Why Sola Scriptura? Because of Misplaced Authority

The date was October 31, 1517. The man was the Augustinian monk Martin Luther. In one hand he held a copy of his 95 theses, a treatise he had written to address the various abuses present in the Catholic Church. In the other hand he held a mallet. He desired a conversation to occur about these abuses, he desired repentance, and ultimately longed for a return to the gospel. In an effort to get this conversation started he nailed his theses to the church door in the small town of Wittenberg, Germany.

What happened changed the world.

500 years later, here we are today. Does the reformation still matter? Do the writings of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the other reformers still apply today? Is there still a need to reform the Church? Are we as Protestants, still protesting? The answer to these questions is a resounding yes. Jonathan Leeman is right when he says there is truly a danger in idolizing the past, there is a greater danger in forgetting the past altogether. So in looking to the past to gain wisdom for today, why did the foundational principle of Sola Scriptura matter so greatly during then and why does it still matter today?

The issue at stake during the reformation was authority.

The Roman Catholic church believed final authority was not in the Scripture but elsewhere. The tradition of the church was believed to be a second source of revelation, and the Pope was viewed as the final authority in all matters of faith and practice. Standing against this belief the Reformers believed the Bible to be the sole source of divine revelation, the only inspired, infallible, final, and authoritative rule for faith and practice. The reformers boldly proclaimed that when Scripture speaks, God speaks. And though Scripture is certainly to be interpreted by the Church, and though tradition is certainly helpful, the Church and its traditions only have authority insofar as they are in line with and underneath the authority the Word of God.

Why again did this matter? The Catholic church, the popes, the cardinals, and councils prohibited the Bible from being translated into the common language. Because the Scripture was kept it in Latin, and because they reserved interpretation only for themselves they were in effect saying this, “We’ll interpret the Bible for you, trust us.” And people did. For years and years people never read the Bible for themselves and simply trusted the Catholic church’s interpretation of Scripture and attended mass even though they couldn’t understand the Latin being used by the priests. Then a few scholars rose up from their own study of Scripture after seeing how wide the gulf really was between the church’s interpretation of Scripture and Scripture itself. John Wycliffe saw this, translated the Bible into English and the Catholic church banned and burned his books. Some years later Jan Hus, a Czech theologian saw similar things, translated the Bible into Czech and was burned at the stake by the Catholic church. Then, in 1483 a little boy was born who would grow up and see the same things. This little boy was Martin Luther. What began as a call to reform the Catholic church in his 95 theses soon developed into a full scale fight against the Catholic church’s wild interpretations of Scripture, the pope’s immoral and luxurious living, and the pressing need to put the Scripture into the hands of the common man. Thus, with pen in hand Luther fought back. Writing hundred’s of books, letters, and treatises on the clear and plain meaning of Scripture…all while translating the Bible into German. For this they excommunicated Luther, labeled him a heretic, and put a price on his head.

Why did Luther do this? Why was he and so many others willing to die for the truth they saw in Scripture? Because the gospel of a long awaited Messiah revealed in the Word of God was hidden from sight, and they labored to reveal it. Pope after Pope had said it’s our own works that gets you into heaven or cast you to hell, yet the reformers saw standing forth in brilliant clarity the Christ, who was born of a virgin, who lived in perfect righteousness, who bore our curse on the cross, who rose and defeated death with His life, who ascended to reign over all things interceded for us. Gospel grace given by God to guilty sinners who then go free! They saw Christ in all of Scripture, and gave their all to preach Christ in all the world.

Now, why does Sola Scriptura still matter today?

Though we’re no longer held captive by the Vatican, and though we say we believe in the inspiration of Scripture, we do not go to Scripture to see how the Church should run, to see what kind of music we should sing, or to see what kind of preaching we need today, or to see what kind of lives we ought to live. Where do we look to find direction in all these things and more? We look to the world around us and employ modern cultural methods within the Church in an effort to grow the Church and remain relevant in the eyes of our culture. Bottom line? We have placed authority in the wrong place, just like the medieval church. The brilliant clarity of Christ in the gospel saturated Scripture doesn’t seem to be enough for the Church today. Instead, we resort to culturally hip strategies seeking to tickle the eyes and ears of churchgoers because deep down we don’t think the God of Scripture cannot compete with the world, so we make our churches look like the world to win the world and what happens? We…lose…the gospel. And so, as the Cambridge Declaration says, “the faithfulness of the reformers in the past contrasts sharply with the unfaithfulness of the Church in the present.”

Clearly, we need reformation still.

Where does reformation begin?

It begins with a return to Sacred Scripture.

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Every Book of the Bible in One Word

I ran across this post a while back and found it extremely helpful. It’s from Garrett Kell over on the The Gospel Coalition.

I’ve reposted the whole below, enjoy!

 

God reveals himself through his Word. When he speaks, he teaches us what he is like, how he acts, and how he desires us to respond. As a whole, the Bible is about God. It’s about God the Father displaying his glory through God the Son by the power of God the Holy Spirit.

