Previous article in this series: January 1, 2020, p. 157.
The Reformation and Scripture’s authority
The Roman Catholic Church answered (and still answers) the question in our title (How do we know the Bible is the Word of God?) this way: “Because the Roman Catholic Church says so.” According to Rome’s false teaching, the Bible is church-authenticated. The church has all power and authority, even to determine what is and is not the Word of God. So that even if the church declared Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham to be the Bible, we would have to believe it.1 The Reformers rightly cried foul, recognizing the authority of the Bible is above that of the church. The Word of God is the supreme authority as the voice of Christ in the church. The Bible authenticates the church, the church does not authenticate the Bible.2
This begged the question though: If we do not know the Bible is God’s Word on the basis of the authority of the church, how do we know it is God’s Word? The Reformers answered by going back to the church fathers (as they did regularly), building again on their teaching of the self-authenticating nature of the Bible (it shows itself to be authentic). The early church fathers had to answer the question, How do we know the Bible is the
Word of God? as they pressed the claims of Christ upon the people of the pagan empire in which they lived. They, and the Reformers after them, said that if the Bible is the Word of God, it will be able to show that it is without our help. And they saw that indeed the Scriptures do so.
Why did the church fathers and the Reformers trust that the Bible would show itself to be the Word of God, by itself? The Scriptures are revelation. And they understood that any and all revelation of God is going to carry the marks of God upon it, simply by virtue of the fact that it has its origin from Him. My daughters made homemade cards for my wife and me for Christmas. None of the three cards were signed by name. However, each card had the distinctive “marks” of its author all over it. From the attributes of the cards themselves we could tell who made each one. So too, the revelation of God, all the revelation of God, bears the “marks” of God. This is true of God’s general revelation.3 You look at a beautiful sunset or a microscopic cell, and you see that this revelation of God carries the fingerprints of God upon it. This is also true of God’s special revelation. The Bible, as the revelation of God, carries the attributes of the God who is revealing Himself therein.
Diversity in Unity
One of the fingerprints of God found all over both His general and special revelation is an otherwise inexplicable amount of diversity in unity. In God’s general revelation, one can see this on a large scale in an ecosystem on the earth, or on a small scale in the way 37 trillion cells work together in one human body. God Himself is a diversity in unity. He is three persons in one being. He is also omnipotent and can produce such otherwise impossible unity amidst such diversity in His creative work. In fact, when you read in Scripture that He is omnipotent and a unity in diversity, you might even expect that when He reveals Himself in creation, the very way He reveals Himself would reflect this. It might be (and is!) what you expect to find in the very way He reveals Himself in Scripture too.
In the previous two articles in this series, we focused on Calvin’s writings on the divine origin of Scripture. Returning to his work again, we find that he points us to this otherwise inexplicable diversity amidst such diversity as one of the evidences of the divine origin of the Bible.4 The title of this article is taken from a statement of Calvin in the Institutes, “What wonderful confirmation ensues when, with keener study, we ponder the economy of the divine wisdom, so well ordered and disposed; the completely heavenly character of its doctrine, savoring of nothing earthly; the beautiful agreement of all the parts with one another.”5
Think of all the parts! There are sixty-six books in the Bible written from three separate continents, in cities, countryside, prison, palaces; written in three different languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek; written in multiple genres of literature: history, law, poetry, proverb, prophecy, letter, vision; written by forty different authors, many from very different walks of life: fishermen, kings, peasants, poets, statesmen, herdsman, a military general, a cupbearer, a doctor, a tax collector; and all written over a period of 1,500 years.
And yet, amidst all of these parts there is an astounding unity that is inexplicable apart from divine omnipotence. Across all this diversity of parts there is a unity in the one grand story of redemption. Apart from God superintending the process, how could 40 different authors living over a period of 1,500 years, write one story of such a complex nature that it spans from the origin of the world to the end of the world, speaks of one God, with one way of salvation, centered on one Man who is God in the flesh, with everything before Him and after Him pointing to Him in the forms of types, symbols, prophesies, and fulfillments. Furthermore, the Bible has one clear purpose that presses itself through the entire canon: that God might bring one people together to Himself as a bride for His Son, all to the praise of the glory of His covenanting grace. And God accomplished all this through some authors who never even read everything that the other authors contributed to the canon at the time of their own writing!
There is a unity of doctrine amid all this diversity of parts. Who God is, the many facets of sin and its consequences, who Christ is, what salvation is—these doctrines are communicated clearly and consistently from beginning to end in the Bible. Likewise, the covenant of God is presented as one covenant throughout the whole of the Scriptures, with more aspects of that covenant being unfolded as the book progresses. Put forty believers even living at the same time in a room together and see if they agree entirely on things doctrinal. However, Paul and Peter, James and John, agree in doctrine not only with each other as contemporaries but also with Isaiah and Jeremiah who wrote hundreds of years prior to them.
There is a unity of structure in all these diverse parts of the Bible. The Old Testament and New Testament go together. If you read the Old Testament you see that the story is not finished yet. And when you read the New Testament, you see that this is the only way what was said in the Old Testament could come to completion. There is a unity of structure with respect to the beginning and end of the Bible. The book of Genesis speaks of creation; the book of Revelation, new creation. The book of Genesis speaks of a garden with the tree of life; the book of Revelation brings us to a greater garden, where the tree of life returns double. Everything foretold, promised, and foreshadowed at the beginning comes to completion at the end.
What do you do with this? How does one explain that this happened over a period of 1,500 years? There is no other book like this. The other supposed “holy” books like the Quran or the Book of Mormon have no attributes like this. The only logical conclusion is that there has been an omnipotent mind, who Himself knows intimately unity in diversity, superintending the process of the delivery of this book to us.
In creation science it is common to argue against evolution by pointing out the irreducible complexity of an aspect of the creation. The argument is in a form that simply states: the world we see is too complex and yet too unified for it to have evolved. An intelligent, omnipotent mind must have designed it and brought it to pass.
This argument applies not only with regard to general revelation, but also with regard to special revelation. The Scriptures are just too complex and yet too unified to have occurred either randomly, or even to have occurred by the oversight of the finite mind or minds of men. The most logical explanation is that the Bible was designed and brought to pass by God Himself, an omnipotent God, who is Himself a unity in diversity.
1 Thus the Apocrypha, in spite of its major problems, has authority to Roman Catholics because the church has declared it to be the Word of God.
2 Belgic Confession, Article 5. The Confession does state that the fact that the church recognizes the sixty-six books of the Bible as the Word of God is weighty to us. Nonetheless, it is not the deciding factor.
4 Calvin and the other Reformers often called these attributes of Scripture indicia, a Latin word meaning “indicators,” evidences or marks of God’s divinity coming through in the very way He revealed Himself.
5 Institutes 1.8.1. The Westminster Confession picks this up from Calvin in the first chapter, section 5, “…the consent of all its parts….”