Religious Education | Edexcel | 2011 Exam | Religion and Social Responsibility

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The authority of the Bible

Bible: The holy book of Christians with 66 books split into the Old Testament and the New Testament.

Moral decisions are when you have to decide what is the right or wrong thing to do. Deciding whether to have a Mars bar or a Cadbury's Flake would not be a moral decision. But deciding whether to give 50p to help save a child from Polio, help in making these kind of decisions.

The authority of the bible means that the Bible is accepted as being so important that what it says must be believed and obeyed. If the Bible has this authority then Christians should use it when making moral decisions.

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Why the Bible has authority for Christians in maki

  • All christians agree that the Bible has authority because it is inspired by God. This must mean that it is the way to find out what God wants Christians to do.
  • All Christians use the Bible as a basis for making moral decisions because it has God's teachings on how to behave, such as the Ten Commandments.
  • The Bible contains the teachings of Jesus on how to live, such as the Sermon on the Mount and the Parables. As Christians believe Jesus is the son of God, they should follow his teachings.
  • The bible has the teachings of the great Christian leader St Peter, St Paul, St John and St James about how to live.

The way the bible is treated by some Christians shows its authority.

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Differences Among Christians about the authority o

"The Bible contains a whole set of stories, experiences, prayers and poems which reflect a pattern of God's dealings with a line of people that he got in touch with. Through these atterns we can come to know how God makes himself known, but I do not hold that the Bible is the word of God in any sense that guarantees its particular words." - David Jenkins, former Bishop of Durham.


Although all Christians would accept that the Bible has some authority in making moral decisions, they do not all agree about how important it should be.

Some Christians believe that the Bible is the absolute word of God, dictated by God to the writers. Therefore it has absolute authority and can never be changed. Some Christians believe that, although the Bible is the absolute word of God, it needs interpreting by the Church.

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Other Christians believe that the Bible was written by humans inspired by God. Although it has authority for moral decision making, many of its attitudes reflect  tha social situation at the time of the writers and need to be revised in the light of modern knowledge.

Some Christians would only use the Bible in making moral decisions.

Some would use the Church to tell them what the Bible means for today, so they would put the authority of the Church over the Bible.

Other Christians would use their own conscience or reason to decide whether to follow the Bible in making a moral decision.

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The authority of the Church

Church - the community of Christians.

Although the bible is the basis of all Christian decision making, most Christians believe that the Bible needs to be explained to discover what it means for life today. Many Christians believe that the Church has the right to explain what the Bible means, and what Christians should do about moral issues.

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How the Church decides on moral issues

  • Some churches elect people to an Assembly which comes to an agreement about how members of the Church should respond to a moral issu
  • Other Churches have leaderes who are appointed to make decisions. In the Roman Catholic Church, the Pope and the Council of Bishops act as the magisterium (the living teaching office of the Church) to give teaching on moral issues to Cathoic Christians. They do this either through the Catholic catechism or official letteres from the Pope.
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Why the Church has authority:

  • Christians believe the Church is the body of Christ. By this they mean that the Church is how Jesus Christ, the Son of God, works in the world. If the Church is the Body of Christ, then it must have the same authority as Christ.
  • Most Christians believe that God did not stop speaking to people after the last book of the Bible was written. They believe that God speaks to the world today through the Church.
  • The Church is the community of believers. Therefore God must guide it and so it must be able to make decisions on moral issues as it is guided by God.
  • If individual Christians were to make their own decisions on everything, there could be lots of different opinions about how to behave, and no one would know which was the right thing for Christians to do. If people follow the guidance of the Church, they can be sure they are doing the right thing.
  • Christians expect the Church to give them guidance on the Christian life, and making moral decisions is an important part of the Christian life.

The Church has authority because Church leaders are in the best position to say what the Bible means for today, and they always give guidance on moral issues.

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The role of conscience



Conscience: An inner feeling of the rightness or wrongness of an action.

All humans have a conscience which distinguishes between right and wrong and makes them feel guilty if they do things which they regard as wrong. You may have experienced the effects of conscience in your own life. For example, if you do something your parents disapprove of, you may feel guilty afterwards. These feelings of guilt are your conscience.

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Conscience - Continued | When should Christians fo

St Paul and St Thomas Squinas taught that Christians should use their conscience as the final part of moral decision making.

A good example would be if a Christian thought they heard the voice of God telling them to kill all doctors who perform abortions. The Bible and the Church day that Christians should obey the voice of God, but they also say that it is wrong to murder.

To decide which teaching to follow, a Christian would use their conscience which would tell them that murder is wrong and that Christians should never use wrong means, whatever the end is.

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