Trust the Bible for What? My Convictions About Scripture
4 points from the Bethlehem Baptist Church Elder Affirmation of Faith (PDF):
1. Scripture, the Word of God Written
1.1 We believe that the Bible, consisting of the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments, is the infallible Word of God, verbally inspired by God, and without error in the original manuscripts.
1.2 We believe that God’s intentions, revealed in the Bible, are the supreme and final authority in testing all claims about what is true and what is right. In matters not addressed by the Bible, what is true and right is assessed by criteria consistent with the teachings of Scripture.
1.3 We believe God’s intentions are revealed through the intentions of inspired human authors, even when the authors’ intention was to express divine meaning of which they were not fully aware, as, for example, in the case of some Old Testament prophecies. Thus the meaning of Biblical texts is a fixed historical reality, rooted in the historical, unchangeable intentions of its divine and human authors. However, while meaning does not change, the application of that meaning may change in various situations. Nevertheless it is not legitimate to infer a meaning from a Biblical text that is not demonstrably carried by the words which God inspired.
1.4 Therefore, the process of discovering the intention of God in the Bible (which is its fullest meaning) is a humble and careful effort to find in the language of Scripture what the human authors intended to communicate. Limited abilities, traditional biases, personal sin, and cultural assumptions often obscure Biblical texts. Therefore the work of the Holy Spirit is essential for right understanding of the Bible, and prayer for His assistance belongs to a proper effort to understand and apply God’s Word.
Why Does this matter?
1. Many in our day deny the existence of Truth.
Michael Novak (First Things, Sept. 1994, p. 21) Templeton Prize Address
“There is no such thing as truth,” they teach even the little ones. “Truth is bondage. Believe what seems right to you. There are as many truths as there are individuals. Follow your feelings. Do as you please. Get in touch with yourself. Do what feels comfortable.” Those who speak this way prepare the jails of the twenty-first century. They do the work of tyrants.
Once truth is removed as the arbiter between two groups all that is left is power.
2. One trait of secularism is the criticism of the Bible as a mixture of truth and error.
Star Tribune, Oct. 17, 1992 Letter from Minnesota Atheists
One of the few worthwhile statements in the Bible is, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free. . . . Knowledge of the Bible is hindered by the informal censorship imposed by religious leaders who would rather their followers didn’t know what‘s in it—the innumerable contradictions, historical errors, plagiarism, absurdities, meaningless prophecies, myths presented as historical fact, and countless instances of divinely ordered or approved atrocities. . . . It is true that the Bible has some worthwhile material, including entertaining stories, inspirational sentiments and astute observations about human behavior. However, those worthwhile parts could probably be contained in a pamphlet.
3. The competing holy books of other religions are coming increasingly close.
As holy books come near, your own can become relativized and you need to know how you feel about that.
4. One trait of liberal Christianity is the rejection of the infallibility of the Bible and the call to find a canon within the canon.
Ernst Kaesemann, quoted in Gerhard Maier, The End of the Historical Method, (St. Louis: Concordia Pub. House, 1974).
The Scripture which one gives over to itself and to which one . . . gives himself up uncritically without the “principal key” leads not only to a multiplicity of confessions but also to the inability to distinguish between faith and superstition, the Father of Jesus Christ and the idol . . . . Does the New Testament canon establish the unity of the church? . . . No . . . If (the formal canon) establishes also a variety of Christologies which are in part incompatible . . . the canon as such also legitimates more or less all sects and false doctrines (pp. 37-38).
It was common when I was in school to hear things like, “The New Tesament is not the basis of the unity of the church; it is the basis of the disunity of the church,” meaning there are distinct theologies taught in the Bible and you need to pick which will be yours.
5. In every generation there are new creative attacks on the trustworthiness of the Bible.
In our day, Bart Ehrman probably leads the pack in trying to discredit the reliability of the biblical text. His claim is that the New Testament has been corrupted by copyists so badly it can’t be recovered.
His relevant books:
- Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why
- Lost Christianities: The Battles for the Scripture and Faiths We never Knew
- The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament
Ehrman and others have also argued that there are other gospels besides our own that show alternative Christianities that are as valid as the traditional one.
- Bart Ehrman, The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot: A New Look at Betrayer and Betrayed
- Elaine Pagels, Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas
For a readable, yet scholarly response to all this, see Darrell Bock, Dethroning Jesus: Exposing Popular Culture’s Quest to Unseat the Biblical Christ.
(See more recommended books on the reliability of Scripture.)
The Bible will stand. No critic will.
