In the previous two articles we have seen that we need God to speak & he has spoken, and the written record of his speaking is inspired. Here we will explore the attributes or characteristics of God’s Written Word — the Bible. [The general outline for this discussion is adapted from Robert Reymond’s New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, Part I; which is of course framed by the Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter I.]
- The Fact of Divine Revelation – Previous Article
- The Process
- Objections Answered
- The Inspired Nature of Divine Revelation – Previous Article
- Christ’s Authentication of the Bible
- New Testament Writers’ Identification of God’s Word
- The Attributes of Divine Revelation
The Attributes of Divine Revelation
The Bible’s Necessity
I stated at the beginning of our discussion that mankind has questions and God has answers. Thus it is necessary for God to communicate those answers to us. However, this does not require that he communicate them in a book. He could communicate them in other ways: dreams, visions, special acts of creation, and/or general acts of providence. In fact, he has done all this (see the previous article, The Fact of Divine Revelation). However, in order to more surely and accurately convey necessary information, he determined to commit these things to writing. We are all familiar with the game of ‘Telephone’; it doesn’t take long for human oral communication to get corrupted and tweak the initial message. But if the message is written down, passed along, and carefully copied when the paper wears out… then we can be sure we have the same message that we started with. God doesn’t want you to be left with partial truth; he wants you “to know with certainty those things in which you were instructed” (Lk 1.4) because “the things written down before were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures may have hope” (Rom 15.4), in order to NOT be “carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness” (Eph 4.14), since it is the Scriptures that “are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2Ti 3.15).
We need the Bible because it is the vehicle God has appointed for revealing himself. Other means are insufficient. The created world does show God’s eternal power (Rom 1.20) and glory (Ps 19.1) but it does not show the way of salvation… God’s words (the Scriptures, see discussion above) are necessary in order to explain what we see all around us, see in our hearts, and could only know by his special revelation (1Cor 1.21). What incredible mercy for God to share this with us!
The Bible’s Inspiration
Only the 66 books of the Bible are given by inspiration of God. I’ve had people say they pity me for having such a small ‘resource list’. Well, I’d rather have 66 inspired books comprising God’s one Book than 100 non-inspired books confusing the matter. If a book isn’t inspired it isn’t worth basing your eternal destiny upon it. If it is based on real history it might make for interesting reading as background to other things (ex. the Apocrypha) but if its a made-up story it is only good for entertainment.
The books of Scripture were inspired and thus inscripturated the moment they were written. They did not await a decision by outside sources to validate their status. Even in the midst of being written it was recognized as being inspired scripture (Ex 17.14; Num 33.2; Is 34.16, etc.) They were immediately added to “the Book of the Law of the Lord their God” (Neh 9.3; cf. Jos 1.8; Ex 24.7, etc.)
How, then, do we know which books are inspired? If “inspired” means they came from God—God breathed them out—how do we know which ones are from him and which one’s aren’t? At this point we return to the issue of self-witness or the Bible’s attribute of Self-Authentification.
The Bible’s Self-Authentification
I am indebted to Dr. Phil Kayser for his writings on this topic; he has developed it much further than any other author I know. See his The Canon of Scripture – Volume 1 available at available at http://www.biblicalblueprints.org.
We know the 66 books of the Bible are inspired, and none other, because the Bible itself tells us so. Within the Bible itself is witness to its own inspiration; within the Bible itself is witness to no other books being inspired. We aren’t left wondering, “Do we have the right books from the past?” or “Will more books be coming in the future?”
Various Old Testament writings refer to other Old Testament writings, and thus mention each other’s scriptural status. 2Chronicles 36.21 quotes Jeremiah 25.11, Jeremiah 26.18 quotes Micah 3.12, etc. Of course, Jeremiah did not need the Chronicler to verify his authority or vice versa. Each of them had authority by virtue of their status as a true prophet of God.
In fact, the Old Testament predicted a future era of silence (the inter-testamental period), followed by an era of written revelation (New Testament times), as well as the fact that this era would come to an end (closing of the Canon). During Old Testament times revelation was more and less plentiful; “the word of the Lord was precious (rare) in those days; there was no open (frequent) vision” (1Sm 3.1). Yet Amos predicted something more drastic than simple paucity of revelation, he predicted a famine: “Behold the days are coming, says the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea…and shall not find it.” (Am 8.11-12) Even though people were going to seek the revelation they were not going to be able to find it anywhere on the globe (“sea to sea”) because it would not be present, God was going to withdraw it. Similar predictions are made in Daniel 9.24-27 and Zechariah 13.2-6.
Further, the Old Testament Scriptures predicted a time when revelation would return: “And it shall come to pass afterward that I will our out my spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy…” (Jl 2.28). The inter-testamental silent period is described in verses 18-27 while the end of the New Testament revelation era is described in verses 30-32.
Finally, the Old Testament Scriptures predicted the permanent ending of the New Testament prophetic era. Isaiah 8-9, whose context is repeatedly quoted in the New Testament as being a first century fulfillment (Mt 4.13-16; 21.44; Lk 2.34; 20.17; Rom 9.33), speaks of God’s people being bound to “the Law and the Testimony” (Is 8.20); they are forbidden from seeking other revelation (Is 8.19) because the true and enduring witness (in the Scriptures) is sealed (Is 8.16) prior to the great war in which Jerusalem was conquered and the Temple destroyed 70AD (Is 8.19-22). People who still “seek unto those that have familiar spirits and wizards that peep and mutter” (Is 8.19) do so because they have “no light in them” (Is 8.20). Thus, it is a pitiful and disobedient thing to look for further revelation when God has finally spoken.
