Monday, February 9, 2015
Five vital terms for explaining the authority of scripture
Genesis 3:1 "Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?”
The first question in the Bible has to do with God's Word
Everything up until Genesis 3 had been commanded and declared by God. Satan took God's commands and declarations and put question marks on the end. Sin entered into the world as a result of man losing and refusing to fight the battle for God's Words. As Christians, we need to know that the Bible we carry in our hands is the Word of God. In today's post I want to introduce the reader to five terms that have been used by theologians to describe how the scriptures journeyed from God's mouth to man's hand. Those five terms of which I speak are the following:
Each of these terms could be given their own post, however for today I just want you the reader to be equipped with brief definitions so as to get in your mind the reliability and sufficiency of your Bible as God's very words.
1. Revelation - Making known that which was previously unknown
In Bible doctrine we usually distinguish three types of revelation:
a. General Revelation - This is God revealing or making known His glory and power in creation and the conscience (Psalm 19:7-11; Romans 1:18-31, 2:15)
b. Full Revelation - This is God's revelation of His Person and Majesty through the incarnation of God the Son, Jesus Christ. (Hebrews 1:1-3)
c. Special Revelation - This is God's Revelation of His purposes and will through the writing of the Old and New Testament scriptures, of which we are focusing upon in this particular blog today. (Deuteronomy 29:29; 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21)
God revealed His words to His prophets, by whom spoke and then wrote down the revelation. In the New Testament the terms employed to refer to God's revelation refer to "unveiling that which was previously hidden". (Exodus 24:4; Amos 3:7; Ephesians 1:10; 1 Peter 1:10-11)
2. Inspiration - Human authors were given a unique measure of grace through their own writing styles to produce documents free from error and sufficient for faith and practice
Revelation (not the Book but the act of God making the unknown known) leads next to inspiration. It is in the act of inspiration that God takes His revealed will and superintends over the writing styles of the biblical authors to produce the Bible books. In 2 Timothy 3:16 we read that "all scripture is inspired", meaning literally that: "God breathed out the scriptures." Just as He breathed out His breath into the nostrils of Adam and Adam became a living soul, so did the writings of the Apostles and Prophets become living scripture as they wrote. With the more than 40 authors, writing on three continents and in three languages, over 1500 years period of time, God used their writing styles and situations to produce a unified library of 66 documents free from error. Once the last period of the Book of Revelation was completed, the Grace of inspiration would never operate again. So with God's words written as errorless words, how would God's people know which books were God's books as opposed to forgeries?
3. Canonicity - The identification, reception and arranging of the individually inspired Bible books into the official collection of God's words
Virtually all the Bible books were immediately identified, received and collected by God's people for public reading, preaching and application. The term "canon" literally means "measuring rod", hence the Bible is the final authority or "measuring rod" on all matters. Not just any book could be considered part of God's Divine Library of the Bible. Church history tells us that God's people used a variety of tests for recognizing God's words.1
God perfectly inspired the individual Bible books, not the manner of their order or arrangement. God in His Providence led the people of God to take up the task of receiving and arranging the books of scripture. Without a doubt the Holy Spirit guided the process, and it must be remembered that the Bible produced the church, not the other way around. By recognizing the nature of canonicity, we can see why its not a big deal for certain Bibles to have differing order or arrangement of the Bible books.2 We could spend more time in detail, but we must move onto the next term....
4. Preservation- God's Providential preservation of the words of the Bible in the hand-copied texts of the Old and New Testament.
We possess more certainty over the words of the Bibles in our possession today as being those originally penned by the Biblical authors than we do of any other ancient document. Once that original manuscript left the hand of that prophet or apostle, how was its contents preserved as it was copied over and over again? Certainly as the scriptures were copied by hand, minor variations would had entered into the textual stream. However we can be assured that we have the words of God in our manuscripts. Insofar as a manuscript copy and translation represents those words, that copy or translation carries the authority of being God's Word. A whole field of study aims to answer this question.3
Perhaps in illustration I heard one time will aid in this point. Take any dollar bill or paper currency that you have in your possession and ask yourself whether that bill can be used to make a purchase? Of course the answer is yes. That bill is a copy of the original plates on a printing press to produce the bill. Perhaps when you got the paper currency, it was torn, tatered or worn. Despite its condition, that dollar bill is a valuable and carries the authority of a Federal Reserve Note just as much as those original plates. The plates are flawless, and the dollar bill bearing their image carries the authority of such and is for all practical intents and purposes flawless in as much as it represents its original. So it is the same with the copies and translations of the Old and New Testaments. We should have no worries concerning the Bibles we have today - they are the Word of God!
If God had not guaranteed the preservation of His words down to our day, we would have no idea what He commmunicated. (Matthew 5:18) More could be said but we must hasten to the final key term...
5. Illumination - How God the Holy Spirit helps Christians understand the meaning of the Revealed, Inspired, Canonical and Preserved Text
When a Christian is converted by grace through faith, the Holy Spirit enables them to understand the meaning of the words of the Bible. Passages such as 1 Corinthians 2:10-13 and 1 John 2:20,27 give us this promise of the Spirit's ministry in the life of the Christian. Without the Holy Spirit's work of illumination, I could not preach the Bible with clarity nor could those to whom I preach apply what is preached. Furthermore, without the proverbial "light-bulb" of understanding given by the Holy Spirit, no Christian could have fruitful study of God's word.4
As you consider the five terms: Revelation, Inspiration, Canonicity, Preservation & Illumination, you will discover the truth of the matter: the Bible that you and I carry to church and read every week is the Word of God. I would like to end today's blog with this quote from the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 Article 1 on the Holy Scriptures, of which I affirm, and hope you do as well: "The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God's revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy."
1. So what were the tests? Some examples are as follows:
a. Was the author a prophet, apostle or associate of an apostle?
b. Does the book correspond with previous revelation?
c. Does the Book bring about conversion?
d. Does the book point to Jesus Christ, the fullness of God's revelation?
e. Is the book recognized by virtually all Christians as God's word?
Tests such as these were used, and once individually recognized, the church came to arrange the books for use and preaching purposes.
2. For example we know by Jesus' day that the Old Testament was arranged in a three-fold way (Law, Prophets, Writings). (Luke 24:44) However in our English Bibles our Old Testaments are arranged as: Law, Historical Books, Poetic Books and Prophetic Books (Major and Minor Prophets). These differing arrangements have nothing to do with the words of scripture (inspiration), rather they represent the ways God's people came to organize the 66 Bible books. Thus we see for instance Catholic Bibles, Eastern Orthodox Bibles and Protestant Bibles (the last which would be to most readers perhaps the most familiar) having their Bible Books in differing order. The Catholic and Eastern Orthodox have additional books, of which I will not address right now (these issues have been addressed in other past blogs). Suffice it to say, all three orderings have in common the universally recognized 66 Books which appear by themselves in such English translation and versions such as KJV, NKJV, NASB, NIV, ESV, NLT.
3. The scholarly field to which I'm referring is called textual criticism.
Without going into too much detail, the thousands upon thousands of copies of manuscripts, both Old and New Testament, can reconstruct the original text in over 99% of cases, with no variation in the copies affecting any doctrine or teaching.
4. Often people will confuse the terms "revelation" and "illumination". It is important to keep those two terms distinct, since God is not giving no new revelations today. Any insights people have into the spiritual realm or in guidance for every day life is a result of the Spirit's illuminating work through the scriptures. Even when we hear God's voice and know what He wants us to do, its because at some point we heard a Biblical based sermon or read a Bible verse that spoke on that subject.