A Walk through the 1689 Baptist Confession, pt.2: The Identity and Authority of the Scriptures

1689conf

Chapter 1: Of the Holy Scriptures, Paragraphs 2-5

2._____Under the name of Holy Scripture, or the Word of God written, are now contained all the books of the Old and New Testaments, which are these:

OF THE OLD TESTAMENT: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, I Samuel, II Samuel, I Kings, II Kings, I Chronicles, II Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, The Song of Solomen, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations,Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi

OF THE NEW TESTAMENT: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, The Acts of the Apostles, Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, I Corinthians, II Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, I Thessalonians, II Thessalonians, I Timothy, II Timothy, To Titus, To Philemon, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Epistle of James, The first and second Epistles of Peter, The first, second, and third Epistles of John, The Epistle of Jude, The Revelation

All of which are given by the inspiration of God, to be the rule of faith and life. ( 2 Timothy 3:16)

3._____ The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the canon or rule of the Scripture, and, therefore, are of no authority to the church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved or made use of than other human writings.
( Luke 24:27, 44; Romans 3:2 )

4._____ The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself), the author thereof; therefore it is to be received because it is the Word of God.
( 2 Peter 1:19-21; 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 John 5:9 )

5._____We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the church of God to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scriptures; and the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, and the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, and many other incomparable excellencies, and entire perfections thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God; yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth, and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.

( John 16:13,14; 1 Corinthians 2:10-12; 1 John 2:20, 27)

Understanding the Confession

The Identity and Authority of the Scriptures

I. The Identity of the Scriptures

In paragraphs 2-3, the Confession simply identifies the authoritative canon of Scripture as the 39 books of the Old Testament and the 27 books of the New Testament. It rejects the Apocryphal books as Scripture due to those books failing to meet the necessary tests of canonicity: Apostolicity, Internal Evidence, and the Universal Reception of the church.

 

II. The Authority of the Scriptures

The development of thought in paragraphs 4 and 5 utilizes the classic theological distinction between the authority of the Word in itself (quoad se) and its authority with us (quoad nos). This theological distinction is based on the difference between two questions which may be asked about the authority of the Bible. ‘Why is the Bible authoritative?’ and ‘How do we know that the Bible is the Word of God and, thus, authoritative?’


A. 
The fact of its divine authority (para. 4)

The divine authority of the Bible means its absolute authority, its verbal, plenary inspiration. Verbal, plenary inspiration is the teaching that the words of the Bible—all of the words of the Bible—are the products of a direct, supernatural influence of the Spirit on the men who were his organs or instruments. It is completely inerrant. This is, as will be argued below, the proper implication of the Confession.

As we consider the evidence for the absolute, divine authority of Scripture, it is important to begin by noting that the Bible never adversely criticizes itself. The Bible nowhere asserts of another statement in the Bible that it is in error. This is so self-evident that it needs no defense. We shall examine first the evidence for the authority of the Old Testament. Two classes of evidence for its authority may be enumerated: the witness of the Old Testament to the Old Testament and the witness of the New Testament to the Old Testament. The witness of the New Testament to the Old Testament makes most clear the authority of the Old Testament as an organic whole. The argument for the authority of the Bible begins, therefore, with its doctrine of the authority of the Old Testament found in the New Testament.

1. The Old Testament is sacred (2 Timothy 3:15) and holy (Romans 1:2). Like the temple (note the relation of both words to the temple) the Old Testament is peculiarly associated with God. The Old Testament writings are God’s writings.

2. The Old Testament writings are the oracles of God (Romans 3:2; Acts 7:38; Hebrews 5:12). Romans 3:2 refers to the written embodiment of these oracles, as their being ‘entrusted’ to Israel indicates.

3. God is the ultimate, determinative speaker and author of the Old Testament (Acts 2:16–17; 4:24–25; Matthew 13:35).

4. For this reason the phrases, ‘God says,’ and ‘Scripture says’ are equivalent. In Romans 9:17 and Galatians 3:8, what God said in the Old Testament is attributed to Scripture, while in Matthew 19:4–5, what Scripture said in the Old Testament is attributed to God. This holy confusion can only be explained on the supposition that Scripture is viewed as God’s very speaking.

5. Since God is the true Author of the Scriptures, they can be and are written with the distant future in mind (Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:11).

6. Since God is the author of Scripture it is not only invested with plenary authority, it is also authoritative in detail. Arguments are built on the very form of a single word (Matthew 22:32; Luke 16:17; Matthew 22:41–6; John 10:35; Galatians 3:16).

7. Since Scripture is divine, it is, so to speak, the transcript of God’s divine decree. A divine necessity demands its fulfillment (Acts 1:16; 2:24–36; Acts 13:34–35; John 19:34–36, 24; Luke 22:37; Matthew 26:54; John 13:18).

