This morning we will begin our study of the doctrine of the Bible. This will probably take a few weeks to get through – today we will begin by looking at what the Bible is and we will start that by reading from our own Statement of Faith and then we will break down what the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith says concerning the Holy Scripture. Much of the material we will be using comes not Wayne Grudem here – we will use Grudem more in the weeks to come, but much in the short-term comes from Samuel Waldron’s exposition of the 1689 Confession(1) along with material from classes on the matter which Waldron has taught.(2)
This statement is what we believe. Much of this will be fleshed out as we work through what the London Confession says. Any questions on what our statement says?
We believe that God has graciously revealed His existence and power in the created world, and has supremely revealed Himself to fallen human beings in the person of His Son, the incarnate Word. Moreover, this God is a speaking God who, by His Holy Spirit, has inspired the words preserved in the Scriptures, the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments.
These writings alone, in their entirety, constitute the verbally inspired Word of God, which is utterly authoritative and without error in the original writings, complete in its revelation of His will for salvation, sufficient (sola scriptura) for all that God requires us to believe and do, and final in its authority over every domain of knowledge to which it speaks.
The Bible is to be believed, as God’s instruction, in all that it teaches, obeyed, as God’s command, in all that it requires and trusted, as God’s pledge, in all that it promises. As God’s people hear, believe, and do the Word, they are equipped as disciples of Christ and witnesses to the gospel.
As we begin to look at the Confession, we must keep in mind the setting in which it was written – much of what the Confession states (and its related document, the Westminster Confession of the 17th Century) was written in response to Roman Catholic teaching. We will see that here as the first seven paragraphs of this section on Scripture specifically address issues where we differ with Rome.
First, however, we need to look at a word and what it means: “revelation.” What does “revelation” mean? Right – it means “what has been revealed.” For our purposes, there are two types of revelation and they are called (SLIDE) “General revelation” and “Special revelation.” The only way we are going to know anything about God is for Him to reveal Himself to us. What did we know about God before Creation? Nothing, because we didn’t exist – there was only God. Once God created, He then reveals Himself to His Creation and He does that through general revelation and through special revelation. Open you bibles to Psalm 19 and to Romans 1. Verse 1 of Psalm 19 says, “Ps 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.”
The Psalmist says, all you have to do is look around and you will see the glory of God and what He has done. Then go to Romans 1. In Romans 1, Paul wrote this in 19 and 20:
Rom 1:19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Rom 1:20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
Paul says God has revealed Himself to every person and nobody can say they don’t have knowledge of God. Now, if we were to read on, we’d see that Paul is laying the ground for the condemnation of man due to his suppression of his innate knowledge of God not only through creation but in chapter two, Paul also says that man has what is required by God’s law – the works of the law – written on his heart and the testimony of his conscience also condemns him.
Man has a problem – due to sin, God’s natural revelation cannot keep him in good standing before God. Sin has destroyed that. We can say, however, that the natural man, since the Fall, both knows and does not know God. He knows God, but as Paul says, suppresses that truth in his sin. He denies it and runs away from what he knows because of his sin. So because of sin, natural revelation is not sufficient to redeem fallen man, which brings us to special revelation, which we know as the Holy Scripture.
The very first sentence of the Confession here refers back to a topic from our class on the Five Solas – this is in reference to Sola Scriptura. The Confession does not say that the Scripture is “A” all-sufficient, certain and infallible rule or standard, it says it is “the” all-sufficient, certain and infallible rule or standard of the knowledge, faith and obedience that constitute salvation.
The next sentence refers to what Paul has written in Romans – the fact that natural revelation is not sufficient to redeem fallen men. This is why God has given us special revelation – in order for redemption, so another way to refer to the Scripture is that it is “redemptive revelation.” The Scripture was revealed by God in order to redeem His people.
The Confession says that “In consequence,” the Lord in His mercy has revealed Himself from time to time and in different ways. Not all special revelation came in the form of the written word, did it? God spoke to Moses verbally, for instance and He, according the Hebrews 1:1, spoke to the prophets in many ways at many times and He also spoke through His Son in order for His own will to be made known to His people.
Over time, God, in His wisdom, in order to preserve and spread the truth of redemption – and to keep men from corrupting His word, caused His revelation to be written down for our benefit. Remember the first sentence here – Scripture is sufficient for the redemption of the people of God. God caused the Scripture to be preserved in order to preserve the truth for people like you and I. Again, remember the setting here – writing against the errors of Rome, which adds the teaching authority of the Magisterium and the authority of sacred tradition outside the Scriptures.
Remember that in Acts 2, the church devoted itself to the teaching the Apostles and that the household of God in Ephesians 2:20 is built upon the Apostles and the prophets with Jesus being the chief cornerstone. The prophets and the Apostles have long since died, but the written will of God that they wrote down for us is preserved today and is sufficient to redeem, just as it was when it was breathed-out by God to these writers.
The last two sentences here also address the fullness of special revelation. God has finished His work here – we need nothing other than the Scriptures. We do not need the Magisterium or sacred tradition. This also was written in response to those who also claimed ongoing special revelation – “the “words from God” or “new revelations” of certain Anabaptists back in the 16th and 17th Centuries and those with whom we would be familiar with from today’s charismatic circles.
