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The Clarity, Necessity, and Sufficiency of Scripture

John Frame on three essential characteristics of Scripture:

Now I want briefly to mention [several] important things about the Bible. The first is its clarity [See Westminster Confession of Faith 1.7.]. 

Clarity. At the time of the Reformation, some Roman Catholics were saying that lay people should not read the Bible, since only people in the church hierarchy could properly understand it. The Reformers did not say that everything in the Bible is perfectly clear. But they did say that the basic message of salvation is sufficiently clear that anyone can understand it, either by reading it himself, or by using ordinary means of grace, such as talking to a pastor. By the way, the power of the word, its authority, and its clarity, form a triad that corresponds to the Lordship attributes. For in Deut. 30:11-14 and Rom. 10:6-8 the clarity of the word is based on the nearness of God to his people, the presence of God among his people.

Necessity. Necessity simply means that without God’s Word we have no relationship with him. Without his commands he is not our Lord, for the Lord is by definition one who gives authoritative commands to his people. And without his word, we have no authoritative promises either, so he cannot be our savior.

SufficiencySufficiency means simply that in Scripture we have all the words of God we need [See Westminster Confession of Faith 1.6.]. We should not try to add to them, and we dare not subtract from them, since we live by every word that comes from God.

Scripture itself tells us not to add or subtract (Deut. 4:2, 12:32, Rev. 22:18-19). And it tells us clearly not to add human tradition to the word: that is, don’t put human tradition on the same level as God’s word, as the Pharisees did (Deut. 18:15-22, Isa. 29:13, Matt. 15:1-9, Gal. 1:8-9, 2 Thess. 2:2). Human tradition is not a bad thing. But it is not God’s word. When we try to put it on the same level as God’s word, we are saying that God’s word is not enough, that it is insufficient.

This is true of all Scripture, both Old and New Testament. But there is also a special sense in which the New Testament gospel is sufficient. Just as Jesus’ death and resurrection are sufficient to save us, so the apostles’ message about Jesus is sufficient to give us all the blessings of Jesus’ salvation (2 Pet. 1:2-11, Hen. 1:1-3, 2:1-4). So we should not expect God to give us further revelation of the same authority as the Bible.

People sometimes say that Scripture is sufficient for theology, but not for other areas of life, like science, history, plumbing, politics, car repairs. But that idea misunderstands the sufficiency of Scripture. Remember always: Scripture is sufficient as the word of God. It gives us all the words of God we will ever need. So Scripture contains all the word of God we need for theology—but also for ethics, politics, the arts, plumbing and car repair.

Certainly for all these disciplines we need knowledge from outside Scripture too. That’s even true of theology. Theologians need, for example, to know the rules of Hebrew Grammar; but Scripture doesn’t give these to us. They need to know the history of the ancient world; but Scripture only gives us part of that history. So in order to use the Bible, we need to know things outside the Bible.

That’s also true in ethics. For example, the Bible doesn’t mention abortion. We have to learn what abortion is from extra-biblical sources. But Scripture does say some things about murder, and about unborn human life. When we bring the biblical principles together with our extra-biblical knowledge of what abortion is, it becomes pretty obvious that “thou shalt not murder” implies “thou shalt not abort.”

The basic point to be remembered here is that no kind of knowledge from outside the Bible is worthy to be added to Scripture. That includes the traditions of the Roman church, claims of contemporary prophets… and even the confessions and traditions of the Protestant denominations.

-John M. Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord

God’s Word of Power

John Frame makes the following subpoints about the word of God in his larger discussion on the subject in Salvation Belongs to the Lord:

Let me make several subpoints, beginning from the more obvious, moving to the less obvious:

  1. The word reveals God. Obviously, when God speaks, he reveals his mind, his will, his heart. According to Deut. 4:5-8, the nations around Israel learn what kind of God Israel has when they hear his word. The righteousness of God’s statutes and rules reveals the righteousness of God himself, and indeed his nearness to Israel, verse 7.
  2. Word and Spirit work together. We saw in 1 Thess. 1:5, that the word comes to us in power and in the Spirit. When the word works in power, the Spirit is right there working with it. That means that when the word is among us, God also is among us.
  3. God performs all his actions by speaking. There are several classes of divine actions mentioned in the Bible. These include God’s eternal plan, creation, providence (including miracle), and his judgments and blessings on creatures. These actions line up parallel to the lordship attributes. The eternal plan shows his lordship attribute of authority, creation and providence his control, and his judgment and blessing his presence. But my point here is that every one of these acts God performs by speaking, by his word. His eternal counsel is a form of speech (Ps. 33:11, Acts 2:23, 4:28), as is creation (Gen. 1:3, Ps. 33:6, John 1:3), providence (Ps. 148:8), judgment (Gen. 3:17-19, Matt. 25:41-43, John 12:47-48) and grace (Matt. 25:34-36, Rom. 1:16). So, again, you never find God without his word.
  4. God is distinguished from other gods by the fact that he speaks. The word is so important that it is the means by which Scripture distinguishes between him and idols. The idols are “dumb.” God, however, is by his nature word. See this contrast in Hab. 2:18-20, 1 Kings 18:24, 26, 29, Ps. 115:4-8, 135:15-18, 1 Cor. 12:2. As speech distinguishes God from pretenders to deity, it thereby characterizes his nature at a deep level.
  5. The persons of the Trinity are distinguished by their role in the divine speech. We usually define the Trinity in terms of a family: the Father and the Son; but when we do that it is hard to bring the Spirit into that particular metaphor. But Scripture also speaks of the Trinity using a linguistic metaphor: the Father is the speaker (Ps. 110:1, 147:4, Isa. 40:26), the Son the word (John 1:1-14, Rev. 19:13), and the Spirit is the breath that carries the word to its destination (Ps. 33:6, 2 Tim. 2:16). The words for “Spirit” in Greek and Hebrew mean “breath” or “wind.” When I speak to you, my breath pushes my words out of my mouth and begins an air current that goes to your eardrums. In the same way, in God, the Father speaks the Word, and the Spirit carries that Word so that it accomplishes its purpose, as we saw in 1 Thess. 1:5. So the word is so important to God’s nature that it can be used to define the Trinity.
  6. The speech of God has divine attributes: it is righteous (Ps. 119:7), faithful (Ps. 119:86), wonderful (Ps. 119:129), holy (2 Tim. 3:15), eternal (Ps. 119:89, 160), omnipotent (Gen. 18:14 [This verse reads literally, “No word of God is void of power.”] Isa. 55:11), perfect (Ps. 19:7). Only God has these attributes in total perfection. So the word is God.
  7. The word of God is an object of worship. In Psm. 56:4, David says, “In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?” He repeats this praise for the word in verse 10 (cf. Ps. 119:120, 161-62, Isa. 66:5). This is remarkable, for only God is the object of religious praise. To worship something other than God is idolatrous. Since David worships the word here, we cannot escape the conclusion that the word is divine.
  8. The word is God, John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” We usually use this passage to show the deity of Christ, and it is an excellent passage for this purpose, as we shall see in Chapter 10. But now I want you to see that this passage does not only identify Jesus with God. It also identifies God’s speech with God. The phrase “in the beginning” takes us back to Genesis 1. In that passage, the word was the creative word of God, the word that made the world. John 1:3 emphasizes the creative work of the word, “All things were made through him [that is, through the word], and without him was not any thing made that was made.” So the word that “was God” in verse 1 was, not only Jesus, as verse 14 clearly indicates (“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”), but also the speech of God commanding the light to come out of darkness in Gen. 1:3. Cf. 2 Cor. 1:20, Heb. 1:1-3, 1 John 1:1-3, Rev. 3:14, 19:13.

So the word is God, and God is the word. Where God is, the word is, and vice versa. God’s word is not only powerful and authoritative, it is the very presence of God in our midst. How can we understand this? We can think of God’s word, as John did in the first chapter of his gospel, as somehow identical with Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity. So when God speaks to us, Jesus is there.

-John M. Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord

God’s Personal Words

This pretty much sums up the thesis of Frame’s Doctrine of the Word of God:

God’s speech to man is real speech. It is very much like one person speaking to another. God speaks so that we can understand him and respond appropriately. Appropriate responses are of many kinds: belief, obedience, affection, repentance, laughter, pain, sadness and so on. God’s speech is often propositional: God’s conveying information to us. But it is far more than that. It includes all the features, functions, beauty, and richness of language that we see in human communication, and more. …My thesis is that God’s word, in all its qualities and aspects, is a personal communication from him to us.

