“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” (John 1:1-3)
“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.” (Hebrews 1:1-2)
“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet…. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet… So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets.” (Matthew 1:22; 2:15, and 23).
“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20).
I noted above that we cannot escape the concept of revelation. No matter how hard the critics tried, they kept coming back to this doctrine. But, though the concept is necessary, people have invented a thousand ways to escape the God who speaks. It never works for very long. Every life will end up before his throne of judgement and his words will determine whether one goes to hell or enters the new earth. And his words will determine the rewards for the believers and the degrees of punishment for the unbelievers. God’s words began everything as recorded in Genesis one. God’s words will end this phase of our lives at the last judgment.
Though there is a foundational unity in all of God’s revelation, we must make some distinctions within that unity. Traditionally, the basic distinction has been between general or natural revelation and special or supernatural revelation. In the Aristotelian approach of Thomas Aquinas and the modern age, the general/natural revelation has been treated first and seems to be foundational.
But God’s special revelation is first and primary in the Bible. God spoke the cosmos into existence, and his words to Adam preceded his look at his physical environment. Before the fall special revelation was primary and foundational. After the fall, it is even more necessary to begin with special revelation. The fall has turned us against the truth and has also fractured nature so that it is unreadable apart from Scripture.
When we begin with special and personal revelation, we still face some problems. Where do we begin?. Some biblical theologians have preferred to begin with the great redemptive acts of God. Karl Barth began with Jesus Christ. Conservative theologians normally begin with the Scriptures. I will examine these options below.
The Acts Of God
It is obvious that behind the Scriptures stands the great acts of God. The Bible describes creation, the covenant with Abraham, the Exodus, the Davidic kingdom, the incarnation of Jesus Christ, Pentecost, the future coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and the new creation. It would seem that the primary revelation would be in those acts/events rather than in the secondary description of them.
But we have no access to any of those events apart from the Scriptures. Outside of the Bible we do not know which historical events are “redemptive” and significant. Outside of the Bible we do not have an accurate record of them. Outside of the Bible we do not know how to interpret them.
Jewish people who were expecting God to enter history in a powerful series of divine acts saw three men hanging on crosses and didn’t recognize the absolute uniqueness of that central cross. They saw the central tomb and believed the report that the disciples had stolen his body. They witnessed the pouring out of the Holy Spirit and claimed that the followers of Jesus were drunk
It is essential that those redemptive events happened in history. They were God’s acts and were foundational to revelation. But they did not become a clear revelation to us until God pointed them out, recorded them accurately and interpreted them for us. It is not an “either/or” but a [Ron Mayers] “both/and”. The event is the cornerstone. The Scriptures are the capstone. And we need the entire building if we are to have a communication from God.
This position, so powerfully taught by Karl Barth, G. Ernest Wright and Oscar Cullmann, had a short shelf life because it separated the acts of God from the rest of history, and revelation became a private thing. Theologians of Hope like Wolfart Pannenberg and Jurgen Moltmann opted for a public theology. Pannenberg built his whole theology on his conviction that all of history is made up of the acts of God. All of history is revelatory. The acts of God are public events. But he cannot carry out his agenda consistently and he gets lost in a morass of events for which he has no criteria of evaluation or interpretation.
The Incarnate Word
“In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things were made,
and without him nothing was made that has been made.
In him was life,
and that life was the light of men….” (John 1:1-4)
“The Word became flesh,
and made his dwelling among us.
We have seen his glory,
the glory of the One and Only,
who came from the Father,
full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
“He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood,
and his name is the Word of God.” (Revelation 19:13)
The center of all of the redemptive acts of God are all of the works and words of the Lord Jesus Christ. All of the acts of God before the Incarnation look forward to his work at the center of history. The new beginning of the new heaven and the new earth is built upon the redemptive acts of Jesus Christ. The Scripture quoted above notes this centrality and pushes us to see the pre-incarnate Son as the one who accomplished all of these earlier acts of God: “No one has seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” (John 1:18). So, revelation is primarily and foundationally the person and work of Jesus Christ.
John was led by the Spirit to teach us about the fact that Jesus Christ is the one, true revelation from God. The first century Greek speaking world was enamored with the Logos. They recognized that reality was word-shaped. But they got words all mixed up with eternal reason and a lot of other things. John picked up the truth of general revelation and told the world what the Logos was really like.
