Defining Our Terms: The Doctrine of Scripture

magnifying-glass5In an article at ligonier.org entitled “The Doctrine of Scripture: Defining Our Terms” Kevin Gardner “The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it.” If you don’t grasp what the Bible is and how it came to be, you’ll never fully grasp its meaning. Since the meaning of the Bible is vitally important to our faith and life, we will here briefly define a few key terms that relate to the doctrine of Scripture as the study of God’s Word written.

Authority: The power the Bible possesses, having been issued from God, for which it “ought to be believed and obeyed” (Westminster Confession 1:4). Because of its divine author, the Bible is “the source and norm for such elements as belief, conduct, and the experience of God” (Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms).

Autographs: The original texts of the biblical books as they issued from the hands of the human authors.

Canon: The authoritative list of inspired biblical books. Within a short time after Jesus’ death, the New Testament canon was affirmed by evaluating the Apostolicity, reception, and teachings of books, but ultimately, the canon is self-authenticating, as the voice of Christ is heard in it (John 10:27; WCF 1:5).

Inerrancy: The position that the Bible affirms no falsehood of any sort; that is, “it is without fault or error in all that it teaches,” in matters of history and science as well as faith (Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy). Inerrancy allows for literary devices, such as metaphors, hyperbole, round numbers, and colloquial expressions.

Infallibility: The position that the Bible cannot err or make mistakes, and that it “is completely trustworthy as a guide to salvation and the life of faith and will not fail to accomplish its purpose” (Westminster Dictionary). As the Christian church has traditionally taught, this doctrine is based on the perfection of the divine author, who cannot speak error.

Inspiration: The process by which God worked through the human authors of the Bible to communicate His revelation. The term derives from the Greek theopneustos, meaning “God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16), and refers to God as the ultimate source of the Scriptures.

Organic inspiration: The process by which God guided the human authors of Scripture, working in and through their particular styles and life experiences, so that what they produced was exactly what He wanted them to produce. The text is truly the work of the human authors—God did not typically dictate to them as to a stenographer—and yet the Lord stands behind it as the ultimate source.

Necessity: Refers to mankind’s need for God’s special revelation in the Scriptures in order to obtain knowledge of the gospel and the plan of salvation, which cannot be learned through the general revelation of nature and conscience.

Perspicuity: The clarity of the Bible; that is, that which is necessary to know and believe regarding life and salvation is “so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or the other,” that anyone may understand them (WCF 1:7).

Scripture: From the Latin scriptura, meaning “writings”; refers to sacred texts, but more specifically, the Bible as the Word of God written.

Special revelation: The things that God makes known about Himself apart from nature and conscience (general revelation; cf. Rom. 1:19–21). These things, having to do with Christ and the plan of salvation, are found only in the Bible.

Sufficiency: All that is needed to know and believe regarding salvation and what pleases God is found in the Bible.

Verbal, plenary inspiration:
The extending of God’s superintendence of the writing of Scripture down to the very choice of words, not merely to overarching themes or concepts; that is, “the whole of Scripture and all of its parts, down to the very words of the original,” were inspired (Chicago Statement).

The Inspiration, Inerrancy and Preservation of Scripture

JamesWhite05Dr. James White writes:

Starting with a flawed foundation dooms a building, the Spirit overcomes our ignorance and our traditions, all to His glory, but we should surely be very concerned that we give new believers a solid foundation upon which to develop a heart of wisdom to God’s glory.

One of the areas I have focused upon in my ministry that is vital to the maturity of modern Christians is the trustworthiness of the Scriptures. I am convinced that we must tackle the “tough issues” in the context of the community of faith before people are exposed to the “spin” of the enemies of the faith as they cherry-pick the facts of history and prey upon the unwary and immature.

One of the most often asked questions I encounter has to do with the relationship between the reality of textual variation and the doctrine of inerrancy, or even the general concept of inspiration. And this goes directly to the foundation that must be laid regarding this vital area.

First, we must understand that the doctrine of inspiration speaks to the origination and character of the original writings themselves, their character and authority. Inerrancy speaks to the trustworthiness of the supernatural process of inspiration, both with reference to the individual texts (Malachi’s prophecy, 2 John) as well as the completed canon (matters of pan-canonical consistency, the great themes of Scripture interwoven throughout the Old and New Testaments). While related to the issue of transmission, they are first and foremost theological statements regarding the nature of Scripture itself. They were true when Scripture was written, hence, in their most basic forms, are not related to the transmissional process.

Many new believers, upon reading the high view of Scripture found in the Bible itself, or hearing others speak of its authority and perfection, assume this means that the Bible floated down out of heaven on a cloud, bound together as a single leather-bound volume, replete with gold page edging and thumb indexing. The fact that God chose to reveal Himself in a significantly less “neat” fashion, one that was very much involved in the living out of the life of the people of God, can be disturbing to people. They want the Bible to be an owner’s manual, a never-changing PDF file that is encrypted and locked against all editing. And while I surely believe God has preserved His Word, the means by which He has done so is fully consistent with the manner of the revelation itself. We dare not apply modern standards derived from computer transfer protocols and digital recording algorithms to the ancient context for one simple reason: by doing so we are precluding God’s revelation and activity until the past few generations! What arrogance on our part! We must allow God to reveal Himself as He sees fit, when He sees fit, and we must derive our understanding of His means of safeguarding His revelation from the reality of the historical situation, not our modern hubris. Continue reading

Scripture’s Authority, Sufficiency and Finality

sinclairferIn an article entitled “The Authority, Finality of Scripture” originally published in The Banner of Truth magazine August-September 2014, Dr. Sinclair Ferguson writes:

If God has given us the Scriptures to be the canon or rule for our lives, it follows that we must regard them as the supreme authority for our lives. Paul tells us that they are ‘breathed out’ by God. There can be no more authoritative word than one that comes to us on divine breath.

