I pray this letter finds you well and in the grace of our God. I was glad to receive your response to my last letter as well as your question with regard to the Scriptures, I have chosen to write to you briefly in response.
As Christians, we are followers of the God who has given us revelation regarding Himself; while that revelation has come in a variety of ways in times past, it is in these latter days that He gave His revelation through His sent Son. The Son by which the Spirit is promised and proceeds, the apostles are sent, and in whom the church trusts. As such, the revelation through Christ as the cornerstone and the apostles and prophets as foundation stones, we have an inseparable relationship with the revelation of our God. Though we live far removed from the times of the Christ and his apostles, we must hold the Scriptures in as high esteem as our God who gave them does if we are to know, serve, and belong to Him whose salvation is found therein. The Scriptures are the special way that God has chosen to display himself to us during this present age. Being, thus, receptors of such revelation, we find ourselves in a familiar position that prophets and apostles of all walks have found themselves in before: in receipt of revelation that we did not ask for, nor seek out, but now have possession of. It is this possession of revelation that demands a response from us that is consistent with the revelation itself.
Interaction with the revelation of God is definitional to being His people. As such, I am intending to describe how the revelation of God comes to us, how that changes us, and what we are to do with it.
Who better to start with than Christ? Even as God the Son incarnate He displays for us the nature of the reception of revelation. He, though sinless and in perfection, still never spoke on his own authority but “the Father who sent me has Himself given me a commandment-what to say and what to speak... What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told Me.” Does this not plainly display for us the source of revelation as being outside of ourselves? At home with the Father? Given from Him and then received by those He intends? I remind you that this is the only way revelation may come: as God intends. We do not rise to God, He gifts such revelation. This is true of all parts of Scripture. It is true even of the gospel! No mind of man has come up with such, but it has come by the revelation of God. Even Paul, whom you know to have had no intention of receiving the revelation of God on his travels towards Damascus, found himself in possession of such. He recounts that “the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” There was no asking Paul if he wanted to be in possession of the revealed message, it was simply provided, and he had no alternative but to receive it. This is true also of Peter, who recounts the revelation of God at the transfiguration of Christ, “we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, the voice was borne to Him by the majestic glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this voice borne from heaven, for we were with Him on the holy mountain.” He goes on to connect such an experience with Scripture as the “prophetic word, to which [we] will do well to pay attention as to a light shining in a dark place.”
David, God never asked us if we wanted to hear His revelation in the Scriptures. But we, like Paul and Peter have come in contact with God’s very words. Reception of those words is not the question. We possess them. They speak to us regarding our God and His gospel. The most important question becomes one of how we will respond. Will God give us believing ears or will we hear the sound of it, like Paul’s companions, and discern no voice? Either way, we will prove it true in its claims about us.
There is but one right response upon reception of revelation from God: trust. This response, at the base of our being, unseats what we previously concluded about ourselves. No matter our zeal beforehand, no matter our certainty, no matter our obstinance or reticence toward God, when He gifts a living trust in our hearts to take Him at His word we will see with new eyes, praise with new mouths, and “love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since [we] have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.” But thanks be to God that this is no one time occurrence! Whenever we run into the revelation of God again it requires of us the same response. Is this not readily evident to us in the life of Peter? Having walked with Christ, seen His miracles, His resurrected body, His ascension, yet he still could not conceive of the mystery of the salvation of the gentiles. As he stayed by the sea, God taught him directly regarding what was already taking place. Imagine how much was in the heart of Peter that resisted this message. But still, upon the knock at the door he arose and went to Cornelius’ house to view the fulfillment of the revelation of God. Believing eyes and ears, my friend. Believing eyes and ears.
What is our response to the Scriptures? We possess them, to be sure. We read them and receive them, yes. But may God continue to grant us deeper faith, deeper trust as we “continue what we’ve learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom we learned it and how from childhood we have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make us wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” When God speaks and gives us His words, can we really now, in good conscience, do anything other than submit to those words?
In order to go on, you must know this one reality: the revelation of God carries with it inherent authority. This is due to the authority of the one giving it. For example, imagine two people walk up to your house, one a farmer and the other a structural engineer. The engineer proceeds to warn you regarding the stability of your roof as he has witnessed it beginning to cave in (something you had seen evidences of but didn’t know the full diagnosis). At this point the farmer chimes in and says there isn’t anything to worry about as he has never seen a roof cave in before. Dear sir, who are you going to listen to? The one whose words carry weight because of the identity of the speaker, whose very words are demonstrably true in what they say about your predicament? Or are you going to hear the ones that sound better and promise an outcome that they have no ability to provide?
