Previous article in this series: July 2014, p. 422.
The Bible is the word of God. This is what the Bible says about the Bible. In our previous installment in this rubric we began our consideration of the testimony of Psalm 119 to the truth that the Bible is the word of God. This is a very unique psalm. In the book that has the most chapters (150 psalms), this is the longest chapter (psalm). It is a chapter that magnifies the Bible as God’s word. In nearly every verse, reference is made to God’s word: His law, testimonies, precepts, statutes, commandments, and judgments. As an acrostic psalm, Psalm 119 sets forth every important truth regarding the word of God.1 No important truth regarding the nature of God’s word, the authority of God’s word, the purpose and power of God’s word, as well as the effect of God’s word is missing from Psalm 119. The Bible is everything that Psalm 119 declares it to be. Most importantly it is the word of God.
Up to this point we have assumed something that we do well now to make explicit. What we ought to make explicit is that Psalm 119 magnifies the written word of God—sacred Scripture. To be sure, God’s word as it is proclaimed by faithful servants of God who have been sent out by Him is also the word of God. This is how God’s people must regard the official proclamation of God’s word. But God’s word proclaimed is the word of God because what is proclaimed is God’s word written—the exposition and application of the written word of God. For this reason, Jesus told His disciples: “He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me” (). True as this is, the subject of Psalm 119 is God’s word as it has been written under the infallible inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
That it is the written word of God that is on the foreground in Psalm 119 is plain. The many references to God’s law, commandments, and statutes indicate that the psalmist has in mind the written word of God. He has in mind the revelation of God containing His will for the life of His covenant people in the world. The oft-repeated resolution of the psalmist that he will meditate in God’s precepts indicates that he was able to read and study God’s law. Certainly, one can meditate on the spoken word. But what facilitates meditation is that it is meditation of the written word of God that one can read over and over again. The importance of meditation on God’s law seems to indicate that the psalmist has access to the written word of God, the word of God that he is able to reference, examine, inspect, and contemplate.
Verse 89 of Psalm 119 seems also to indicate that it is the written word of God that is magnified in the psalm: “Forever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven.” God’s word stands firm forever, established not only on the earth, but in the heavens, the very dwelling place of God. This implies that what the psalmist possesses is an exact copy of words that have been permanently decided upon by God and subsequently committed to men. That which God has permanently decided upon and is forever settled in heaven is the written word of God.
And the effect of God’s word upon the psalmist, the enduring effect, would also seem to point to the fact that it is the written word of God in which the psalmist delights. That he can say “sweet are thy words unto my taste! Yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth” (v. 103), or confess “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (v. 105), or pray “Order my steps in thy word” (v. 133) would seem to indicate that he has access to and is able to read God’s word.
The Perfection of Scripture
Because Scripture is the word of God, Scripture partakes of the perfection of God. As God is perfect, so is His word also perfect. Because God is perfect, His word sets forth “the way of truth” (v. 30) and is “the word of truth” (v. 43). Because His word shares in His perfection, the psalmist esteems “God’s precepts concerning all things to be right” (v. 128). Because Scripture shares in the perfection of its author, God’s “testimonies…are righteous and very faithful” (v. 138) and His “word is very pure” (v. 140). In acknowledgment of Scripture’s perfection, the psalmist exclaims: “Thou art near, O Lord; and all thy commandments are truth” (v. 151). And again: “Thy word is true from the beginning: and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth forever” (v. 160). In verse 163 he says, “I hate and abhor lying: but thy law do I love.” That he abhors lying and loves God’s law implies that he loves God’s word because it does not contain lies, but is the truth—is entirely the truth. Further, he is resolved that his “tongue shall speak of thy word: for all thy commandments are righteousness” (v. 172).
Everything that the psalmist teaches about God’s word in Psalm 119 depends upon and follows from Scripture’s perfection. Because of Scripture’s perfection, because Scripture is the very word of God, the psalmist is determined to submit to Scripture. He regards Scripture as the authority in his life, even if obedience to the word of God brings suffering and persecution into his life, as indeed it had. Still, because of Scripture’s perfection, he is determined “to keep God’s precepts diligently” (v. 4) and to “have respect unto all thy commandments” (v. 6). He will “cleanse his way” and “take heed thereunto according to thy word” (v. 9). Because of Scripture’s perfection, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee” (v. 11). Because of Scripture’s perfection his prayer is: “Make me to go in the path of thy commandments; for therein do I delight. Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not to covetousness” (vv. 35 and 36). In light of Scripture’s perfection, he is determined to be “a companion of all them that fear thee, and of them that keep thy precepts” (vv. 63 and 65). He will “meditate in God’s precepts” even though his enemies have “dealt perversely with me without a cause” (v. 78). Because of Scripture’s perfection, he is able to say, “How sweet are thy words unto my taste! Yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (v. 103). Because of Scripture’s perfection, Scripture can serve as “a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (v. 105). On the basis of Scripture’s perfection, the psalmist prays: “Order my steps in thy word: and let not any iniquity have dominion over me” (v. 133). Because of Scripture’s perfection, “Rivers of waters run down mine eyes, because they keep not thy law” (v. 136). On the contrary, “Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them” (v. 165). And as far as the psalmist himself is concerned, because of Scripture’s perfection, “My soul hath kept thy testimonies; and I love them exceedingly” (v. 167).
