The Holy Scriptures
The church comes into existence by the Word of God; the Word is indispensable for its life and nourishment. Foundational for every Christian disciple is his need to examine what he believes about the Bible and why he believes the way he believes. Furthermore he is bound to test his faith whether it accords with the Bible itself and with what the pilgrim church throughout the centuries has held concerning this most important loci of doctrine, that is, about the nature of Scripture, and our need of it.
Succinctly, our doctrine about Scripture is as follows. The Holy Scriptures are the unique and all-embracing revelation of God, coming from the Father of lights, and flowing through chosen pen-men to be received, believed and obeyed by the church, and indeed by all human beings (as is their duty as God’s creatures).
The Bible is the only inspired and infallible divine revelation ever given to man. Other supposed sacred books of false religions bear stand no comparison with the Bible. The Bible is the supreme authority in all matters of faith and morals.
The Scriptures were plenary and verbally inspired: that is, all of it and every word of it. The Holy Spirit breathed upon the human vessels the very thoughts and words He wanted written. This flowed through the human channels involving their emotions, character and personalities. In writing Scripture God did not use men as machines; He never violated their personality, but rather prepared them for such a high task.
The final result was that the Scripture is without any error, omission or inaccuracy for the Holy Spirit guarded and preserved each thought, phrase and word.
We will examine the subject under different through related heads.
1. The Bible is the Word of God.
The Bible is the Divine Library, consisting of sixty-six separate yet related books. It is the Book above all books, priceless and incomparable. The first main section, commonly known as the Old Testament is in effect a preparation for the full and complete revelation of the New Testament, which was inaugurated by the appearing of the Son of God in human flesh.
The Bible claims to be the very Word of God. Though written by some forty different authors over a period of about sixteen centuries, over two thousand times the Bible is spoken of or alluded to as “the Word of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13; Hebrews 4:12; Ephesians 6:17; Mark 7:13; Colossians 1:25; John 10:35; Luke 8:11).
Similarly it is called the Word of the Lord (Jeremiah 1:2,11; Ezekiel 1:3; Isaiah 1:10; 40:8; Hosea 1:1; Acts 8:25; 13:48; 2 Thessalonians 3:1; 1 Peter 1:23-25).
As a further way of describing itself, the Bible says that it is the word of Christ (Colossians 3:16); the word of life (Philippians 2:16; the word of faith (Romans 10:8), the word of truth (Ephesians 1:13) and the Scriptures of Truth (Daniel 10:21). Or simply and dramatically, the Word (Acts 4:31; 6:4; James 1:21-23; Luke 4:4; 1 Timothy 4:5).
The Bible is the Oracle of God (oracle signifying “the speaking place”). Christianity is present where there is a sincere belief in an infinite and personal God who has not been silent or who has removed Himself from His creation. Rather the true and living God is with us, and has spoken to us. His Law is referred to as “lively oracles” (Romans 3:2).
Neo-Orthodox theologians, who with much sophistry would have us believe that the Bible only contains the Word of God (as it might affect the reader in a subjective way) are then in grievous error. If the Bible is a record of what has issued from the mouth of God, then it must be the Word of God, nothing less.
If Neo-Orthodoxy is embraced it will eventually and quickly undermine our faith in what God has said. Doubts will immediately enter, and we will be free to pick and choose what we like from the Bible. In effect we will be making ourselves judges over the Bible, whereas in truth the Word of Christ is what judges us.
2. The Bible is infallible, inerrant and totally free from error.
When used as a description of the Bible, “infallibility” denotes “being incapable of error, being exempt from any liability to make mistakes.”
The Bible sets forth the truth of God without any mixture of error. Paul tells us that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16). The Bible is theopneustos, literally “God-breathed.”
Inspiration describes the process by which God’s self-revelation was recorded. While revelation as such has to do with the impartation of divine truth, inspiration has to do with the recording of the truth. The Scriptures are an infallible revelation because of inspiration.
Inspiration was the power which enable the pen-men to write the divine revelation without error or the least defect. They did not write at their own impulse or on their own initiative; rather they were impelled by the Spirit of truth to write what He directed them to write: “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man, but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:20-21).
At different stages the pen-men were commanded to write in a book (Exodus 17:14; Revelation 1:11; Jeremiah 30:2; 2 Samuel 23:2). Moses, for instance, received the Decalogue by revelation, but recorded it in Exodus and Deuteronomy under inspiration.
These facts are clear-cut for the objective student of the Bible, and yet mankind will seek to look for infallible truth in other sources. The main ones that would usurp the position of the Bible are:
Human reason is God’s gift to man; it is one of the faculties with which man is endowed.
But by itself human reason is inadequate to become the infallible standard for man in matters of faith and morals. Man’s reason is limited, fallible and depraved by the Fall.
Otherwise known as mystical insight, this too is limited and fallible. The very nature of fallen man, corrupted by sin, makes all subjective insight potentially corrupted and therefore unreliable.
3. The church.
When any denomination organization claims to be the infallible organ of truth (such as is propounded by Romanism), then its claims will have to be examined. If the papacy, for instance, claims to be infallible when speaking as the official successor of Peter, then his claims must be scrutinized.
And what do we find? Historically the popes have contradicted themselves, promulgated extra-biblical doctrines (such as the assumption of Mary into heaven, and her immaculate conception) and anti-biblical doctrines (such as the re-enactment of the sacrifice of Christ in the Mass), and have also embraced heresies (such as Liberius who was an Arian, Callistus and Zephirinus who were Patripassians).
The only alternative left is what the Bible claims to be: the only infallible source of spiritual truth on earth. The Word can never be subject to the authority of the fallible church. Rather the church is subject to the infallible authority of the Word.