The Scriptures are also a sufficient authority for the whole of the Christian life. They are ‘profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work’ (2 Tim. 3:16).

The Scriptures do not tell us everything about everything. They provide no instruction about computer programming, or how best to organise a library, the correct way to swing a golf club, or how to play chess. They do not tell us how far away the sun is from the earth, what DNA is, how best to remove an appendix surgically, the best coffee to drink, or the name of the person we should marry.

That is not an expression of any deficiency on their part. For there is a focus and a goal to the sufficiency of the Scriptures. Everything I need to learn in order to live to the glory of God and enjoy him forever I will find in the application of Scripture.

Yet this narrow focus broadens out into everything. For one thing, Scripture teaches us something about everything. Since the Bible gives us grounds for believing we live in a universe, Christians understand that everything has the characteristic of createdness, of derivativeness, and also that everything fits into the grand design of God.

So Scripture is sufficient to give me a rational ground for thinking about anything and everything on the assumption that this world and everything in it make sense. Further, no matter what my calling or abilities, the Scriptures are sufficient to teach me principles that will enable me to think and act in a God-honouring way when I am engaged in any activity or vocation.

Inerrancy

In this context it is appropriate for us to ask an important and much debated question: If Scripture is our final authority, exactly how reliable is it as the authority on which we should base the whole of our lives?

If, convinced that the Bible is the word of God, we ask that question from a theological point of view there seems to be only one reasonable answer: Scripture is completely reliable. For the God who has ‘breathed out’ Scripture is trustworthy in everything he does and says. He is the God who cannot lie (Titus 1:2; Heb. 6:18; cf. Num. 23:19); he speaks the truth in everything he says (Prov. 30:5). The notion that he would be untruthful and err is contradictory to everything Scripture tells us about him.

However, Scripture also tells us that the word of God comes through the minds and mouths of men. Does this not mean that it will inevitably contain some mistakes? After all, ‘To err is human.’ If so, to use an old illustration, is it not more appropriate to think of the Bible as though it were a slightly scratched gramophone record? Or, in more contemporary terms, is the Bible not like a digitized version of an old recording— despite deficiencies, the music can still be heard, and if we listen with care we can make out the words quite well.

But two obvious considerations need to be remembered.

First, strictly speaking, ‘to err’ is not so much human as it is fallen. Second, not everything said by humans involves error. Life revolves round the fact that people speak the truth, that what they say is not riddled with mistakes. A person can go through the whole day without making a single erroneous statement. And societies function well only where a premium is placed on truth telling. Much of what we say and write is, in a fairly obvious sense, error free.

It is surely then within the power of God to preserve the authors of Scripture from error.

So the assumption that the Scriptures inevitably contain errors because written by men is false.

But there is a further consideration, in addition to that of the logic of our theology. The books of Scripture specifically affirm the truthfulness of what is written; those who appear in their narratives share that perspective. Jesus himself spoke of God’s word as ‘truth’. Almost in passing he stated that ‘Scripture cannot be broken’ (John 10:35)—and it is often in such passing comments that our real convictions come to the surface. Continue reading

Jesus’ View of the Bible

Matthew 5:17-19; 12:38-42; 19:4-5) I provided a summary of Jesus’ doctrine of Scripture.

Jesus held Scripture in the highest possible esteem. He knew his Bible intimately and loved it deeply. He often spoke with language of Scripture. He easily alluded to Scripture. And in his moments of greatest trial and weakness—like being tempted by the devil or being killed on a cross—he quoted Scripture.

His mission was to fulfill Scripture, and his teaching always upheld Scripture.

He never disrespected, never disregarded, never disagreed with a single text of Scripture.

He affirmed every bit of law, prophecy, narrative, and poetry. He shuddered to think of anyone anywhere violating, ignoring, or rejecting Scripture.

Jesus believed in the inspiration of Scripture, down to the sentences, to the phrases, to the words, to the smallest letter, to the tiniest mark.

He accepted the chronology, the miracles, and the authorial ascriptions as giving the straightforward facts of history.

He believed in keeping the spirit of the law without ever minimizing the letter of the law. He affirmed the human authorship of Scripture while at the same time bearing witness to the ultimate divine authorship of the Scriptures.

He treated the Bible as a necessary word, a sufficient word, a clear word, and the final word.

It was never acceptable in his mind to contradict Scripture or stand above Scripture.

He believed the Bible was all true, all edifying, all important, and all about him. He believed absolutely that the Bible was from God and was absolutely free from error. What Scripture says God says, and what God said was recorded infallibly in Scripture.

Jesus submitted his will to the Scriptures, committed his brain to study the Scriptures, and humbled his heart to obey the Scriptures.

In summary, it is impossible to revere the Scriptures more deeply or affirm them more completely than Jesus did. The Lord Jesus, God’s Son and our Savior, believed his Bible was the word of God down to the tiniest speck and that nothing in all those specks and in all those books in his Bible could ever be broken.