Thursday, March 15, 2012

Systematic Theology--Chapter 4

 The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (1) Authority

How Do We Know that the Bible is God's Word?

The major teachings of the Bible about itself can be classified into four characteristics:

1. The authority of Scripture
2. The clarity of Scripture
3. The necessity of Scripture
4. The sufficiency of Scripture

The authority of Scripture means that all the words in Scripture are God's words in such a way that to disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God.

A. All the words in Scripture are God's words

   1. This is what the Bible claims for itself.
  • "Thus says the Lord" appears hundreds of times in the Old Testament
  • God speaks "through" prophets, but the words are God's own words (see 1 Kings 14:18; 16:12, 34 and 2 Kings 9:36 for a few examples)
  • In the New Testament, a number of passages indicate that all of the Old Testament writings are thought of as God's words
    • 2 Timothy 3:16: All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness
      • The word "Scripture" here is the word "graphe", which refers specifically to the Old Testament. Even as Paul writes words of Scripture in the New Testament, he is affirming that all of the Old Testament writings are "breathed out by God."
    • 2 Peter 1:21: For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
      • Peter is not denying human involvement, only saying that the ultimate source of every prophecy was never a man's decision about what he wanted to write, but rather the Holy Spirit's action in the prophet's life.
    • The New Testament quotes/cites the Old Testament repeatedly.
      • Matthew 1:22 => Isaiah 7:14
      • Matthew 9:15 => Genesis 2:24
      • Mark 7:9-13 => refers back to the words of Moses after he receives the Ten Commandments (see Exodus 20 or Deuteronomy 5)
      • Acts 1:16 => Psalms 69 and 109
      • Acts 2:16-17 => Joel 2:28-32
      • Many other passages could be cited, but the pattern of attributing to God the words of Old Testament Scripture should be very clear.
  • The New Testament is considered Scripture due to Jesus' promises to the disciples that the Holy Spirit would bring all that he had said to their remembrance and would guide them into all truth.
    • John 14:26: But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
    • John 16:13: When the spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
    • 1 Peter 3:2: . . . that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles
    • 1 Corinthians 2:13: And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.
    • 1 Thessalonians 4:15: For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.
    • Revelation 22:18-19: I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.
     2. We are convinced of the Bible's claims to be God's words as we read the Bible.

  • Our ultimate conviction that the words of the Bible are God's words comes only when the Holy Spirit speaks in and through the words of the Bible to our hearts and gives us an inner assurance that these are the words of our Creator speaking to us.
  • 1 Corinthians 2:14: The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
  • Apart from the work of the Spirit of God, a person will not receive spiritual truths and in particular will not receive or accept the truth that the words of Scripture are in fact the words of God.
  • John 10:27: My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.
    3. Other evidence regarding Scripture is useful but not finally convincing.

  • It is historically accurate.
  • It is internally consistent.
  • It contains prophecies that have been fulfilled hundreds of years later.
  • It has influenced the course of human history more than any other book.
  • It has continued changing the lives of millions of individuals throughout its history.
  • Through it people come to find salvation.
  • It has a majestic beauty and a profound depth of teaching unmatched by any other book.
  • It claims hundreds of times to be God's very words.
  • From the Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 1, paragraph 5:
We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture. And the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man's salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God; yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.
    4. The words of Scripture are self-attesting.

Scripture cannot be "proved" to be God's words by appeal to any higher authority. If we ultimately appeal to human reason, or to logic, or to historical accuracy, or to scientific truth, as the authority by which Scripture is shown to be God's words, then we have assumed the thing to which we appealed to be a higher authority than God's words and one that is more true or more reliable. p. 78 
    5. Possible objection: This is a circular argument.

It should be admitted that this is a kind of circular argument. However, that does not make its use invalid, for all arguments for an absolute authority must ultimately appeal to that authority for proof. Otherwise, the authority would not be an absolute or highest authority. p. 78-79
    6. This does not imply dictation from God as the sole means of communication.

