging to the category of sruti (that which is heard) is of primary authority, while writings belonging to smriti (that which is remembered) have only derived authority and are of lesser significance. Any teaching of the latter that contradicts the former is to be rejected. Most Christians would not consider different parts of the Bible as having different degrees of authority, though it might be admitted that all parts do not have the same significance and relevance.

Hinduism has the concept of general and special revelation similar to that in Christian theologies. According to it, the Supreme Reality has manifested itself in the world in a multitude of forms. Everything that exists in the world shows some aspect of Brahma. But the revelation in the veda has a uniqueness and finality about it. An exclusive claim for the uniqueness of the vedic faith is often made by the Hindu leaders similar to the claim for special revelation that Christians make for Christ and the Bible. Therefore, the view that according to Hinduism all religions are in essence the same or similar is not true.

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Again, revelation in the vedas is greater than any other revelation, including the Incarnation. Writers like Shankara speak of “the eternity of the vedas.” The vedas become the source of all other creations. In Christianity, though the exact relationship between the Bible and Christ as far as authority is concerned cannot be well defined, the Bible is never considered more authoritative than the incarnate Christ.

The concept of the “word,” vac or vak, in Hinduism is intriguing. The word is eternal and God uses the word at the beginning of each aeon or world-cycle. The world is created from the word. The importance of this concept in the communication of the Christian doctrine of the Word of God and the idea of Christ, the logos, is obvious.

A significant difference between the Christian concept and that of the eastern religions on scripture is the place of history in divine revelation. To the Christian faith, the central factor in the revelation of God is his work of salvation, which culminates in the Incarnation. In the eastern religions history or events play no part in revelation, and any discussion of “historicity of revelation” makes no sense.

How shall we view the divine authority that is claimed for non-Christian scriptures? Those who have not come to a knowledge of God through Christ are not altogether ignorant of God. The one eternal God has revealed something of himself in many and various ways to all people. Paul’s speeches in Acts 14 and 17 describe God as one who guides man and is not far away from anyone “not leaving himself without a witness,” with an ultimate purpose that all men leaving their times of ignorance might come to a knowledge of God. The general revelation of God is the basis of the values found in other scriptures. Although their concept of God is limited and often distorted, these writings carry certain authority over their adherents as God continues to deal with them.

Many Christian thinkers in Asia seriously question the authority of the Old Testament for the Christian Church. The problem is nothing new. They stand in the tradition of people such as Marcion, Hermann, Harnack, and more recently Bultmann; in Asia the reasons for the rejection or the devaluation of the Old Testament are different. The richness of the scriptures of the eastern religions is contrasted with that of the Old Testament. It is often maintained that it is difficult to attribute any superior value to the Old Testament over against the nonbiblical sacred writings. It is said that if the Old Testament is considered as a preparation of ancient Israel for Christ’s coming and for the New Testament, then in the Asian setting the sacred scriptures of the East should be considered as having an equally important function in preparing Asians for the Gospel and Christ. This view has also led to a practice, though rare, of reading selections from non-Christian scriptures before the New Testament reading in the service of Holy Communion.

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To equate the Old Testament with other scriptures in this way is to deny the unity of the Bible. Also, the New Testament represents not the fulfillment of any hopes of mankind as found in all scriptures, but rather the specific expectations of the Old Testament and the specific promises made to Israel in the context of history. This kind of relationship that exists between the Old Testament and the New Testament in terms of salvation history, which plays an all-important role in God’s revelation, is not seen with respect to other religious scriptures.

Both Testaments have one central theme and one cannot understand the New without the Old; the two are historically and theologically linked together. Christ’s stamp upon the Old Testament, the significance the apostles give to it, and the early church’s unreserved acceptance of its authority, are the bases of our attitude to the Old Testament. No other scripture can stand at par with it. Biblical authority is to be seen in the framework of the following closely related concepts.

First, divine inspiration of the Bible. God in his providence so overruled the formation of different books of the Bible by causing certain men to write messages that were God’s words for men. If what the Bible says is what God says to us, then it becomes the supreme authoritative standard for us.

Second, the principle of canon. Many questions regarding the biblical canon remain unanswered. But we should see in the development of the canon and its acceptance by God’s people the providence and guidance of God. The implication in the concept of biblical authority is our acceptance of the present canon.

Third, its sufficiency. The Bible does not produce answers for many questions that we ask today. It does not tell us everything we would like to know even about spiritual things, about God and his dealings with men. But it provides an adequate framework, which is clear and certain for our lives.

Fourth, the present work of the Triune God. Except for the work of the Spirit of God in the church and in the lives of the believers, biblical authority is an empty notion. It is he who witnesses to the authority of the Bible, speaks God’s words to us as we read it, and enables us to obey the word of God as it is addressed to us in the authority of our Lord.

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