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The Bible is trustworthy. It can be relied upon. The inspired psalmist gives expression to the Bible’s trustworthiness when he says “the testimony [Word] of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple” (Ps. 19:7). That God’s Word is “sure” means that it is trustworthy. Trustworthiness is the last of the five perfections that are often ascribed to Holy Scripture.
The Bible is trustworthy and can be relied upon because the Bible is the Word of God—the Word of God in the words of men. Because the Bible is the Word of God, word for word the very Word of God, whoever reads the Bible ought not to doubt anything that is in the Bible. The Bible deserves our confidence because it is God-breathed (II Tim. 3:16) and because “the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (II Pet. 1:21).
If the Bible is not the Word of God but the word of man, we could not have this confidence in the Bible. If the Bible is to any degree and in any part the word of man, to that degree and in that part we could not confidently rely upon it. Man’s word is weak, often contradictory, and sometimes even deliberately untruthful. A child denies wrong-doing in order to avoid punishment. A contractor promises a start-time for a job, but knows he will not be able to keep that promise. A politician promises the voters that if he is elected he will cut taxes, but after he is in office forgets his campaign promise and votes to raise taxes. A lawyer bends and stretches the truth in the interests of gaining an acquittal for his client. But “God is not a man, that he should lie… hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?” (Num. 23:19). God’s Word is sure, absolutely sure! That is the confidence that every child of God has. And that confidence motivates him to turn to the Scriptures in every circumstance of life.
Completely trustworthy in its revelation of God, in its account of history, and in its doctrine
The Bible is completely trustworthy. It is reliable in its entirety. That is simply what it means that Scripture is trustworthy. If the Bible is not fully trustworthy, it is not trustworthy at all. If the Bible is partly trustworthy, we could not be sure of what in Scripture is trustworthy and what is not. It is all or nothing. Either the tree is dead or it is alive; it cannot be partly dead. As is so often the case in natural life, so it is in regard to the Bible’s trustworthiness. Even in a court of law, if a witness can be shown to have perjured himself, his whole testimony is thrown out as unreliable. Scripture is trustworthy—completely trustworthy. It is reliable in its entirety.
The Bible is reliable in its revelation of God—who God is. He is the only and the true God. He is the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is the
Creator God, who by the word of His power called the universe into existence in the beginning. He is the God who alone must be worshiped and praised. He is the sovereign God who has decreed all things: the salvation of His people (predestination) and the course of history (providence). For the elect believer, He is our God and our heavenly Father.
The Bible is reliable in its history. The Bible is trustworthy in what it teaches about the beginning of history in the moment of God’s creative activity, as recorded in the opening chapters of Genesis. The Bible is reliable in what it teaches about Israel’s bondage in Egypt and God’s miraculous deliverance out of Egypt, including the ten plagues by which He brought Pharaoh to his knees. The Bible’s history is reliable in its account of the parting of the Red Sea, the miraculous provision for Israel in the forty years of wilderness wandering, particularly by His sending of the manna. It is reliable in its account of the crossing of the Jordan River on dry land, the overthrow of the city of Jericho, and the conquest of the land of Canaan. The Bible is reliable in what it records of the history of the kings, both of Judah and of Israel, including their overthrow and respective captivities. The Bible is reliable in its account of the birth, ministry and miracles, suffering, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And it is to be trusted in what it prophecies of the history of the end of the world, the coming kingdom of Antichrist, and the second coming of the Lord Jesus.
The Bible is reliable in its doctrine. It is reliable in its teaching about God and about man, its teaching concerning the person and the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, in its teaching of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone. It is reliable in its teaching concerning God’s covenant of grace established with believers and their children, membership in which covenant is controlled by God’s decree of election.
Completely reliable in its teaching concerning Christ, man, and the church
The Bible is reliable in its teaching concerning Jesus Christ. It is reliable in its teaching that He is the Son of God, the ever blessed Second Person of the Trinity. It is reliable in its teaching of the incarnation and the virgin birth—God become a man for us men and for our salvation. It is reliable in its teaching concerning the nature, scope, and efficacy of Christ’s cross. The cross was real atonement for sin, a real sacrifice to God, a real satisfaction to the justice of God for all for whom He died. The Bible is reliable in its teaching that we are saved through faith in Jesus Christ and not at all on account of our works. The Bible is reliable in its teaching that there is salvation in Christ alone—He is the only Savior and apart from Him there is no salvation, “for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
The Bible is reliable in its teaching about man. It is reliable in its teaching about the fall of man into sin, as recorded in Genesis 3, and its teaching about the consequence of man’s fall under the judgment of God: total depravity. This is at once the need that man has for salvation and the impossibility of man’s working or willing in order to be saved. As a totally depraved, spiritually dead sinner, he cannot work to save himself; indeed, he cannot even desire to be saved. From a spiritual point of view, he is dead. And dead is dead.
The Bible is reliable in its teaching concerning the church. It is reliable in its teaching that the church is the body and bride of Christ. It is reliable in its teaching concerning the calling that every child of God has to be a member of the church institute. It is reliable in its teaching concerning the marks of the true church: the pure preaching of the gospel, the proper administration of the sacraments, and the faithful exercise of Christian discipline. It is reliable in its teaching that the public worship of God is to be governed by the revealed will of God—the regulative principle of worship. It is reliable in its teaching of the calling of the church to preach the gospel and to administer the sacraments. It is reliable in the calling that Christ gives to the church in the Great Commission to preach the gospel throughout the world and to every creature, for the gathering of the elect out of the nations (Matt. 28:19, 20; Mark 16:15, 16).
