Sola Scriptura 4 E
Rev. R.M. Retief, The Free Reformed Churches of Australia (FRCA)
The Bible is God’s Word
There are still many theologians who will acknowledge, at least in a first encounter, that the Bible is God’s Word. But then, when you inquire further what they mean with this confession, you will often discover with disappointment that they mean something totally different than you expected – something very different from what we confess for example in Belgic Confession Art. 5.
They will tell you that the Bible is full of mistakes and that it often contradicts itself. They will even give you a long list of examples. They will tell you that the Bible speaks about Jesus, and that we are relatively certain what the Bible says about Jesus, but that the Bible is not always historically or factually reliable. But, they will say, that does not matter. God is so great, they say, that He is able to hit a straight blow with a crooked stick. The crooked stick, the Bible, which is a book written by men and filled with human mistakes and misconceptions, is used by God to bring us to faith in Jesus.
How does that happen? Well, they will explain to you that when you hear or read something in the Bible, it sometimes happens that the words really strike you. In that moment the words become God’s word to you. It becomes God’s word when He uses that word (crooked as it may be in itself) to save you.
This idea comes especially from the theologian Karl Barth, but is today very common also in churches that still call themselves Reformed.
Others, again, will say that in spite of many mistakes in the Bible and the great limitations of the men who wrote the Bible, one is still able to find God’s Word formally and objectively in the Bible. The Bible is then not the word of God, but God’s word is in the Bible. Everyone then determines for himself what in the Bible he accepts as true words from God. Once on this road the “true words of God” in Scripture will become less and less, until nothing remains but what man allows Scripture to say.
Others go one step further, and say that we do not have God’s own direct words in the Bible, but a relatively reliable witness of God’s words. The witness may be impaired by historical inaccuracies, own interpretations of the Bible writers, reinterpretations and time-bound theological models of later writers, factual inaccuracies, etc, but we are still able to gather one main grand message that God loves us and that Jesus saves us. And that is all we need to know (with relative certainty). These theologians strive to come to a “core of the gospel” through consensus whereby all Christians can be united in a “core of faith”, a very meagre skeleton faith, which is constantly shrinking in content for the sake of greater consensus.
Among these we hear the saying: “Don’t believe the Bible; believe in Jesus!” There is the idea that we are able to believe in God and in Jesus even when we are no longer able to rely on the absolute truth of Scripture. Religious experience, and religious man himself, becomes the source and norm of religion, without any fixed doctrinal content, and each man is left to believe whatever is “true for him”.
But we – what do we believe and confess concerning God’s revealed Word?
The divine authority of Holy Scripture
We believe what the Bible says about itself. Our confession about the divine authority of all of Scripture, that every word of Scripture is divinely inspired by God, is based on Scripture itself. Believing the divine inspiration of all of Scripture is a matter of faith. Not believing it is unbelief.
What the Bible says, God says. We have the same respect for God’s Word, than we have for God Himself. Not believing His Word, is not believing Him.
Faith is believing God’s Word. Doubting His Word is unbelief.
And the obedience of faith is obedience to His Word only.
And since we now have God’s revealed Word in writing only, there can be no true faith and no obedience of faith without this written Word, and without this Word being fully believed.
The authority of Scripture is a matter of life and death. Without it there is no foundation for our faith, and no fixed content of faith. Without it everyone has his own Jesus, or whatever innovation of his heart he wants to call Jesus, or God.
Scripture confirms its own divine origin and authority
Whatever we believe about Scripture, we believe only because Scripture says it. If we cannot believe the Bible when it speaks about its own authority, how can we then believe the Bible when it speaks about the Lord Jesus Christ? If the witness of Scripture about its divine origin and truth is not reliable, how can its witness on anything else be reliable? If we don’t accept what the Bible says about itself, we will also not accept the gospel, but adjust it according to own opinion.
So then, what does Scripture say about itself?
All of Scripture presents itself to us as the Word of God. Almost on every page the prophets repeat over and again: “Thus says the LORD…” These words, “Thus says the LORD”, together with similar formulations such as “The LORD has spoken…”, or “The word of the LORD came to me, saying…”, is repeated almost four thousand times in the Old Testament alone.
The New Testament quotes any part of the Old Testament and says: God said this. Or: the Holy Spirit said this. The Lord Jesus and the apostles were constantly quoting from the Old Testament, with the result that we find in the New Testament hundreds of quotations from almost every book of the Old Testament. When we look at the great variety of all these quotations from various books of the Old Testament, it becomes clear that throughout the New Testament the Lord and His apostles quoted any part of the Old Testament (and any detail in it) as God’s revealed word.
Sometimes only the prophet’s name is mentioned, but very often emphasis is laid on the fact that it was God Himself who spoke these words through the prophets. Thus the apostles will often quote an Old Testament passage, saying: “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet” (Mat. 1: 22 referring to Isaiah 7: 14) or, “this Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke before by the mouth of David” (Acts 1: 16 – 20 where the apostle Peter refers to various parts of the Psalms – Psalm 41: 9; 69: 25; 109: 8 – as the words of the Holy Spirit by the mouth of David).
