The Belgic Confession, Article III (continued)

This Word of God

We may notice that in the present article our Confession simply speaks of “this Word of God,” without further defining and describing what Word of God is meant. The Confession refers, of course, to the Bible, with its thirty-nine books of the Old Testament and its twenty-seven books of the New. For the time being, this article simply assumes this, in order in the next article to specify which are the canonical books. And, of course, it is also evident that the Confession is referring to the written Word of God. The latter part of the article refers to this fact more in detail. And a bit later we shall give our attention to this truth of graphic inspiration. But for the present we merely call attention to the fact that the article is speaking of the written Word of God, the Bible, the Holy Scriptures. For here we meet with the first implied distinction, and that too, a rather important distinction.

The first element of truth involved here is that Scripture and revelation are not co-extensive in the sense that all of God’s revelation, or rather, all God’s revelatory speech and actions, are recorded in Holy Scripture and in the sense that revelation always implies inspiration. We must not identify revelation and inspiration. Inspiration always implies revelation; but revelation does not always imply inspiration. Revelation means that God makes Himself known to the creature. Inspiration includes not only God’s making Himself known to a man, but it means that God also causes that man, by an operation of the Holy Spirit, to speak or to write that which He has made known concerning Himself. Thus, for example, God made Himself known to Adam and Eve; but He did not cause Adam and Eve to write His Word. That which He made known to Adam and Eve concerning Himself and His work He caused Moses to write. He spoke to Cain, but He did not inspire Cain to speak or to write His Word. Thus, too, we may bear in mind that all that God revealed is not recorded in the Scriptures. The apostles were undoubtedly inspired to speak much more than what is recorded of their inspired speech in the book of Acts. And our Lord Jesus Christ spoke and did much more than what is actually written down in the four gospel narratives. Thus we read in John 20:30, 31: “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.” And again, John 21:25: “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that should be written.”

Hence, on the one hand, God revealed Himself at many occasions and to many persons and in many different ways, and thus made known Himself, His thoughts, His will, His counsel, His promise to His people. He spoke directly, as to Adam, Cain, Noah, Abraham, Rebekah, Moses, Balaam. Or God revealed Himself by the Angel of Jehovah, as to Israel. Or the Lord made known His Word by the mediation of angels, as to Mary and to the shepherds. He made Himself known by means of visions, and dreams and trances, as to Pharaoh, Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar, Peter, John. He revealed Himself by signs and wonders to prophets and apostles. And God made Himself known, above all, directly in and through Christ, the Word made flesh, who is the center of all revelation. But always, whatever the mode of revelation, it was distinctively God revealing Himself; and the recipients of that revelation were clearly conscious of this. On the other hand, God also inspired certain men to speak His Word and to transmit His revelation orally to other men. And, further, He also caused certain men to write down His revelations. And out of the mass of God’s revelatory speech and deeds certain of them, by an operation of the Spirit, have been written down by holy men and preserved. And these writings are referred to in the present article of our Confession as “this Word of God.”

In the second place, however, we must not separaterevelation and inspiration any more than we must confuse them. In that case the Bible is nothing more than a fallible, human documentation of God’s Word. We must not merely say that the Word of God is in the Bible. Then God and man speak to us from its pages. Then it becomes necessary for him who reads the Scriptures to determine what is the Word of God and what is the word of man. Then it is dependent upon our choice to determine how much of Scripture is actually the Word of God. And then there is no Word of God left to us. On the contrary, the Bible is, the written Word of God, purely and entirely. There is no other word in the Bible than the Word of God. There is no human admixture in it. Our Confession speaks of “this Word of God.”

In the third place, the Word of God is one, an organic whole. This is not the place to elaborate on the completeness and the sufficiency of Scripture: our creed speaks elsewhere of this. But we may nevertheless call attention at this point to the organic unity of Scripture. There are not many Words of God, but one Word of God. And that one Word of God grew organically. It is the one Word of the God of our salvation which He makes known to His people in all ages. Its sole content is Christ. And always, long before the canon was complete, that Word has been the same. But that one Word had a history. It was progressively revealed and recorded as the ages of revelation moved toward the fullness of time. And in the fullness of time that Word was most fully and clearly revealed, and the record of that Word was completed. God’s Word is not like a puzzle which you cannot figure out until you have all the pieces properly fitted together. It is like a tree, which develops and grows to maturity until finally you behold it in all its beauty and grandeur. The same Word revealed in paradise is finally fully and most clearly revealed in the fullness of time. It is “this Word of God,” revealed, caused to be written down, and preserved for His people of all ages.