Completely reliable in its ethics and its teaching of the end of all things
The Bible is reliable in its teaching concerning ethics. It is reliable in its teaching that the one, great calling that every man has is to know and love God. It is reliable in its teaching that man must obey God out of love and gratitude, which is only possible for those who have been regenerated—given new life—by the Holy Spirit. It is reliable in its teaching concerning sexuality, marriage, and family. It is reliable in its teaching that marriage, as an institution of God, is governed by the will of God. It is reliable in its teaching that marriage is the permanent, life-long relationship between one man and one woman, and not two men or two women, which the Bible condemns as an abomination in the sight of God. The Bible is reliable in its teaching concerning the place of children in marriage, that children are to be viewed as a blessing from God, that they are to be brought up in the fear of God, and that according to His covenant promise God is pleased to gather His children from among the children of believers.
The Bible is reliable in its teaching about the end of all things. It is reliable in its teaching that, as this world has its origin in the will of God, so also according to the will of God the world’s end has been determined. The Bible is reliable in its teaching about the world’s development in sin until its cup of iniquity is filled and Jesus Christ comes down from heaven in order to judge the living and the dead. It is reliable in its teaching that in the great judgment all will stand “that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (II Cor. 5:10). All will stand before God “and the dead [will be] judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works” (Rev. 20:12). At His second coming, Christ will resurrect the dead (I Cor. 15:52), judge all men (Rev. 12:12), and consign the reprobate wicked to hell and the elect saints to heaven (Rev. 20:1315; Matt. 25:31-46).
All Scripture is equally reliable
In the church of our day, the trustworthiness of Scripture is under attack. The form of the attack is that according to which Scripture is said to be trustworthy but in a limited sense. One of the most serious attacks in our day is the attack of those who say that Scripture is reliable in its teaching that concerns salvation, but is not necessarily reliable in matters of science, history, society, and so forth. The Bible is reliable in salvific matters, but not in all that it says in other matters. Or, the attack on Scripture’s trustworthiness takes the form of those who teach that the Bible may be relied upon to make a positive impact on people, trustworthy for the effect that it achieves, though not objectively reliable in what is actually written in its pages.
Both of these positions are a clear departure from what the church has historically maintained concerning the trustworthiness of the Bible. Both deny that Scripture is objectively reliable and that every word, every verse, every chapter, and every book of the Bible is entirely trustworthy.
John Calvin insisted on the trustworthiness of Scripture in its entirety. In his exposition of II Timothy 3:16 he insisted that the “principle which distinguishes our religion from all others, [is] that we know that God hath spoken to us.” He goes on to maintain that the prophets and apostles “did not speak at their own suggestion, but that, being organs of the Holy Spirit, they only uttered what they had been commissioned from heaven to declare.” What has been written in Scripture has been “dictated by the Holy Spirit.” Thus, “we owe to Scripture the same reverence which we owe to God; because it has proceeded from him alone, and has nothing belonging to man mixed with it.” Because Scripture is the Word of God, Scripture is altogether trustworthy in Calvin’s view.
One issue that ought to be raised in this connection is the red-letter editions of the Bible. There are a good number of Bible publishers that produce Bibles in which the words of Christ, that is, the words spoken by Christ while He was on this earth, are placed in red. Altogether apart from the issue of what in the gospel accounts are actually words spoken by Christ, the red-letter editions of the Bible bring into question the complete reliability of Scripture. The red-letter Bibles leave the distinct impression that the words of Jesus are the really important words in the Bible. The words of Jesus in some way carry more authority and are to be viewed as having special weight in comparison to the other words that are found in Holy Scripture. The impression is left that Jesus’ teaching on marriage in Matthew 19:1-12 is more important than Paul’s teaching on marriage in I Corinthians 7. In the case of homosexuality, Jesus did not directly address this issue, but Paul does in Romans 1, I Corinthians 6:9, 10, and I Timothy 1:9, 10. Since these are the words of Paul and not directly the words of Jesus, it is possible that they are time-bound and culturally conditioned, not necessarily inspired and authoritative. They applied in Paul’s day, but do not necessarily apply in our day. This sort of distinction between the red-letter words of Jesus and the words of the human writers of Scripture, tends to undermine the truth that the Bible is completely trustworthy. We are not to add to or take away from Scripture, which is the warning of Revelation 22:19. It would seem that placing some of Scripture in red amounts practically both to adding unto and taking away from Scripture, both of which are forbidden.
This does not imply that every helpful aid to reading and studying Scripture ought to be rejected. By no means! As originally given, the Bible was not divided into chapters or verses; neither did it contain any punctuation. These conventions of modern book publishing do not violate the principle of Revelation 22 in any way. And they are very helpful in the reading and study of the Bible. That is not to say that the punctuation and verse and chapter divisions may not be questioned. They may be and in some cases definitely should be. For example, should the phrase “in love,” make up the end of Ephesians 1:5, a verse in which the apostle describes God’s purpose in election, “that we should be holy and without blame before him in love”? This is where the King James Version places the phrase. Or, does “in love” go with the beginning of Ephesians 1:5 and provide the explanation for God’s election of us: “In love having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will”? The punctuation is not inspired and there are good reasons for each position. But this is quite different from the danger of elevating one portion of Scripture above another.
The Bible is the Word of God. It is the Word of God in its entirety. It is the Word of God from Genesis 1:1 through Revelation 22:21. Because it is God’s Word, it is completely trustworthy. Because God who cannot lie (Titus 1:2) has inspired Scripture from beginning to end, the Bible is entirely reliable.
1 John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles of Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, trans. William Pringle (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1948), 248-9.