In the previous article, we briefly introduced our subject and presented the reader a two-fold thesis. Further we discussed the idea of priestcraft, which feeds upon the teaching that the Bible is an obscure book. Very briefly we outlined Martin Luther’s escape from Roman Catholic priestcraft and took cognizance of Luther’s doctrine of Scripture in as far as it touches upon the matter under discussion. We saw that Luther boldly denied the Romish doctrine that the Bible is obscure in its meaning and we noted that Luther rejected priestcraft.
But now the apostasy of Rome is raising its ugly head in Protestant churches! Make no mistake about it. What troubles the church today is nothing more than the old heresies of Rome. Of course, this is denied, and the attempt is made to hide this fact. Even in “Reformed” churches many theologians are again teaching a fallible, man-made Bible, dark and obscure in its meaning. Again, this is not done openly and directly, but it is done anyway.
There is a view of Scripture among ministers and professors in the Reformed community which effectively precludes maintaining the readability and intelligibility of the Bible as the perspicuous, inspired Word of God. This view of Scripture has been around for some time, but only recently has it openly showed itself in the debates in the Reformed community about homosexualism and women officebearers. What we must clearly understand is that this view of Scripture effectively imposes priestcraft upon the layman. The Bible is no longer intelligible to the ordinary believer. This view of Scripture fetters the layman to what the minister or seminary professor might believe Scripture teaches.
What is this view of Scripture? Above all, its proponents assure us that they, too, believe in the infallibility and, of course, in the inspiration of Scripture. But they tell us that the truth of inspiration and infallibility is to be extended only as far as the “message” of Scripture is concerned. About spiritual things the Bible speaks infallibly, i.e., about sin, the wrath of God, salvation, and redemption through Christ’s cross. The message is the important thing and it has been infallibly recorded. But that is all that may be considered to be infallible. About much of which the Scriptures speak we ought not claim infallibility, for this would be foolish in the light of the facts of science and the evidence that historical research has provided us. We must not be obstinate! Rather we must remember that the infallible message of God’s love for poor sinners comes to us in the vehicle of human words and through fallible human thought structures. These fallible human thought structures can be easily discerned and explained. We are simply to lift the infallible message of God’s love out of the vehicle.
What accounts for this faulty vehicle of fallible humanthought structures? To account for this faulty vehicle we must remember that the “authors” of Scripture weretime-bound and time-conditioned men. Very obvious truth, we are told, for we must not forget the primitive cultural setting in which the authors of Scripture wrote. Some of the authors were tribal leaders of a nomadic people, others were ignorant fishermen, and many were uneducated prophets or enthusiasts. All were limited to the peculiar thought structures characteristic of their own cultural period.
By “time-bound” authors is meant that the authors of Scripture were limited in their knowledge about science, history, geography, political matters, etc. Besides, they entertained many wrong notions of various things, which notions were common to their own time period. This “time-boundness” of the authors of Scripture occasions many errors about scientific, historical, geographical and political matters. This is to be expected, considering the writer’s limited intellectual horizons. As examples of these kinds of innocent errors we might mention the “speaking snake” of the narrative of the fall, the universal flood and the ark of Noah laden with a “zillion” animals and insects, Jonah and the whale, and the triple-decked universe concept of ancient times—all these historical narratives reflect the superstitions of that culturally primitive people and the obvious “time-boundness” of the authors of Scripture. Those that hold to this view of the authors of Scripture might ask .of us; “Do I have to believe the story of the ‘speaking snake’ in order to know that sin entered the world?” “Do I have to believe the universal flood story of Noah in order to know that God is displeased with sin?” “The message of God concerning sin is clear to me,” one might say, “but I cannot accept the story about the flood and the big boat.” This kind of reasoning, of course, can be applied to the narrative of the New Testament as well: “Do we have to believe in the publican’s narrative about the virgin birth to know that God loves me and sent His Son to die for me? Really now!”