These facets of Old Testament predictive prophecy are fulfilled in the New Testament Scriptures. Peter, speaking as an inspired prophet, quoted from Joel and identified his own time as the close of the old covenant era—“the last days”, Acts 2.16ff. This fulfilled the predictions Moses made about a future Supreme Prophet, i.e. Jesus Christ (Dt 18.15,18 with Jn 1.21,25,45). These references in the first chapter of John’s gospel are significant because they link the beginning of the New Testament and the end of the Old Testament (Malachi) just as Old Testament writers took care to form links between the beginning and end of their books (compare the end of Deuteronomy with the beginning of Joshua; the end of Joshua with the beginning of Judges; the end of 2Chronicles and the beginning of Ezra).
Peter spoke of Paul’s writings as among “the other Scriptures” (2Pt 3.16). Peter, Paul and other apostles & prophets were to lay the foundation that generations of later Christians build upon: “[you] are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone” (Eph 2.20). This foundation, once laid, would never need to be laid again. Thus, just as the Old Testament predicted, the role of apostle and prophet have passed away.
Jesus himself validated the already-written Scriptures (the Law, Prophets, and Writings of the Old Testament) as well as the soon-to-be written New Testament Scriptures: “The Comforter, the Holy Ghost… he shall teach you all things and bring all things to your remembrance” (Jn 14.26), “when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth” (Jn 16.13). John summarizes his writing task, “these are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you might have life through his name.” Like John and Peter, Paul was conscious that he was writing Scripture: “the things that I write to you are the commandments of the Lord” (1Cor 14.37).
In summary, the Bible authenticates itself. No higher authority could be sought than God speaking in the Scriptures.
- God said the Old Testament was his word,
- he said more would be added after a time of silence,
- he ended the silence by speaking in the “last days”, and
- he said the “last days” era would mark the end of Scripture.
If we trust God’s word we will hold near and dear the 39 books of the Old Testament and the 27 books of the New Testament. Likewise, if we trust his word we will dismiss anything other than these 66 books.
The Bible’s authority does not come from a man, a group of men, the style of the writing, or the antiquity of the text. The Bible’s authority begins and ends with its ability to proclaim itself to be God’s word. That established, everything else it says—no matter the topic—is authoritative as well. The God who spoke all things into existence (Gn 1.3ff) gives “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2Cor 4.6). He made us and sustains us and obviously gives us the rules to live by.
The Bible’s Sufficiency
The Bible is sufficient to meet all our needs. We need to know sin is the source of all our woes—creation doesn’t tell us that. We need to know that repentance and Faith in Christ are the only way to be reconciled to God—spiritual experiences may not necessarily tell us that. The Bible alone is sufficient because God speaks the truth to us about ‘all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life.’ Prophets and Apostles laid the foundation for the church (Eph 2.20) by being the vehicles for written revelation. Paul tells us that “the Holy Scriptures are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ…that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2Ti 3.15-17; cf. 1Ti 4.13) Paul points us to the written word not creation, a future prophet, or an inner spiritual experience. God, working in and through the written word, is able to equip Christians for every good work. There is no good work that is not addressed in the Bible.
The Bible’s Perspicuity
“Perspicuity” simply means “clarity”; therefore to say the Bible is perspicuous is to say that it clearly says what we need to know. It is readily acknowledge that ‘not all things are alike plain in themselves or clear unto all’ so some details require extensive diligent study. Yet the main things are clear: ‘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 another, that not only the learned but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain to a sufficient understanding of them.’ It doesn’t take a college education or an advanced degree in religious studies to read Genesis 1-3 and understand that God made everything, man sinned, God punishes sin, and God promises a redeemer. A child can listen to Romans 9 and understand that God’s salvation is an expression of his sovereignty and is not dependent on man’s actions. Of course, mental understanding is not the same as internal faith.
The Bible’s Finality
The Bible is God’s final revelation to men. In the last thousands of years of human history, various men or groups of men have put themselves forward as God’s voice to man: the Sanhedrin did so in Jesus’ day, later the Roman Pope took the name “Vicar of Christ” (‘vicar’ = ‘substitute’), today’s President of Mormonism claims to be God’s mouthpiece for the modern world. Others have said that God speaks directly to all men without the need for written revelation. Both of these propositions are false, being soundly refuted by the Bible itself. The Bible says it and it alone is God’s words to mankind. It says prophecy has ended and we must turn our attention to the written Word; not to people who claim to be prophets (Is 8-9) (see discussion of Self-Authentification above).
It should be noted that the closing of the Canon is not a bad turn of events, as if we are in a poorer state because God has ceased to speak. First, he has not ceased to speak; he has ceased to write, but his writings are not silent. He speaks profoundly and powerfully through his written word via the Holy Spirit (Heb 3.7; 10.15,17). Second, we are in a better place with the complete written word than those who are looking for an additional word; they are left open to doubt wondering whether or not the “new word” is authentic or an impostor. God doesn’t want us to be like a boat tossed on the stormy seas of theological disputes (Eph 4.14). He has given us “a more sure word of prophecy” (2Pt 1.19). Rather than pity those who “only” have the meager Bible, I pity those who are open to the “sleight of men and their cunning craftiness” (Eph 4.14). With gratitude I turn “to the law and the testimony” (Is 8.20) knowing that there, and only there, will I find the living voice of the true and living God.
We desperately need God’s words and those words are inspiredly, authoritatively, sufficiently, clearly, and finally recorded in the Bible.
He has spoken to men in various ways and the fruit of this revelation is in the Bible. The Bible itself tells us when to expect revelation and when to know new revelation has ended. With the Bible as our guide we are equipped for everything: present justification, ongoing sanctification, and future glorification. We are also equipped to discern between the real words of life and false impostors who would lead us astray. I pray that God would open the eyes of your understanding to see the treasures of his written word; a word written so that you may believe and have eternal life (Jn 20.31).