He describes the Logos by telling us the story of Jesus in the rest of the Gospel. Commentators have spent hundreds of pages trying to discern what John meant by Logos, when John is giving his description of the Word by the rest of the book. This one is the Word. Enough with all of the philosophy and confusion. The Word is the eternal Son who has taken on full humanity and has come to teach us the truth because he is the truth.
He is the truth in his person and work. His redemptive acts are the foundation of our entire relationship with the Living God. I will discuss these acts in some detail the study of the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ, and will show their place in the biblical metanarrative in section five on this doctrine. I will merely mention these redemptive acts here as a reminder of their centrality in the Scriptures.
1 Incarnation: The Word became flesh.
2. Holy and obedient life; for himself and for us.
3. Teaching the truth as God’s ultimate prophet
4. The cross; his suffering all of the wrath of God for us
5. Resurrection; conquest of death and Satan
6. Ascension and enthronement at the Father’s right hand
7. Pouring out of the Holy Spirit in the formation of the Church
8. Intercession for his people as our representative in heaven
9. Rescue of his people from the coming wrath
10. Pouring out of wrath upon Satan’s kingdom
11. Conquest of the earth
12. Rule over his kingdom fulfilling the creation mandates
13. Raising all of the dead
14. Judging all people
15. Cleansing of the cosmos by fire
16. Turning the kingdom over to the Father
17. The All-Sufficient One, with the Father, for all of our needs forever
But Jesus did more than accomplish these redemptive acts (some are still in the future). He also interpreted them. Unlike the position above where the historical acts were the essence of redemption, we are now focusing on works more central than the Exodus. Even more unlike the “Acts of God” position, Jesus interpreted his redemptive acts with his words.
Revelation in redemptive acts is foundational and absolutely necessary. The words are all lies apart from the reality of the acts to which they witness. But the words are also absolutely necessary. The acts are “dumb” without words that describe their nature and meaning. Jesus came to do both. But the focus of the Gospel of John in on his words
We learn what words are when we know who the Word is. Once we have learned that, we will never speak lightly of words again. The other Gospels do not teach anything different from this. Without using the same language, they teach us of the one who speaks with power and authority and restores words to their true meaning and significance.
He came to some fishermen with a command: “Come, follow me…and I will make you fishers of men. At once they left their nets and followed him.” (Mark 1:16-17). In the next paragraph, he teaches the people and casts out an evil spirit who interrupted his teaching. The people responded:
“The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority and not as the teachers of the law….” (Mark 1:22)
“Be quiet…come out of him. The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. The people were so amazed that they asked each other; ‘What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to the evil spirits and they obey him.” (Mark 1: 25-26).
Jesus regularly made a powerful impact with his teaching. He expected that people would recognize his authority. In fact, he demanded that they view him not only as the premier teller of truth but as the truth itself. His claim to Thomas summarizes his entire self-testimony as recorded in the Gospel of John:
“Jesus answered, I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:6-7).
Jesus’ works and words together are the foundation of revelation, but they are of no value to us unless God gives us access to his works through his words.
Karl Barth spent hundreds of pages telling us that the essence of God’s revelation to us is in Jesus Christ and in him alone. Barth taught that in comparison with Jesus Christ, the Scriptures are the fallible witness to God’s revelation to us in the incarnation of his Son.
“Revelation in fact does not differ from the person of Jesus Christ nor from the reconciliation accomplished in Him. To say “revelation” is to say ‘The Word became flesh’…. But to say ‘God with us’ is to say something which has no basis or possibility outside itself, which can in no sense be explained in terms of man and man’s situation, but only as knowledge of God from God, as free and unmerited grace.”
“For the Bible is a sign which, it cannot be contested, does at least point to a superior authority confronting the proclamation of the Church…. We now know to what extent it points to a superior authority confronting the proclamation of the Church: obviously to the extent that it is a witness of divine revelation.”
But Barth could not practice what he taught. “Witness” is far too weak and imprecise a word. He spoke about the errancy of the Bible, but practiced a far stronger view of its divine authority.