The above is quite in harmony with the testimony of Scripture itself. The apostle Paul, writing to Timothy, says, II Timothy 3:16, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God,” speaking in the singular. There is and was in Timothy’s time not merely a certain accepted set of writings without any unity and relationship. We do not merely have a collection of historical, prophetical, and epistolary books. But we have one Scripture, an organic whole. All the books of that one Bible together produce and record one message from one source about one subject to one addressee. And in the passage from which our Confession quotes, I Peter 1:19-21, the apostle Peter is writing concerning this same collection of sacred writings, not merely about the spoken word. For he states: “No prophecy of thescripture is of any private interpretation.” But again, it is not his purpose to single out certain prophetical books or prophetical statements. On the contrary, he views the whole of Scripture from the viewpoint of its being prophecy. For he writes in verse 19: “We have also a more sure word of prophecy.” It is therefore exactly his point that God makes known to His people one Word of prophecy throughout the ages. That Word is always the same, whether published through Moses, through Isaiah, through the evangelists, or in the preaching and writing of the apostles. The seed of that prophecy you have in the protevangel of Genesis 3:15. That word of prophecy is progressively revealed and grows throughout the old dispensation. It is centrally fulfilled in the first advent of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is continued and expounded in the speech and writings of the apostles. That word of prophecy has one central theme: the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ—His power to overcome sin and death, and His coming for our deliverance and for the realization of His everlasting kingdom of glory. That one Word always was and is still today the light that shineth in a dark place. Hence, while you may distinguish many and various prophecies of the Scripture, yet there is but one Word of God, one Scripture, one more sure Word of prophecy.

Not By the Will of Man

Our Confession concerns itself, first of all, in this article with the origin of this Word of God. How did it come into existence? Who is its author? Whose Word is it indeed?

And we may notice that the truth here is, as always, very simple. O, it is deep and mysterious; and it is rich, so that you may delve into it and always with new amazement discover new and beautiful facets of that truth, and so that you may always say with renewed emphasis that God acted from “a special care, which he has for us and our salvation.” But that truth is essentially very simple. And it is absolute. It is negatively expressed in the very simple proposition, “This Word of God was not sent, nor delivered by the will of man.” When you consider this statement, you would almost exclaim, “Of course not: how could God’s Word be sent or delivered by man’s will?” Is the statement not the essence of simplicity? And is it not clearly reasonable? God’s Word is God’s Word, not man’s. And if it is to be God’s Word, it cannot possibly be sent or delivered by the will of man: it must be by the will of God. If it originates with man and is sent and delivered by man’s will, then it is no more the Word of God.

And thus our Confession, following the Scripture, denies completely the so-called human factor in Scripture as far as the origin and nature of the Scriptures are concerned.

Notice that our creed here makes a partial quotation from II Peter 1. It is interesting to note the connection of this quotation. The apostle, aware that he must shortly put off his earthly tabernacle, is concerned in this epistle with putting the saints in remembrance of the exceeding great and precious promises of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, so that after he is gone, they may “have these things always in remembrance.” It is in this connection that he makes the point that what he and the rest of the apostles preach and write is true. And the truth of their words extends even to, the gospel of the power and coming of our exalted Lord Jesus. “For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” In proof of this last statement he refers to the transfiguration of Jesus, which Peter and James and John witnessed: “For he received from God the Father honor and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount.” II Peter 1:16-18 It is in this connection that he speaks of the more sure Word of prophecy and makes his point concerning the divine origin of that Word, as follows, vss. 19-21: “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For 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.” It is to the latter part of this quotation that our Confession refers in the present article.

The question is: what does the apostle mean when hesitates that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation? Does he simply mean to set down a rule of exegesis, a rule for the interpretation of Scripture? Or does he mean to state something about prophecy itself and about the origin of Scripture-prophecy?

—H.C.H.