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Rev. Daniel Kleyn, pastor of Doon PRC in Doon, Iowa

 

Bible study is an essential part of the Christian life. Isagogics is a subject that can greatly help us in our study of God’s written Word. We hope to write a series of articles on this subject, beginning now with an explanation of what Isagogics is.

The word “isagogics” is derived from the Greek language and its literal meaning is “to lead into.” The purpose of Isagogics therefore is to lead us into God’s Word. Isagogics aims at doing this by giving a compre­hensive introduction to each book of the Bible. This is reflected in the titles given to textbooks on Isagogics, most of which use the word “Introduction.”1

Isagogics is a relatively new field of study, for it arose and developed especially in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. What contributed to this development was the growth and popularity of higher criticism. The higher critics attacked Scripture. They did so by focusing especially on the so-called human factor or human ele­ment in the writing of Scripture. This led to their question­ing the authenticity of various books (or parts of books) of the Bible, which in turn resulted in a rejection of large portions of Scripture with the claim that these were simply the words of men. Thereby the authority of all of God’s Word (every book and every verse) was seriously threat­ened. Over against this, it became necessary once again to state and firmly to maintain that all of Scripture is the Word of God. This was accomplished in part by Isagogics.

All of this indicates that in order to do Isagogics and to do it correctly we must first hold to and maintain a correct doctrine of Scripture. We need emphatically to believe that the Bible is the infallibly inspired and inerrant Word of God. It does not simply contain the Word of God (and then also the words of men, as many claim), but it is the very Word of God. Every word in Scripture is God’s Word. This is so because the Author of every word was God the Holy Spirit.

This truth concerning Scripture determines our en­tire outlook and approach with the Bible. That approach stands in sharp contrast to the approach of the higher critics who make the assumption that the Bible is not the Word of God. Usually they contend that no part of Scripture can be considered the Word of God until one proves that it is. This must be done, they say, by deter­mining whether God has actually spoken that word, or whether the human writer has simply expressed his own personal opinion or viewpoint in the text.

Without the truth of infallible inspiration as our starting point, Isagogics would be a waste of time. Our doctrine of Scripture is crucial for Isagogics, for it en­sures that we handle the Word of God very carefully. It means that we will strive to be as accurate as possible in introducing each book of the Bible. We will studiously avoid all speculation in the task of determining the de­tails about each book and present only what God Him­self has revealed to us about each book in the Scripture itself.

But what about Isagogics? What ought we to discuss and include in an introduction to a book of the Bible?

Louis Berkhof points out what most theologians con­sider to be the content of Isagogics. He states that “the study must investigate the questions of the authorship, the composition, the history, the purpose and the can­onicity of the different books of the Bible.”2

The problem is that most textbooks on Isagogics give attention to all the items in Berkhof’s list except the last one, namely canonicity. It seems they fall into the same trap as the higher critics, for they focus on such things as the author, his literary style, the genre of the book, the time of composition, the place of composition, the occa­sion for writing, to whom the book was addressed, why it was written, and so on.3 And they regularly look out­side of Scripture (for example, to historical documents or new archaeological discoveries) for answers to their questions concerning these matters. In the end, many of their conclusions are based on speculation, with the end result that much disagreement exists among them about these matters.

We must have no time, however, for the notion that there is a human factor or human element in Scripture. It is and must ever remain our firm conviction that the whole of Scripture is divine.

It is true that God used human instruments for the writing of Scripture. God eternally ordained who those writers would be. God, by His providence, prepared them for this important task, by giving them and then also using their earthly personalities, abilities, circum­stances, and more in their work of writing. And that is something we notice in Scripture, for we observe obvi­ous differences between books as regards writing style, method of conveying the truth, language used, and so on. This reflects the personalities and life’s circumstanc­es of these men.

But this does not mean there is a human factor in Scripture. The use of a human instrument does not equate to the presence of a human element in God’s Word. What emphatically proves this is that each man whom God used was inspired, in everything he wrote, by the Holy Spirit. To “inspire” means to “breath out.” The Spirit breathed out God’s Word through the men God used. The Spirit gave each man every word he must write, and saw to it that the man wrote it. The Bible’s sole Author is the Holy Spirit (II Pet. 1:21).4 All of Scrip­ture is divine. Every word in Scripture is the Word of God.