This is, indeed, quite similar to how we see the Scriptures. The words of God possess the authority of God. It is as simple as that. Look at Christ’s teaching: “They were astonished at his teaching, for his words possessed authority." “I do nothing on my own authority, I speak just as the father taught me.” “And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, ‘what is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’” Why should this surprise them? Did they not know that God’s words carried inherent authority? No, they knew this well as they were in possession of the Hebrew Scriptures. It is that they didn’t want to submit to the authority therein. Isn’t that remarkable? Jesus speaks to them and says, “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. One speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.” Even as God incarnate He refused to speak on His own authority. Rather, the words of the Father are sufficient. David, what example is set for us here. To bear the authority, to speak the authority never from our own selves or position but as a relay of the authority inherent. This will take humility, dear friend, and a reliance upon God’s effectual Word as it does its work.
Does that not bring us to the necessary conclusion? Once receiving the revelation of God, submitting to its content and message, carrying it with its authority, ought not the next step be to bring it to bear that others might receive it? Should we carry the light of the gospel and put it under a basket or on a lampstand? Ought the salt stay in the shaker?
Paul learned this well. He could not contain the message given him and it propelled him along his way. He encourages a young pastor to carry on the same: “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season. Reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” This is not an additional step of those in leadership, this is the necessary conclusion of rightly receiving the revelation of God. I ask you to consider Balaam, that foolish prophet, having received the revelation of God was not able to do other than proclaim it. Will space fail me to mention Aaron, Jonah, or Caiaphas? Men whose desire at times was to deliver a message other than what was received only to find themselves unable? We possess the words of God, my friend, and “since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, ‘I believed, and so I spoke,’ we also believe, and so we also speak.” What else can we do? May God strengthen us both to that end as he has done for all those to whom he gives believing ears. I pray I may continue to encourage you in the effort as you proclaim Him who reveals these things, “warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” May God be glorified in the receiving, submitting to, bearing the authority of, and proclaiming His word to His world.
Whether known to us or not, the question of the nature, efficacy, and sufficiency of the Bible is called into question all the time. It’s reinterpretation and explaining away has found its way into pulpits, seminaries, and even the minds and hearts of Christians all throughout our culture. As the effects of modern naturalistic philosophy works its way through the Christian worldview it sweeps up any semblance of supernatural reality and throws it out under the assumption of its mythical origins.
Worse still is that while the church has been making some headway in wrestling with this issue of modernistic philosophy it has been utterly blindsided by post-modernity; a worldview that we are still not prepared to handle.
We are called to hold to the Scriptures and their certainty, not because they make sense to us, but because of their origin. The Scriptures do indeed make sense, but our concept of that cannot be the basis of our trust in them.
We are called to hold to the Scriptures and their efficacy, not because we have seen them do amazing things in our lives, but because of the God behind them. The Scriptures do indeed work amazing acts in our lives, but our view of this is biased and cannot be the basis of our trust in this ability.
We are called to hold to the Scriptures and their sufficiency because they are the very words of God, who spoke through the mouths of godly men to express His exact mind.
Modern philosophy and Biblical Christianity are incompatible. In modern philosophy, simply put, the individual mind comes out as authoritative. “I exist because I conceptualize such” is not compatible with our Creator saying, “You exist because I made you thus.”
Post-modern Philosophy and Biblical Christianity are incompatible. In Post-modern philosophy, simply put, the individual being within a community of likeminded agreeance comes out as authoritative. “This is our truth” is not compatible with the Lord’s pronouncement, “I am the Lord, I declare what is true.”
The authority of God is expressed to His church, not in what we agree upon theologically (creeds, councils, etc), not in what we have devised based on human cunning and conviction (systematic theology, apologetical prowess), but in the very word of God as has come down to us. If we give up that ground there is no hindrance, no limit, and no correction on the direction our sinful minds, beings, and ‘communities’ will take us. We will soon be thinking of our convictions as authoritative and treat those who disagree with disdain rather than grace. Those who agree with us are our friends and “in” with us, those who disagree with us on disputable matters find themselves “out.”
I say that I hold to Scripture alone as the authority in all things pertaining to life, godliness, worldview, and the faith delivered to the saints; that it is so not because I have made up my mind about it (because my mind is faulty), it is so not because those that surround me agree (because they don’t and their faculties are faulty), it is so because God has spoken and it is apparent in the word of God as the Spirit of God gives eyes to see and ears to hear.
You may wonder if I am presupposing my conclusion. My answer is indeed I am, just as everyone does in these discussions.
If I am a naturalistic materialist I presuppose the validity of my conclusions in logic, ethics, morality, truth, and error; and their consistency with all that surrounds me.
If I am a post-modernistic subjectivist I presuppose the validity of my community in all arenas of life, including: the subjectivity of truth, the inconsequential nature of pure logic or reason, and the morality of tolerance.
However, as a biblical Christian I presuppose the validity of the perception of a Creator who has spoken, and how what He has said is consistent with all that surrounds me.
The Christian can no more remove the Scriptures of our basis of God’s expressed authority than a modernist remove his brain. The Scriptures must remain as they claim to be: the very words of God spoken authoritatively to His people throughout the ages. Any less than this will find us stranded in inconsistency trying to make a patchwork of a worldview hold together.
God has spoken. Do you have ears to hear?
