Previous article in this series: May 1, 2011, p. 350.
The following is a brief summary of what has been considered thus far in this series on divine revelation:
• The Son, and thus the Father, is revealed only to some people. The Father reveals Himself in and through His Son. When one sees the Son, He sees the Father, since the Son is the perfect Image of the Father. The Son, however, does not manifest Himself to everyone. Only the elect receive the grace to see the Son, and in this way to see the Father. The gracious revelation of Christ is particular.
• Christ reveals Himself to His people by means of the Scriptures. Even though the Scriptures are available for anyone to read, only some are given the grace to understand them. The elect alone receive the eyes of faith, that they might see Christ’s glory as it is set forth in these holy writings.
• The Scriptures we have today are God-breathed. Even though men were used in the production of the Scriptures, and the words recorded are sometimes referred to as the words of the man who wrote them, yet the Scriptures are very really the word of God. The writers of Scripture were borne along by the Spirit of God while they were making known what God had said, so that what they wrote was, in truth, the word of the Spirit.
• Since the Scriptures are the word of the Spirit, it is obvious that they must be infallible. It is impossible that there could be any errors in the Scriptures, since the Scriptures are the Spirit’s word, and the Spirit of God makes no mistakes.
So we have considered the fact that God’s revelation recorded in Scripture is an infallible authority. But are there any other infallible authorities? We turn now to consider the answer to this very significant question.
Our creedal position: Scripture alone as the infallible authority
Article 7 of the Belgic Confession is entitled:The Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures to be the Only Rule of Faith. The only rule of faith—that is what we and our fathers confess the Scriptures to be. No decision or writing of any individual man, or of any instituted church or group of churches, is of equal value with Holy Scripture. It alone is the standard, and any statement or decision that disagrees with it is to be rejected.
In this article we unashamedly confess that the Scriptures are infallible: “…we reject with all our hearts whatsoever doth not agree with this infallible rule….”
Furthermore, we confess that because the Scriptures are infallible, no statement or decision made by man can be said to be of equal value to them: “Neither do we consider of equal value any writing of men, however holy these men may have been, with those divine Scriptures, nor ought we to consider custom, or the great multitude, or antiquity, or succession of times and persons, or councils, decrees, or statutes, as of equal value with the truth of God….”
It is possible for errors to creep into the writings of men, the decisions that they make, and the preaching that they utter. The Scriptures, and the Scriptures alone, are the inerrant word of God.
The Romish church’s claim of infallibility
The Romish church argues against the position that Scripture alone is the infallible authority. She actually maintains that she herself is infallible. The Romish church declares that whenever she makes official statements on issues, those statements are an infallible interpretation of what God says on the subject.
The argument of the typical papist goes something like this: The Scriptures cannot be the only infallible authority because they are unable of themselves to tell us when we have misinterpreted them. What is needed, they say, is the church (i.e., the Romish church), who has been given the ability to tell us when we have interpreted the Scriptures correctly, and when we have not.
It is true, of course, that a passage of Scripture needs to be rightly interpreted to be understood. In the book of Acts we read of the Ethiopian eunuch who recognized his need for someone to give him a faithful interpretation of the passage he was reading. When Philip approached this eunuch, he found him reading a portion of the prophecy of Isaiah: “And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me?” (Acts 8:30-31a).
The eunuch realized that to understand the Scriptures, he needed to be guided by someone who could faithfully interpret the Scriptures.
Recognizing that a faithful interpretation of Scripture is needed, the Romish church claims to be able to provide one. In fact, they claim to be able to do this infallibly. That is not to say that they always cite Scripture in an effort to prove their positions. They often refer to their so-called Sacred Tradition as an authority. But whenever they do cite and interpret the Scriptures, they claim that the interpretation they give is infallible.
The Romish church’s claim of infallibility is significant. By making this claim they are saying that infallible inspiration is continuing today, and that new revelation is continuing to come forth, but now only through the mouth of the Romish church. But let us consider for a moment what it would mean if God did grant someone the grace to give an infallible interpretation of the word of God. Would not that interpretation have authority equal to that of the Scriptures? An infallibly inspired interpretation of God’s word would amount to new revelation. It would, in fact, be Holy Scripture, and would have to be added to the sixty-six books that presently constitute the Bible. Thus, by claiming infallibility for herself, the Romish church has fallen into the grievous sin of adding to the word of God.
Over against this false teaching, our fathers have maintained that Scripture alone is the inspired word of God. It is the one perfect rule, and any church that exalts herself above it will experience the just judgment of God coming upon her.