The second element of this view is that the writers of the books of the Bible were “time-conditioned.” By “time-conditioned” is meant that the authors of Scripture were socially conditioned about religious or ethical matters. In each time-period men hold various opinions concerning ethics and they have a particular attitude about what is and what is not religiously acceptable. Consequently, the authors of Scripture reveal by their work this limitation or imperfection peculiar to their time. Each cultural period and each nation of that particular time period nurtures its own particular foibles about religious and ethical matters. Twentieth century man, man come of age, cannot accept at face value what might have been good for ancient peoples of a primitive culture. For instance, consider what was written by Moses many centuries ago. Moses tells us that homosexuals and adulterers were to be stoned. Now, pray tell, what does that mean to us? Would you want to begin stoning homosexuals and adulterers? Again, Paul’s writings reflect the disparaging view his society took towards women as a class; thus we need not accept what he writes in these instances as normative for us. However, we are told, we must always distinguish between the redemptive message of God and the vehicle of this message. The vehicle is the fallible construction of time-bound and time-conditioned men. We are to retain the message of God’s love in Christ and ignore or reject the vehicle of fallible human thought structures in which the message comes to us. Simple enough!
What this erroneous view of Scripture does, is that it divorces the historical facts of the Biblical narrative from the message of the gospel. A disjunction is set up between the human words and human thought structures, on the one hand, and the message of God’s love, on the other. It is wrong to make this separation. It is in fact impossible. The message of God’s love is the factual, historical narrative and the factual, historical narrative is the message of salvation. To set up a disjunction or separation between the narrative of Scripture and the gospel of Christ is to manufacture a false disjunction. Message and biblical narrative are one and the same. If what in Scripture is presented as historical fact is not true, (are not God’s very words) then there is no message of redemption. A nonhistorical narrative, i.e., false statements purported to be true, cannot be the Word of God’s love.
But we must return to our main point. With this kind of view of Scripture that considers the authors as time-bound and time-conditioned men, who will be able to interpret the Bible? Who? If there is a message somewhere in the vehicle of man’s fallible thought structures, who will be able to discover it? Not the layman! The ordinary layman will be fettered to the new priestcraft. For who among the laity can discern in any given passage when Moses or Joshua was actually writing God’s Word? If Moses was wrong about the snake, maybe he was wrong about Abel, Abraham, Isaac, the Exodus, and the giving of the law. If the flood narrative is not true maybe the virgin birth narrative is not true. If the whale did not swallow Jonah, maybe Christ was not laid in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. Maybe all those miracles recorded in the N.T. are nothing more than idle tales, which were told to tell howfantastic Jesus seemed to be. If Paul speaks at one time on behalf of rabbi Gamaliel and at another time for Christ and God, who, besides the priest of priestcraft, will be able to discern this certain fact? With this kind of approach to Scripture, the Bible becomes a dark, obscure book. Who will interpret it? How can one be sure that he understands it correctly? The layman will be told to turn to the modern day priests of priestcraft, the seminary professors, the pastor, the college professor. The layman will be ignored and “shut up” as one who is considered ignorant and unable properly to interpret Scripture.
The ordinary layman, under the influence of this view of Scripture as written by time-bound and time-conditioned men, becomes at first hesitant, then doubtful, and finally despairing. He cannot understand Scripture! He sooner or later takes the attitude, “What’s the use?” Having been conditioned to view the Bible as a book obscure in its meaning, the layman is again fettered to priestcraft. He finally says, “Let the experts tell us what Scripture means to say.” Or he might despairingly ask: “If the seminary professors do not know what to believe about the Bible, how do you expect me to know?”
One who expresses himself in such a manner is fettered to priestcraft. He is principally just as much fettered by priestcraft as was Luther before he broke with Rome. The layman in many sectors of the Reformed community has been intimidated, overcome, and spiritually robbed of his blessed heritage. He no longer believes that it is his right and his responsibility to interpret the perspicuous, authoritative word of God. He no longer considers himself able to interpret Scripture. The layman has been robbed! He is at the mercy of proud, self-seeking intellectuals in the church. Again today the ominous visage of Romish priestcraft casts a long shadow of death upon the Reformed community. We do well to take heed and attempt to escape and protect ourselves and our children from this encroaching evil.