  • Hebrews 1:1: Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets
  • Examples of pure and simple dictation:
    • Revelation 2:1, 8, 12: To the angel of the church in Ephesus write. . . . And to the angel of the church of Smyrna write. . . . And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write. . .
    • Isaiah 38:4-6: Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah: "Go and say to Hezekiah, Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and will defend this city."
  • Example of historical research
    • Luke 1:1-4: Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.
  • Evidence of writing as a response to observing the life of Jesus and listening to his teaching
    • John 14:26: But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
  • The Bible also speaks of dreams, of visions, of hearing the Lord's voice or standing in the council of the Lord
  • We must trust this and all of the other research and evidence previously discussed to understand that no matter the method of recording God's words, the ultimate result is that the Bible is physically written by humans, but those humans wrote the words that God wanted them to write, words that God would also claim as his own. p. 81
B. Therefore to disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God.

  • Luke 24:25: And he said to them, "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!"
  • John 15:20: Remember the word that I said to you: "A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours."
  • 2 Peter 3:2: . . . that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandments of the Lord and Savior through your apostles
  • Throughout the history of the church the greatest preachers have been those who have recognized that they have no authority in themselves and have seen their task as being to explain the words of Scripture and apply them clearly to the lives of their hearers. Their preaching has drawn its power not from the proclamation of their own Christian experiences or the experiences of others, nor from their own opinions, creative ideas, or rhetorical skills, but from God's powerful word. Essentially they stood in the pulpit, pointed to the biblical text, and said in effect to the congregation, "This is what this verse means. Do you see that meaning here as well? Then you must believe it and obey it with all your heart, for God himself, your Creator and your Lord, is saying this to you today!" Only the written words of Scripture can give this kind of authority to preaching. p. 82
C. The truthfulness of Scripture

   1. God cannot lie or speak falsely.

  • Titus 1:2: . . . in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began
  • Hebrews 6:18: . . . so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.
  • 2 Samuel 7:28: And now, O Lord God, you are God, and your words are true, and you have promised this good thing to your servant.
   2. Therefore all the words in Scripture are completely true and without error in any part.

  • Psalm 12:6: The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times.
  • Proverbs 30:5: Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.
  • Psalm 119:89: Forever, O Lord, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens.
  • Matthew 24:35: Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
  • Numbers 23:19: God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and he will not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
   3. God's words are the ultimate standard of truth.
In John 17 Jesus prays to the Father, "Sanctify them in truth; your word is truth" (John 17:17). This verse is interesting because Jesus does not use the adjectives alethinos or alethes ("true"), which we might have expected, to say, "Your word is true." Rather, he uses a noun, aletheia ("truth"), to say that God's Word is not simply "true," but it is truth itself. The difference is significant, for this statement encourages us to think of the Bible not simply as being "true" in the sense that it conforms to some higher standard of truth, but rather to think of the Bible as being itself the final standard of truth. p. 83
   4. Might some new fact ever contradict the Bible?
If any supposed "fact" is ever discovered that is said to contradict Scripture, then (if we have understood Scripture rightly) that "fact" must be false, because God, the author of Scripture, knows all true facts (past, present, and future). p. 83-84
We should never fear but always welcome any new facts that may be discovered in any legitimate area of human research or study. No true fact will ever contradict the words of the God who knows all facts and who never lies. p. 84
D. Written Scripture is our final authority
It is important to realize that the final form in which Scripture remains authoritative is its written form. It was the words of God written on the tablets of stone that Moses deposited in the ark of the covenant. Later, God commanded Moses and subsequent prophets to write their words in a book. And it was written Scripture (graphe) that Paul said was "God-breathed" (2 Tim. 3:16). Similarly, it is Paul's writings that are "a command of the Lord" (1 Cor. 14:37) and that could be classified with "the other scriptures" (2 Peter 3:16).
We must continually remember that we have in the Bible God's very words, and we must not try to "improve" on them in some way, for this cannot be done. Rather, we should seek to understand them and then trust them and obey them with our whole heart. p. 85 

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