Doctrine of Scripture | Post 1 of 3
It is at the top of our list of values, it is boldly stated on Sundays, it forms the basis of our Life Group series and is the foundation of our pastoral and counselling services. It is also the reason why we are as a church are embarking upon a 2-year reading plan together. It is our belief in ‘Biblical Truth’. We (at Westminster Chapel) honour the whole of the Bible as unchanging truth & seek to obey it and apply it to all of life. But what does Biblical Truth actually mean?
In this series of blog posts, I’m going to delve into this important question: one that anyone who is willing to take Christianity seriously should be able to answer. It stands at the very beginning of a believer’s walk with God and provides the foundation upon which their entire journey depends.
Initially this question can be answered by the FIEC statement of faith that Westminster Chapel agrees with: ‘God has revealed himself in the Bible, which consists of the Old and New Testaments alone. Every word was inspired by God through human authors, so that the Bible as originally given is in its entirety the Word of God, without error and fully reliable in fact and doctrine. The Bible alone speaks with final authority and is always sufficient for all matters of belief and practice.’
In more flowery language, we believe that in the history of mankind, God wrote just one book in which can be found the words of eternal life (2 Timothy 3:15-16). And we believe that book is what humans call the Bible. But within that one book is actually a library of books. The leather binding of a modern ESV could almost be viewed as 2 bookends on a shelf. Between these bookends can be found 66 independent works by more than 40 authors, written over a period of about 1500 years. Some of the pages are covered in the desert sands of Mount Sinai, others have become wrinkled under the blazing suns of Greece, whilst others contain watery spatters from the rivers of Babylon. The Bible that stands proudly in our pews today should not to be regarded as just another lifestyle book to be dipped in and out of. It is not simply decoration for a hotel room, or a grandmother’s coffee table. Rather it cries out to every human being on the planet, in three different original languages, to listen intently and to take it more seriously than anything else in existence.
It would be nice if we could stop there, with a concise conclusion and a fluffy poetic paragraph. But like any good mathematics teacher will say, ‘it’s not good enough to just write the answer, you must also show your working.’ And this will be done by asking the simple question, ‘whose book is this?’
1. The Bible is God’s book
Romans 1:19-20 ESV: “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”
The principle to begin with is God’s desire for some of his created beings, namely humans, to know him and experience him. The passage above immediately indicates two things to us. Firstly, God is self-sufficient with regards to his existence and identity. He doesn’t need us to know him or know about him in order to exist and ‘be God’. Secondly, the phrase ‘because God has shown it to them’ implies that there is hypothetically a scenario in which the beings God creates could be incapable of knowing anything about him. Therefore the most wonderful and powerful conclusion can be made. God, the author and sustainer of all life, freely chose to make beings capable of knowing him, and then decided to create a way by which he could make himself known to them.
This passage in Romans is really starting at the most basic level, in God’s glory being displayed through creation. But in our case we are concentrating on the more refined and concise knowledge that is made available to us through God’s word.
Imagine you went into an art gallery and there was a brand new painting hanging in front of you. You have never seen or heard of it before and the history of the piece is totally unknown to you. Then a man sidles up next to you holding a small book and says, “take this book, it will help you understand the painting and the painter”. Now it is worth considering three scenarios:
1. The man is just a guest to the gallery like you. He has spent a while looking and thinking about the painting and is wanting to share his thoughts with you.
2. The man is on the gallery staff and has had some dealings with the artist. He knows a bit about the history of the piece and thus can offer you a bit more than the average punter.
3. The man is the artist himself.
These scenarios are analogous to the different opinions people have of the Bible today. And the question that needs to be answered is whether it matters which of those scenarios is true?
In the case of art (in its broadest sense) our current culture believes that every opinion is equal. We are all intrinsically the same existentially and can all bring something helpful to the table. This opinion prevails so much nowadays, to the point that the punter often has as much authority over a painting as the painter. Maybe the viewer will see something that the painter himself had never noticed? Maybe the artist will change their mind over time as to what it means? Therefore every observation has the potential to be as ‘true’ and as valuable as the next. This argument, that it’s just another book written by men wrestling with spiritual stuff, is often levelled against the Bible. And the accusation has crept into some churches as well.
In the end that first opinion not only betrays a totally scepticism about the Bible, but also a creator god in general. Because the reality (despite being a total mystery) is that, if there is a God then we are not simply onlookers, but we are actually part of the painting! If there is a creator of the universe then we are created beings. This instantly throws a spanner in the works of the relativist because no longer are two punters sharing equally valid opinions, but rather you’re speaking to the God who spoke all things into existence (including us). If we believe in an eternal god of any kind then we must approach this topic by first humbly considering our place in it.
There is still scenario 2 though. The Bible might be written by fallible people who have experienced something of God, receiving bits of communication from him and they have done their level best to get that on paper for the benefit of others. It is therefore a kind of biography of God. This scenario might even include some direct quotes from the main character himself. In this case we have the words of Jesus in the four gospels and ‘helpfully’ many Bibles have these highlighted in red rather than the normal black. Every Christian believes at least that the words of Jesus Christ are the direct words of God. So where the text is red, we (Christians) take it as God speaking, but scenario 2 would say that where it is black we must start to use our own discernment.
So the question to answer is, ‘are the words highlighted in red more ‘from God’ than the words in black?’ And to answer that we should go to what Jesus has to say on the matter (ignoring the fact that even the ‘red bits’ were written by his ‘fallible’ disciples)…. stay tuned for my next post where I’ll examine Jesus’ words more fully.