The only answer to the question, “Is the Bible the Word of God or the Word of men?” is to reply that the Bible is in its entirety the Word of God. The Bible is the very speech of God. This answer alone will free us from priestcraft. This answer alone can be the basis for our faith in a perspicuous, intelligible Bible, which is the infallible record of God’s self-revelation.
Remember, the Bible must be allowed to tell us what kind of book it is. The Bible says that it is a God-breathed book. (II Timothy 3:16) The circumstances under which Paul wrote these words to Timothy only serve to underscore Paul’s conviction that the Old Testament Scriptures were literally out of the mouth of God. What were those circumstances? Paul was in prison in Rome about to die for his faith at the hand of Nero. He had one last message for “his son,” Timothy—Preach the Word! The Word had to be preached. For it alone, in distinction from all the opinions, ideas, and books of men, is the breathed-out or inspired Word of Almighty God. The urgency of Paul’s command is
We could note also II Peter 1:19-21, a passage which Luther cites to prove the perspicuity of Scripture in his debate with Dr. John Eck. But Christ Himself acknowledged the authority of Scripture and evenidentified what Moses wrote with the very speech of God: Consider Matthew 22:23-33, where we read of the attempt of the Sadducees to catch Jesus in His words by raising a problem which defies rationalistic proof. The Sadducees denied the reality of angels and spirits and the truth of the resurrection. How does one prove the reality of the resurrection? Jesus told the Sadducees that “ye do err not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God.” Moreover, Jesus identified the words of Moses with the very speech of God when Jesus said; “But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” (Matthew 22:31-32)
What was written in the Scriptures was for Christ the authoritative Word of God. How often had Jesus not said, “it is written,” with which words He routed the Devil. (Matthew 4:1-11) Many other passages of Scripture reveal that Christ, the apostles, and the prophets received the Scriptures both of the Old and New Testaments as the very speech of God. (Cf. I Timothy 4:1,II Peter 3:16, Jeremiah 1:5, Galatians 1:15-16, Acts 7:1ff) The apostolic Church conceived of no disjunctions between human thought structures and the speech of God. Scripture is God’s Word in its entirety and is His Word no matter on what or when Scripture speaks.
Faith confesses that the only author of Scripture is the Holy Spirit of God. (I Peter 1:10-11, II Peter 1:19-21) This truth faith knows to be the testimony of Scripture itself and that is the testimony of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. (Art. 3-5, Belgic Confession) Faith humbly allows, no,wills, that Scripture speak about creation, fall, flood, deliverance out of Egypt, the virgin birth, and the place of women in the institute church—and the place of homosexuals outside of the Church. Faith bows for Scripture. Faith obediently hears and appropriates the testimony of Scripture concerning its own authority, infallibility, and divine inspiration. Unbelief proudly will not allow Scripture to speak of its own nature and authority.
Unbelief will not hear and appropriate God’s Word. The human mind has been enthroned by unbelief (rationalism) and, consequently, the human mind is placed in judgment over what is true and not true. The priests of priestcraft, addicted to rationalism, assume the right to elucidate the obscure Bible by means of scientific inquiry and historical research for the advantage of the poor layman.
Remember, to reject one part of Scripture in disbelief is to stand principally over against the whole of Scripture in unbelief.
There is an inseparable relationship between faith in Scripture as God’s authoritative Word of self-revelation and divine inspiration. To say that the Bible is God’s Word is to presuppose that human writers were infallibly inspired by God to record His revelation. Thus we must maintain the historic position of the Church of Christ concerning graphic, plenary, verbal and organic inspiration. Many will mock us for our faith; many will taunt us with charges of worshipping a book, Bibliolatry; but they do so to their own spiritual destruction.
We must continue in the faith for our own spiritual wellbeing and that of our children. Without an infallibly inspired Bible, i.e., without God’s Word written, we cannot have fellowship with God and communion with Christ. Loss of confidence or trust in a text or portion of Scripture, is to lose confidence eventually in all of Scripture. Loss of conviction about the infallibility and perspicuity of Scripture is to lose the gospel of Christ to rationalism and priestcraft.