6. If it is true, the message of the Bible is the only message of eternal life.
For all the gods of the peoples are idols, But the LORD made the heavens. (Psalm 96:5)
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (John 14:6)
Jesus said therefore to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life.” (John 6:67-68)
And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)
Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also. (1 John 2:23)
He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. (1 John 5:12)
The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me. (Luke 10:16)
7. Building our lives of sacrificial service on a mistake would be pitiable.
It would be tragic to construct our lives around the Bible and then discover the gospel was false.
If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:19)
8. The Bible makes claims to inspiration and authority and inerrancy.
From childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. (2 Timothy 3:15-16)
If it is foolish to build your ministry on the Bible and discover it is not true, it would be even more foolish to not build your ministry on it and find out it is true. If you believe it is true, how could you devote your ministry to doing anything less than explaining and applying this book?
Why do I trust this Bible?
Assumption #1: It is a good idea to ask why trust the Bible and not just to do it gullibly.
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1)
And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” (Acts 17:2-3)
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:13)
He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:3)
Assumption #2: Scholarly defenses of the Scriptures are important for the church, but are not the sure foundation of anyone’s spiritual confidence in the Bible.
That is true for a statistical reason and for a Biblical one:
- Statistically, almost no one can restate the arguments when the lecture is over.
- Biblically, the basis of our confidence in God’s word is the spiritual sight of the glory of God in Christ in the gospel, not the mere historical argumentation.
I want to offer a way of knowing and trusting the Bible that is open to all who have access to the Bible, not just historians.
By a reasonable conviction, I mean a conviction founded on real evidence, or upon that which is a good reason, or just ground of conviction.
Where does this evidence come from?
The gospel of the blessed God does not go abroad a begging for its evidence, so much as some think
the mind ascends to the truth of the gospel but by one step, and that is its divine glory…. Unless men may come to a reasonable solid persuasion and conviction of the truth of the gospel…by a sight of its glory; it is impossible that those who are illiterate, and unacquainted with history, should have any thorough and effectual conviction of it at all.
5 Reasons I Trust the Bible to Be the Word of God?
1. I have met Jesus in the gospel and his self-authenticating glory has won my admiration and my allegiance and my trust.
I met him in the Gospel. What’s the Gospel?
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you–unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)
The gospel is the story of Christ’s life and death for sinners according to the Scriptures and his resurrection and what it achieved and how it is enjoyed and what it leads to ultimately.
When this gospel story is recounted in sufficient fullness, the glory of Christ becomes the ground of or trust in it.
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:3-6)
Here the mind reaches certainty of Christ in the gospel by the self-authenticating glory that shines through.
Nothing can be more evident, than that a saving belief of the gospel is here spoken of by the apostle, as arising from the mind being enlightened to behold the divine glory of the things it exhibits.
In other words, the “real evidence” or “just ground” on which saving faith must rest is the Glory of God manifest in the gospel.
God grants us to see “light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” There is a spiritual light and it is a real knowledge. It has a real basis, just as the shining of a light is a real basis for seeing the light, though the blind may deny that there is any such thing.
This is the new birth: the opening of the eyes of the blind to see what is really there. This eye-opening removal of blindness and deadness comes by the word of God.
Since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable,through the living and abiding word of God; . . . And this word is the good news that was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:23, 25)
Picture the dead and blind heart. Christ and the cross and sin are boring and foolish and a stumbling block. Then the word of God, the gospel comes empowered by the Spirit and touches the heart. It awakens to see the very thing that the word carries, the news about Jesus Christ.
2. Paul’s witness to Jesus wins my trust.
I turn to Paul as a contemporary witness to Jesus who more than any other witness in the New Testament let’s us see into his own soul and ministry. I do this because I when I need to credit someone I need to know him. Paul’s witness to Jesus wins my trust. He does not sound like a lunatic or a liar. His story rings true. It coheres with the self-authenticating Christ that I met in the gospel.
Paul saw himself as an apostle with authority equal to the Twelve’s.
Paul, an apostle, not sent from men, nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead. (Galatians 1:1)
And it came about that as he journeyed, he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; 4 and he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” 5 And he said, “Who art Thou, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, 6 but rise, and enter the city, and it shall be told you what you must do.” (Acts 9:3-6)
Paul saw his message as taught by the risen Christ and absolute.
For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. 12 For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. (Galatians 1:11-12)
Paul assumed the right as an apostle to command the churches.
Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep aloof from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us. (2 Thessalonians 3:6)
So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouthor by letter from us. (2 Thessalonians 2:15)
The Lord gave him his authority for building up the churches.
For even if I should boast somewhat further about our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I shall not be put to shame. (2 Corinthians 10:8)
For this reason I am writing these things while absent, in order that when present I may not use severity, in accordance with the authority which the Lord gave me, for building up and not for tearing down. (2 Corinthians 13:10)
Paul sees his preached word as God’s word.