Jesus Christ is the Word of God and the foundation of all revelation. But his works and words are lost if they are not inscripturated inerrantly in the Bible. Therefore, we have to go on to the ultimate revelation—the Bible
The Written Word
The word of God is foundational to all reality: to creation, to providence. Jesus came as one who is God’s message to us in his person, his work, and in his teaching. But God has done more for us. He has given us the Bible. It is not merely a record of past words of God in creation, providence, and redemption. It is more than just the messages of the prophets and the apostles. The Bible is not less than the Word of God which spoke the cosmos into being or spoke truth and redemption in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is never less than what the people heard when God spoke the ten commandments from mount Sinai. It is never less than what the people heard when Jesus preached to them two thousand years ago. This is not to posit an ontological identity between Jesus Christ and the Bible. It is rather a testimony to the equality of the Bible with all other Words of God in a day when the Bible is viewed as something considerably less than this.
But we do not know Jesus Christ apart from the Scriptures. The Bible is not some inferior and fallible message from God. It does not belittle our Lord Jesus Christ to speak of the Bible as the Living Word with all of the divine marks and characteristics which will be developed below. We do not worship a book when we accept the Scriptures as the inerrant Word of God. We are merely respecting and worshiping the God who has and is speaking there.
We come to the Bible to listen to God speak to us about Himself, about who we are and should be, about what the cosmos is like, about the past and about the future; all of the basic and foundational questions of life and reflection. We come to the Bible to learn what general or natural revelation is saying. The Bible is totally and absolutely central to the whole of the lives of the whole persons.
God created Adam and Eve and they became whole persons when he spoke to them. They learned to speak by listening when they were addressed by God. Revelation was born in this face-to-face conversation between God and Adam. This was so real and so certain that there could be no doubt that God had spoken. Even when Satan came to tempt them, he did not ask them to doubt that God had spoken, but rather cast doubt upon God’s motives. All of general/natural and special and supernatural revelation flows out of this original disclosure from the Living God.
Whichever biblical author writes, the Spirit of God is working, selecting what is being said, guiding the words, recording them, and presenting them in powerful ways. Even when the high priest decided that Jesus should die so that there would not be political trouble with Rome, his words were used by God to say more and other than he intended:
“‘What are we accomplishing?’ They asked. Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation. Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up; ‘You know nothing at all? You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.’ He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one.” (John 11:47-52).
All of Scripture is revelation. This does not mean that every single proposition is direct word from God to us. It does mean that the intent and the message of the passage is chosen by God. Even if the passage is describing a lie of Satan, it is
revelation from God, because God has chosen that this lie be told in the context of the narrative of which it is a part.
Whenever we study a passage of Scripture, we must remind ourselves that, though these words were written by a particular person from within a particular culture, that the first and most important thing about this passage is that it is revelation from the Living God: We must also remind ourselves that it also says more than the human author knew and that it stands over against the culture and worldview from which the human author wrote.
The canonical Scriptures are revelation from the Living God in whole and in every part. To forget this revelatory character is to forget the most important thing about any passage of the Bible.
Ever since Barth’s Romans, and the first volume of his Church Dogmatics were published (and before that Schleiermacher’s The Christian Faith), it has been popular to speak of special revelation as being in the person of Jesus Christ rather than in the Bible. It sounded good. Who would dare vote for the Bible when it meant voting against Jesus Christ?
But Barth set up a false antithesis. We do not have to vote against Jesus in order to accept the inerrancy and full authority of the Bible. These cannot be separated! We have no knowledge of Jesus Christ apart from the Bible. The whole Bible is about Him. There is no other trustworthy information about his person, his teaching, or his work. We meet him in the whole Bible or we do not meet him at all. Nor do we have any criteria for distinguishing between truth or error about him in the Bible. It is either all true or it is all of little value. He and the Bible share the same name—the Word—so that we will not forget this necessary truth.
Jesus is the Word of God. All of God’s revelation is through his person, teaching, and redemptive works. While we do not know him apart from the Bible, we can never know the Bible apart from him. To forget that he is the ultimate Author, content, and goal of every pericope of Scripture is to miss the essence of that and every other passage. Jesus and the Bible are thus inseparable. The relationship is that between the speaker and his words. To say that we are not going to worship the words, but rather the speaker, is utterly foolish and totally impossible. To honor the one who speaks, one must give the greatest honor and respect to the words spoken. So we meet our Lord Jesus Christ in his words— the whole of the Bible.
There has been other special revelation besides our Lord Jesus Christ and the Bible. Jesus himself said many things which were certainly revelation, but which were never inscripturated. John made that clear:
“Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” (John 21:25).