The Bible is one book made up of 66 books. Each book has a major theme that emphasizes an aspect of God’s character or a way he is working to carry out his perfect plan. What follows is an attempt to capture these themes. These themes are certainly reductionistic and required me to make a few tough choices, but I hope you’ll be helped by considering them.

Bible: God of Jesus

Old Testament: Anticipation

Gospels: Manifestation

Acts: Proclamation

Epistles: Explanation

Revelation: Consummation


Law
Genesis: God of Promise

Exodus: God of Power

Leviticus: God of Purity

Numbers: God of Perseverance

Deuteronomy: God of Preparation


History

Joshua: God of the Land

Judges: God of the Rebels

Ruth: God of Redemption

1 Samuel: God of the Heart

2 Samuel: God of the Throne

1 and 2 Kings: God of Israel

1 and 2 Chronicles: God of Judah

Ezra: God of the Temple

Esther: God of the Gallows

Nehemiah: God of the Wall


Wisdom

Job: God of Pain

Psalms: God of Praise

Proverbs: God of Prudence

Ecclesiastes: God of Purpose

Song of Solomon: God of Passion


Major Prophets

Isaiah: God of Glory

Jeremiah: God of Weeping

Lamentations: God of Faithfulness

Ezekiel: God of Visions

Daniel: God of History


Minor Prophets

Hosea: God of the Unfaithful

Joel: God of the Locusts

Amos: God of the Oppressed

Obadiah: God of the Mountain

Jonah: God of Compassion

Micah: God of Justice

Nahum: God of Wrath

Habakkuk: God of Sovereignty

Zephaniah: God of Judgment

Haggai: God of Renewal

Zechariah: God of Restoration

Malachi: God of Worship


History

Matthew: God of the Jews

Mark: God of the Romans

Luke: God of the Outcast

John: God of the World

Acts: God of Power


Pauline Epistles

Romans: God of Righteousness

1 Corinthians: God of Holiness

2 Corinthians: God of Weakness

Galatians: God of Justification

Ephesians: God of Unity

Philippians: God of Joy

Colossians: God of Preeminence

1 Thessalonians: God of Encouragement

2 Thessalonians: God of Admonishment

1 Timothy: God of Godliness

2 Timothy: God of Endurance

Titus: God of Works

Philemon: God of Reconciliation


General Epistles

Hebrews: God of Fulfillment

James: God of Trials

1 Peter: God of the Persecuted

2 Peter: God of Patience

1 John: God of Love

2 John: God of Truth

3 John: God of Discernment

Jude: God of Protection


Prophecy

Revelation: God of Eternity

I found the process of reflecting on God’s message in each book deeply edifying, and I would enjoy hearing any ways you can improve this list.

Garrett Kell is married to Carrie, and together they have five children. He serves as pastor of Del Ray Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia.

I Am Wrong When I Disagree With the Bible

Pastor Francis Chan once said, “When I disagree with something in God’s Word, I just assume that I’m wrong.”

These are tremendous words of wisdom. Today so many people, including many Christians, tend to make moral and ethical decisions based on their own feelings and emotions rather than on God’s Word. Someone might say, “I am not sure how I feel about that” in regards to something that is clearly identified as wrong in Scripture. But when it comes to the truth of God’s Word it is not about our feelings, it is about facts. It’s not about what is subjectively felt, but what is objectively true.

The content of the Bible is not true because you agree with it, it’s true because it is God’s Word (“Your Word is truth” – John 17:17). There may be things in the Bible that are contrary to popular public opinion, in fact we can be sure there is (God’s absolute sovereignty, salvation through Christ alone, waiting until marriage to have sex, marriage between one man and one woman, male headship etc.,), but we don’t believe it because it’s popular public opinion, we believe it because it’s in God’s Word. This is so important for us to remember in a world where truth is relative. The Bible teaches us that truth is not relative, it is absolute and we can find that truth in God’s Word.

The next time you are tempted to give in to something that is contrary to God’s Word because it is the popular public opinion, or the next time you come across a passage of the Bible that rubs you the wrong way, remember it is not true because you agree with it, it is true because it is God’s Word. The Bible, not popular public opinion, has final authority over our feelings.

Believe the Bible.

Trust the Bible.

Obey the Bible.

The Word: Fully Man, Fully God (Part 1)

The Christmas holiday brings with it questions of both the incarnation and the trustworthiness of its record.

Was Jesus just a man claiming to be God or God pretending to be a man? If the Bible was written by men, can we really trust it?

In this two-part post, we’ll see the fully human, fully Divine nature of both God’s Word (post 1) and Jesus, God’s Word made flesh (post 2). So this week, lets examine the reliability of the Bible, which bears the record of the God-Man, Jesus.