-John M. Frame, Doctrine of the Word of God

Four Favorites on the Doctrine of Scripture

From the article Four Favorites on the Doctrine of Scripture
by John Frame

1. B. B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible

These essays are the most influential in forming the evangelical and Reformed view of Scripture in the twentieth century. They are around 100 years old, but the exegetical arguments still hold up. The book is a formidable work of godly scholarship. It is the starting point for most current discussions of biblical authority and inerrancy. Warfield’s view was not original, though some have claimed that it was. His was the traditional position of orthodox Christianity. But he was creative in his powerful defense of that position.

2. Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, volume 1 (of 4)

Bavinck’s theology is the most important work of Reformed systematic theology in the past century. The section on Scripture is marvelously comprehensive and nuanced. In my judgment, there is no difference between his position and that of Warfield, but his vocabulary and emphasis are different. He and Warfield give us “two witnesses,” coming from different cultures, testifying to the truth of Scripture as God’s word.

3. Meredith G. Kline, The Structure of Biblical Authority (Eerdmans, 1972).

This is the most important breakthrough in the doctrine of Scripture since Warfield. Shows that Scripture has the character of a written treaty, of which God is the author, and to which believers must be committed without reservation. I have disagreed with Kline on some other matters, but I believe this book contains a powerful argument. Kline shows that the idea of a written, authoritative word of God is essential to God’s plan of redemption.

4. Ned Stonehouse and Paul Woolley, eds., The Infallible Word (P&R, 2003).

These are cogent articles by the old (around 1946) Westminster Seminary faculty, dealing with various aspects of biblical authority. I keep coming back especially to John Murray’s “The Attestation of Scripture” and Cornelius Van Til’s “Nature and Scripture.” Murray gives a concise, definitive exposition of Scripture’s self-witness. Van Til shows that both general and special revelation are necessary, authoritative, clear, and sufficient for their respective purposes, and that they stand opposed to the worldviews of non-Christian philosophies.

Biblical Interpretation is Always Personal

And the hits keep on coming from Swain in Trinity, Revelation, and Reading:

Because of biblical interpretation is an act of covenant mutuality, a living in engagement with the living God through his living in Christ, biblical interpretation is always personal. As interpreters, we are always making decisions either for or against the truth, promises, and commands of a given text. There is no neutrality here. We are either in the process of further embracing Scripture’s truth, promises, and commands or we are in the process of distancing ourselves from them. We are either bringing ourselves into further conformity to God’s word or we are slowly drifting away from that which we have read and heard (cf. Heb. 2.1-4).The timing of biblical application therefore is always “Today” (see Heb. 3.7-4.13).

– Scott R. Swain, Trinity, Revelation, and Reading, 134.

Scripture is Eternally Youthful

Another excerpt from Trinity, Revelation, and Reading:

The writing of the Law thus provided an enduring means whereby God’s covenantal word through his authorized agents could reach endless generations of his people. And this is exactly how later generations of God’s people received his written word, not simply as a record of past acts of revelation, but as the divinely authorized literary means whereby the living God continually speaks to his people (see esp. Heb. 3.7ff; also Rom. 15.4). What Bavinck says of Holy Scripture in general applies to the Old Testament in particular. It “is not in arid story or ancient chronicle but the ever-living, eternally youthful word of God, which God, now and always issues to his people. It is the eternally ongoing speech of God to us.” The scriptures are the viva vox Dei, the living voice of God.

-Scott. R. Swain, Trinity, Revelation, and Reading,

Inerrancy and Humility

In his article, “One reason I believe the Scriptures are inerrant” author Kevin D. Kennedy shares a story that helped him in his commitment to the truthfulness of Scripture. The article is short and I would encourage you to read it.  Here are what I thought were the best 2 paragraphs of the piece:

…In order for me to claim that the Scriptures contain errors, I must first claim inerrancy for my own interpretation. The other alternative is to conclude that I might be mistaken in my interpretation of the text and it is therefore impossible for me to conclude that this text has an error until I have inerrant knowledge of the biblical languages, the historical background, other events not recorded by this particular narrator, any unique idioms that might have been employed by this biblical writer, as well as inerrant knowledge of the political, social, legal, cultural, familial, geographical, topological, and ethnic setting of the text — just to name a few.