The Bible is not the sum total of all of the special revelation that God has given. It is rather God’s selection of what we need “for life and godliness” (II Peter 1:3). These other revelations were of value for their time, but are not necessary beyond that particular time. We will discuss present revelations when we treat the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit in Systematic Theology II.
The revelation which is the Bible is not the end of God’s work of revelation. When Jesus returns to establish his kingdom, there will be an explosion of new revelation related to the great new redemptive works of Jesus Christ. We look forward to that face-to-face revelation which characterized the garden of Eden and will characterize the Messianic Kingdom and the new earth.
This short summary needs a much more thorough treatment. I will attempt that in the following chapters.
God has also revealed truth about himself and about his creation in the cosmos which he has created, which he sustains and rules, and for which he provides. The center and focus of this revelation lies in humans created in his image and likeness. This revelation is not “merely there”, but is directed to us by the God who chooses to reveal himself in that way too.
This revelation is summarized by Paul in his letter to the house churches in Rome.
“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor
gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal
man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in their sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity….”(Romans 1:18-24)
A little later, Paul writes:
“Indeed, when the Gentiles, who have not the law, do by nature the things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts.” (Romans 2:14-15).
Paul had already said many of these same things in this sermon to the philosophers on Mars Hill (Acts 17:16-31). Before that, David mentioned God’s self-revelation in nature in one of his psalms (Psalm 19:1-6).
Sometimes, this revelation is called “general” because it is addressed to all people as opposed to the special revelation which has been given to chosen people. Sometimes, it is called “natural “ revelation. This implies that God’s sustaining, ruling, providing work is “natural”, the product of natural laws, as opposed to supernatural. But all of God’s revelation is something more than any “natural law”. It is rather a matter of predictability. God has been gracious to work in a patterned and predictable way most of the time so that we can plan our lives and live wisely. Sometimes, he surprises us with something new and unpredictable to remind us that he is the Ruler and Revealer in all things.
Augustine wrote an interesting and often quoted paragraph on natural revelation in his sermon on the second chapter of John.
“For He who made wine on that day at the marriage feast, in those six water pots which he commanded to be filled with water, the self-same does this every year in vines…. So, in like manner also is what the clouds pour forth changed into wine by the doing of the same Lord. But we do not wonder at the latter because it happens every year; it has lost its marvelousness by its constant recurrence.”
This general revelation is inadequate in itself. Without the Scriptures and its doctrine of creation and providence and the story about Jesus’ changing of the water into wine, no one would see the yearly miracle, but would take it for granted. All general revelation is fully dependent upon special revelation. Even in its perfection before Adam’s sin, it was totally dependent upon God’s personal and verbal revelation. God’s word preceded Adam’s existence. Adam knew God only after God named him and spoke to him. He could “read” general revelation and name the animals and his wife only after God had named him and had spoken to him.
After the fall, special and verbal revelation was even more necessary for the reading of general revelation. Satan became the “god of this age”, the “prince of the powers of the air”. Evil had entered history and had penetrated every part of the life and experience of the human race. Now the corruption within us and in the world outside of us seem to reveal an evil god. Those who have not come to the general revelation through the Scriptures build all kinds of evil idols and gods. The history of pagan religions is the history of the reading of nature without the perspective given by the Scriptures.
But when we read all of the general revelation through the “spectacles” of the Bible, we read the revelation of God accurately. Calvin stated this well.
“That brightness which is bourne in upon the eyes of all men, both in heaven and on earth is more than enough to withdraw all support from men’s ingratitude…. Despite this, it is needful that another and better help be added to direct us aright to the very Creator of the universe. It was not in vain then, that he added the light of his Word…. Just as old or bleary-eyed men and those with weak vision, if you thrust before them a most beautiful volume, even if they recognize it to be some sort of writing, yet can scarcely construe two words, but with the aid of spectacles will begin to read distinctly; so Scriptures, gathering up the otherwise confused knowledge of God in our minds, having dispersed our dullness, clearly show us the true God.”
But, though we cannot read the creation accurately without the Scriptures, general revelation does render us without excuse. We do not reject the revelation of the Living God in creation because of any natural incapacity, but because of our sin and rebellion. Our blindness comes from our continual choice of rejecting the self-evident truths of general revelation and our refusal to listen to the words of God’s special revelation. Our ignorance of God and inability to read general revelation is our guilt and not our tragedy.
