Previous article in this series: December 1, 2012, p. 104.
The Bible is the infallibly inspired written Word of God. This is the believer’s heartfelt conviction and bold confession concerning Scripture. Simply put, the Bible is the Word of God, the Word of God in the words of men. Because it is the Word of God, the Bible is the supreme authority in the life of the believer. Only God has supreme and ultimate authority. Because the Bible is the Word of God, it has supreme and ultimate authority over the church and over the members of the church. It is authoritative over faith (what we believe) and morals (how we live). The church dare not demand that members subscribe to any decision or enforce any practice or make any change—let us say, in worship—that is not grounded in sacred Scripture. Scripture’s authority is the authority of God Himself—divine authority.
The Bible alone is the divinely inspired Word of God. Not only does faith receive for truth all that God has revealed in His Word, but faith receives only the Word of God as a book that is divinely inspired. The Scriptures alone and the Scriptures in their entirety are the Word of God. There is no other book like the Bible. The Bible is a unique book, an altogether unique book. No other book may make this claim for itself, or have this claim made about it by its adherents, that it is the Word of God. To say this about any other book is to make the most arrogant, preposterous, and foolish of claims. One book and one book alone is God’s book, and that book is the Bible.
The Bible has been regarded as a unique book for centuries, some thirty-four centuries. It was a unique book in Old Testament times, when it was not yet a complete book but in its formative stage. It was a unique book in the Old Testament, when it served as the Scriptures of the Jews, God’s covenant people in the old dispensation. It was regarded as a unique book by Jesus and His disciples. The apostles and the apostolic church regarded the Old Testament as the Word of God and honored the Scriptures with the honor that the Word of God deserves. This deference for the Scriptures was passed on by the apostles to the early church. It was to the Scriptures that the early Christians appealed in order to settle the doctrinal controversies that threatened to divide the early church and remove her from the sure foundation upon which she had been established. Time and again the Scriptures were the means by which God kept His church from going down the road of apostasy, or was the means used by God to restore the church after she had begun to depart.
After a time of departure during the Middle Ages, the Reformation restored to the church the proper regard for the Scriptures, calling the church once again to honor the Scriptures as the Word of God. The Reformers were united in their view that Scripture must be regarded, handled, made use of, read, and preached as the very Word of God. From this view of Scripture, many who belong to churches that have their roots in the Protestant Reformation have by our day departed. Some in these churches scoff at such a view of the Bible, considering it to be beneath their educated dignity to entertain such a primitive and unscientific belief that a book written by men could possibly be the Word of God. And although the Bible is lauded as a religious book unparalleled in its dignity and for the influence that it has had over generations of readers, like all other religious books it contains the views of the world, of the human race, of origins, and of the purpose of the universe, and even of God that its writers held. In the end, the Bible is not the Word of God but the human writers’ words about God. That at its very best.
The trouble is that this is a far cry from what the Bible says about itself and from the claim that the Bible makes for itself. The Bible is the Word of God, and, not unexpectedly, this is the claim that the Bible makes concerning itself—that it is the Word of God. Now if this claim is inaccurate, if this claim is in fact a lie, the Bible ought not to be regarded as a religious book of great value for all who read it. Rather, it is deceitful, and the danger exists that it may lead astray those who read it. The real danger exists that people will read it and actually come to the preposterous conclusion that it is what it claims to be—the Word of God. The Roman Catholic Church was perhaps right after all in forbidding the reading and the translating of the Bible.
Not so! Not so! “Open thou mine eyes [dear Lord], that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law” (). Because the Bible is what it claims to be, the very Word of God, may our prayer ever be as we take this word up into our hands in order to read, to study, to meditate on, and even (especially!) to preach: “Give me eyes to see, a mind to understand, and a heart to believe Thy Word of truth.” The Bible is the Word of God. And this is what the Bible claims to be.
The Self-Authenticating Nature of Scripture
In our previous article we began to examine what the Bible teaches about itself. We looked at the two “classic” Scripture passages on divine inspiration:and . We saw that the Bible teaches about itself that it is the inspired Word of God. The Protestant Reformers recognized this. They spoke of the fact that Scripture is self-authenticating: autopistia. The Belgic Confession of Faith, in Article 5, gives expression to this truth when it says about the books of the Bible that “they carry the evidence in themselves” that they are the Word of God.
