The Impression of Authority

I’ve been reading about end notes and their use.  These are interesting because they give a research paper or book the appearance of authority without actually making the information readily available.  An author can make a claim, followed by an end note, and though we likely won’t take the time to turn to the end of the chapter or book to look at what the note says, it gives the impression of authority.  We think: “Clearly, he knows what he’s talking about.”  Or does he?  A couple of years ago I was reading a particularly unpleasant book that questioned the reliability of ancient New Testament manuscripts.  At one point it asserted that most textual errors that involved doctrine were deliberate, and then inserted one of those end notes.  At that time I was beginning to look at all of the end notes in this book (which is not convenient) to see what evidence he was providing for the problems with Bible manuscripts that he was claiming, so that I could try and prepare a response.  I was expecting a citation from an authoritative book, or other evidence.  But that’s not what I found.  Instead, there was just a note, explaining that what he had just written was just an opinion.  How cleaver.  If it had been a footnote, I could have quickly glanced at the bottom of the page and seen that what he affirmed at the top of the page had been cancelled out by what was confessed at the bottom.  But no, it was an end note, and double checking took time and effort.  I’m not saying that he did this deliberately.  But if he had confessed to not knowing right after stating his opinion, the impact would have been greatly reduced.  This has made a fundamental change in my reading habits.  When I read a confident claim, I turn back to the end note to double check.

I remember many years ago talking with a young couple in Salt Lake City about the topic of baptism.  I had dropped off a Bible study on the topic, and since they were also talking with another church about the same topic, they had also dropped off a Bible study on baptism.  The conclusions in that Bible study clearly contradicted just about everything I was saying.  How could that be?  Both had many Bible references, giving the impression of Biblical authority.  But then I started to look up the references in the other Bible study.  Oddly, only a couple of the passages had anything to do with baptism.  Again, a lesson to be learned.  If we look to Bible passages that are not actually on topic, we won’t get reliable answers.  It’s important not to be impressed by end notes or Bible references that don’t actually back up what’s being said.  When people play such “smoke and mirrors” games with us, we should speak up and say “Well, you haven’t actually given me any reason to agree with you.  Is there something else you can show me?”  An impression of authority just isn’t enough.  When it comes to doctrine, there needs to be answers from clear and sufficient scripture or we have no reason to agree with what’s being said.