We noted above that Berkhof mentioned the need to study the canonicity of the books of the Bible. To his credit, and in contrast to most others, Berkhof actually did this, for he also treated in his book on Introduction the “canonical significance” of each book. This is to be commended, for we believe the canonical significance of a book in Scripture is the most important subject in all of Isagogics. This is what is most useful for a proper understanding of each book of the Bible.

This does not mean that all the other topics that are discussed in Isagogics are unimportant. Knowing the author, date, occasion, and purpose of a book can be helpful. But these items do not constitute the chief task in Isagogics. They are of secondary significance. They are important only insofar as they shed light on the ca­nonical significance of a particular book.

What determines whether or not this other informa­tion is important and beneficial is whether or not God makes these things known to us in the Scripture itself. If God does not tell us these things, we must not delve into the realm of speculation. Instead of allowing our­selves to be influenced by recent historical or archeo­logical research, we must be satisfied with what God has revealed. The rest is unnecessary and unimportant. We simply do not need it in order to come to a saving knowledge of Christ as He is revealed in the gospel.

But what exactly is a book’s canonical significance?

Canonical significance has to do with the unique place each book has in the canon of Scripture. The vital question about each book is this: What does this partic­ular book of the Bible tell us that no other book tells us? What therefore is the unique place it occupies within the whole of Scripture?

This brings up the fact that the Scripture is an organ­ic whole. The Bible as a whole is the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, and it is that as an organism.

God eternally conceived of the Bible as an organism. It is comparable to a living plant. A living plant has many parts, but it is nevertheless one plant with a living connection between all the parts. The same is true of Scripture. There are many parts to it: different testa­ments, different books, different types of literature, dif­ferent human instruments God used, for example. But there is, as with a plant, a unifying principle. That prin­ciple of unity is the Lord Jesus Christ. All of Scripture is the one revelation of God as the God of our salvation through Jesus Christ His Son.

That the Bible is an organism also means that the Holy Spirit organically inspired the Word of God. Or­ganic inspiration includes what we mentioned earlier, namely, that God used living men, along with their different abilities, circumstances, experiences, writing styles, and more, to produce His Word. The Bible was not written mechanically. The men God used were not like robots, typewriters, or secretaries, but they wrote from the viewpoint of the unique, God-given circum­stances and perspectives they had. The result of the Spirit’s work through these men is that each book is a part of that organism and also has its own unique place in the organism. Each book has something unique to reveal to us about God and His Christ.

This has two very significant implications. The first is that no book is able to stand by itself. Because it be­longs to the organism of Scripture, it needs the rest of Scripture for its proper understanding and interpreta­tion. Scripture must interpret Scripture.

Secondly, the fact that each book belongs to the or­ganism of Scripture means that the Scripture would be incomplete without any one of the sixty-six books. Each book has something unique to contribute to the revela­tion of God in Jesus Christ. Every book is needed for the revelation to be complete.

We might say that the revelation of God in Christ, which is Scripture, the Bible, is, as it were, the face of Jesus Christ, the entire revelation of His Person as the manifestation of the God of our salvation, and that every part of Scripture has its own significance in the revelation of that Person of Jesus Christ.5

This ought to make clear how necessary and ben­eficial it is to know the canonical significance of each book. This will guide us in searching out the truth concerning Christ in every chapter and verse of God’s Word. The Lord willing, we will direct our attention to this in our future articles.


1 New Testament Introduction by Louis Berkhof, Introduction to the New Testament by Henry C. Thiessen, Introduction to the New Testament by Everett F. Harrison.
2 Louis Berkhof, New Testament Introduction (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1915), 11.
3 For example, Everett F. Harrison in his Introduction To The New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1964) treats the following subjects for most books: authorship, purpose, char¬acteristics, readers, sources, date and place of writing, accuracy, historical value, recent study, and more.
4 For further proof of the Holy Spirit’s authorship, see Acts 1:16 and Revelation 1:9-11.
5 Herman Hoeksema, New Testament Introduction (syllabus pub¬lished by the Protestant Reformed Theological Seminary), 1.