This evidence is the evidence of faith. The proof to the believer that the Bible is the Word of God is the Bible’s own testimony concerning itself. It is as simple as that. Faith believes the Word of God. The content of faith is sacred Scripture, nothing more and nothing less. To put it another way, faith is informed by the Bible. Not something outside of Scripture, but Scripture itself is the object of true faith. In the language of the Heidelberg Catechism, faith “hold[s] for truth all that God has revealed to us in His Word” (Q.A. 21). And the very first truth that is revealed in the Word is that the Word is the Word of God.
It is significant that Scripture makes this claim concerning itself. It might have disavowed divine authorship, as certain of the apocryphal books indeed do.1 Or, the Bible might have said nothing concerning its inspiration, neither claiming nor disavowing divine authorship. But instead, Scripture insists that it is the very Word of God. Augustine said long ago: “What Scripture says, God says.” The fact is that Scripture does say that, in Scripture, God speaks.
Neither is this reliance on circular reasoning, as the enemies of biblical inspiration often allege. Scripture is the Word of God. Only God has the right to vindicate the genuineness and the authority of His Word. He is God, after all. The authority of Scripture depends on God alone whose Word Scripture is. Scripture is God’s Word not because we say that it is God’s Word, or because we have shown it to be God’s Word, or even because the church says that it is God’s Word. But Scripture is God’s Word because God Himself says that it is His Word. John Calvin teaches this fundamental truth concerning Scripture:
It is utterly vain then to pretend that the power of judging Scripture so lies with the church that its certainty depends upon churchly assent. Thus, while the church receives and gives its seal of approval to the Scriptures, it does not thereby render authentic what is otherwise doubtful or controversial. But because the church recognizes Scripture to be the truth of its own God, as a pious duty it unhesitatingly venerates Scripture. As to their question [thinking here of the Roman Catholic doctrines]—How can we be assured that this has sprung from God unless we have recourse to the decree of the church?—it is as if someone asked: Whence will we learn to distinguish light from darkness, white from black, sweet from bitter? Indeed, Scripture exhibits fully as clear evidence of its own truth as white and black things do of their color, or sweet and bitter things do of their taste.2
A little later, he goes on to say:
[H]ence, it is not right to subject it to proof and reasoning…we believe neither by our own nor by anyone else’s judgment that Scripture is from God; but above human judgment we affirm with utter certainty (just as if we were gazing upon the majesty of God himself) that it has flowed to us from the very mouth of God…. We seek no proofs, nor marks of genuineness upon which our judgment may lean; but we subject our judgment and wit to it as to a thing far beyond any guesswork!3
Benjamin B. Warfield, the well-known early twentieth-century professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, was an ardent defender of biblical inerrancy. Like the sixteenth-century Reformers before him, he maintained the self-authenticating nature of Scripture. Defending what he termed “the Church doctrine of inspiration,” Warfield writes:
The Church, then, has held from the beginning that the Bible is the Word of God in such a sense that its words, though written by men and bearing indelibly impressed upon them the marks of their human origin, were written, nevertheless, under such an influence of the Holy Ghost as to be also the words of God, the adequate expression of His mind and will. It has always recognized that this conception of co-authorship implies that the Spirit’s superintendence extends to the choice of the words by the human authors (verbal inspiration), and preserves its product from everything inconsistent with a divine authorship—thus securing, among other things, that entire truthfulness which is everywhere presupposed in and asserted for Scripture by the Biblical writers (inerrancy). Whatever minor variations may now and again have entered into the mode of statement, this has always been the core of the Church doctrine of inspiration. And along with many other modes of commending and defending it, the primary ground on which it has been held by the Church as the true doctrine is that it is the doctrine of the Biblical writers themselves, and has therefore the whole mass of evidence for it which goes to show that the Biblical writers are trustworthy as doctrinal guides. It is the testimony of the Bible itself to its own origin and character as the Oracles of the Most High, that has led the Church to her acceptance of it as such, and to her dependence on it not only for her doctrine of Scripture, but for the whole body of her doctrinal teaching, which is looked upon by her as divine because drawn from this divinely given fountain of truth.4
“And the Scripture Cannot be Broken”
When it comes to Scripture’s testimony concerning itself, besides the two “classic” passages on inspiration, there are two additional Scripture passages of great significance:and . Let’s look first at John .