Given these two alternatives, it is clear that the decision of the interpreter is ultimately a spiritual decision. Either I claim omniscience for my own interpretation or I humbly admit that my own knowledge is limited and trust that God will never mislead me in His Word.

What is Biblical Inerrancy? (part 4)

Now let’s define 2 crucial terms for this discussion: error and contradiction. Clarifying these terms is absolutely essential for understanding inerrancy. Those who deny inerrancy believe either the Bible claims things that aren’t true, or that some passages of the Bible contradict other passages of the Bible. If it turns out that  1)”problem passages” do not affirm things that aren’t untrue, and 2) many who deny inerrancy are working with an inaccurate definition of ‘contradiction’, anti-inerrancy arguments lose much of their bite.

An error is a failure to relate accurate information due either to confusion, ignorance, or deceit. A contradiction occurs whenever we affirm two logically inreconciliable concepts at the same time and in the same sense (A and not-A). Many of the objections to inspiration (by unbelievers) and inerrancy (by both unbelievers and limited inerrantist Christians) based on supposed errors misunderstand what an error is. Remember this important principle:

Differences of perspective do not necessarily imply contradiction.

Theological Foundations for Inerrancy. So there are several possible causes for errors: confusion, deceit, or ignorance. That is to say, writers of the Bible may have gotten their facts mixed up, they could have intentionally desired to manipulate their readers, or perhaps they lacked vital information regarding an important point they wanted to make. But once we recognize that God is the ultimate author of the Bible (2 Peter 1:21), we realize that these causes of error do not plague God. God is neither confused (He not only knows but determines all facts), deceitful (Titus, 1:2, 1 John 2:21), nor ignorant (knowing all things). God is a God of truth (1 Jn. 1:5). The human authors claimed not to be deceiving their readers (Gal. 1:20, 2 Pet. 1:16), and to have checked all their facts carefully (Lk. 1:1-4).

The inerrancy syllogism. A syllogism is a form of deductive reasoning consisting of a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion. In deductive logic, if the major and minor premises are true the conclusion cannot fail to be true, it is logically certain.

  • Major premise: The Bible is God’s word (2 Tim. 3:16-17)
  • Minor premise: God cannot lie, deceive, or make errors (Titus 1:2)
  • Conclusion: Therefore the Bible cannot lie, deceieve or make errors (2 Sam. 7:28, Prov. 30:5; cf. Ps. 12:6; 119:42; John 17:17).

Here is the syllogism, taken from explicit passages of Scripture, which if correct assures that inerrancy is a valid inference of biblical teaching.

What Jesus Taught: The Word of God

I’m currently having a conversation with a former student (I’m a Youth Pastor) who has some conflicting views about the Christian faith. My student, and I count him as a friend too, has questions concerning what Jesus taught. He wrote to me, “We can debate so many different aspects of Christianity but what seems to be the most misunderstood part of the entire religion is its main message, which is peace and love. Christ died so that we would be forgiven for our sins, but that is not the main point of Christianity. We need to focus on what he taught, not how he died.”

In response to his email, which questioned the authority of the Bible, the necessity of Christ’s death, and the existence of Hell, I am writing about what Jesus taught. Below are my comments on what Jesus teaches about the authority of the Bible as a guide for life.”

What Jesus teaches about the Bible.

1. Jesus taught that the Old Testament is the authoritative and inerrant word of God.

Jesus believed, and taught, that the Bible is inspired by God, without error, clear, and sufficient for knowledge and life. All of his teachings assumed that the Old Testament was the authoritative word of God the Father (I’m using the term ‘Father’ because that is what Scripture uses in talking about the first person of the trinity, not in any masochistic meaning or sense). In Matthew 5:17-18 Jesus teaches,

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”

Jesus referred to dozens of Old Testament people and events and always treated the Old Testament history as historically accurate. He quoted from Genesis as God’s authoritative word when he said,

“Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and he said, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6).

Jesus assumed that the creation story was true, and he also quoted freely from Old Testament narration as words that God himself “said”. Often Jesus’ teaching depends upon the truthfulness of the Old Testament account. Here are a few examples where Jesus’ teaching entirely depends on the accuracy of the Old Testament: Matthew 5:12; Matthew 11:23-24; Matthew 12:41-42; Matthew 24:37-39; Luke 4:25-27; Luke 11:50-51; John 8:56-58. Jesus viewed the Old Testament the same way the Old Testament viewed itself: as the divinely inspired, inerrant, word of God sufficient for all of life and knowledge.