And for this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received from us the word of God’s message, you accepted it not as the word of men, but forwhat it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe. (1 Thessalonians 2:13)
Paul sees himself as a true apostle over against the “false apostles” (2 Cor. 11:13).
For in no respect was I inferior to the most eminent apostles, even though I am a nobody. 12 The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles. (2 Corinthians 12:11-12)
Paul’s authority put him above all professed prophets of his day.
If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment. 38 But if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. (1 Corinthians 14:37-38)
Paul believed his words were “taught by the Spirit.”
Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God, 13 which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to spiritual people.14 But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. (1 Corinthians 2:12-14)
Peter teaches that Paul’s apostolic writings are Scripture like the Old Testament.
Regard the patience of our Lord to be salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, 16 as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. (2 Peter 3:15-16)
3. Christ believed in the inspiration of the Old Testament.
With my knowledge of Christ and his will and his vision of the world expanded by the witness of Paul I turn to the gospels to listen to their witness to Christ and to hear his own words in their witness, and I find there the same self-authenticating Christ who won my allegiance in the gospel and in Paul. And I find that this Christ vindicated his own life and ministry on the basis of the truth and authority of the Old Testament. So through him I yield to the inspiration of the Old Testament and approach it with my heart open to hear God through it.
Jesus believed the Psalmist spoke by the Holy Spirit.
And Jesus answering began to say, as He taught in the temple, “How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? 36 David himself said in the Holy Spirit, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies beneath your feet.”’” (Mark 12:35)
Jesus believed that what Moses wrote in the law God himself said.
And some Pharisees came to Him, testing Him, and saying, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause at all?” 4 And He answered and said, “Have you not read, that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 “Consequently they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” (Matthew 19:3-6)
And the man said, “This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.” 24 For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. (Genesis 2:23)
Jesus believed that all Scripture would be fulfilled.
“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. 18 “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished. (Matthew 5:17-18)
Jesus believed that the small affirmations of Scripture cannot be broken
The Jews answered Him, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.” 34 Jesus answered them, “Has it not been written in your Law, ‘I said, you are Gods’? 35 “If he called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), 36 do you say of Him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? (John 10:33-36)
Jesus taught that Moses’ writings are to be believed.
“For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote of Me. 47 “But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?” (John 5:46)
Jesus devoted his life to fulfilling the Scriptures about the Messiah.
Face set toward Jerusalem
And He took the twelve aside and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things which are written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished. (Luke 18:31)
Cleansing of the temple
His ministry is fulfillment of the Old Testament.
And He came to Nazareth. . . . 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim the release of the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden, 19 to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.” 20 And He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed upon Him. 21 And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-21)
The ministry of Jesus and John the Baptist are being played out according to Scripture.
And they asked Him, saying, “Why is it that the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” 12 And He said to them, “Elijah does first come and restore all things. And yet how is it written of the Son of Man that He should suffer many things and be treated with contempt? 13 “But I say to you, that Elijah has indeed come, and they did to him whatever they wished, just as it is written of him.” (Mark 9:11-13)
Jesus saw his betrayal as fulfillment of Scripture.
“For the Son of Man is togo, just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.” (Mark 14:21)
“I do not speak of all of you. I know the ones I have chosen; but it is that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘He who eats my bread has lifted up his heel against me.’” (John 3:18)
Jesus saw the disciples abandonment as fulfillment of Scripture.
And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, because it is written, ‘I will strike down the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered.’” (Mark 14:27)
Jesus saw his arrest as a criminal as fulfillment of Scripture.
“For I tell you, that this which is written must be fulfilled in Me, ‘And he who was numbered with the transgressors’; for that which refers to Me has its fulfillment.”(Luke 22:37)
“Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels? 54 How then shall the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen this way?” (Matthew 26:53)
Jesus taught that we should not be slow to believe all that the Old Testament prophets have spoken: Luke 24:25
And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!
The Holy Spirit attests to the Scriptures’ validity through the Scriptures themselves.
The last two reasons I trust the Bible is the word of God come from the Westminster Larger Catechism:
Question Four: How doth it appear that the Scriptures are the word of God?
Answer: The Scriptures manifest themselves to be the word of God, by their majesty(1) and purity(2); by the consent of all the parts(3), and the scope of the whole, which is to give all glory to God(4); by their light and power to convince and convert sinners, to comfort and build up believers unto salvation.(5) But the Spirit of God, bearing witness by and with the Scriptures in the heart of man, is alone able fully to persuade it that they are the very word of God.(6)
4. What is “the scope of the whole, which is to give all glory to God”?
So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. 17 If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. 18 The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood. (John 7:16-18)
I do not receive glory from men; 42 but I know you, that you do not have the love of God in yourselves. 43 “I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another shall come in his own name, you will receive him. 44 “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another, and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God? (John 5:41-44)
From Genesis to Revelation the thrust of the Bible is that God gets the glory, we don’t. “The scope of the whole” is about getting God glory.