InJesus is responding to the unbelieving Jews who have charged Him with blasphemy. Their charge arises out of the fact that “thou, being a man, makest thyself God” (v. 33). Jesus’ response to their charge of blasphemy was, “Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken….” Jesus’ response is very significant.
It is significant, first of all, because in His response Jesus calls the Old Testament Scripture the “word of God.” The specific passage of the Old Testament to which Jesus is referring is Psalm: “I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High. But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes.” The judges and elders to whom the Word of God came in the Old Testament are called “gods” in Psalm 82. They are called “gods” because they represented God, received directly from God His Word to speak to His people, and were called to judge God’s people. Jesus’ argument is that if they are called “gods” by the Scripture who as men were recipients of the Word of God, then, because the Scripture cannot be broken, it is no blasphemy that He who is the Son of God, sent by God in order to reveal God, should also be called and call Himself “God.” According to Jesus’ teaching, Psalm 82 is not simply the word of the psalmist, the word of the human writer of the psalm, whom the heading of the psalm identifies as Asaph. The psalm, therefore, is no merely human word, but it is the very Word of God. This is Jesus’ teaching inasmuch as He refers to the Old Testament Scriptures as “the word of God.”
But what is equally significant is what Jesus says about Holy Scripture. He says that Scripture “cannot be broken.” It is not able to be broken. It is impossible to break the Scripture. And it is impossible to break Scripture because Scripture is the Word of God. Not only may it not be broken; not only are men forbidden to break the Scriptures. But in actual fact, they cannot break the Scriptures because the Scriptures are the Word of God.
That the Scriptures cannot be broken means that they cannot be emptied of their authority. Their binding authority cannot be set aside. “Binding” is a good word to use in connection with Scripture’s authority. The word translated in the Authorized Version as “broken” means literally “to loose, to untie, to release from bonds.” Thus the idea is that no one can be released from the binding authority of Scripture. Scripture’s authority as the very authority of God is binding upon all men. But the Scripture’s binding authority cannot be set aside exactly because it cannot be shown to be erroneous—mistaken in any respect. As the holy and perfect Word of God, all men everywhere are called to submit to the authority of the Scriptures.
What is significant here is not only what Jesus says about Holy Scripture. But what is significant is that in saying what He says, Jesus appeals to Holy Scripture. He appeals, as we have seen, to Psalm 82. Jesus does not ground His teaching in John 10 in His own inherent authority as the Son of God. He does not say, “You must believe what I am telling you because I am the Son of God, very God.” He says no such thing. Rather, the Son of God says in effect, “You must believe what I am telling you because this is the teaching of Scripture.” Christ Himself, the Son of God in our flesh, appealed to Holy Scripture as the final authority for His teaching. That establishes Scripture’s ultimate authority.
B. B. Warfield makes this comment aboutand our Lord’s appeal to it in .
Now, what is the particular thing in Scripture, for the confirmation of which the indefectible authority of Scripture is thus invoked? It is one of its most casual clauses—more than that, the very form of its expression in one of its most casual clauses. This means, of course, that in the Saviour’s view the indefectible authority of Scripture attaches to the very form of expression of its most casual clauses. It belongs to Scripture through and through, down to its most minute particulars, that it is of indefectible authority.5
This to begin with, then, is what the Bible says about the Bible. It says that Scripture cannot be broken. Indeed, Scripture cannot be broken. Instead, they who make such a foolhardy attempt are themselves broken by the God whose Word Scripture is.
1 This is stated by the author in the introduction to Jesus Syrach, or, Ecclesiasticus, and is stated a number of times by the writer of 1 and 2 Maccabees. This fact makes the Roman Catholic elevation of the apocryphal books to the level of the books of the Bible all the more preposterous.
2 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960) 1.7.2, 1:76.
3 Calvin, Institutes, 1.7.5, 1:80.
4 Benjamin B. Warfield, “The Real Problem of Inspiration,” in The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1970), 173-4. Some, for good reason, may take exception to Warfield’s designation of the human writers of Scripture as “human authors,” or the precision of his thought in speaking of the “human origin” of the words of Scripture. But that does not detract significantly from the main point that Warfield is making in this paragraph.
5 Warfield, “The Biblical Idea of Inspiration,” in The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, 140.