Previous article in this series: April 15, 2018, p. 323.
In the last several articles in this series we have been examining the perfections of Scripture. Just as God possesses certain perfections, so also does His Word. The perfection of God’s being demands the perfection of His works, and one of His greatest works is the revelation of Himself in His Word. Who and what God is necessarily impacts the nature of His Word. It cannot be otherwise. If God is weak and fallible, so also His Word will be weak and fallible. But if God is perfect and absolutely holy, as indeed He is, it follows that His Word is also perfect and holy. Conversely, if Scripture contains errors and contradictions, that can only be due to the fact that its author is prone to falling into errors and making mistakes. What we say about the Bible, whether for good or bad, has everything to do with what we say about God, the author of the Bible.
Up till now, we have identified four distinct perfections of Scripture. They are, in the order in which we have considered them, Scripture’s authority, Scripture’s necessity, Scripture’s perspicuity, and Scripture’s sufficiency. The fifth and last perfection of Scripture that Reformed Christians specify is Scripture’s trustworthiness or reliability.
Although trustworthiness is identified as a distinct perfection of Scripture, it is, in a way, the result of the other four perfections. Because Scripture is authoritative, the ultimate authority for faith and for life, Scripture must also be trustworthy. If Scripture were not trustworthy, neither could it function as an authority in the life of the Christian and in the life of the church. Because Scripture is necessary, it must also be trustworthy. If Scripture were unreliable, it could not be necessary. Rather than to be necessary, it would be needful to reject Scripture. Because Scripture is perspicuous, it follows that it is also trustworthy. If Scripture were unclear, a conundrum, then it could not be trusted. Scripture’s reliability depends on its perspicuity. And Scripture’s sufficiency demands its trustworthiness; since Scripture is sufficient, it must also be trustworthy. If Scripture were not sufficient, if instead it was necessary to add something to Scripture or take something away from it, it ought to be clear that the reason for that could only be that Scripture all by itself is unreliable. Scripture’s trustworthiness is the practical fruit of all the other glorious perfections of the Bible.
Trust is everything!
Trust is everything, absolutely everything! What is trust and what does it mean to be trustworthy? My Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines trust as an “assured reliance on the character, strength, or truth of someone.” Someone who is trustworthy is reliable, or dependable. They have proven themselves to be “worthy” of our “trust,” and have shown themselves to be someone who will not disappoint or fail to do that to which they have committed themselves.
Every meaningful relationship is built on trust. Certainly that is true of the relationship between a husband and wife. Marriage is built on the trust that the spouses have for one another. Of the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31 we read in verse 11 that “the heart of her husband doth safely trust in her.” When everything is right in a marriage, a husband trusts his wife and a wife trusts her husband. When that trust has been betrayed, it often takes a long time, if ever, for that trust to be restored. The intense pain of Jesus’ betrayal by Judas is captured in the prophecy of. It was “mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted,” who betrayed Jesus into the hands of His enemies.
In everyday life in the business world, so much business is conducted on the basis of trust. For a businessman to do business with someone whom he trusts makes all the difference in the world. What a relief it is when our car breaks down that we can trust the mechanic to repair what needs fixing and not unnecessarily replace parts that are working just fine. Recently, I heard of dentists who are scamming their patients into doing thousands of dollars of unnecessary dental work by means of a computer program that makes it appear from x-rays that there are many cavities that need to be filled in the mouths of their patients. What has our world come to!
Especially is trust built on the trustworthiness of a person’s word. A person is trustworthy who speaks the truth and carries out what they have promised to do. Of the wicked the psalmist says inthat “the words of his mouth are iniquity and deceit.” And in the inspired psalmist says of the wicked that “they delight in lies.” With one who lies and has been known to lie, it is impossible to establish a relationship of trust. The wife who has caught her cheating husband in a tangled web of lies finds it difficult to trust him. The person addicted to pornography who, despite his attempts to cover his tracks, has been exposed cannot easily be trusted. Crucial to any trusting relationship is the trustworthiness of one’s word. What is true among human beings is also true in our relationship to God.
If God cannot be trusted in His Word, He cannot be trusted. If His Word is unreliable, He is unreliable. To discredit the truthfulness of God’s Word is necessarily to discredit God’s own trustworthiness. If God’s Word is unreliable, so that you cannot depend on it that what you are reading is the truth, then God who speaks the Word is unreliable.
What do we mean by trustworthy?
What we mean when we say that the Bible is trustworthy is not what many are saying today. There are those who, while they are affirming that the Bible is trustworthy, are actually denying its trustworthiness. They are like those referred to in Lord’s Day 11 of the Heidelberg Catechism, who although they boast in words, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,” in actual fact “deny Jesus the only deliverer and Savior.” There are those who do something similar with Holy Scripture, and specifically with Scripture’s trustworthiness. Scripture is trustworthy, they affirm, but on closer examination of what they believe about the Bible, it becomes plain that in actual fact they deny the Bible’s trustworthiness.