The Word of God is fully human

a) Human agents, with their own personalities and backgrounds, wrote the Bible

The Scripture was written over more than a millennium-long stretch of time by several dozen authors from various cultural backgrounds. Therefore to consider that God could speak one distinct message for His people through such different people in different times and different places is surely a miracle. Students of the Bible can tell you that the message of God’s Word, whether Genesis or Revelation (or anywhere in between) contains the same components of God’s holiness, man’s depravity, and God’s glorious plan to save sinners through the sacrifice of Christ.

b) The Holy Spirit inspired these human authors to write the very words of God

Peter, Moses, Ezra, and Paul wrote what they felt God wanted them to communicate to the people. It was their thoughts, their background that came out, their words and arguments to their various audiences. However, in the most amazing way, the Creator was moving upon them to write His words for His people throughout all generations. Only God could have written a book that would communicate the same beneficial truths to 21st Century Americans as to 6th Century exiled Jews. What is so mind-blowing is to think that God has communicated to us with letters and words and sentences and paragraphs and books. He has written so much to us that people must plan well to read the whole thing in a period of 365 days! Isn’t it amazing that the Creator of the stars and planets somehow, in His infinitely wise mind, created a way to communicate to us His creatures in language we understand? Who but God could have discovered a way to move the prophets and apostles to write His words with pen on paper and put it in a book? We ought to cherish our Bibles, for they are the very words of God in black and white. Also, lets not forget those, like William Tyndale, who gave their lives to get it’s message to us in our English language. Lets not be casual readers of God’s Word, but serious students.

c) Not dictation, like Allah did to Muhammed

Its important that we don’t confuse how God communicated His Word to the prophets and apostles. In other religions, like Islam and Mormonism, their sacred writings were communicated to them in dictation style. An angel or god spoke and the “prophet” quickly jotted down the words. Dictation then becomes a problem for future copies not being equally authoritative. One Muslim friend once told me proudly that Muslims have the original Quran, so where is our original Bible? He didn’t believe the Bible in my lap was the Word of God unless it was the parchment Paul wrote on and the ink was still wet. The Bible, however, was written by verbal, plenary inspiration. J.I. Packer states it this way: “When biblical inspiration is said to be plenary (as opposed to partial) and verbal (as opposed to the idea that God gives only inklings and insights, without determining in what words they should be expressed), this does not imply a Koranic view of inspiration, whereby translations of the original are precisely not the Holy Book. As Reformation theology used to say, it is the sense of Scripture that is Scripture, and all translations are in truth the Bible, at least to the extent that they are accurate.” 2 Peter 1:21 records things this way: “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.” Kevin DeYoung remarks that it was basically as if God were dictating His words to the prophets and apostles (though He wasn’t) because He was able to say exactly what He wanted to say through them. Because of that, our Bibles are authoritative as they accurately communicate God’s message.

The Word of God is fully Divine

a) When the Bible speaks, God speaks

2 Timothy 3:16 tells us, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” The Scriptures we possess in the Bible are literally the exhalation of God. This is why some have put it, “Where the Bible speaks, God speaks.” It’s as if when we read the Bible the Creator of the heavens and the earth is opening His mouth and uttering a command from the throne of heaven. This means that the Scriptures are the sole and perfect rule of faith and practice for every Christian. Perhaps this is why the author of Hebrews can say, “The Word of God is living and active” (4:12).

b) No errors in the original manuscripts

If God has indeed revealed Himself in a book, doesn’t it make sense that this book would be free from errors? After all, if our God couldn’t communicate to humans without making a mistake (doctrinally or otherwise), what does that say about Him? Maybe you’re thinking, “Yes, but what about all the translations we have today which do make the occasional error?” Of course translating words from one language to another, is not a mathematical equation. Translating Hebrew concepts like ‘chesed’ or ‘shalom’ into English is a very difficult task that requires skilled and knowledgeable translators. Not to mention the multiple word connections seen in the Greek New Testament that cannot be perfectly presented in the English. It is totally understandable that we will not have the exact, word-for-word text as the original, but we’re pretty darn close. There are translations that unintentionally or intentionally (New World Translation) present unbiblical doctrines, but most of our English translations are very reliable to the original. Also, of course, Bible printers may accidentally make a grammatical error, but we’re talking about the original manuscripts.

Maybe it worries you that we don’t have the exact text of the Bible. Maybe you’re thinking, “Whoa, so then what confidence can we have that we even have the words that God wanted us on the page?” Once again, if our God cannot keep communicating His word to people thousands of years into the future, then what kind of God is this? But our confidence in God also has external evidence. We have more than 5,500 manuscripts of the Scriptures in various different languages spread across the known world. Many dating to the first Century. To give you a hint of how astounding this is, the next closest would be Homer’s Illiad, with a mere 600, and even those are hundreds of years after the original. Even the most ancient manuscripts discovered align with our modern Hebrew and Greek copies to the 99th percentile. I do think pastors and teachers should learn enough Biblical Hebrew and Greek to become acquainted with the original languages, for there are jewels to mine in every text for the people of God and we ought to be doing the hard work of revealing these to them. This doesn’t mean your pastor should be regularly teaching you Hebrew or Greek words, but it does mean he should regularly say things like, “The original wording sounds more like this” or “There is something striking here that doesn’t transfer to the English.” Hearing a pastor say these things builds the confidence of God’s people in God’s Word and helps us all remember to study the text well.

c) The Bible is our sole source of authority

As I’ve heard it said, “God has spoken and He didn’t stutter.” The accounts of Jesus’ birth, life, teaching, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension are all accurate. This means we would do well to heed the voice of Him who speaks from heaven. Let us all read our Bibles with serious focus. SO now that we can trust the record of Jesus’ life, we’all look next time at how Jesus can be both fully human and yet fully Divine.