But, coming to the creation from an honest and life-transforming reading of the Scriptures, we learn to read that creation. We learn that evil was brought into history not because God is evil or created a flawed universe, but because we sinned. The great catastrophes of history are not properly “acts of God” but are rather “acts of Satan” permitted by God. They are punishments of our sin and rejection of the only true God.
We thus learn many new things about God from his creation. We see how he can paint beautiful sunrises and sunsets through our polluted air. We see his beauty reflected in the beauty of nature. All of the beauty and goodness of the creation first delighted God. All of truth, justice, goodness, and righteousness that we enjoy was first his joy. All of this is just what he normally does in a sin-polluted world
All of this beauty is only a vague shadow of the beauty that he promises in the future. He will renovate the creation and get rid of all of the corruptions and pollution caused by our sin. All of general revelation is a pointer to God’s great promise of perfection for the future. At that time, general revelation will still be inadequate apart from special revelation, but it will be greatly superior to anything we experience now. C. S. Lewis described this for us:
“‘Your father and mother and all of you are — as you used to call it in the Shadow-Lands — dead. The term is over, the holidays have begun. The dream is ended. This is the morning.’ And as he spoke, he no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us, this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them, it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page; now, at last, they were beginning chapter one of the Great Story which no one on earth has read, which goes on forever, in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
The Implications Of The Centrality Of The Revelation Of God
It is easy enough to say that the Scripture as the revelation of God is central for our theology, life, and ministry. It is immensely more difficult to practice that centrality. I will make a few suggestions in that direction. They will need to be expanded and enlarged by each one of us.
Hearing Is Our Primary Way Of Knowing
We do not handle the Bible correctly until we give it the same respect and honor that God demanded when he spoke the universe into existence, when he spoke to Job from the whirlwind, when he spoke to Israel from the mountain, when he spoke to the Jews in the incarnate Son, or when he comes again as “the Word of God” (Revelation 19:13).
We have given in to appearances. The Bible does not look as great and powerful as these other words of God. But, by faith, we know that the appearances are wrong. We confess with the Psalmist the true character of the Bible (See Psalms 1, 19, & 119).
This means that we are primarily listeners. We often use the cliches: “Seeing is believing” or “A picture is worth a thousand words.” These phrases fit into many of our cultures and worldviews. Television and picture books and magazines keep vision at the center of all of our knowing.
The biblical worldview is quite different. Hearing is the foundational way of knowing. Our cliches should be: “Hearing (God) is believing,” and “A story (told by
God) is worth a thousand pictures.” A few days before his death, Moses told the new generation of Israel that they should: “Hear now, O Israel, the decrees and laws I am
about to teach you” (Deuteronomy 4:1). A few verses later he reminds them: “You saw no form of any kind when the Lord spoke to you” (Deuteronomy 4:15).
Torrance reminds us of the Word/hearing character of the Scriptures. He compares Kant’s visual centered philosophy to the Lutheran theology:
“…the Lutheran notion of the Word of God coming down directly from above—that is to say, here we have a serious attempt to deal with a concept not by interpreting it according to the pattern of optical experience but according to the pattern of auditory experience…. It is to the Greeks that we owe…the primacy of vision and the tendency that has ever since dominated Western philosophy to take vision not only as the model of all sense-experience but of all knowledge.
“Looked at from this perspective, the Reformation must be interpreted
as a great protest against the dominance of optical notions of form and thought, and as the insistence that these must be modified and corrected by notions of form and thought that are based upon audition…. It is in theological knowledge above all that we walk “by faith and not by sight.” The outstanding
characteristic of theology is that it operates with a direct act of cognition in hearing God and engages in the act of conception through audition.”
We see the present and the external. All reality is so much more complex than that. The most obvious example of this is the first coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. People saw a baby, watched him grow up, preach, work miracles, and die on a cross. And the great majority completely failed to understand him because they did not really hear what he was saying. They did not read the Scriptures correctly and therefore missed God’s introduction. It was important that they “see”, but it was much more important that they listen with total attention and believing acceptance. The remnant who did the latter and followed him, grew in understanding. What they heard instructed and dominated what they saw.
The Practice Of Reading The Whole Bible Regularly
If the Bible is Revelation and is the center and foundation of all reality, we need to read it. And we need to read it whole. We need to read individual books whole. As God gave us the Bible, it had no chapters and verses. It was much more obvious then that scrolls ought to be read in their totality. Though having chapters and verses often helps us to locate passages, it also makes it easy to read verses, paragraphs, and chapters rather than whole books.
