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Friday, February 26, 2010

The Bible and the Constitution

Read: 2 Timothy 3:14-16

As a Christian who is also a professor of constitutional law, I am struck by the parallels between the way Christians struggle over the authority of Scripture, and the way American lawyers, scholars, and judges struggle over the meaning of the United States Constitution.

In each case, you have a written text that, in theory, we accept as authoritative and definitive. Christians accept the Bible as God’s written word, totally true and trustworthy because it came from the mind of God Himself, who used human authors to put pen to paper (parchment, or whatever they used). 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”

The Constitution is authoritative NOT because it is God-breathed and infallible, but because it is the supreme law of the land. It is supposed to bind the hands of all branches of government, setting a firm parameter around legislative, executive and judicial power that can only be altered by its authors, “We the People of the United States.”

In each case, however, we see large numbers of people who want to ignore the written text and substitute their own judgment of the good. In constitutional law, this is called the “living Constitution” approach. If we can’t find our desired political outcome in the actual text of the document, we just say that the words must morph to comply with some vague, self-determined set of “constitutional principles.”

The same happens in churches that ignore God’s clear written word, replacing it with the “wisdom” of their leaders. (Cf. 1 Corinthians 1:18-25.) For example, the Bible’s teaching on sexual morality is clear, but those whose who want to promote extra-marital sex or homosexuality ignore the text and say that they are following “biblical principles” like love and non-judgment.

Words require interpretation and application. Understanding the full meaning of a written text, whether it is the Bible, the Constitution, or something else, can be difficult and divisive. But we need to commit ourselves to that difficult task. If we claim to be followers of that text, we can’t just ignore the words and fall back on vague platitudes.

~ Prof. Brad Jacob, Regent University School of Law

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