It Never Gets Old

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

“And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another…” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

A couple of years ago I had the privilege of attending the Ligonier National Conference. One of the great truths I was reminded of at the conference was the fact that it does not matter how many times you have read through the Bible or how many times you have heard a certain passage preached there is still so much to learn about Scripture and God. The pastor who made this point, mentioned how he loves to see 85 year-old saints who walk up to him with a big smile on their faces because they just learned something new about the Lord or had been reminded of something encouraging. We are never too old to learn something new. Nor can we ever hear the Bible preached enough. There is always something new to glean from Scripture. In fact, we will never know everything there is to know about God or the Scriptures. Therefore, we will always be learning.

It is so easy to come to a passage of Scripture that is very familiar to us and say, ‘I have already read that’ or ‘I have already heard that preached, so what could I possibly learn? I am just going to skip it.’ This is the complete opposite attitude that we are to have. Charles Spurgeon said, “Nobody ever outgrows Scripture; the book widens and deepens with our years.” The more we learn the Bible the more we realize how little we know and how much more we need to learn. The Bible is full of wisdom and truth. It reveals to us who we are (sinners in need of a Savior), it reveals who that Savior is (Christ Jesus), and it guides us in how to live. It is sufficient for faith and practice.

There is much for us to learn still from the pages of Scripture and much to be reminded of. We can never know it enough. We are told that All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. It is so profitable to us that we are to learn it and relearn it and know it well. One of the best ways to do that (in addition to your own personal reading) is in church where you can hear the teaching and preaching of God’s Word on a regular basis.

Therefore, let us not forsake the assembling together’ but rather let us be eager to meet together to grow in our knowledge of God.

5 Helpful Answers to Andy Stanley

Back on August 28th Andy Stanley was a few weeks into his sermon series called Who Needs God. That particular message, called For the Bible Told Me So, was Stanley’s attempt to correct what he thinks is an error in Christianity, specifically that Christians place far much emphasis on the Bible and not enough emphasis on Jesus. A few days passed by and a friend told me of the message, so I went onto the North Point website and watched it….yikes.

The further I got into the message the further my angst increased. This happened for two reasons. First, what Stanley put forth in that message was wrong and second, it was historically deceptive. I shared my grievances and was challenged to reach out to Stanley rather than just talk about it…so I did. The first time I got blocked by a general response, then someone personally responded asking me to listen to the message again, and then after I persisted to speak with Stanley I got blocked by his personal assistant who told me that I need to listen to the whole sermon series to get the gist of what Stanley is up to. I never got through. I am fully aware that I am an unknown and largely unimportant pastor in the whole scheme of things, but when did it become alright for a pastor to be so cut off from other pastors that he is unwilling to take a quick call and talk through these things?

After being unable to get through to Stanley I thought about blogging about why his message is so unhelpful and harmful to the Church and the lost, but to my great joy a few a guys already did and they’ve done a wonderful job explaining the issues. I am posting this blog today to help point out where to find all these things for yourself. Follow the links below:

Stanley’s Message: The Bible Told Me So – “If the Bible is the foundation of our faith, Christianity becomes a fragile house of cards. If the whole Bible isn’t true, Christianity isn’t true.”

Andrew Jaenichen’s Response: Do We Really Believe the Bible? – “My faith is in a risen Savior. Who came, suffered, and died as the Word of God declared would take place, and now has risen from the dead 3 days later and ascended to the right hand of the Father as testified to by the apostles. I believe because of the work of Christ in me and I am assured of His love and promises because of His written Word to us, both the Old and the New. Yes I believe in the Event and in the Words that testify to it. Both before and after its occurrence.”

Russell Moore: Signposts: Reflections On My Conversation With Andy Stanley – “At our recent ERLC national conference, I had the opportunity to sit down with pastor Andy Stanley. Andy and I have a lot of significant disagreements about ministry, but our conversation was fascinating and helped me and everyone at the conference think through some important issues. In this episode of Signposts I reflect on my time with Andy Stanley, and how our dialogue about ministry and theology sharpened my own thinking about Scripture and the church.” (audio)

Michael Kruger’s Response: Is the Bible Foundational to Christianity? – “However, the sermon itself was deeply confusing and left many questions unanswered about the proper role of God’s Word in our lives. Unfortunately, much of the confusion in the sermon was driven by Stanley’s commitment to a particular methodology about how to reach non-Christians.  For whatever set of reasons, Stanley has become convinced that the Bible gets in the way. I disagree. On the contrary, the strategy of downplaying the Bible for the sake of the Gospel is a false dichotomy.  The two cannot and should not ever be pitted against each other. What God has joined together let man not separate.”

Al Mohler’s Response: For the Bible Told Me So: Biblical Authority Denied … Again – “In the end, we simply have no place to go other than the Bible as God’s authoritative revelation. Christ, not the Bible, is the foundation of our faith — but our only authoritative and infallible source of knowledge about Christ is the Bible. A true defense of the Christian faith has never been more needed than now, but an attempt to rescue Christianity from its dependence upon Scripture is doomed to disaster.”