The Perfections of Scripture
It is plain that on the basis of Scripture’s perfection, there follow what theologians in the past have referred to as the perfections of Scripture. Because Scripture is perfect, Scripture is authoritative, necessary, perspicuous, sufficient, and reliable. These are the perfections of Scripture. We will have more to say about these perfections in the future. But already now it is worth noticing that all of these perfections are taught in Psalm 119.
It is plain that Scripture is the authority, the only authority in the life of the psalmist. He regards Scripture as God’s law, God’s statutes, and God’s commandments. These are terms that presuppose authority. He is resolved “to keep God’s precepts diligently” (v. 4). He is resolved to “cleanse his way” and “take heed to his way according to God’s word” (v. 9). His prayer to God is, “Order my steps in thy word” (v. 133). More than once he mentions that he is horrified and grief-stricken at the wicked who do not obey God’s word: verses 53, 136, 139, and 158. Even though his enemies and persecutors are many, yet he resolves that he will not “decline from thy testimonies” (v. 157). His honoring of Scripture is not only outward and formal, but his “soul hath kept God’s testimonies” and he “loves them exceedingly” (v. 167).
Psalm 119 also teaches Scripture’s necessity. Scripture is necessary for the faith and life of the psalmist. Apart from Scripture there is no pleasing of God: “I will praise thee with uprightness of heart, when I shall have learned thy righteous judgments” (v. 7). Scripture is necessary for holiness: “And I will walk at liberty: for I seek thy precepts” (v. 45). He confesses: “Before I was afflicted I went astray [in unholiness]: but now have I kept thy word” (v. 67). Scripture is necessary for the believer’s comfort: “This is my comfort in my affliction: for thy word hath quickened me” (v. 50). “I remembered thy judgments of old, O Lord; and have comforted myself ” (v. 52). And verse 76: “Let, I pray thee, thy merciful kindness be for my comfort, according to thy word unto thy servant.” As Scripture is necessary for the believer’s comfort in the present, so is it also necessary for the believer’s hope that stretches into the future: “And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth; for I have hoped in thy judgments” (v. 43). “My soul fainteth for thy salvation: but I hope in thy word” (v. 81). What all this comes down to is that the necessity of Scripture is the believer’s salvation. By means of His word, God brings to salvation, preserves in salvation, and finally realizes the full salvation of His people.
Scripture is perspicuous or clear. In its main message Scripture is able to be understood by those who read it. The outstanding proof for Scripture’s clarity is that Scripture is addressed to the believer, the ordinary believer. Even a young person, as the writer of Psalm 119 was, can understand Scripture. Scripture could hardly function as the authority in the believer’s life, and could hardly be the means of the believer’s salvation, if Scripture could not be understood. If Scripture is to function as the believer’s guide, it must be understood by the believer. Clearly the human writer of Psalm 119 understood the Scriptures. That he delights in God’s word, loves God’s word, hopes in and is comforted by God’s word, that he is willing even to be persecuted for the sake of God’s word implies that he knows God’s word. This is also his confession: “I understand more than the ancients, because I keep thy precepts” (v. 100). And he adds in the same stanza: “How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way” (vv. 103, 104). The psalmist celebrates the clarity of God’s word in verse 130: “The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple.”
Scripture is sufficient. This perfection of Scripture is also very clearly evident from Psalm 119. Since Scripture answers to his every need and since Scripture serves to bring him to faith and preserve him in the faith, Scripture is sufficient. Nothing need be and nothing may be added to the Holy Scriptures. “Order my steps in thy word [alone]: and let not any iniquity have dominion over me” (v. 133). God’s word is all that is necessary for salvation and for eternal life: “I have longed for thy salvation, O Lord; and thy law is my delight. Let my soul live, and it shall praise thee; and let thy judgments help me” (vv. 174, 175).
And, finally, Scripture is reliable or trustworthy. Since Scripture is the word of God, and God is reliable, Scripture is reliable. We can depend upon its promises, be guided by its precepts, be warned by its admonitions, and be comforted by its assurances. It is plain that the psalmist put his trust in God’s word. “So shall I have wherewith to answer him that reproacheth me: for I trust in thy word” (v. 42). So reliable is God’s word that the psalmist prays, “Order my steps in thy word: and let not any iniquity have dominion over me” (v. 133). Because God’s word is reliable, the psalmist “rejoices at thy word, as one that findeth great spoil” (v. 162).
Because Scripture is the word of God, blessed is the man who delights in and who honors Scripture. That is how Psalm 119 begins. Significantly the psalm begins with two beatitudes: “Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord. Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, and that seek him with the whole heart” (vv. 1, 2). Blessed are they who walk according to God’s law in their life in the world because in their hearts they love and seek after God. Apart from Scripture there can be no upright walk and no seeking after God in the heart, and thus no blessing from God. But they who seek after God, who seek after God in their hearts, and who demonstrate that they seek after God by honoring His word in their lives are blessed. They are blessed now and they are blessed forever. “Thy testimonies have I taken as an heritage forever: for they are the rejoicing of my heart” (v. 111).
1 See the previous article in this series (July 2014, p. 422) for an explanation of the term acrostic.