Doctrine of Scripture | Post 2 of 3
We (at Westminster Chapel) honour the whole of the Bible as unchanging truth and seek to obey it and apply it to all of life. But what does Biblical Truth actually mean? Andy Mehigan investigates in this series of blog posts… we’d encourage you to read his first post here, before tackling this one.
What Did Jesus Say About Scripture?
Right at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel we have Jesus declaring, ‘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’ (Matt 5:18). And in John 10:35 he points out that ‘Scripture cannot be broken’. Alongside his total devotion to reading, memorising, quoting and teaching Scripture, these two statements totally underpin Jesus’ attitude towards the written word of God. There is no question that Jesus believed the Torah (Old Testament) was the complete message that God wanted to communicate to man (by that point), and that every word it contained was specifically meant to be there. He saw every word as ‘red’, every phrase as divine and every book as sovereignly appointed. This not only meant that the words were correct, perfect and true, but so also were the ideas, the doctrines, the teachings, the prophecies, the facts and the figures. Correctly understood, each and every part of it represents the character of its author; living, holy and powerful.
[Side question: Was Jesus’ Old Testament the same as ours?
When Jesus quotes Scripture, he only ever quotes from the Tanach, which was the equivalent to our Old Testament, containing all 39 books (in a slightly different order) and no more. This view correlated fully with the recognised canon of the Jewish people and importantly it confirms the non-inspiration of the Apocrypha, which we find mistakenly in Roman Catholic Bibles.
The climax of this whole topic comes in Luke 24 when the resurrected, proven-to-be-God, Jesus opens the Old Testament to two disciples and explains how everything in it is about him. He doesn’t say, ‘all of it except the violent or controversial bits’, he unashamedly takes the entire text and affirms it in its totality as being the ‘Word from God’ about the ‘Word of God’! Therefore not only do we have Jesus attesting to the whole of Scripture being divinely authored and compiled by God, but you then have him declaring that it is all about God. This is what leads Paul to say that ‘All Scripture is breathed out by God’ (2 Timothy 3:16). Every single letter in the Old Testament is a note placed there specifically by its composer.]
[Side question: Are you saying that God removed man’s free will and used him like a fountain pen?
Without considering for hours on end the Biblical understanding of free will, this question can be best answered by combining a comment by J.I Packer and a paragraph on literary style from the Chicago Statement of Biblical Innerancy (CSBI).
Differences between literary conventions in Bible times and in ours must also be observed: since, for instance, non-chronological narration and imprecise citation were conventional and acceptable and violated no expectations in those days, we must not regard these things as faults when we find them in Bible writers. When total precision of a particular kind was not expected nor aimed at, it is no error not to have achieved it. Scripture is inerrant, not in the sense of being absolutely precise by modern standards, but in the sense of making good its claims and achieving that measure of focused truth at which its authors aimed.
J.I. Packer (God has Spoken)
Instead of imposing on God arbitrary limitations of this sort, we should rather adore the wisdom and power that could so order the unruly minds of sinful men as to cause the freely and spontaneously, with no inhibiting of their normal mental processes, to write only and wholly the infallible truth of God.]
All of the above can be applied directly to the Old Testament, but what about the New Testament? Again this can be answered through the words of Jesus.
“He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me. These things I have spoken to you, while abiding with you. 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 said to you.”
“I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 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. He shall glorify Me; for He shall take of Mine, and shall disclose it to you.”
It is clear from these two statements that Jesus anticipated the canon of Scripture to be enlarged by new writings. Therefore after the Holy Spirit had fallen upon his disciples it became an Apostolic responsibility to establish the Church through the spoken and written word. And that was exactly what happened, either by their own pen or by a writer who they oversaw. After the gospels, the books of the New Testament are either recordings of the expansion of the church as it happened or are instructions aimed at instructing and guiding it through various circumstances. The nature of every book inevitably does explicitly what the Old Testament had done implicitly, they glorify Jesus. By the second breath of the Holy Spirit, 27 more books were added to the canon and then it was sealed for all eternity.
A basic illustration as to how we know the correct 27 books were canonised is how museums fill their galleries with genuine artworks. They do it by working very hard to confirm the authenticity of the piece. No one can turn a fake into an original or make an original fake. As the early church awaited God’s final masterpieces they knew they had no ability of their own to make books authoritative. Their job was solely to recognise them when they arrived. By the year 367 AD, after lengthy debates and councils, the church were certain they had a complete package and it was signed off in 393 AD by the Synod of Hippo.
Finally the Bible was full and complete and there was no question in anyone’s mind, this was God’s Book. It wasn’t a vain attempt to forge or mimic his handwriting, but rather a precious and perfect compilation of his personal message to men and women throughout history. As John Piper says, ‘God wrote a book!’
In the next and final post, I’ll be examining what all this means to us, and how we could even say, ‘The Bible is Man’s Book.’