A Walk through the 1689 Baptist Confession, pt.1: The Necessity of Scripture

1689conf

Chapter 1: Of the Holy Scriptures, Paragraph 1

1___The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience, although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and his will which is necessary unto salvation. Therefore it pleased the Lord at sundry times and in divers manners to reveal himself, and to declare that his will unto his church; and afterward for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan, and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the Holy Scriptures to be most necessary, those former ways of God’s revealing his will unto his people being now ceased.
( 2 Timothy 3:15-17; Isaiah 8:20; Luke 16:29, 31; Ephesians 2:20; Romans 1:19-21; Romans 2:14,15; Psalms 19:1- 3; Hebrews 1:1; Proverbs 22:19-21; Romans 15:4; 2 Peter 1:19,20)

Understanding the Confession
The Necessity of Scripture

A. The ground of this necessity
The Confession reminds us that the necessity of the Scriptures is rooted in the necessity of redemptive revelation itself. The ‘light of nature’ (etc.) is ‘not sufficient to give that knowledge … which is necessary unto salvation’. Hence redemptive revelation is necessary for salvation. The absolute necessity of redemptive revelation for salvation both qualifies and requires the necessity of the Scriptures. 2 Timothy 3:15 states, for instance, that the wisdom which leads to salvation is given via the sacred writings.

B. The presupposition of this necessity
The assertion that inscripturation is the necessary means for bringing men into contact with redemptive revelation presupposes something that the Confession makes explicit. It presupposes that ‘Those former ways of God’s revealing his will [are] now ceased.’ If the Christ were still among us or his inspired apostles still walked the earth, then Scriptures would not be so necessary. It was in fact the insistence of some that God’s former ways of revealing himself had not ceased which elicited the Reformation insistence on the necessity of Scripture. Both the Catholics, with their infallible pope and church, and some of the radical Reformers, with their claim to present revelations from the Spirit, denied or downgraded the necessity of the Scriptures. Hebrews 1:1–2 contain many contrasts between the two ways in which God spoke, but there is at least one point of continuity. Both are completed. This observation is confirmed by the fact that inspired apostles, the only inspired representatives of the Son of God, no longer walk the earth (Acts 1:21–22; 1 Corinthians 9:1; 15:7–8).

C. The reasons for this necessity
Preservation
The preservation of redemptive revelation brings us back to its redemptive purpose. The salvation of men depends on their being in possession of a trustworthy record of redemptive revelation. The Confession says that ‘the truth which is necessary unto salvation’ was committed unto writing ‘for the better preserving of the truth’, with the further end of being ‘for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh and the malice of Satan and of the world’. Thus it was for the preservation of truth from the corruption of the flesh—human weakness—and the malice of Satan and the world—human wickedness—that God gave us the Scriptures. We have indications of this purpose in the Scriptures themselves. Certainty about the exact content of the divine revelation was the purpose of the Scriptures. Writing was necessary for certainty because of the weakness (Luke 1:1–4; 2 Peter 1:12–15; 3:1; Deuteronomy 17:18–20; 31:9– 13, 19–21) and wickedness (1 Corinthians 15:1; 2 Thessalonians 2:1–2, 15; 3:17) of a fallen world.

Publication
The Confession also mentions ‘the better … propagating of the truth’. Inspired apostles even when they were alive could not be present everywhere at once. Hence, they wrote letters for the better publication of the truth they taught (Romans 1:8–15; Galatians 4:20; 6:11; 1 Timothy 3:14–15; Revelation 1:9, 19; 2:1, etc.).

Selection
It is well to collate here a third purpose of inscripturation which is not mentioned in the Confession. Klooster notes, “One observes that inscripturation served the purpose of the Holy Spirit in selecting from the abundant original special revelation just that which served God’s purpose in inscripturation. Inscripturation provided an inspired selection. (John 20:30–31; 21:25; Colossians 4:16; 1 Corinthians 5:9–10)

D. The implication of this necessity
The necessity of the Scriptures implies a further special act of God in relation to the Scriptures. If God’s sovereign purpose is to save men via the redemptive revelation he has given, and if this redemptive revelation must be inscripturated to be preserved in a fallen world, then it may also be assumed that this same sovereign redemptive purpose will ensure that these Scriptures, ‘being immediately inspired of God’, will also be ‘by his singular care and providence, kept pure in all ages’ (1689 LBCF 1.8). By the strictest necessity the redemptive revelation once inscripturated will be guarded from corruption by the special providence of God. To those who understand this, it comes as no surprise that an actual examination of the history of the text of the Bible and the study of textual criticism reveals that the text of the Bible is unquestionably the best preserved of all the classical works. Nor is it surprising that no single truth of the message of Scripture hangs in the balance of textual-critical studies. Nor yet is it surprising to discover that the science of textual criticism fairly and believingly used can resolve the vast majority of textual difficulties with a high degree of certainty.

Resources: Waldron, Sam. A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. Durham, NC: Evangelical Press, 1999.

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