The disciples pray to the Lord and say: “Lord, You are God...who by the mouth of Your servant David have said: ‘Why did the nations rage, and the peoples plot vain things?...’” (Acts 4: 24, 25) They are quoting from Psalm 2, a psalm of David, which they confess came from David’s mouth, but they say: Lord, You spoke these words.
Hebrews quotes the words of Jeremiah in Jer. 31: 33 and says: the Holy Spirit said this (Hebrews 10: 15, 16). The writer to the Hebrews is assured that the Holy Spirit spoke these words, because the prophecy of Jeremiah is part of Scripture. What Scripture says, God says.
And so there are hundreds of examples where the New Testament refers to various parts of the Old Testament and says that God, or the Holy Spirit, has spoken these words, or quotes it as having divine authority, and are assured of it, because it is part of Scripture.
Moreover, Christ and His apostles expressly state that all of Scripture proceeded from God’s own mouth. The apostle Paul writes to Timothy, saying:
“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 complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3: 16, 17)
In the previous verse (2 Tim. 3: 15) the apostle spoke about “the Holy Scriptures”, using the plural: Scriptures. But He sees “the Holy Scriptures” as one Scripture, singular, saying in verse 16: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God”. We may also translate: “The whole of Scripture is given by inspiration of God”. It is one revelation, and all of it proceeded from God.
The Greek text literally says: All Scripture is God-breathed. The Greek word, “God-breathed”, we translate: “inspired of God”. In the Greek the word for Spirit and breath is the same, and the Spirit proceeding from God is sometimes called the breath of His mouth. When 2 Tim. 3: 16 says that all Scripture is “God-breathed”, it portrays all of Scripture as words produced by God’s Spirit, or His breath, that proceeds from God’s own mouth.
The apostle Peter says:
“…no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1: 20, 21)
No prophecy came by the will of man. The prophets all spoke as they were moved/driven by the Holy Spirit.
The apostle Paul says that the gospel of God, which he proclaims, was promised by God Himself through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures (Rom. 1: 1, 2).
Christ also spoke in the same way confirming the divine authority of Scripture. He quotes for example from Exodus and says God has spoken these words to Moses (Mark 12: 26), and a little further He refers to Ps. 110: 1 and says David spoke these words “by the Holy Spirit” (Mark 12: 36). And Christ always quoted Scripture as the final word of authority (Mat. 4: 3 – 10; 19: 4 – 6; 22: 29 – 32; Mark 12: 36, 37; John 10: 34, 35, etc.)
The New Testament has the same authority as the Old Testament.
The apostle Peter regards the epistles of the apostle Paul as part of Scripture, saying that certain people twist Paul’s epistles just as they do with “the rest of Scripture” (2 Peter 3: 15, 16).
The apostle Paul also claims this divine authority with which he spoke. He says for example to the Thessalonians that the word which he preached is not man’s word, but God’s word only, saying:
“For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.” (1 Thess. 2: 13)
Luke 10: 7 is quoted together with Deuteronomy 25: 4 as one Scripture, where the apostle Paul quotes both these passages in one breath, saying: “the Scripture” says this (1 Tim. 5: 18).
Not only the general message of Scripture is inspired, but the very words of Scripture, including the choice of words and its exact form. Christ refers to a single word in Psalm 82: 6, the word “gods”, and says this word in Psalm 82 is no mistake, because this psalm is the word of God, and Scripture cannot be broken (John 10: 35). He says by implication that if only one word in Scripture was incorrect, Scripture would be broken, but then confirms that Scripture cannot be broken – every word of Scripture stands firm.
Christ even says: “…it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail.” (Luke 16: 17)
The apostle Paul refers to a single word in Genesis, the word “seed”, and points out that this word is singular, not plural, and confirms a very important doctrine by the correct understanding of a single word (Gal. 3: 16).
Is all of Scripture God’s Word? What about the words of Satan recorded in the Bible, or the sayings of Job’s friends, or the evil counsel of ungodly men recorded in Scripture? Yes, all of Scripture is God’s own revelation. Even when words of Satan are quoted in the Bible, these words are written down for us under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so that we can know for sure that Satan has really spoken these evil words, and that it is a truthful rendering of what Satan said. All of Scripture proceeded from God’s own mouth.
And thus we confess:
“We receive all these books (the 66 books of the Bible) as holy and canonical, for the regulation, foundation, and confirmation of our faith. We believe without any doubt all things contained in them…” (Belgic Confession, Art. 5, emphasis added)
And on the basis of Scripture we confess that true faith is first of all “a sure knowledge whereby I accept as true all that God has revealed to us in His Word”. (Lord’s Day 7, emphasis added)
In our next article we will DV look at the necessity of Holy Scripture.