The Confession says this manner is which God formerly revealed His will has long ceased – there are no more books to be added to the Scripture.
I have a friend who is fond of saying there are 600-some books that aren’t in the Bible that should be there. I asked him a question: “OK, if that’s true, how do you know that we really have the plan of salvation right? How do you know Jesus’ work on our behalf is sufficient? How do you know you’re telling anybody the whole truth when you share the Gospel – maybe there’s a lot more to it than what’s in your current Bible?” He says, “Uhhh, I just have to have faith,” which really isn’t much of an answer, is it? This book is either complete in its fullness or it isn’t – there’s no middle ground here.
Next we go to the list of the books that compose the Scripture and a statement that says the books known as the Apocrypha are not considered Scripture and were not inspired by God and thus have no authority within the church. Why not? Keep in mind that when the Roman Catholic Church, in the mid-16th Century, convened the Council of Trent in response to the Reformation, it established a canon that included the Apocryphal books – the word “Apocrypha” means “hidden.” Maybe they should have stayed that way.
Please indulge me as I quote at length from Wayne Grudem’s comments here:
When we turn to Jewish literature outside the Old Testament, we see that the belief that divinely authoritative words from God had ceased is clearly attested in several different strands of extrabiblical Jewish literature. In 1 Maccabees (about 100 B.C.) the author writes of the defiled altar, “So they tore down the altar and stored the stones in a convenient place on the temple hill until there should come a prophet to tell what to do with them” (1 Macc. 4:45–46). They apparently knew of no one who could speak with the authority of God as the Old Testament prophets had done. The memory of an authoritative prophet among the people was one that belonged to the distant past, for the author could speak of a great distress “such as had not been since the time that prophets ceased to appear among them” (1 Macc. 9:27; cf. 14:41).
Josephus (born c. A.D. 37/38) explained, “From Artaxerxes to our own times a complete history has been written, but has not been deemed worthy of equal credit with the earlier records, because of the failure of the exact succession of the prophets” (Against Apion 1.41). This statement by the greatest Jewish historian of the first century A.D. shows that he knew of the writings now considered part of the “Apocrypha,” but that he (and many of his contemporaries) considered these other writings “not…worthy of equal credit” with what we now know as the Old Testament Scriptures. There had been, in Josephus’s viewpoint, no more “words of God” added to Scripture after about 435 B.C.
Rabbinic literature reflects a similar conviction in its repeated statement that the Holy Spirit (in the Spirit’s function of inspiring prophecy) departed from Israel.
“After the latter prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi had died, the Holy Spirit departed from Israel,” (Babylonian Talmud).
In the New Testament, we have no record of any dispute between Jesus and the Jews over the extent of the canon. Apparently there was full agreement between Jesus and his disciples, on the one hand, and the Jewish leaders or Jewish people, on the other hand, that additions to the Old Testament canon had ceased after the time of Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. This fact is confirmed by the quotations of Jesus and the New Testament authors from the Old Testament.
According to one count, Jesus and the New Testament authors quote various parts of the Old Testament Scriptures as divinely authoritative over 295 times, but not once do they cite any statement from the books of the Apocrypha or any other writings as having divine authority. The absence of any such reference to other literature as divinely authoritative, and the extremely frequent reference to hundreds of places in the Old Testament as divinely authoritative, gives strong confirmation to the fact that the New Testament authors agreed that the established Old Testament canon, no more and no less, was to be taken as God’s very words.(3)
The Apocrypha is necessary for Roman dogma – the Apocrypha includes passages that justify indulgences and offerings for the dead (2 Maccabees 12:43–45 “He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. 44 For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. 45 But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, so that they might be delivered from their sin.”) and forgiveness of sins through almsgiving (Tobit 12:9 9 For almsgiving saves from death and purges away every sin. Those who give alms will enjoy a full life,) along with historical errors.
The primary point is that the Apocrypha was not a God-inspired collection as the Hebrew Scriptures are – the Apocrypha is a document merely from men, not from God. It can be useful as background, but it is not authoritative for matters of faith and practice for the people of God.
Next, we move to Paragraphs four and five – the authority of the Scripture, and “How do we know that we have the Scripture.?” There are two reasons: First, the Scripture is self-authenticating. Its authority does not depend upon the judgment of any man or of the church but it comes from God Himself, who is the author. We receive the Scripture – we do not sit in judgment upon it.
The Scripture testifies to its own authority – 2 Timothy 3:15 refers to the Old Testament writings being “sacred,” Romans 1:2 says the Scriptures are “holy,” Acts 7:38, Romans 3:2 and Hebrews 5:12 say they are the “oracles of God” – an oracle, using BB Warfield’s definition, is a “divine utterance.” When the Scripture speaks, it is God speaking – a couple examples are Romans 9:17 with Exodus 9 and Galatians 3:8 with Genesis 22. In Romans 9, Paul wrote, “Rom 9:17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”
Back in Exodus, Moses wrote what the Lord told him to tell Pharaoh: “Exod 9:16 But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” Galatians 3:8 says, “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” In Genesis 22:18, the Lord had told Abraham “all the nations of the earth be blessed.”