3. The Bible is sufficient for the Christian faith.
May the Christian rest upon Scripture as his only source of spiritual truth, to the ordering of his faith and morals? Or is he allowed to seek additional information from elsewhere, for instance, from psychiatry, psychology, anthropology and world religions?
In other words, is the Bible sufficient? By the sufficiency of Scripture we mean that the Scripture embodies all the words of god that we need for salvation, for trusting Him perfectly, and for obeying Him and pleasing Him completely. In the Scriptures alone the Christian is meant to search and find God’s will. If the pastor is thoroughly equipped and furnished unto all good works by the guidance he finds in Scripture, then how much more the rank and file Christian (2 Timothy 3:16,17)!
To be morally complete in God’s sight are we allowed to seek further revelation from elsewhere? Not at all! (Proverbs 30:5,6; Deuteronomy 12:31,32).
In application of this doctrine, which is being savagely attacked today, we may point out that:
1. The sufficiency of Scripture encourages us to discover what God would have us think (doctrine, beliefs) and do (in a particular situation). As we examine Scripture - Scriptura tota et Scriptura sola - we may rest assured that once this is done competently we enjoy all the relevant information God desired to grant us in this life.
2. We are to consider no other writings as of equal value to Scripture. While we may value theological books and other literature, all has to be examined in the light of Scripture.
3. God does not require us to believe anything that is not found in Scripture. Since Scripture is sufficient we see then the fatal error of Romanism in upholding tradition as of equal value to Scripture. Such a thought is blasphemous.
4. New revelations from God are not to be expected. Since the canon of Scripture was closed as the apostolic generation passed away, the Koran, the Book of Mormon, Science and Health with a Key to the Scriptures, and charismatic prophecies are all exposed to be fraudulent and deceptive.
5. Nothing is required of us by God that is not commanded in Scripture either explicitly or by implication. This principle is otherwise known as the regulative principle
6. Scripture being sufficient, we are to employ the analogia fidei, that is, emphasise what Scripture emphasises and interpret Scripture by other passages of Scripture.
4. The Bible is the final authority in all matters of faith and practice.
Authority arises out of infallibility. If the Scriptures are inspired and infallible, then they must necessarily be the supreme authority for all the church concerning its faith and morals. Nothing else claims to be such with any degree of validity. So Scripture is the final authority.
In other words it is the final court of appeals for the life and conscience of all true believers. Other authorities, though real and recognised, must ultimately and consistently be subjected to the authority of the Word. Reason, conscience, councils, the apocrypha and the church all come under the final say of the Scripture (1 Corinthians 14:37; 1 Timothy 6:3,4; Galatians 1:8,9; Psalms 19:7-11; 119:1,9; Matthew 4:1-11; 2 Timothy 3:14-16).
The Westminster Confession expresses it this way: “The authority of the Holy Scriptures, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself), the author thereof; and therefore it is to be believed, because it is the word of God” (ch.1:iv).
The sole reason then why the Bible ought to be believed and obeyed is that it has God as its unique author. It receives authority from heaven; it requires no earthly support or advocacy in regard to the issue of its authority.
The authority of the Bible is intrinsic and inherent; it is self-validating. Its authority is not derived from human testimony, in the same sense that Christ did not derive his deity from human testimony (even though many confessed Him as such), but He is Deity Himself, whatever men may think of Him.
Dr. Robert Reymond has an interesting and illuminating passage: “An unfortunate comment by Augustine is often cited to prove the point: ‘I would not believe in the Gospel, had not the authority of the Catholic Church already moved me.’ Rome’s position is based upon the notion that the church canonized the Scriptures, when in fact the church merely received and preserved the already authoritative Scriptures as they were written, and eventually declared to be ‘canonical’ the twenty-seven books that God’s Spirit desired should be in the New Testament canon because it could do nothing else” (A New Systematic of the Christian Faith, page 73,74).
5. The true Evangelical is missionary-minded.
The above four points granted, and the contents of the Bible kept in mind, this final point is the logical conclusion. The Christian must have his eyes lifted up upon the fields that are ripe unto harvest. He realizes that since in Christ Jesus we have salvation with all its blessings, then outside of Christ there is no hope (Ephesians 2:11ff.).
The risen Lord commanded His disciples to multiply themselves by making other disciples (Matthew 28:19). This evangelistic work of declaring the gospel to all nations is the primary ministry of the church that holds her biblical faith dearly and seriously.
The church is entrusted with the keys of the kingdom of heaven: to preach the message of redemption through Christ, the administer the sacraments, to exercise discipline, to offer up prayer and thanksgiving and intercessions to God, to worship Him in spirit and truth, to express God’s mercy to a lost and dying world, to fellowship together unto edification, and engage in other ministries as well.
But the fundamental means of grace deposited within the church of Christ is to evangelize, to spread abroad to every land the good news that salvation is accomplished by Christ’s death and resurrection.
Evangelism then is a means of grace not only in the sense that it ministers saving grace to the unsaved, but also because those who evangelize experience more of the Holy Spirit’s presence and blessing in their own lives. True evangelists and Christian workers stand fast on the truth of Scripture. The truth impels them to move forward; they know the fear of the Lord and so engage in persuading men to repent and trust in the only Redeemer Jesus Christ.
Reformed Christianity has a challenge before her. It is not enough to be orthodox; it is not sufficient to maintain and confess a healthy doctrine. All doctrine, if it is affecting us the way it should, always leads to godliness. And godliness is profitable not only to ourselves but to others who are still wallowing in sin, superstition, idolatry, and in opposition to the Creator of all things. It is truth that is according to godliness that should be our prime concern.
The Scripture is truth: “sanctify them in the truth; thy word is truth” (John 17:17). The truth received must also be the truth passed on (2 Timothy 2:2).