From the Archive: The Purpose of Genesis May Be Different Than You Think

What is the purpose of Genesis? If I asked you this what would you tell me? I recently asked a friend about this and this was his response, “The story of our beginning, of creation.” I responded and said that he was not wrong, creation is in there for sure, but I did say that he was missing something in the grand picture of Genesis.

The grand purpose of Genesis can be seen when we notice that it was Moses who wrote the book. This matters because what else did Moses write? He wrote the entire Torah as well. Most people will say that Moses wrote Exodus through Deuteronomy to prepare the people of Israel to enter the promise land, but always exclude Genesis from this purpose believing it to be written to describe the story of creation alone. This should not be done.

I think Genesis should be included with the rest of the Torah as regards to its purpose as a whole. Therefore this means Genesis was written to prepare the people of Israel to enter into the promise land along with the other books in the Torah. How? Genesis begins with Gods people dwelling safely in Eden, is then filled with all sorts of sin, and ends with Gods people dwelling in safety in Egypt.

What then was Israel supposed to learn from Genesis? That God is still with them, that God really does keep His promises, and that God really means to encourage them as they enter the land He’s giving them. No matter what sin happens to them, around them, or even from them, God will still take them exactly where He wants them to be.

How are we to be encouraged today from the book of Genesis? Rather than merely focusing on Genesis as a scientific argument for creation over evolution, we ought to be encouraged in a somewhat similar manner to Israel. God is still with us, that God really does keep His promises, and that God really means to encourage us as we live out our lives under His gracious sovereign hand. No matter what sin happens to you, around you, or even from you, God will still take you exactly where He wants you to be. His people always dwell securely and we never need fear over anything that happens in our lives.

This is the God intended purpose of Genesis.

From the Archives: How Should We Interpret the Book of Revelation?

How many of you have ever been out of the country? I have, and every time I go abroad I always look forward to one moment: walking out of the airport in the new country for the first time. Any of you know what I mean? It’s a different country, with different sights, different sounds, different smells, and an overall different feel. On one hand it feels a bit alien and strange to walk into such an unknown place, but on the other hand there’s an adventurous feel when you walk into a foreign and mysterious culture. It can be a bit of sensory overload and can feel risky at times, but I quite enjoy it.

Well, we’re about to feel the same kind of excitement and uneasiness because today I am blogging about the book of Revelation.  You may feel a bit of sensory overload and it may even feel risky at times, but I assure you the book of Revelation is in the Bible to encourage us and I would even add that this book shows us the glory of Christ more than any other in the Bible.

The book of Revelation feels foreign to us mainly because it is filled with symbolism, figurative language, and prophetic apocalyptic imagery that most of us don’t really know what to do with. Now, to feel this way is ok, but to avoid Revelation because we don’t understand it is to fall into error.  As a good guide would do, today I want to give you a roadmap or a foundational principle that will help you navigate through this book. This basic foundational principle comes to us from rightly answering the question: how do we approach the book of Revelation?

Answer, we should approach it literally.

Some of you just took a sigh of relief.  But wait.  When I mean we should approach Revelation literally I mean we should approach Revelation according to its genre of literature. Let me explain.

We should NOT approach Revelation in the same manner we approach Genesis and Exodus. Genesis and Exodus both are included in the genre of historical narrative, which means these books give us a sequential timeline or chronological account of historical events. I think many people approach Revelation in the same manner, and though Revelation shouldn’t be thought of as history, it is commonly approached as a sequential timeline or chronological account of events that are going to take place in the future. We can’t do this because Revelation isn’t narrative, it’s in the apocalyptic genre. Just as there are different ways to interpret the genre of poetry and historical narrative in the Bible, there are different ways to interpret apocalyptic literature. The same rules do not apply.

So if we’re not to approach the book of Revelation as a future chain of sequential or chronological events, how then should we approach it?

Understanding that apocalyptic literature doesn’t play by the same rules, we should approach Revelation expecting it to be filled with symbolic imagery, metaphor, and figurative language because those things are characteristic of the apocalyptic genre in the Bible. Something fascinating in this regard is that out of all the books in the New Testament, the one book with most OT allusions, quotes, references, and imagery is the book of Revelation. This means it is filled with symbolic fulfillment that goes all the way back to Genesis 1. We should also approach Revelation expecting it to have relevance and deep meaning for BOTH the present audience of the apostle John, and the universal Church throughout all of history.

So you can see the cards in my hand, my view on Revelation is that throughout its 22 chapters, the apostle John re-tells the same story 7 different times with increasing intensity every time. You can call this a progressive parallelism, or a progressive recapitulation.  G.K. Beale calls is the Historical-Redemptive Approach, while others call it the ‘Iterest’ approach.

Do We Really Believe in the Bible?

While many of us may have heard this question from someone who doesn’t believe in God or at least not the one presented in Scripture, it is a bit different when it comes from a Christian.

For many in evangelical Christianity this is an argument that has been settled since the mid-twentieth century, and in the SBC it was met by a landslide victory in the 1980’s that solidified the foundation of our faith in the Christ of Scripture. Now when we use the word ‘believe’ we are not talking about salvation, but as the apostle Paul says to Timothy “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:15-16).