One such person is the well-known “evangelical” Arminian theologian—such is how he desires to be known—Roger E. Olson. In a blog post he answered the question, “What do I mean when I say the Bible is ‘trustworthy?’”1 He began by saying: “With the whole catholic church of Jesus Christ I wholeheartedly affirm that the Bible, the Christian scriptures, is entirely trustworthy and true.” So far, so good. But the devil is in the details. He went on to say: “When I say Scripture is trustworthy and true, I mean it is perfect with respect to its purpose. It is infallible in the sense that it does not fail to fulfill its assigned function—to identify God for us.” And further, he says: “When I say the Bible is trustworthy, I mean it can be (and for Christians must be) trusted to transform those who are open to its message, the gospel, by bringing them into encounter with the living God through Jesus Christ…. When I say the Bible is trustworthy, I do NOT mean every event recorded in the Bible happened exactly as it is described there.” Olson insists that there are discrepancies in the Bible that “resist harmonization.” He insists that his view is the prevailing view among most conservative evangelical scholars, though “they keep it a secret (except among themselves)” and do not “share it with the lay people who look to them for fundamentalist support.”
After all is said and done, Olson does not believe that the Bible is trustworthy. God’s Word is not necessarily true; it is certainly not true word for word. The Bible’s trustworthiness is a kind of functional trustworthiness, that it can be “trusted to transform those who are open to its message.” That is comparable to a husband’s saying that his wife is trustworthy, not because she is true to her word to be faithful to him alone, true to the vow that she spoke on their wedding night, but because she can be trusted to cook a delicious meal every evening. Would such a husband under those circumstances consider his wife to be trustworthy? Of course not!
Two things ought to be noted in connection with Olson’s view of the Bible’s trustworthiness. First, he defines Scripture’s trustworthiness in relation to its purpose, which purpose is man-centered: “to transform those who are open to its message.” In keeping with his committed Arminian viewpoint, the salvation of man is the great goal of Scripture. But the truth is, the purpose of the Bible is not the salvation of men, but the revelation of the glorious God. The whole purpose of Scripture is necessarily distorted by the Arminian.
Secondly, Olson is an outstanding example of someone who works out consistently his Arminian viewpoint in his view of Scripture. The Arminian holds that salvation is due to the cooperation of God and man, at least the cooperation of the will of man, the consent of man’s free will. It follows that if man contributes to his salvation, he also contributes to the means of salvation, the holy Scripture. Scripture has its origin in the cooperative work of God and man, just as salvation is accomplished jointly by God and man. What this comes down to is that Scripture is not exclusively the Word of God—the Word of God in the words of men. But Scripture itself is partly the Word of God and partly the word of man. The Bible contains both a divine element and a human element. The presence of the human element explains the fact that there are discrepancies—not apparent discrepancies, but real discrepancies. There are, in addition, inaccuracies, mistakes, and human errors mixed into the Bible.
Where does it end?
Once it is granted that the Scriptures are not trustworthy because they are not word for word the very Word of God, where does it end? What is the effect of the denial that the Scriptures are the very Word of God? When the trustworthiness of Scripture is brought into question, on what path do men and churches set themselves?
If Scripture is partly the words of men and partly the Word of God, how are we to decide what is divine and what is human in the Bible? And who will decide? The effect of this teaching leaves us to wonder which parts of Scripture are the Word of God and which parts are only the words of man. The practical effect is that the child of God is at sea to know with certainty what in the Bible is actually the Word of God. In the end, there is no certain way of knowing.
To teach that the Bible is partly the word of man and partly the Word of God is destructive, utterly destructive of Scripture’s trustworthiness. We cannot say with our Lord, then, in, “Thy word is truth.” Instead we must say, “Thy word is partly truth,” or, “Thy word is a mixture of truth and error.” And if that is the case, the sanctification (holiness) of the people of God of which Jesus is speaking in John 17 is jeopardized and, in the end, forfeited. Ultimately, we are sanctified by the Word of truth and only by the Word of truth. In more than one place the prophets warn God’s people, “Trust ye not in lying words” ( ).
On the contrary, we are to trust the Word of God because, like God Himself, His Word is trustworthy. Its history is to be received; its doctrine is to be believed; its promises are to be embraced; its commandments are to be obeyed; and its comfort is to be enjoyed. And this is all due to the fact that Scripture is the Word of God.
With the psalmist inwe confess: “Thy word is true from the beginning.” And if it is true from the very beginning, it is true throughout and to the end. From through , God’s Word is true and is, therefore, trustworthy. With the same psalmist we boldly confess, “I trust in thy word” ( ).
1 http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2012/10/what-do-i-mean-when-i-say-the-bible-is-trustworthy/. Accessed on 5/4/2018.