2. Jesus taught that his teachings are the authoritative and inerrant word of God.

Jesus taught that not only was the Old Testament authoritatively inspired by God, but also that his teaching was inspired by God and was a fulfillment of Old Testament promises (Matthew 26:54; Mark 8:31). Throughout his life Jesus used scripture to guide his life: in resisting temptation to sin (Matthew 4:1-11), to settle arguments (Matthew 19:1-12; Matthew 22:39; Matthew 27:46; Mark 7:1-13; Luke 10:25-26), and he died quoting scripture (Matthew 27:46 cross-reference with Psalm 22:1). After his resurrection he explained how the scripture taught about all that he had done and that had to happen to him to some disciples as they walked along the road and to his disciples in Jerusalem (Luke 24:13-17, 44-47).  Jesus saw his teaching as no less inspired by God than the Old Testament. He taught with authority that distinguished him from other teachers and he interpreted the Law on his own authority rather than relying on rabbinic tradition (Matthew 5:21-48). He described his teaching as having the same permanence as the Old Testament in Matthew 24:35. Jesus viewed both the Old Testament and his own teaching as the very word of God.

3. Jesus taught that the New Testament teachings are the authoritative and inerrant word of God.

Jesus took scripture to be the authoritative word of God upon which he based his entire life and teaching. The gospel accounts of his life and the New Testament witness by the Apostles were direct results of Jesus’ giving his disciples authority and power to proclaim the authoritative and inerrant word of God. (Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 24:44-49; Acts 1:8; Acts 2:1-13, 14-40). These apostles were given power and authority to proclaim God’s very word in writing and in witness (Mark 3:13-19; John 16:12-14; Acts 26:16-18; I Corinthians 2:12-13). These 12 Apostles wrote the New Testament; Gospels, Acts, Epistles, Pastoral letters , and Revelation. Matthew and John were disciples, John Mark, who wrote Mark was an attendant of Peter, a disciple of Jesus, Luke was a physician and close associate of Peter’s, Paul was an apostle and wrote 2/3 of the NT in his letters and epistles, Peter wrote 1 & 2 Peter, John the disciple also wrote Revelation while exiled on the island of Patmos. Jesus taught that he had inspired these men and given them divine revelation to record orally and to be preserved in written form for those of us who would see the Word of God later (John 20:29; 2 Timothy 3:16).

We can have favorite Bible passages and trust that they are the truth because we trust Jesus’ teachings. Jesus teaches that the Bible is authoritative and accurate in its entirety.  Either he is a liar who is deceiving us with false teachings about God and life, or he is crazy and believes this stuff when it is not true, or he is who he said he is (the Son of God), and his teachings are what he said they are (the very authoritative and inerrant word of God). Christians believe his teachings matter and that he is who he said he is, and therefore, God’s word is authoritative, inerrant, and sufficient for knowledge and life.

Book Recommendations on the Unity of Scripture

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1) God’s Big Picture: Like both According to Plan and Gospel and Kingdom, this work identifies the unifying theme of the scripture as the Kingdom of God, and functions as a wonderful overview of the entire Bible.

 2) According to Plan: Also identifies the uniting theme of scripture as the Kingdom of God. Also serves as a helpful introduction to hermeneutics (the field of Christian studies that asks, “How do we properly interpret the Bible?”), and Christian epistemology (the field of Christian studies that asks, “How do we know what we know, and how do we know it’s true?” )

3) As Far as the Curse is Found: This book is a retelling of the Biblical story from the point of view of covenant. God has created the world and after the entrance of sin has bound Himself to redeem it “as far as the curse is found.”

4)Gospel and Kingdom: This book no longer is available individually in the U.S. It’s now packaged with Gospel and Wisdom and Gospel and Revelation in the Goldsworthy Trilogy. I absolutely love this book. Easy reading, but never childish. Simple, but not simplistic. Says Goldsworthy, “God acts not in a fragmentary, capricious or unrelated way, but in a single purposeful span of history. The Bible is not a deposit of abstract ideas or even of formulated doctrines, but a marvelous unity of salvation-history.” (pg. 35)