We receive all these books, and these only, as holy and canonical, for the regulation, foundation, and confirmation of our faith; believing without any doubt, all things contained in them, not so much because the Church receives and approves them as such, but more especially because the Holy Ghost witnesseth in our hearts, that they are from God, whereof they carry the evidence in themselves. For the very blind are able to perceive that the things foretold in them are fulfilling.
This is a very important article of faith, and one of the gems in our Confession because it sets forth so, simply and concisely the believer’s confession concerning the authority of Holy Scripture and his faith in that authority. Actually the the article sets forth two main elements of the Reformed believer’s faith concerning the Scriptures. In the first place, the article contains an acknowledgment of the Scriptures as holy and canonical, or, an acknowiedgment of the authority of the Scriptures. And, in the second place, the article sets forth the reasons why we receive these books as holy and canonical. But the above description scarcely does justice to the beauty of the article. For by means of a few choice expressions the article defines and distinguishes this faith of the church in a manner so concise and unequivocal that there can be no question nor any shadow of a doubt as to where the Reformed believer stands and ought to stand in respect to the doctrine of Holy Scripture. Note these careful formulations:
1) The article makes both an inclusive and an exclusive statement as to the books that are holy and canonical: “We receive all these books, and these only . . .”
2) The article acknowledges that faith is entirely dependent on the Word of God: “We receive all these books . . . for the regulations, foundation, and confirmation of our faith.”
3) The article expresses unequivocally a faith in the absolute authority and veracity of the Scriptures: “. . . . believing, without any doubt, all things contained in them . . .”
4) And yet the Reformed believer does not give expression to a blind and unreasoned faith, but gives careful account of the reasons why he receives these books as holy and canonical. But notice that this careful account is at once a matter of simple, child-like, spontaneous faith.
We may therefore remark, by way of application, that if only, in our highly complex and sophisticated age, the church would live by this faith of our fathers, there would be no difficulty in regard to the entire matter of the doctrine of Holy Scripture. For the truth is not obscure and difficult, but very simple: “We believe,without any doubt, all things contained in them.” And if only the church and the individual believer actually proceeds in all matters of the truth and of our confession, as well as in matters of life and practice, from this simple standpoint, and is ready to receive, without any reservation, all things contained in the Scriptures, the whole of the truth of the gospel is very simple and clear. The difficulty is not that the Scriptures are not plain. And the problem is not one of interpretation and of intellectual understanding. But the question is: are we willing to be still and to listen, willing to receive by faith, without any doubt, all things contained in these holy and canonical books? Then all real problems disappear.
These remarks we make by way of introduction.
Before we proceed with the discussion of this article as such, we should give our attention to a matter which concerns not only this article, but all the articles of our Confession which deal with the doctrine of Scripture, a matter which sometimes causes believers no little concern.
That matter is expressed in the question, “Which Bible?”
By this question I do not refer so much to the fact that we today are faced by a choice among many different versions of our English Bible. For while this is indeed true, and while especially in recent years, such versions and would-be “new translations” are being multiplied, this is not such a perplexing problem. This multiplication of versions is in part related to the problem I have in mind; but in itself, for more than one reason, it is not so difficult. My chief reason is that the well-established King James Version is still the safest and the most dependable English translation, as well as the most beautiful and most beloved among the people of God. And it has stood the test of time, and is as yet not being displaced by any other version. In the second place, if we bear in mind the proverb that “All change is not improvement,” we will not readily admit changes in this regard. And if, in the third place, we remember that not all the Biblical scholarship that produces the various new translations and versions is to be trusted as orthodox and believing, we will be doubly cautious about making any change. This is not to say that no benefit can be derived from a use of other versions in our study of Scripture, however: for to maintain this would be blind folly.