So why has this discussion come back up again? In the last few weeks a prominent Pastor has spoken in 2 different forums and in both case exposed a belief that the Scriptures are a stumbling block to non-believers and as us such we should make them less important to our conversations with them. Instead of focusing on what Scripture says we need to only focus on what Jesus says and making a historical case for His resurrection…in the end is not the Bible that saves anyone it is faith in a resurrected Savior.

To this I would agree, that we’re saved through the work of the Spirit in us leading us to repentance and faith in the one true God, and this faith is not placed in ourselves but in the work of Jesus the Christ who came to earth in the time of Caesar Augustus and was crucified under the governance of Pontius Pilot in Caesarea. But who is this Christ, not who is Jesus, who is Christ? Apart from the rest of Scripture the title means little or nothing. Apart from a belief in the Old Testament prophecies, the covenants handed down from Adam to David, the words of Isaiah of one who would suffer so that we may live, what is it that our belief is founded in?

Now I could spend a lot of time giving an apologetic on the reason we believe the Bible, but that is not my goal today. My goal is to point out a simple flaw in the whole realm of thought that we can somehow jettison the Scriptures for the sake of evangelism.

For those who have read my first two post here and here, the final call of Christ is an important one, but one that encouraged the disciples not to hide from the Scriptures but to embrace them. In Luke 24 while on the road to Emmaus Jesus doesn’t just talk to these disciples about all the cool things that He did on earth and how they should put their faith in Him because of those things. No, He points back to the Old Testament and walked them through how this Jesus who they followed had to be the Messiah because all of Scripture pointed to this moment. He was the fulfillment of all that went before. They were talking to the Son of God and He wanted them to see how He was the fulfillment of scripture, not for them to abandon Scripture. When He appears to the rest of His disciples at the end of the chapter we see that Jesus opens their minds to understand the Scriptures in light of Himself.

So in Jesus’ own words the Scripture must be true and valid, for if they are not then how can we trust that He is the promised one. How could Peter preach in Acts 2 that the day’s prophesized by Joel were coming to pass? The teachings and work of Christ mean little if we do not have the Old Testament, without them we cannot fully understand or appreciate the Christ,. We cannot fully appreciate the long suffering work of God. We cannot fully grasp that God is working all things to His end, in His time table, and that He will bring these things to pass.

Clearly, the Scriptures are essential for our full understanding of God and His Christ, Jesus.

Now then the question will arise ‘Are they necessary for salvation?’ And to that I would ask ‘What are they being saved to?’ The first words of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark are a look into the message he came to proclaim: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).

What is so interesting is the Gospel we are to believe in is based on the reality of two preceding things, 1) the time is fulfilled, and 2) the Kingdom of God is at hand. It is out of these two things we are called to repent and believe. We don’t repent and believe because we want a ‘better life’ or because we want to feel better about ourselves. We repent and believe because of the conviction of sin and the reality that the time has come and the plan of God is fulfilled in His Son the Christ, who is the foundation of the message Jesus is proclaiming. Our faith is deeper than a prayer, it is more than a moment, it is a life with Jesus the Christ the Son of God who was promised from Genesis 3:15, who visited Joshua before Jericho, who stood beside the faithful in Babylon, and who is the suffering servant portrayed in the book of Isaiah.

So while we would agree the Bible doesn’t save anyone (only God can do that, only the Spirit at work can change a heart of stone to the heart of flesh) we cannot agree that the Old Testament is not a very important part of the Christian faith. It teaches us and points us to the only promised one of God. By it Phillip leads an Ethiopian eunuch to an understanding of Jesus as the one promised in Isaiah 53. By it Stephen makes his defense for his faith before the Jewish religious leaders.

For some this brief article will just seem like semantics, to others it will seem like nit picking, to some maybe it will be another reminder to be clear and concise when speaking about what you believe, but personally listening to the talks this past week and the follow up this week by apologists attempting to clarify (sort of) the view of Scripture that started this whole theological and pastoral pondering, it was a reminder to know what and why we believe.

My faith is in a risen Savior. Who came, suffered, and died as the Word of God declared would take place, and now has risen from the dead 3 days later and ascended to the right hand of the Father as testified to by the apostles. I believe because of the work of Christ in me and I am assured of His love and promises because of His written Word to us, both the Old and the New.

Yes I believe in the Event and in the Words that testify to it. Both before and after its occurrence.

Implications of Inspiration: Sufficiency & Beauty

To say the Bible is sufficient is to say Scripture contains all that is needed for any aspect of human life. This means the Bible is comprehensive, that across-the-board it includes all we need to know for all of life. It is sufficient.

We’ve referred to this verse already but here I’ll quote it in full, 2 Peter 1:3-4 says, ‘His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through our knowledge of Him who has called us to His own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.’

Peter means to tell us that all of Scripture is sufficient for all of life. In the Bible we find great and precious promises, and through those promises we learn how to become partakers of God’s divine nature, which will allow us to escape the fallen-ness of the world. Some of you may be thinking, ‘Sure Adam, the Bible tells us a lot about God, but what does it have to say about fixing my transmission? Or potty training my dog?’

