David J. Engelsma is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of South Holland, Illinois.
Like its Author, Holy Scripture is one. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God,” Scripture says of itself in II Timothy 3:16. With reference to the 39 books of the Old Testament, and their countless words, the Bible says of itself that it is a unified whole, a book characterized by oneness. When the Bible views itself, it does not see itself as many, different writings, but as “all Scripture.”
Scripture’s oneness is, fundamentally, its full inspiration of God, inspiration that extends to Scripture’s words. Scripture is inspired, i.e., as the apostle writes literally in II Timothy 3:16, “God-breathed”; and this is true of “all Scripture.” Not one word of Scripture is uninspired, breathed out from a man. Therefore, all Scripture is the Word of God, and only the Word of God. Accordingly, all Scripture is holy (II Timothy 3:15), so that it is to be reverenced; and all Scripture is unbreakable (John 10:35), so that it is not to be criticized.
Faith honors the unity of Scripture by confessing that all Scripture is Divine.
Unbelief denies the unity of Scripture, tearing the sacred unity to shreds, by asserting that Scripture is not only the Word of God, but also the word of man. Inspired in part, it is also, in part, human. This unbelief takes many forms and calls itself by many names; but, whatever the form and regardless of the name, the effect is the same, namely, the introduction of division into Scripture—the radical division between God’s Word and man’s word. God’s Word (which some Scriptures are, or which the Scriptures are in a certain aspect) is holy, authoritative, reliable, powerful, and infallible; man’s word (which other Scriptures are, or which the Scriptures are in another aspect) is ordinary, subject to criticism, undependable, weak, and erroneous.
The result is confusion in the teaching, confusion that is alleged to stem from the now-divided Scriptures themselves: one passage contradicts another passage; the theology of one gospel-writer differs from that of another gospel-writer; and the teaching of an apostle in one place overthrows the teaching of the same apostle in another place.
Not surprisingly, the man in the pew is confused. Did God create a man, Adam, out of the dust of the ground by His own hand, or did man evolve over aeons from the animals? Did sin and death originate from the transgression of the law, that Adam not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, or are “sin” and death merely part of the essential human condition? Did the sun and the moon stand still at the behest of Joshua, or was this description of events only the naive notion of the Israelites, who, of course, were ignorant of the scientific impossibilities of such a thing? Was there an earthquake at the moment of Jesus’ resurrection, or not? Is the wife called to be in subjection to her husband, her head, or is she the equal of her husband in marriage? Is the Bible understandable by the believer (layman) who has “only” the anointing of the Holy Spirit? If it is understandable, is it to be believed in everything it teaches and obeyed in everything it commands?
God is not the author of this confusion, but the devil. The fatal doctrine is the teaching that Scripture ishuman. This teaching now begins to prevail in evangelical and Reformed churches, under the influence of the German Reformed theologian, Karl Barth, and the Dutch Reformed theologian, G.C. Berkouwer. Scripture is Divine and human! It is both the Word of God and the—word of man! Those who have ears to hear will recognize this error, when Genesis 1is explained (away) as a poetic attempt by prescientific Israelites to account for the origin of the world; when the passage regarding the fall of the walls of Jericho is ascribed to the faith of Israel; when sayings and deeds of Jesus in the gospels are said to have been put in His mouth or attributed to His power by the early church; and when bolder spirits dismiss some doctrine or precept of Scripture with the words, “Paul was mistaken.”
Scripture is indivisible. This belongs to its unbreakable character (cf. John 10:35). It is not human. It is not Divineand human. It is Divine, only Divine. It is the Word of God, only the Word of God. The wonder of Scripture is that God moved humans to write the 66 books of the Bible in the human languages of Hebrew and Greek, so that the product, the writing itself, is wholly and exclusively the Word of God: “. . . holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (II Peter 1:20, 21); and this Divine Word is now written down as Scripture, which is not of “any private interpretation.”
The assertion of the Bible’s humanity flatly contradicts the testimony of the church’s creeds. The creeds confess that Scripture is Divine. The Belgic Confession (1561) is typical: “. . . He (God) makes Himself more clearly and fully known to us by His holy and divine Word” (Art. II); “We confess that this Word of God was not sent, nor delivered by the will of man . . . therefore we call such writings holy and divine Scripture” (Art. III); “. . . those divine Scriptures” (Art. VII). It is immediately plain to all that for anyone to insert into this confession of the doctrine of Scripture the words, “and human,” i.e., for anyone to make the creed state that Scripture is a “holy, divine, and human Word,” is to change the fundamental confession of the Reformed Faith concerning Scripture, and to change it, fundamentally.
Because Scripture is a unity by inspiration, it is also one as regards its message. The unity of Scripture is material, as well as formal. Scripture speaks one, consistent, harmonious Word; and this Word is Jesus Christ. “Search the Scriptures,” our Lord commanded, “for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me” (John 5:39; cf. also Luke 24:4-4). Scripture proclaims one gospel; one theology; one salvation; one covenant; one church; one way of salvation; and one rule of life (law).
Faith honors the unity of the Bible by knowing one God—the Father of Jesus Christ, Who is Creator and Redeemer; by trusting in one Savior, Who is the eternal Son of God in human flesh, promised in the Old Testament and come in the New Testament; by confessing and obeying one gospel, that began to be revealed in Genesis 3:15 and that was fulfilled in the revelation given to the apostles of Jesus—the gospel of free, sovereign grace; by receiving one, spiritual salvation consisting of the forgiveness of sins; by acknowledging the one covenant of grace, in both Testaments; by regarding Israel as the Old Testament church and the church as the New Testament Israel; and by heeding the 10 Commandments as the will of God for His people in all ages.
