TRUHT FOR TODAY - BIBLICAL ESSAYS BY PASTOR PAUL MIZZI

The authority and sufficiency of Scripture

Because of man's fall into sin, thus blinding himself to truth and wisdom, God was pleased to reveal himself to his creature, declaring his will to him, particularly to his elect people (2 Corinthians 4:3-6; 1 Corinthians 1:21; 2:13,14).

As God encountered man at various stages throughout history, it also pleased God to leave on record his own Word so that it may be preserved and propagated among the nations, to be protected against corruptions through the maliciousness of Satan and the world. This is the Christian church's faith concerning the book commonly called "The Holy Scriptures." How do we know that it is the Word of God, and not some other writing? Basically and fundamentally our knowledge springs from its own testimony concerning its authority and sufficiency. Scripture unashamedly and repeatedly declares to be absolutely essential (2 Timothy 3:15; 2 Peter 1:19), since the former ways in which God revealed his will have now ceased (Hebrews 1:1,2).

Scripture testifies concerning itself But how does it appear that the Bible is the Word of God? Many strands of evidence come together to present a strong, yea an irrefutable case for its authority and sufficiency.

Consider the following:

1. The Bible's contents are pure and majestic (Hosea 8;12; 1 Corinthians 2:6,7,13; Psalms 119:18,129).

2. It does not contradict itself, as so often mere human literature does. This is all the more impressive seeing that it was compiled through a period of some 15 hundred years at least, about 40 different authors contributing (Acts 10:43; 26:22).

3. If we were to ask, What is the purpose of its total message, the all-encompassing aim? We might reply, To reveal God's will to us, or, To show us the way of salvation. Such answers would be correct as far as they go, but a more far-reaching purpose is to give all the glory to God (Romans 3:19,27).

4. Other writings claim to be heaven-sent, for instance, the Koran and the Book of Mormon. But we find in them no validation. They contain the bare and naked claim of being God's word, but the claim is left dangling and unsupported.

By this I mean that there are no record of miracles - true, genuine God-wrought miracles - in them. Miracles are an attestation of God's approval and authentication of the Word.

Besides, and correlative to this, the Bible is the only Book that contains innumerable prophecies which no-one can deny have truly come true. Most of them were written hundreds of years before their fulfilment. No human mind can accomplish this. But God, being eternal, can easily foretell the future and did so, thus indicating strongly the authority of the Bible (Isaiah 41:21-24; 44:7,8; John 13:19).

5. Is Scripture authoritative? Even if we consider this question experientially, we would be constrained to admit that it is, seeing its power (under God's Spirit) to illuminate dark minds, to convict of sin and convert sinners to God; to comfort and strengthen believers in their salvation (Acts 18:28; Hebrews 6:12; James 1:18; Psalms 19:7-9; Romans 15:4; Acts 20:32).

This effect of the Bible throughout history cannot lightly be ignored. 6. So much so, that convinced believers in the Bible as the Word of the God have suffered for its sake, and even endured martyrdom to remain loyal to it (Revelation 1:9; 6;9; 12:11).

The indispensable testimony of the Holy Spirit All this evidence is preponderous when considered with an unprejudiced mind. But since fallen man's mind is twisted and oftentimes illogical, it does not come to the one logical conclusion that the Bible is the Word of God and consequently authoritative (and as a natural corollary, sufficient too).

When it comes to God's truth and testimony, man is bigoted, for man is at enmity with God. The Christian apologist must therefore take as his primary and only presupposition the following statement: "THE BIBLE IS GOD'S WORD." Can he prove it scientifically? Well, for those already convinced (i.e., Christians) they do not need proof. For those unconvinced (i.e., unbelievers) no amount of evidence will persuade them. They are in the habit of calling light darkness and darkness light. They don't come to the light lest their deeds should be exposed. So here I should mention that unless the Holy Spirit works through His Word and gives his irrefutable testimony by the Word, nobody will be persuaded that the Bible is God's authoritative and sufficient revelation of himself. This indispensable element is abundantly testified in Scripture itself: John 16:13,14; 1 John 2:20,27; John 20:31; 1 Corinthians 2:10-12).

The Supreme Authority of Scripture Scripture is authoritative. But whence comes this authority? Much debating has been done on this subject. If we keep in mind, though, that it is God's Word, and that God is supreme, than its authority cannot come from anybody or anywhere expect from its Author, God himself. It certainly does not depend on the testimony of man or some church.

