Contend Earnestly: The Scriptures

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Scriptures

Any Systematic Theology must start with a solid foundation. And for Christ’s Church that is the Scriptures. We must go “ad fontes”, or “back to the fountain”. Back to the source of Divine revelation. Throughout this study, we will make some shocking claims; Jesus Christ is God and man, God is one One yet Three, salvation is by grace and not by works, faith is a gift, God decreed evil…etc. Most of us are familiar with these, but never let familiarity dull your amazement over what we claim is true! But, of course, it is not our belief that makes them true. They are true because God Himself has declared it in His written word.

And because of this, we start with the natural question of “what is Scripture?”. In other words, what can we deem as the authoritative word of God?

Because we stand on the shoulders of the giants of the reformation, we declare that Scripture is the 39 books of the Old Testament and the 27 books of the New Testament. Nothing more, nothing less. And because these books are God’s inspired word (2 Tim 3:16-17), we must define what inspiration is. As some of the Puritans used to do, we will start with a contrast; what inspiration is not:

Inspiration is not illumination: This literally means “to bring to light”. That is, to bring understanding to something. In relation to the word of God, each believer has different levels of illumination, or insight, into the text. Paul commands us to strive for this:

2 Tim 2:7
Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.

From this verse we also learn that illumination is a work that the Lord must do in us:

John 16:33
But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.

Jesus here begins to show that those who do not have the Holy Spirit cannot understand the things of the Spirit. Paul continues this thought:

1 Cor 2:14-16
But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ.

Peter even admitted that some of Paul’s writings were “hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16). We receive an understanding of the inspired text from God, but it is not our illumination that makes the Bible inspired. Even if we do not understand the text, it is still God-breathed!

Inspiration is not revelation: These are connected, and do overlap, but they must stand on their own as well. Revelation is God communicating something that we could never otherwise know. To put it simply, inspiration is the perfect record of revelation.

Inspiration is not canonization: This is the process that the early church went through to declare what books are to be considered Scripture. It is important to note that God was sovereign over this process as He preserved His word, but canonization did not make the texts inspired. It simply gathered the texts that were already inspired.

Inspiration is not translation: The Old Testament, originally written in Hebrew, and the New Testament, originally written in Greek, needs to be translated into the language of the people so they may hear the living and active word of God (Heb 4:12). We are thankful for men like the Scribes at Qumran, and those such as William Tyndale who dedicated, and sometimes gave, their life for the translation of the text. But a translation starts with the inspired text to bring it into the common language of the time. The process itself does not inspire the text. And this process is not infallible. But as we will see, God’s hand is seen preserving His word in this process as well.

Finally, what it is: Inspiration is the work of the Holy Spirit who, through the human authorship of selected saints, perfectly recorded the words of God in the original manuscripts of the 66 books that make up the Old and New Testaments.

Because this was a sovereign work of God, we declare that the inspired text to be:

Inerrant: That is, it is free from any error or untruth. What we have in the Scriptures is exactly what the Lord wanted us to know. Nothing more, nothing less. And because its source is God Himself, it cannot be untrue:

Heb 6:18
… it is impossible for God to lie…

John 14:6
“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life”

Infallible: Not only is the text free from error, but it is incapable of having error. It is one thing to declare that there are no mistakes. It is even stronger to say that it is does not have the ability to be false. What a provision of our God! His word is true, and cannot be otherwise.

In our next installment, we will consider the canon. What books should be included as inspired texts? Why only 66? Does God still speak today? Will there be further revelation?


Seth McBee said...

Bruce Ware pointed out that those who believe in libertarian free will can have no certainty of an inerrant and infallible Word because if the writers were truly free they could have chosen to NOT write what the Spirit lead them to write...So how could God be sure that His word would be, in essesnce, His word?

I thought that was VERY interesting to note...

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