If you are a Christian today and you hold to the reliability, infallibility, and inerrancy of the Scriptures, then you are in the extreme minority. The amount of people, seemingly regardless of what poll you look at, that hold to the Bible being somewhat important, though not perfect, far outweighs those who hold to the Scriptures being perfect, preserved, and without error. It has become popular to assert one's opinion and tradition over and above the Scriptures.
Still, others hold that the Bible is simply the thoughts of people that wrote down their opinions with great intention, but that it is not inspired in any way. They take most of the Old Testament with suspicion and distrust, and much of the New Testament is explained away as archaic opinions that should really be rethought.
When it comes to the "fanciful tales" of the Old Testament, ignorant people tend to be quick to dismiss stories about people like Adam, Noah, or Jonah as pure myth. And stories like Sodom and Gomorrah? Just old time bigoted homophobia. Made up to teach a lesson, but should not be taken literally at all.
Let's see what God thinks about all of this.
And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
The remarkable bit about this passage is not the proof of the historicity of Adam and Eve (it is there, but this is not my focus), rather it is the very fact that when questioned about a current concern question, Jesus returns back to the authority of the Scriptures to sufficiently answer the question. "Haven't you read the Scriptures?"
Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all—so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed.
Did Jesus think these two events, the flood and the destruction of the two cities, actually happen in history? That is a very simple question with a very simple answer, and you would have to do some severe theological gymnastics to get around the underlying assumption of Jesus here:
Genesis is history.
That's what Jesus was assuming. Now, to state the obvious, this makes Him either right or wrong. If He's right then the claim is consistent with His claim to divinity. If He is wrong and simply a well-intentioned but misguided ancient, then His claim to divinity goes out the window with truth. You cannot have it both ways. Either He was right about the factual nature and historicity of the first chapters of the Bible, or He was wrong and is therefore not God.
But this isn't an article about the historicity of the Genesis accounts, it is an article about Jesus' view of the Scriptures. Let's return to the Gospels:
The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’ Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. So too the second and third, down to the seventh. After them all, the woman died. In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.” But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.
"Have you not read what was said to you by God?" After saying this, Jesus quotes from Exodus three. I want those words to sink into your ears. "Have you not read what was said to you by God?" Who was the author of Exodus? And I'm not speaking of the ridiculous JEPD theory, I'm speaking in the ultimate sense. Who does Jesus ascribe the authority behind what is recorded in Exodus' third chapter?
These are merely secondary proofs. Let's go to the primary ones.
And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)—then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”
In directly referring to the retelling and quoting of Exodus 20, Jesus refers to such as "the word of God." It comes from God, with His authority. Men do not have the right to overturn it. Taking it further, Jesus also refers to the commandments of the Scriptures as being the commandments of God Himself:
Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:
“‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”
I've saved my favorite for last. As it is one of the strongest exchanges regarding not only the source of the Scriptures, but also their preservation.
The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken--do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” Again they sought to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands.
"Scripture cannot be broken" Hmm.. Doesn't sound like He distrusts what He is reading. It doesn't sound like He approaches it with suspicion. Maybe (just go with me on this) maybe we should take the view of God incarnate regarding His own Scriptures. Maybe we should not find ourselves disagreeing with Jesus regarding the dependability and perspicuity (clarity) of His Word.
The real problem with having a low view of the Scriptures is not "reason vs. faith". The real problem with having a low view of the Scriptures is assuming God is wrong and we get to determine what is right. The Bible calls this pride.
In a word, it is evil to take a view other than Christ's when it comes to any issue, and certainly when it comes to the nature and reliability of the Scriptures.
If we hold the Scriptures with insecurity regarding their trustworthiness, we should expect utter ruin.
I once feared that if I was to examine the history of how the Bible was originally written and then transmitted up to the modern day that I would find an answer that would be unpalatable. That it would be a series of myths and made up stories throughout history that we have built our dependence upon.
What if I found out that there were errors or even outright lies and exagerations in the Scriptures?
I can tell you that it was an area of study that I avoided in my personal life for a long time because of this fear. I knew that if I found the Scriptures to be unreliable that I would rightly have to leave them behind and with them the God of which they speak.
Time passed, and I hoped that my nagging concern would pass with it, but it never did. After I witnessed too many of my friends folding on this issue thus releasing whatever minimal grasp they had on the Gospel, and I knew I could resist it no longer.
If the Scriptures are not everything they claim to be then they must be left behind.
I'll never forget beginning my study into this. Fearful I wouldn't find enough information to come to a full conclusion, and terrified I might find proof of the Scriptures fallibility. I made up my mind that whatever the evidence pointed to was what I would hold to, regardless of relationships, traditions, or outside pressures. And what I found was beyond anything I had ever imagined.
I found that God had inspired and preserved His Word in a proveable, demonstrable, and reliable way.
In coming installments, I will briefly share my conclusions.
If you would prefer to listen to a more comprehensive three part presentation I gave on this topic in 2012, you can download each by clicking on the following links:
Part 1: "OT and the Canon"
Part 2: "The Text and the Church"
Part 3: "Transmission and Translation"