But the individual books are only parts of a greater whole. To read Isaiah apart from Moses and the Gospel of John is to miss the greatest part of the meaning of the book. The Bible must be read as a whole if we are to understand the place of each book within its full context. Few people would read a good novel the way we read the Bible.
In the early part of our century, the Plymouth Brethren teachers from Great Britain made a tremendous impact on American churches and Christians because they read and preached the Bible as a whole. People were used to hearing sermons on single verses. They had little concept of the larger message of the Bible. The Brethren teachers regularly read the Bible through many times a year. They preached on biblical themes from Genesis to Revelation. People were tremendously impressed with this new way of reading and preaching the Bible. They filled auditoriums on any day or night of the week to hear the whole biblical story.
In the middle of the twentieth century, there was a conflict at Moody Bible Institute over this “synthetic” way of reading and teaching the Bible. The older faculty members were convinced that this way was best. Some of the younger faculty members were deeply impressed with the scientific method and “inductive Bible Study”. The younger professors won at Moody and in most other Bible Institutes, Bible Colleges, and seminaries. We gained a great deal in exegetical accuracy and lost an immense amount in losing the whole context of the Bible. I will discuss this further in chapter four.
It is important for us to develop a program of reading the Bible through regularly. Reading it through once a year has value. More often is better. It is valuable on occasion to read the Bible through in a month to get the full biblical perspective. The late Dr. Leon Wood, Dean and professor of Old Testament in our seminary, used to say: “If we want to be men of the Word, we need to be able to think through the content of every chapter of the Bible by memory at any time.”
We will discuss this more thoroughly in a study of narrative and metanarrative in chapter four below.
The Centrality Of The Bible In Our Worship
Worship may take a lot of forms within various cultures. But there are a few constants, and all of them are built upon a single foundation—the Scriptures. All worship must begin by listening. God’s Word must be read at some length. It is there that we learn who God is and what he has done. It is there that we learn how to respond to his grace. The foundation, agenda, and boundaries for all worship are in the Bible and in the Bible alone.
The Centrality Of The Bible In Our Ministry And Counseling
Though we learn many things from the experts in psychology and sociology, we will learn what it means to be human, what are our needs, and the only remedy for those needs in the Bible. The structure for all ministry and counseling are given to us by the God in whose image and likeness we exist, who is the only one who can tell us about our illness and needs, and is the only one who can heal us through the redemptive acts of our Lord Jesus Christ applied through the work of the Holy spirit.
As pastors and Christian leaders we have greatly over-simplified the message of the Bible. Much of this has come because of the great revivals where the way of salvation has been made more simple and available in order to reach great numbers. We cannot heal people with “four spiritual laws”. We cannot meet real needs by preaching the gospel every Sunday. We do not heal people by merely telling them about God’s expectations for their lives. That often degenerates into legalism. The biblical message is founded on grace and gratitude. .
Only the whole Bible is big enough to diagnose our problems and prescribe for our healing. Anything less makes us something less than a healer of whole people. We need to
The Reformers stressed five powerful themes throughout their teaching. Though they never developed them as a set of five “solas”, they did make their stand against the Roman Catholic Church by preaching these themes in many different forms. Each of these themes was primarily positive, but each carried powerful negative emphases as well. Individually and together they summarize a significant part of the Reformation message. They are: (1) Sola Scriptura, (2) Solus Christus, (3) Sola gratia, (4) Sola fide, and (5) Soli Deo gloria. Here, we are concerned only with the first of these themes.
Sola Scriptura does not mean that we read nothing but the Scriptures. We would have to leave the world to read nothing else. We would have to delete most of the book titles, the chapter and verse divisions, the notes, the references, the maps, the concordances, etc. if we were to limit ourselves to the Scriptures alone.
Sola Scriptura does mean that the Scriptures stand above all other authorities and standards on all of the subjects to which it speaks. It does mean that the new worldview given in the Scriptures is the final judge of all other worldviews. It means that there is no higher authority by which we must judge the Scriptures or prove the Scriptures to be the Word of God. We may never demand that the Scriptures find proof for themselves before the bar of reason, the facts of history, nor our own experience.