8. Perhaps the five classic passages which enunciate the divine authority of the Old Testament are 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:19–21; Matthew 5:17–18; John 10:34–36; Matthew 4:1–11. They assert that the Old Testament as an organic whole and in detail is God-breathed, the product of direct, divine origination and determination, permanent and unbreakable in its every assertion, and as written is perfectly authoritative.

The argument for the authority of the New Testament is an inference from the New Testament’s doctrine of the authority of the Old Testament Scriptures. We need simply to establish that in principle the New Testament possesses the same (God-breathed) authority as the Old. The presupposition and primary ground for the extension of the authority of the Old Testament to the New Testament is the specific relationship of organic unity which exists between them. The prophetic character of the Old Testament called for a New Testament. The New Testament proclaims itself to be that fulfillment. In the organic unfolding or redemptive history it must therefore exist on at least the same plane as the Old. This fact, demands that an equal authority and inspiration be attributed to the writings of the New Testament. The classic passages which teach the organic unity of the Old and New Testaments are Hebrews 1:1–2 and 2 Corinthians 3:10–11. Specific passages which teach the equal authority of the New Testament are those texts which teach the equal authority of the personal authorities of the New Covenant (Romans 16:25–26; 2 Peter 1:16–21; 1 Corinthians 14:37; 15:3–11; 2 Peter 3:1–2; John 2:22) and those which teach the equal authority of the written authorities of the New Covenant (2 Peter 3:16; 1 Timothy 5:18).

All the objections brought against the divine authority and inerrancy of the Bible cannot be treated here. The objection against this doctrine based on the humanity of the Bible does, however, deserve treatment. The objection is that the Bible was written by men. Men are free and errant. The Bible must, therefore, contain error. That the Bible was written by men and is thus both a divine and human book cannot and must not be denied. Two considerations, however, manifest the falsity of the conclusion drawn from this fact by this objection. The first is the parallel with the doctrine of the person of Christ. The humanity of Christ does not mitigate or negate his full deity, with all its implications. So also the humanity of the Bible does not mean that it is errant. Jesus was a true man without being errant. So the Bible is a human book without being errant or any less divine. The second is the reformed doctrine of organic inspiration. This view denies any mechanical or dictation view of inspiration, in which the humanity of the human writer is suspended. It teaches the full humanity of the Bible, i.e., that the human writers’ own personalities and freedom were fully operational. It also teaches the complete and detailed divinity of the Bible, i.e., it is precisely God speaking without human distortion. God made these men’s mouths—through general providence and special grace—creating the precise instrument desired. Organic inspiration assumes the reformed and biblical view that the same activity can be and is both divinely ordained and the product of free, human agency. Thus, the Bible can be the product of human beings writing and acting freely, while at the same time it is divinely inspired and inerrant.

B. The Authentication of its Divine Authority

Paragraph 5 was directed against Roman Catholicism. Roman Catholicism affirms that the church is able to give an infallible attestation of the Bible. Any view which invests the church with infallible authority must be unacceptable to Protestants, but the Reformers were faced with a dilemma. If they rejected the opposite extreme, the radical Anabaptists and their claims to direct revelation, in what way could they authenticate the Bible? Their dilemma drove them to the Bible and the articulation of a penetrating insight into its authentication. While they recognized that the testimony of the church had a certain value, it was the divine excellencies of Scripture itself applied by the Holy Spirit to the heart which were the genuine and effective authentication of the Scripture. They taught, therefore, the self-authentication of the Scriptures. The reformed view of the self-authentication of the Scriptures can only properly be understood as consisting in a trilogy of Reformed doctrines. Furthermore, a deep appreciation of the cogency of the biblical evidence for the reformed solution is only obtained by viewing this trilogy of doctrines together.

1. The self-authenticating character of general revelation

Perhaps no one anywhere has more trenchantly stated the significance of the self-authenticating character of that natural revelation made to all men in general through creation than Cornelius Van Til where he said, “The most depraved of men cannot wholly escape the voice of God. Their greatest wickedness is meaningless except upon the assumption that they have sinned against the authority of God. Thoughts and deeds of utmost perversity are themselves revelational, that is, in their very abnormality. The natural man accuses or else excuses himself only because his own utterly depraved consciousness continues to point back to the original natural state of affairs. The prodigal son can never forget the father’s voice. It is the albatross for ever about his neck.”[1]

If general revelation is self-authenticating, how much more must special revelation as it is inscripturated in the Bible, be self-authenticating. For the fact is that the great difference between general and special revelation is that special revelation has a far more direct and personal character than general revelation. In general revelation creation speaks to us of God. In special revelation God himself approaches us directly and personally speaking to us in words. If then the comparatively indirect and impersonal general revelation authenticated itself to men as divine revelation, how much more will direct and personal speaking by God to men in special revelation constrain recognition by its self- authentication.