Only God is absolute truth. Any outside evidence brought it to bear witness to Scripture automatically must be considered higher than Scripture itself, which is nonsense, for higher than God's Word (the Bible) there cannot be. Admittedly, the church has throughout history heard the voice of the Good Shepherd, and the Holy Spirit has guided his people to recognise the inspired writings as inspired and thus organically different from all other writings. But the act or process of recognition did not make the (already inspired) writings inspired.

The simple fact is this: Scripture came from above, God-breathed, and therefore it authenticates itself, and consequently ruled and governs the church of Christ (2 Peter 1:19-21; 2 Timothy 3:16; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 John 5:9).

In Scripture God speaks. Very significantly Paul says that the Scripture preached beforehand the gospel unto Abraham, whereas we know that in Abraham's day the Scripture had not even began to be written down. What's the point? Well, it was God who preached the gospel to Abraham. Paul is indirectly saying that whether it be God or Scripture, the authority is the same (cf. Galatians 3:8 compared with Genesis 12:1-3).

This being so, wherever controversy arises in the church, this should be settled by a strict reference to Scripture. All of men's religious ideas, the pronouncement of famous men, and our own convictions must be tested by Scripture (Matthew 22:29-32; Ephesians 2:20; Acts 28:23). Scripture is the supreme judge; its verdict is God's verdict (cf. Romans 9:17, compared with Exoduis 9:13-16).

How Christ regarded Scripture The Lord Jesus Christ teaches us the proper approach to the Scripture. He, being the Son of God, submitted himself to Scripture and all its precepts. Evidently Christ valued the ancient Scriptures as authoritative, with no other authority in competition to it.

Consider the following:

a. His speeches were full with words, phrases and expression borrowed from the Old Testament. The beatitudes, for instance, are an echo of the following: Psalms 17:15; 25:13; 37:9; 73: Isaiah 57:15; 61:3).

b. His whole life was regulated by Scripture. In Gethsemane he quotes Psalms 42:6,11; from the cross he prays in the language of Psalms 22:1; 31:5.

c. Jesus treats Scripture as the only rule of faith and practice. Never does he in any way denigrate it or casts a negative shadow upon it. He says, "The Scripture cannot be broken." This is an affirmation of its infallibility (see John 10:35); he bases his argument upon Scripture.

d. He therefore wanted the Scripture to be known, and regulative for the lives of the people. "Search the Scriptures...." Questions about divorce, the resurrection, and anything else, can be determined by Scripture. Jesus did so. "It is written," or, "Have you never read?" were constantly on his lips.

e. What man needs, according to the Lord Jesus, is not visions, or sanhedrins, or councils, or dreams, or whatever, but the writings of Moses and the Prophets (see Luke 16:29-31). Much more can be said; but suffice it to point out that Christ had full reverence towards the Scriptures; he read them, prayed over them, fulfilled them, obeyed them, and urged others to submit to them, and to nothing else. Obeying Scripture virtually means loving God.

Authority and inspiration Inspiration is God's superintending of human authors so that, using their own individual personalities, they composed and recorded without error in the words of the original autographs his revelation to man. With regards to the inspiration of the Bible, the church uses these two terms to describe its belief in the nature of inspiration.

Plenary That is, all the books of the Bible, without exception, and in every part, treating whatever subject (directly religious, scientific, geographical or otherwise) are inspired. Plenary is derived from a Latin term meaning "full." This we hold over against those who throw doubt over some parts of Scripture as being unworthy or in error (the Neo-Orthodox, the cults, and so on). Scripture proof: 2 Timothy 3:16 ("ALL Scripture is inspired of God...").

Verbal By this term we affirm that inspiration extends to the very words employed in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. The words chosen by the human authors were consistently the words the Holy Spirit wanted to employ to express his thoughts. So nothing in Scripture is redundant, no words are unimportant or misplaced. Scripture proof: 1 Corinthians 2:13 - "Which things we also speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual."

Scripture claims to be inspired, that is, that it proceeded from the mouth of God. It is not man's invention, it is rather God's message to us. For several thousand times, the Old Testament repeats the phrase, "Thus saith the Lord..." or "The Word of Jehovah came unto me, saying..." Simple, and yet so strong and inescapable.

Now as soon as we admit its inspiration (for devils would not write a book that seals their condemnation, angels would not lie; and mere men would not and cannot be so sincere about their own shortcomings which they recorded) then we are also recognising its supreme authority. If it came immediately from God then its contents, nothing more and nothing less, are above us, and we are to be governed by them. Scriptura sola et Scriptura tota.

In its completeness it is the unique message of God written for our understanding. It is nothing less than an imperial decree: "Thus saith the Lord." This becomes all the more evident when we weigh the fact that many authors of Scripture said something to the effect that "what we write to you is the commandment of the Lord."