The classic passage as to the Scripture’s own authority is that in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, where Paul wrote:
“ 2 Tim 3:16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 2 Tim 3:17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
New Testament authors and readers knew they were writing and reading Scripture – Peter writes of things that Paul wrote in 2Peter 3:15-16 when he said,
2 Pet 3:15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 2 Pet 3:16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. (emphasis mine)
He equates Paul’s writings with “the other Scriptures.” 1 Timothy 5:18 quotes Luke 10:7 as Scripture when it says “The laborer deserves his wages.”
Think about it – this is breathed-out by God – who are we as mere men to sit in judgment upon it to determine whether it is truly His word? The Scripture attests to its own authority and it is revelation that we receive, not judge.
Some people throw up this objection to the authority and the infallibility of Scripture – I forgot to emphasize that the Scripture, being breathed-out by God is without error and thus cannot ever be wrong. In light of that some say that because it was put into written form by men, it has to contain errors and they use this logic:
The Bible was written by humans.
To err is human.
Therefore, the Bible errs.
Is the first statement a true one? Yes. It was put into written form by humans.
Is the second statement true? No, it isn’t. Being human does not mean that one must err – Jesus was fully human and did not err. Only as a result of the Fall is humanity bound by nature to err. One day when the saints are glorified they will be fully human and they will be unable to sin. Thus, the minor premise here “to err is human” is a false premise which then renders the conclusion false.
For one to say that the living God, who spoke Creation into existence by the mere desire of His will, cannot inspire men to write divine revelation – freely, willingly, without violating their own desires and humanity – and do so without error, is to discount the power and authority of this God. We will cover this particular word down the road, but the big word here is concurrence – men doing actions as the desires of their own will and choice and doing so at the will of God. There is no contradiction or paradox here. We must be very careful to keep both factors in mind here – the absolute, divine, sovereign act of God in breathing out the Scripture and the willing actions of men in writing it down. To deny, for instance, the sovereignty of God here can lead to one denying the perfection of the Scripture which then leads to untold doctrinal error and heresy.
To close this section on the self-authentication of revelation, we have this statement from Cornelius VanTil concerning how general revelation testifies to man as to who God is:
The most depraved of men cannot wholly scape the voice of God. Their greatest wickedness is meaningless except upon the assumption that they have sinned against the authority of God. Thoughts and deeds of utmost perversity are themselves revelational, that is, in their very abnormality. The natural man accuses or else excuses himself only because his own utterly depraved consciousness continues to point back to the original state of affairs. The prodigal son can never forget the father’s voice. It is the albatross forever about his neck.(5)
This just reiterates Paul’s point in Romans. Man knows God and can’t escape Him.
That raises the point, “If revelation is clear as to who God is, then why doesn’t its own self-authentication suffice for what man needs to know concerning the Scriptures?” One reason: sin. Sin has removed man’s ability to recognize the Scriptures and their truthfulness. Man’s fall has made him an enemy of the truth and a hater of it. Human depravity has corrupted the mind of man. Paul, again, in Romans 1, says so, as he does in Ephesians 4 where he talks about the darkened understanding of man and in 2 Corinthians 4 where he says Satan has blinded the eyes of man.
Therefore, the condition of man must be changed if he is to be able to see the truth of the Scripture and that is done through the testimony of the Holy Spirit begun in regeneration – being born again. 1 Corinthians 2 talks about the necessity of spiritual enlightenment and enablement for man to understand the things of God since they are spiritually discerned, especially in verse 14. Man must undergo a change – a radical change – in order to understand the special revelation God has given in order to redeem him. This is not something that one “proves” – it is a supernatural work of the Spirit.
So how do we know Scripture is Scripture? 1) By its own testimony, it authenticates itself and 2) By the testimony of the Holy Spirit upon the believer.
We close with three points as we wrap up Paragraph 5 of the Confession:
1) Since God has spoken and the Bible itself is the living word of God, the highest possible attestation is the Bible own witness to itself.
2) If we were to suppose that some further divine revelation were necessary to support prior revelation, then we would need more divine revelation to support the support and this would go on ad infinitum – forever. Where would it end?
3) Whatever entity to which an appeal is made in order to authenticate or attest to the Bible tends to replace the Bible itself as one’s ultimate authority over time. We see that in the Roman Catholic Church. Its appeal to its own ecclesiastical authority has eroded the authority of the Bible over time because the Bible is judged by an entity that sits over the Bible, if you can imagine that.
Next week we will examine the sufficiency of Scripture and the clarity of Scripture.
1. Samuel Waldron, A Modern Exposition of The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, Evangelical Press, 1989.
2. Samuel Waldron, The Doctrine of the Word, http://web.archive.org/web/20030211053121/http://solo4.abac.com/echoes/museum/doctwordtoc.htm.
3. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction To Biblical Doctrine, Zondervan, 1994, pp. 56-57.
4. Cornelius VanTil, The Infallible Word, ed. N.B. Stonehouse, “Nature and Scripture,” pp. 274-275, cited in Waldron, Exposition, pp.38-39.