Unbelief, blind to the full inspiration of Scripture, sees many, contradictory messages in the Bible. There is the God of harsh justice, and even hatred, of the Old Testament; and there is the God of love, and the rejection of justice, of the New Testament. There is the salvation of earthly land and material prosperity in the Old Testament; and there is the spiritual salvation of the New Testament. There is a “gospel” of salvation by the keeping of the law and the free will of the sinner; and there is the gospel of salvation by grace. There is the message of predestination; and there is the message of free will. There is the demand to obey the commandments; and there is the “freedom” to disregard the commandments. There is the teaching of the subjection of women to men in marriage and in church; and there is the teaching of the equality of women with men in marriage and in church. Scripture is a bewildering hodge-podge of conflicting ideas, viewpoints, gospels, theologies, laws, and gods. Bible-study and knowledge of the teaching of the Bible become impossible. At best, the man in the pew, or the preacher for that matter, can learn what Israel thought .about creation, or what Job thought about the suffering of the just, or what John thought about the Christ, or what James’ theology was. There is no single Truth revealed in the entire Scripture, to which every passage makes its contribution and which is internally consistent. Comparing Scripture with Scripture does not serve to fill out our knowledge of the Truth as set forth in a particular passage, nor to correct a misunderstanding we have of a certain passage, for one passage contradicts the other, teaching something altogether different from the other.
Am I trying to grasp Paul’s teaching in Galatians 3:28 that there is in Christ Jesus neither male nor female? It is no good to compare Ephesians 5 and I Timothy 2, for the passages are not in harmony, do not complement each other, do not shed light on each other, but rather conflict with each other. The best one can do, in relating the passages, is to conclude that in Galatians 3:28the apostle overcame the defective views he espoused, as a child of his limes, in Ephesians and I Timothy.
Am I trying to understand the cross of the Savior? It is senseless to turn to the laws and practices of animal sacrifice in the Old Testament, for those laws and practices reflect a grossly deficient conception of God on the part of Israel, namely, the conception of Him as a hard-hearted, if not cruel and bloodthirsty, Judge, needing to be placated by blood. At best, the Old Testament laws and practices of sacrifice indicate a stage in Israel’s development towards the mature conception of God as the God of mercy, dispensing with justice.
Such a book ought to be thrown away—it is useless, profitable for nothing, except to occupy the time of the theologians as they play their wicked games with it.
But Holy Scripture is profitable. For it has a unified message: one Word from God about Himself as He is revealed in Jesus.
Scripture’s “diversity,” i.e., its variety and differences, does not threaten its unity. Diversity does not consist of human parts alongside the Divine parts, or of conflicting theologies, or of contradictions between any of its teachings. Diversity, therefore, does not destroy the clarity of Scripture. Rather, the diversity of Scripture refers to the riches of the Bible, to the many aspects of Truth, to the manifoldness of the written Word of God.
God’s Word in creation is rich. There are many different creatures—stars; mountains; streams; trees; birds; flowers; and people. Among the creatures themselves, there is breathtaking variety. Nature is not monotonous and boring. It is not characterized by dull sameness. No one tires of viewing and investigating creation. By this marvelously rich diversity, creation tells the one, grand Truth of the glory of the Creator-God.
So it is with the Word of God written, Holy Scripture. There is history (Genesis 1-11); and there is poetry (the Psalms). There is the compelling logic of Paul; and there is the intuitive knowledge of John. There is the just judgment of a holy God; and there is the mercy of this God Who is love. There is the sovereignty of God; and there is the full responsibility of man. There is the gospel that salvation is entirely the work of God, excluding all work of the sinner; and there is the law that requires the saved sinner to do the will of God in all good works. There is the teaching that the Final Judgment of the elect believer will be based on Christ’s work in his stead; and there is the teaching that in this Judgment the elect sinner will be judged according to his works. There is the extolling of marriage; and there is the counsel that single life is better, if one has the gift and will devote his life to the Lord.
The diversity of Scripture is not that of Divine gold and human dirt, mingled. But it is that of a pure diamond, whose full beauty and worth are seen only by the glittering of all its facets.
Those with a name for orthodoxy can sin against the diversity of Holy Scripture. They preach and confess the holiness of God, and never His love; the sovereignty of God, and seldom, if ever, the responsibility of man; Divine predestination, with a hesitancy urgently to call sinners to repentance and faith; justification, without sanctification; the need lo contend earnestly for the faith, while remaining silent about the blessedness of peacemakers in the church, even when the church is threatened by the biting and devouring of her members; the authority of husbands, but not the duty of husbands to exercise their authority in a selfless, sacrificial love of the wives; the demand of children to obey, but not the danger that fathers provoke their children to wrath by their undue severity; the New Testament, but not the Old Testament.
The study of Scripture is not only necessary, but also fascinating. No believer tires of daily reading and study of the Bible, or of weekly preaching of the Bible, though he lives to be 80 years. No believing preacher wearies of preaching and teaching “the manifold wisdom of God” in Scripture (Ephesians 3:10), though God gives him 40 years in the ministry. For “Thy commandment is exceeding broad” (Psalm 119:96).
This too is due to Scripture’s Author. A narrow writer harps always on one string. The best of human writers is limited. But in the sacred Scriptures, we stand in awe before the “depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” (Romans 11:33).