And “the scope of the whole” includes natural revelation. My existence in the world confronts me as soon as I am conscious of it with:
- A Single Originator of all that is.
- One who is totally self-sufficient with no dependence on anything outside himself to be all that he is.
- One without beginning or ending or progress from worse to better, and therefore absolute and perfect.
- One on whom I am dependent moment by moment for all things, none of which I deserve, and who is therefore beneficent.
- One who is Personal and accounts for transcendent personhood in human beings.
- One who accounts for the intelligent design manifest in the macro (galaxies) and micro (molecules and cells) universe.
- One who knows all.
- One who deserves to be reverenced and admired and looked to for guidance and help.
- One who sees me as guilty for failure in not rendering him what he deserves, and who thus gives ultimate explanation to universal bad conscience.
- One who might save me, but would need to do it in a way that overcomes my evil impulse to resist him, and would have to make a way for his honor to be sustained while not punishing me for treason.
There is implicit in our personhood, our conscience, our dependence, and our guilt that God is a personal Being, with moral expectations, whom we have dishonored, and from whom we deserve wrath.
What’s the point of all this in relation to the Westminster Catechism’s question four about how the Scriptures “manifest themselves to be the word of God”?
When the answer says that the Scriptures manifest themselves to be the word of God “by the scope of the whole, which is to give all glory to God,” it is linking up with something in us that we know immediately from our own created existence in the world (unless we supress it as Romans 1:18) — that all glory belongs to God not us, and that we are guilty before him for not giving him this glory, and that the only hope of salvation will be by the initiative of this God to preserve his glory while finding away to forgive our sins.
This is in fact what we find in the whole Bible — the centrality of the glory of God and a history of salvation that makes his glory the center and goal of all things.
Therefore, this is one way that the Scriptures manifest themselves to be the word of God — they present a vision of God and man and salvation that fits with what we know immediately from God’s self-revelation in nature and in our own personhood and conscience.
5. How is the Holy Spirit “able fully to persuade [the heart of man] that [the Scriptures] are the very word of God?
John Calvin on the internal testimony of the Spirit and the problem with relying on the church to decide what is the Word of God:
“A most pernicious error widely prevails that Scripture has only so much weight as is conceded to it by the consent of the church. As if the eternal and inviolable truth of God depended upon the decision of men! . . . Yet, if this is so, what will happen to miserable consciences seeking firm assurance of eternal life if all promises of it consist in and depend solely upon the judgment of men?” (Institutes, I, vii, 1)
The immediate sight of God’s reality in the Word:
“How can we be assured that this has sprung from God unless we have recourse to the decree of the church? — it is as if someone asked: Whence will we learn to distinguish light from darkness, white from black, sweet from bitter? Indeed,Scripture exhibits fully as clear evidence of its own truth as white and black things do of their color, or sweet and bitter things do of their taste.” (Institutes, I, vii, 2)
How then shall we know? The inward testimony of the Spirit.
“The testimony of the Spirit is more excellent than all reason. For as God alone is a fit witness of himself in his word, the Word will not find acceptance in men’s hearts before it is sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit. The same Spirit therefore who has spoken through the mouths of the prophets must penetrate into our hearts to persuade us that they faithfully proclaimed what had been divinely commanded . . . because until he illumines their minds, they ever waver among many doubts!” (Institutes, I, vii, 4)
Life is the witness to the truth and power of the word.
7 And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is the truth. . . . 9 If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for the witness of God is this, that He has borne witness concerning His Son. 10 The one who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the witness that God has borne concerning His Son. 11 And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. (1 John 5:7-11.)
J. I. Packer’s interpretation of Calvin’s thoughts on the inward witness of the Spirit
“Calvin affirms Scripture to be self-authenticating through the inner witness of the Holy Spirit. What is this ‘inner witness’? Not a special quality of experience, nor a new, private revelation, nor an existential ‘decision’, but a work of enlightenment whereby, through the medium of verbal testimony, the blind eyes of the spirit are opened, and divine realities come to be recognized and embraced for what they are. This recognition Calvin says, is as immediate and unanalysable as the perceiving of a color, or a taste, by physical sense—an event about which no more can be said than that when appropriate stimuli were present it happened, and when it happened we knew it had happened.” (Packer, 166)
Or to use the words of Jesus, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27)