The Second London Confession of 1689, following the Westminster Confession of Faith describes sola Scriptura without using the term:
“(1) The Holy Scripture is the all-sufficient, certain, and infallible rule
or standard of the knowledge, faith, and obedience that constitute salvation….
(4) The Scripture is self-authenticating. Its authority does not
depend upon the testimony of any man or church, but entirely upon God, its author, who is truth itself. It is to be received because it is the Word of God.
(10) All religious controversies are to be settled by Scripture and by
Scripture alone. All decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, and doctrines of men collectively or individually, are similarly to be accepted or rejected according to the verdict of Scripture given to us by the Holy Spirit. In that verdict faith finds its final rest.”
The Cambridge Declaration begins its confession with a statement on Sola Scriptura After an impressive statement on the failure of the contemporary church to practice sola Scriptura, it follows with a thesis which describes the affirmation.
“We reaffirm the inerrant Scripture to be the sole source of written, divine revelation, which alone can bind the conscience. The Bible alone teaches all that is necessary for our salvation from sin and is the standard by which all Christian behavior must be measured.
“We deny that any creed, council, or individual may bind a Christian’s conscience, that the Holy Spirit speaks independently of or contrary to what
is set forth in the Bible, or that personal experience can ever be a vehicle of revelation.”
It is very easy to confess sola Scriptura. It is very difficult to practice it. Many who confess it are very selective about which parts of the Bible they quote and use for their own theology and worldview. Many confess it and are unaware that they are much more deeply influenced by selected parts of their culture than they are by the Bible. There are a thousand ways in which we are deceived and deceive in our attempts to practice sola Scriptura.
Practicing sola Scriptura will include more than we have time for here, but it will include at least the following:
18. We do not need to borrow any structure, agenda, or terminology from other disciplines in order to understand the Bible and to do theology. We do not need Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Kant, or Hegel to provide a structure for stating the message of the Scriptures. Theologians who have done that have distorted the message of the Bible. We do not need to borrow the “scientific method” the structures offered by history, sociology, nor psychology to provide structure for the biblical message.
This does not mean that these disciplines are wicked or without value for us. In order to communicate to our contemporary cultures we need to be well versed in these disciplines. They are of great value if we use them properly. They are destructive only if we make them a necessary foundation for the reading of the Word and the doing of theology. They stand as helpers and not as guides.
2. The Bible stands above all other authorities as master and judge. Tradition is important, but must always be evaluated by the whole Bible. Reason and disciplined thinking is essential, but must never be used to judge the message of the Bible nor to expand theology beyond what the Bible says. Experience is necessary, but much of it is wrong and perverted. It must always be tested before the bar of the message of the whole Bible.
3. The message of the Bible must never be made dependent upon the cultures of the human authors. Study of these cultures is often of great value. But, sometimes there is a tendency to limit what a biblical author can say by the use of words and the structures of society of his contemporaries. Some permit the Bible to say only what the contemporaries were saying. The study of biblical backgrounds is a wonderful servant for our study of the Bible. But we must always remember that the apostles and prophets are standing over against their cultures and are presenting a whole new and different worldview than any contemporary has ever known.
4. The Bible contains its own structure and provides its own necessary background; everything that is absolutely necessary for the believing reader. We do not need any alien system to provide a structure. We dare not use any other worldview as an agenda for presenting its message.
5. Sola Scriptura means that we must regularly read the Bible though as a single book so that we accept its total message in spite of the temptation to emphasize certain parts and ignore others.
6. Sola Scriptura means that we have the Word of God in our present canon, texts, and translations (to the extent that they reflect the original texts). Thus we read and use the good translations with the confidence that they are the inspired Word of God. And we learn and search the Hebrew and Greek texts so that we can be as close as possible to the intent of their primary author—the Living, triune God.
The earlier part of Psalm nineteen praised Elohim for revealing himself in the heavens (verses 1-6) and praised Yahweh for the instruction of the Torah (verses 7-11). The purpose of that revelation was not to make some people smarter than others, but to transform their lives. It was to make godly people who listen to God, meditate on all that he has said, delight in all of his revelation and turn from sin. The goal of all revelation is the submission of our thoughts, words and acts to our Rock and our Redeemer.
“Who can discern his errors?
Forgive my hidden faults.
Keep your servant from secret sins:
may they not rule over me.
Then I will be blameless
innocent of great transgression.
May the words of my mouth
and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight
O Lord, My Rock and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:12-14)