The Interpretation God Provides
But what about the need for a faithful interpretation of Scripture? If such an interpretation is necessary, where do we find this interpretation?
The answer to that question is twofold.
First of all, as far as an infallibly inspiredinterpretation of Scripture is concerned, that is found only in the Scriptures themselves. The Scriptures as a whole are the perfect guide when it comes to interpreting any individual passage of Scripture. Scripture interprets Scripture. It alone provides us with an inerrant interpretation of what the Scriptures teach.
This point is not to be passed over quickly. Very easy it is, for example, to fall into the error of taking a phrase or symbol found in Scripture and deciding on one’s own what it means. The Scripture itself provides us with a perfectly accurate interpretation of its own phrases, symbols, etc. Realizing this, we must search the Scriptures to find the interpretation that God Himself has provided for us.
Yet there is more that we must do if we seek to understand the Scriptures. We must also hearken to Christ as He is presently expounding these Scriptures to us, speaking through the instituted church.
The Romish church is really saying that we must listen to her rather than to the Scriptures. That, of course, is erroneous. But the passages she cites to prove her position are important for us to investigate. In fact, one of the reasons that God sovereignly raises up false teachers is to have them point out to us passages that He would have us consider.
The Romish church, in an effort to defend her position, points us to a number of passages. First of all, she makes reference to passages that speak of the church being given the grace to understand and to declare what the Scriptures teach: “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). “But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (I Tim. 3:15).
Another group of passages that papists cite are those that speak of the necessity of listening to what the church decides:
If there arise a matter too hard for thee in judgment, between blood and blood, between plea and plea, and between stroke and stroke, being matters of controversy within thy gates: then shalt thou arise, and get thee up into the place which the Lord thy God shall choose; And thou shalt come unto the priests the Levites, and unto the judge that shall be in those days, and enquire; and they shall shew thee the sentence of judgment…. And the man that will do presumptuously, and will not hearken unto the priest that standeth to minister there before the Lord thy God, or unto the judge, even that man shall die: and thou shalt put away the evil from Israel,
And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican,
He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me,
These passages, and others like them, do in fact teach that God faithfully guides His church to interpret the Scriptures correctly. The Spirit of Christ over the years has guided the church to understand the truth and to confess it in her creeds and in her official positions on various matters. God promised that this would be the case, and God has been faithful to fulfill this promise.
But how, then, is the Romish church erring when it gives its explanation of these passages? First of all, they err when they declare that they themselves are the church that is spoken of in these passages. The church God speaks of here is the church that proclaims the truth. There is the true church that proclaims the truth of God, and then there is the false church that declares her own ideas and claims to be the word of God. These passages quite obviously are speaking of the former, not the latter.
Secondly, the Romish church errs when it says that when God guides His church to understand and proclaim the truth, He guides her in such a way that her statements and decisions are to be taken as infallible. God does indeed guide her. Yet true churches can and do err from time to time.
Ongoing verbal inspiration is not what God was promising here. The days of that came to an end nineteen hundred years ago. Rather, our Lord is assuring us that He will speak in and through the instituted church, guiding her to make an accurate declaration of the truth set forth in Scripture.
Though many churches will apostatize from the faith, there will continue to be a church on this earth through whom Christ will be speaking. In this way the voice of Christ will continue to be heard. That being the case, when we hear Christ speak to us through His church it is obviously of utmost importance that we hearken to what He says. This is stressed in the passages quoted above. The voice of God is heard in the true church of Jesus Christ still today. The Spirit of Christ who inspired the Scriptures is speaking through the church, guiding her to interpret them. Christ’s voice sounds forth in the preaching of the gospel, and in the official decisions of sound churches. Therefore it is true that we must listen to the true church, or be guilty of rejecting what our Lord is saying through her mouth.
Yet that does not mean that she never errs. The statements and decisions even of true churches must always be tested with the Scriptures. There is only one perfect standard, and every statement or decision of man must be compared to that rule.
Thanks be to God that we have such a rule. In an age of the rapid transmission of a steady stream of lies, what a joy it is to know the one truth that is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path.
May we be granted the grace to search these Scriptures. May we grow in our ability and our desire to seek and to find the interpretation that our Father Himself has provided for us in the Scriptures themselves. And may we also be granted the grace to submit to the expounding of that word as we hear it from the mouth of the church—the faithful church that God has promised to guide into all truth.