Fair question, and here’s my answer. Scripture does indeed contain more information relevant to doctrine than automotive repairs, but the sufficiency of Scripture should remind us that those doctrinal truths, those precious promises as Peter put it, teach us how to live while doing automotive repairs. To quote John Frame, ‘The Bible’s sufficiency isn’t sufficiency pertaining to specific information but sufficiency of the divine words themselves.’

Therefore whatever we do, the Bible will teach us how to do it to God’s glory, in this way – all of Scripture is sufficient for all of life.

We cannot leave this subject without speaking of the last attribute of Scripture because it is an implication of all the other terms we’ve mentioned so far. The Bible is inspired, infallible, inerrant. We can clearly see its authority, necessity, clarity, and sufficiency. After embracing all these things we’ll then see one last thing, its beauty.

By saying the Scripture has beauty is to say that which it reveals to us carries more beauty than any other thing. What does Scripture reveal to us? God. Who He is, what He’s like, and what He requires of us. He is beautiful in His glory, matchless in His wonder, and stunning in His splendor. He is ultimately what the Scriptures reveal to us, and He is beautiful.

How do we respond to such wonderful realities?

We respond the same way the believers did in Thessalonica.  Paul states this in 1 Thess. 2:13 saying, ‘And we thank God constantly for this, that when you received the Word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the Word of God, which is at work in you believer.’

May God grant you to have the same heart toward His holy and inspired Word.

Implication of Inspiration: Clarity

Psalm 19:7-9 says Scripture revives the soul, makes us wise, rejoices the heart, and enlightens our eyes. 2 Timothy 2:15 states that Scripture is able to make us wise in the ways of salvation.

What does this mean? God intends His Word to be clear to His people, and from reading it we gain clarity about God’s truth.

The Westminster Confession 1.7 says it like this, ‘All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due sense of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.’

This paragraph explains what is meant by the clarity of Scripture. Not everything in the Bible is clear, there are questions and in it there things hard to understand. But, those things which are necessary for the salvation of man and the Christian life, are so clearly taught that anyone willing to look into the Bible can understand them. This idea of the clarity of Scripture was a hallmark of the Reformation because prior to the Reformation the Roman Catholic church taught and believed the Bible is so complex the average priest can barely understand and interpret it; and if the average priest can barely grasp the Bible’s teachings how can the common man ever have a hope of understanding it? Because of this belief the Roman Catholic church never translated the Bible into common languages, and only kept it in Latin so only the priests would be able to read it.

Well, with the Reformation came the endeavor to translate the Bible into the common man’s language so the common man could understand it and apply it. Just as this was a hallmark of the Reformation, it must be a hallmark of the Church today.

We must always be translating and applying the Scriptures to our lives if we’re to know God and understand His will.

Implication of Inspiration: Necessity

To say that Scripture is necessary is simply to say that we need it.

We need this in two ways.

Firstly, we need Scripture in order to be saved, meaning we need Scripture because God’s general revelation to mankind in creation is inadequate to give mankind knowledge of salvation. The only place mankind learns of redemption is in Scripture, and so if anyone is to be saved they must have the Word of God. When Jesus was being tempted by Satan in the wilderness He responded to Satan’s temptation in regard to His hunger by saying, ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ (Matthew 4:4) Romans 10:17 also shows this saying, ‘Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.’

Secondly, we need Scripture in order to live Christian lives, meaning we need Scripture because only there do we find a full explanation of who God is and what He demands of us. Just as the only place mankind can learn of redemption is in the Bible, so too, the only place mankind can learn of obedient Christian living is in the Bible. This is why Israel received the Law; that they would know how to walk as please God both in the wilderness and in the promise land. This is also why we, the Church, now have the Old and New Testaments; that we would know how to do life in this world so as to glorify God in all we do, walking in a manner fully pleasing to Him.

We need Scripture, it wisdom from above that transcends human wisdom. No Scripture, no salvation, and no salvation, no Christian living.

Implication of Inspiration: Authority

Since the Bible is God’s inspired, infallible, and inerrant Word, it holds the highest authority over us so that when the Bible speaks to us, it is in fact, God is speaking to us. Or to say it another way: God through His Word stands over us, rules us, commands us, we do not stand over Him or His Word as if we were the judge of Him or it.

To say the Bible is authoritative is to say it imposes requirements on those who hear it. When God commands, we’re to obey. When God promises, we’re to trust. When God declares, we’re to believe Him. This is illustrated all throughout Scripture. Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Moses, Israel, and the prophets all experienced God exercising His authority over them by His Word. God then sends Jesus, His incarnate Word, who exercised God’s authority in His teaching (Matt 7:28-29, ‘Now I say to you’). Jesus sent out the apostles in His name as ambassadors to exercise this very authority. Now, through the writing of the apostles the same authority is exercised over you and over me.

Throughout all of redemptive history God has, is, and will exercise His authority over His creation through His Word. Therefore to disregard the Bible as if it had no authority over our lives, is to disregard God Himself.