As soon as Scripture was written it was generally recognised to be Scripture. In the Old Testament, the Jews had a reverence for Scripture (Romans 3:1,2; 9:4; Acts 7:38; Psalms 147:19,20). They called it the oracles of God. Because of this identity, the people of God were always careful not to add to it, as they were indeed commanded (Deuteronomy 4:2). Nothing can compare to it in its nature and quality. That is what moved the Reformers to call the apocryphal books by their proper name and consider them non-canonical. What has straw in common with wheat?

Throughout sacred history we notice how every person, even the king of Israel, was to be submissive to Scripture. Christ himself never contradicted Scripture, and never disobeyed it! Priests, Levites, governors, and prophets had no right to act against it (Deuteronomy 17:18; 31:9-13; cf. 2 Chronicles 17:8-10; Nehemiah 8:9; Ezekiel 44:23). All religious authorities were duty-bound to teach according to Scripture (Leviticus 10:11; Deuteronomy 33:10). God is the supreme King and Teacher of his people, and he governs and teaches us through Scripture. Nothing more is needed (Proverbs 30:6; Deuteronomy 12:32).

Its authority is enduring (Psalm 119:89), imperial (Romans 1:16), and therefore to be obeyed (Acts 5:32; Romans 2:8; 10:16; 2 Timothy 1:8; Hebrews 5:9; 1 Peter 4:17); its power is sanctifying (John 17:17; Ephesians 6:17; Jeremiah 31:33; Psalms 119:9,11; 19:7-11). It is accurate, inerrant and therefore trustworthy (Matthew 5:18).

The basic facts that establish the authority and sufficiency of Scripture:

1. It is God-breathed: it is God's Word for man. It was transmitted to us by chosen men, who wrote exactly and only what the Spirit directed them to write.

2. Scripture is given the attestation and approval of the Son of God.

3. Scripture originated from the Holy Spirit and is constantly used by him to bring men to salvation and sanctification.

The Bible: sufficient for what?

By the theological phrase, much used by Evangelicals, The Sufficiency of Scripture, we do not mean that the Bible is enough to teach us in every area of knowledge. It is not given to teach us zoology, cookery, or painting. It is Gods message to man with a specific limit and purpose.

The limits of Scripture Sufficiency When I go to the Trocadero and eat a three-course meal, and the waiter comes and asks me, "Have you had sufficient?" I assume that he's asking whether I have ate sufficiently for the day. So I answer, "Yes, sufficient, thanks." Though it is plenty it is still not sufficient for my whole lifetime.

The same principle applies to Scripture. Though it is a voluminous library of 66 books, yet the Scripture is not sufficient for every aspect of life. If I desire to learn Greek, I do not turn to the New Testament, even though it is written originally in Greek. I prefer studying a grammar-book on Greek (though written by fallible men) than referring to the New Testament (though written infallibly). And this for the simple reason that the purpose of the Bible is not to teach us astronomy (though it speaks many times about astronomy, and every time it does so it speaks truly and reliably); its purpose is not to teach us cookery.

No, its purpose is very specific. It reveals God the Creator and the Redeemer to us. It teaches us how to be saved, and how to live so as to glorify God and thus fulfil our purpose in life. Furthermore, its secondary purposes are given us neatly in 2 Timothy 3:16.

It is sufficient for doctrine What are we to believe? What is to be the content of our faith? The whole Bible, and particularly the gospel of the grace of God. The Bible brings us the truth and nothing but the truth. This does not mean that there aren't difficult passages in the Bible, which men are wont to twist in their ignorance or rashness. But the point is this: we are not to go further, or exceed the limits of Scripture. Our Faith is to be built on what God has revealed.

For our rebuking Furthermore, Scripture is sufficient for reproof, to admonish us, and reveal our faults. Of course, our friends and brothers in Christ do approach us and tell us our faults, but their reproof is not to be taken heed of if it is not based on Scripture. When we deviate out of the right path, the Scripture, as we come to be more familiar with it, convicts us of our waywardness.

To correct us Scripture was given for correction. It tells us how we are to amend our ways, and return to orthodox beliefs and holy ways. True and lasting reformation of life begins with Scripture as we internalise it to our soul and conscience.

To train us in godly living Finally Scripture gives us instruction in righteousness. It trains us to abide in holiness. It not only leads us to Christ to find our justification in him, but as we come to know him, He himself instructs us in the way we should go, by the Spirit of truth that he has promised us. We do not need extrabiblical sources of revelation, for in the Scripture we have all the commands, promises, threats, and principles for life. The Scriptures furnish us with just what we need, nothing more, nothing less, for right living, that pleases and honours God.