However, the matter I have in mind is somewhat different. We do not have, and the church has not had for a long time, any of the original writings of the Scriptures. They have been lost. The autographs, that is, the original writings of Peter and Paul, of John and Luke, as well as those of all the other writers of the Old and of the New Testament, are no more: And one might probably say too that if only we had one complete, dependable copy of those original writings, which could be clearly traced back to the autographs, the problem would still not be so involved. But the facts are much different. Not only are the original writings long lost, but there are many, many copies of these original writings from which our Bibles are translated. Especially is this true of the New Testament writings. Of the New Testament or of parts of the New Testament there are more than four thousand different manuscripts. And all of these copies are imperfect, besides. They differ, as far as the text is concerned, in more than one hundred and fifty thousand places. Some of these points of difference are due to mistakes made in copying. Others are due to deliberate changes made by copyists for one reason or another. But the fact remains: these differences are there. Moreover, we must not imagine that all these manuscripts are cleanly preserved and neatly legible, as, for example, a printed page of our Standard Bearer, or even of some old book which you have in your library. Not at all; in some cases there may be only a fragment of a certain book. In other cases, there may be part of a page, or of a scroll, that is tom out and missing. Crude materials were used. Writing was all in manuscript form. And these manuscripts show the wear and tear of use not only, but also of centuries of disuse, of weathering, of being buried, etc. Besides, the reading of these manuscripts is not like the reading of our neatly printed Bibles, with verse-separations, punctuation, and word-separations. The manuscripts of the Greek New Testament, for example, might be written in all capital letters, with not even any separation between words, and without punctuation. Thus, for example, Mark 16:20 might appear in Greek, in much rougher form, as it here follows in English: “AND THEY WENT FORTH AND PREACHED EVERYWHERE THE LORD WORKING WITH THEM AND CONFIRMING THE WORDWITH SIGNS FOLLOWING.” All this will serve to give you some idea of the great difficulty involved in translating the Scriptures and in arriving at the most nearly correct rendering of the original writings.
What must we think, then, of our Bible? Do we have an infallible Bible? Could Guido de Bres, the author of our Confession, and our fathers of the Reformed Churches of the Lowlands actually have thought that the Bible which they possessed (and whose translation was not yet as refined as ours) was infallible? Could they really ascribe to their Bible divine authority, and confess, “We believe, without any doubt, all things contained therein”? And can we today say this of our Bible, even as it may possibly be refined through the efforts of further Biblical scholarship and textual criticism?
There are those who take hold of these facts and attempt to turn them into an argument against the whole doctrine of the Scriptures. They maintain that the church of today has no infallible Bible. They argue that after all is said and done, the whole theory of an infallible and verbally inspired Bible could at best be applied-only to the autographs, but never to the thousands of copies of the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures, which are filled with discrepancies, and certainly not to our translations of those copies. And those autographs are lost. Hence, even if the theory of infallibility and of verbal inspiration were true, actually no one has an infallible Bible today, nor has there ever been an actual collection of all the autographs of Scripture at any time that could be called an infallible Bible.
And what shall we say to these things?
In the first place, let us remember that this is but an illustration of the enmity of the natural man over against the Word of God. He will go to any lengths, and use any possible argument, in order to escape the truth, to deny the Scriptures and their authority, and thus deny the living God. If that same natural man has more than four thousand copies of an ancient secular writing—let us say, of the Greek poet Homer—he will be overjoyed because he has so much material to use and to compare in trying to arrive at an accurate text. But if he has more than four thousand manuscripts of the New Testament, he cries out, “See, an infallible Bible is pure fiction!” Such is the perverseness of unbelieving scholarship.
In the second place, we need not try to deny the facts. They are true. Nor need we be vanquished by these facts. For we not only concede the facts, but we would expect matters to be no different. The infallible Scriptures were given to the church in the process of history—the history of many long centuries. There is no book more ancient, nor any written over a longer period of time and under more trying circumstances, than our Bible. And that Bible was preserved also in the process of history. And the inspiration and infallible guidance of the Spirit certainly ceased, as far as the sacred writings are concerned, with the human instruments (prophets and apostles) who wrote them. The men who copied the originals were fallible men, and their copies bear the earmarks of their fallibility. But even at that, considering all the contrary circumstances, we must remember not only that in many cases these copies were very painstakingly written and checked and rechecked, but that the Bible as a whole is marvelously preserved. In fact, there is no book more wonderfully preserved than the Bible. The Lord our God took care of that.
In the third place, even with all the variant readings which are cited, we must be careful to understand their significance. And that significance is indeed small. First of all, there is no article of faith that is affected by these variations. Secondly, only one-twentieth of all these variations are of any significance at all. And thirdly, of that one-twentieth there is only another one-twentieth that affects the sense of the text to any important degree.
In the fourth place—and this is of major importance—the same Lord Jesus Who insisted that the Scriptures cannot be broken Himself used not the autographs of the Old Testament, but copies of the originals, just as we have today. And yet He did not hesitate to appeal to those Scriptures and to designate them as Moses and the prophets. The same is true of the apostles. In fact, it may even be pointed out that quotations from the Old Testament Scriptures are made from the Septuagint, which was not even a copy, but the first Greek translation of the Old Testament.
Hence, we need have no fears on this score. The Scriptures as we possess them, though they manifest the effects of having passed through history and of having been handled by fallible men, are nevertheless the infallible Word of God.