Infallibility and Ineranncy: A Greater and Lesser Term

Any teaching on the nature of the Bible must include an examination of the two words infallible and inerrant. They are easier to understand when you see them together as opposed to separate.

For something to be infallible it means that it cannot fail, and for something to be inerrant means that it does not contain mistakes. R.C. Sproul often explains the relationship between these two words like this, ‘Of the two terms…inerrancy and infallibility, inerrancy is the lesser term; it flows naturally from the concept of infallibility—if something cannot err, then it does not err.’

It is right for us to embrace these two words because we must recognize that error only comes from two sources, deceit and mistake. God never deceives and God never makes mistakes (Numbers 23:19), thus His Word is infallible and inerrant.  Is it really this simple? Yes, but this is not as accepted today as you might imagine.

The term inerrancy has fallen on hard times. It is seen as a kind of blind belief that we should grow out of as we mature in faith. Almost like a kind of childish view of the Bible. In the place of inerrancy many people now teach and believe an idea called ‘limited inerrancy’ which teaches that the Bible is errant when it speaks of history, science, or culture, but is inerrant only when it speaks on matters of faith and practice. And as you’d guess they leave it up to the individual to define what is inerrant in the Bible and what is not. This belief comes from a misunderstood view that the Bible makes mistakes when it speaks of historical events (like how many people were killed in a battle, or populating a certain city).

The reason we reject limited inerrancy and embrace a full inerrancy is twofold.  First, the Bible speaks in a different manner than our current literature does. Currently we have rules about plagiarism, dating, quoting, statistics, etc. When the Bible was written these rules weren’t in view, so to subject the Bible to our modern rules is to do the Scripture an injustice. The second reason is simple, Jesus held this belief about Scripture. He believed the Scriptures to be inerrant. Listen to a few passages from Jesus. Matthew 5:18, ‘Until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.’ John 10:35, ‘Scripture cannot be broken.’ John 17:17, ‘Sanctify them in the Truth, Your Word is truth.’ Jesus also proved His case in various occasions by referring to the Old Testament simply saying ‘It is written.’

So we’ve covered the 3 foundational terms of Scripture: inspired, infallible, and inerrant. If we believe the Bible to be these 3 things, it automatically means much more as well. Flowing out of these 3 foundational terms are 5 more terms that we call the attributes of Scripture.  I’ll begin those 5 terms tomorrow…

What it Means to Say the Bible is ‘Inspired’

In the clearest way possible, to say the Word of God is inspired is to say it is top down revelation, from God to us.

There is only one place where the word ‘inspired’ or ‘inspiration’ is used in the English Bible, and it’s in 2 Tim. 3:16 which says, ‘All Scripture is inspired (literally – God breathed) and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.’ This verse teaches a basic truth which gives us a basic definition of the doctrine of inspiration: all Scripture comes from the very breath of God, such that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments come to us directly from heaven.

Now, when we speak of inspiration what’s in view is the manner in which God superintended or oversaw the writing of Scripture, so naturally when the writing of Scripture is in view the work of the Holy Spirit comes into view as well. 2 Peter 1:20-21 describes this saying, ‘…no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was never produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.’ Men spoke from God as the Holy Spirit carried them along. This is how God brought about the writing of the Bible.

At this point many people misunderstand the doctrine of inspiration by saying God merely dictated to men and men then in response wrote down what they heard, like a secretary takes down a letter from their boss. This view is sometimes referred to as the ‘dictation view.’ This is a misunderstanding because the Bible doesn’t tell us how God carried these men by the Spirit to write, the Bible simply tells us He did.

Another reason we reject the dictation theory is because when we encounter the Scriptures we find distinct differences in the Biblical authors. For example, the writing style of the apostle John was very basic, using a common children’s level Greek whereas Peter used a higher level of Greek that’s more complex and intricate. We see Mark using a specific vocabulary that none of the other authors use, and we see Paul writing long sentences in Greek while others write shorter sentences. This is all to say that we can clearly see the personality of each author coming through in their own writing.

So God did indeed carry these men along by the Spirit to give us the Scripture but He did it in such a manner where each author’s own and unique personality was not lost in the process. This doesn’t exactly tell how God did this, but it does imply that there was more involved than mere dictation.

In this manner Matt Slick comments, ‘Because the Bible is inspired, its words are unbreakable (John 10:34-36), eternal (Matt. 24:35), trustworthy (Psalm 119:160), and able to pierce the heart of man (Heb. 4:12). Additionally, the inspired Word of God will not go forth without accomplishing what God wishes it to (Isaiah 55:11).’

There are many ways the Church historical has spoken of the inspiration of the Scripture using words like concursive, dynamic, organic, or even dictation.  Though these words can be helpful to learn what happened in the act of inspiration, the best two words we have to describe are these: verbal and plenary. Verbal means the Holy Spirit inspired every single word the authors wrote, while plenary means ‘full.’ These two words taken together give us the deepest and truest meaning of inspiration. The whole Bible – every Word – is inspired by God, for our good.

The massive implication here is simple: because God has given us His inspired Word, we devote our lives to the study of it. To do so is to know God, to not do so is to waste our life.