 

2. The self-authenticating character of the Scriptures

Here we come to the true heart of the Reformed solution to the problem of the authentication of the Bible. The Bible everywhere asserts that the Scriptures are never to be viewed as a dead letter, but as the living Word of God (Jeremiah 23:28–29; Luke 16:27–31; John 6:63; 1 Peter 1:23–25; Hebrews 4:12–13). As the living Word of God, the Scriptures in and of themselves demand to be believed and oblige all who hear them to believe. Without reasoned dissertations or external arguments being added to them, the Scriptures are sufficient to warrant the confidence in their truthfulness which is required for saving faith (Deuteronomy 31:11–13; John 20:31; Galatians 1:8, 9; Mark 16:15–16). If one does not clearly state that the Scriptures are sufficient to oblige belief in and of themselves, one seriously undermines the doctrine of the sufficiency of the Scriptures.

3. The Testimony of the Holy Spirit to the Scriptures

It is now possible to see the true significance of the reformed doctrine of the testimony of the Holy Spirit. It is not a subjectivistic or mystical appeal to an inner light. It has its objective basis in the self- authentication of Scripture. Calvin saw this clearly:

Let it be considered then as an undeniable truth that they who have been inwardly taught by the Spirit feel an entire acquiescence in the Scripture, and that it is self-authenticated, carrying with it its own evidence, and ought not to be made the subject of demonstration and arguments from reason; but it obtains the credit which it deserves with us by the testimony of the Spirit.[2]

The question may arise, however, ‘If the Scriptures are self- authenticating what is the need of the additional testimony of the Holy Spirit?’ Further, if they are self-authenticating, what of the unbelief and denial by which they are met by so many? This brings us to discuss the necessity of the testimony of the Holy Spirit.

The cause or necessity of the testimony is in one word, sin. Human depravity perverts human intellectual endeavour. It causes men to suppress the truth and so spiritually blinds them to the light of divine revelation (Romans 1:21; Ephesians 4:17–21; 2 Corinthians 4:3–4). The testimony of the Holy Spirit, therefore, has for its nature the removal of that evil ethical disposition which blinds man to the light of divine revelation. The testimony is thus an ethical operation. It does not consist in some new revelation in addition to that which is contained in the Scriptures.

The reality of the testimony of the Spirit may be demonstrated by two lines of biblical argument. First, the Bible teaches that if man is to think aright, he must be right ethically (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 9:10; 1:7; 15:33; John 3:19–21; 7:16–17; 2 Timothy 2:25; 3:7; John 10:26–27). Faith, fear, doing God’s will, repentance—all these are produced in sinners by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. The passages supporting this assertion are well known and need not be cited here. Second, there are a number of passages which directly assert that it is the Spirit who enables us to see and understand spiritual truth (Matthew 16:17; 1 Corinthians 2:14–16.; John 3:3–8; 1 Corinthians 2:4–5; 1 Thessalonians 1:5–6; 1 John 2:20–21, 27). These passages make clear that it is the Spirit who creates faith in the Scriptures.

It is important to note in conclusion that the whole effort to discover some external attestation of the Bible is misguided, whether that attestation is sought in an infallible church or in an historical expert. This is so for several reasons. Firstly, since God has spoken and the Bible is itself the living Word of God, the highest possible attestation is the Bible’s own witness to itself. Secondly, to suppose that a subsequent divine revelation is necessary to attest the biblical revelation would require that this subsequent divine verification itself be attested by a third revelation and so ad infinitum. If the Bible as God’s voice from heaven does not attest itself, no amount of voices from heaven will ever be sufficient to attest it. Thirdly, the entity to which appeal is made to attest the Bible tends to replace the Bible as one’s practical authority. In other words, that which is appealed to in order to attest the Bible tends to become the real canon of those who appeal to it, to the detriment of the Bible. This observation is certainly confirmed by Roman Catholicism’s appeal to ecclesiastical authority. The history of that movement shows that its appeal to the church to attest the authority of the Bible eroded the Bible’s authority. This is so because in each such appeal the Bible ceases to be the absolute norm. In each the Bible is to be attested via an appeal to a higher norm or canon. Thus each of the attempted answers is virtually a denial of the absolute, divine authority of the Bible. Hence, while it is helpful to distinguish logically between the authority of the Bible with us and its authority in itself, it must always be remembered that in both cases it derives its authority from a single cause. ‘It is the Word of God’ (para. 4).

 

 

Footnotes

[1] Cornelius Van Til, The Infallible Word,  “Nature and Scripture,” pp.274, 275.

[2] John Calvin, The Institutes, 1:7:5.

 

Major Resource

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

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