The Authority of Scripture | 1689 1:4-5

by | Dec 23, 2021 | Systematic Theology

Why Scripture is Authoritative

From one perspective there is nothing novel or surprising about the commitment of the Reformation to the authority of the Bible. Since the recognition of the canon of Scripture in the early church, all Christians had always held that the Bible was the Word of God and reverenced the Scriptures as such. It was only after the Enlightenment in the 18th century that a so-called Liberal Christianity questioned the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture.

Thus, it was not this simple reverence for the Scriptures that were controversial or crucial in the Reformation. It was not whether the Bible was divinely authoritative, but rather why the Bible was authoritative. It is this “why” that is the real impetus for paragraph 4 of the Confession which states the authority of Scripture. Listen to what it says carefully:

The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself), the Author thereof; therefore it is to be received because it is the Word of God.

(2LCF 1:4)

Again, from one standpoint, there is nothing controversial about the assertion about the Bible being authoritative because it is the Word of God. The Reformation in its controversy with Rome found a crucial implication in the fact that the Bible is the Word of God with which it answered a claim of Rome and a challenge of Rome to the Reformation.

While giving lip service to the authority of the Bible, Rome resisted the attacks of the Reformers on doctrines of Rome by arguing that the Reformers only knew and believed the Scriptures because of the authority of the Church of Rome. This was the reason “why” the Scriptures had authority with Christians. It was because of the authority of the Church. At first, such an argument seems almost irresistible. How could such a seemingly self-evident claim be answered? The Reformers found the solution in the nature of Scripture itself.

Resting the authority of the Bible on the authority of the Church contradicts the nature of Scripture. Scripture is not to be trusted on the authority of the Church, but on the basis of its own inherent nature as the Word of God. Calvin saw and stated this great insight.

But with regard to the question, “How shall we be persuaded of its divine original, unless we have recourse to the decree of the church?” This is just as if anyone should enquire, “How shall we learn to distinguish light from darkness, white from black, sweet from bitter?” For the Scripture exhibits as clear evidence of its truth, as white and black things do of their color or sweet and bitter things of their taste.

Rome’s claims were an implicit denial of the authority of Scripture as the Word of God. The Reformation insistence on this “why” the Scriptures have authority with us is of massive practical and doctrinal importance for the Christian. I want to trace out that something of that importance in my next talk. But let me conclude this time by emphasizing the fact that this means that we can trust the Scriptures completely and implicitly. As the old saying goes, if the Word of God says it, that settles it. We need not hold in suspense our trust or obedience to the Word of God until it is confirmed or backed up by other authority. The authority of the Scriptures as the Word of God sets the Christian at liberty from every attempt to usurp authority over us. The Scripture is the Word of God, and we must obey God rather than man.

Implications of the Authority of Scripture

This insight into the “why” of scriptural authority which characterized the Reformation was not the result of any new addition to the church’s view of Scripture. It was rather a result of new and clear insight into what the church already believed about Scripture. The Church had always believed that Scripture was the Word of God. But if it was the Word of God, then its authority with the Christians could only depend on that great fact. Plausible as the claim of Rome was that the authority of the Bible with Christians was based on the Church, such a claim was, in fact, a contradiction of the nature of the Bible as the Word of God.

But once this was understood by the Reformation it had massive implications for their approach to Scripture. Those implications continue to have massive importance for us today. It has implications for the fact that the Scripture is self-authenticating; self-interpreting; and self-supreme. Let me explain in this talk self-authentication.

The Scripture is self-authenticating. That is to say, it does not have authority because of (as the Confession says) “the testimony of even man or church.” We do not believe the Bible because of the testimony of an infallible church or an expert historian but on the basis of an altogether higher authority. We believe it and follow it because it is the Word of God.

Now, this view has been mocked or caricatured as circular reasoning. “You believe the Bible is the Word of God, because of the Bible says it is the Word of God.” But this caricature misstates our view. We believe the Bible not because it says it is the Word of God, but because it is the Word of God. That is different. In its very character (as paragraph 5) it shows divine qualities and testifies to itself.

… the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, and the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, and many other incomparable excellencies and entire perfections thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God …

(2LCF 1: 5)

Yes, the Confession asserts that the Scriptures are self-authenticating. Look at it this way. Every argument is based on certain, first principles. We cannot go on forever saying citing one authority in the back of another for why we believe something. We have to take something as properly basic and foundational. The Christian is perfectly justified to take as his final foundation the highest authority in the universe, the Word of God.

But this is not only logically necessary, it is scripturally mandated. Why? Because the Bible everywhere presents itself and affirms of itself that is the living Word of God. One of the many great and scriptural assertions of this reality is found in Hebrews 4:12-13:

12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.

Hebrews 4:12-13

One of the implications of this great truth is that it is simple and in-depth interaction with Scripture that is the secret of increasing our certainty and faith in the Christian religion and gospel. Neglect the Scriptures and your faith must fade. Confront yourself daily with the living word of God, and your conviction of truth and confidence in God will increase.

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