Why the Scripture is Authoritative with the Christian
Paragraph 4 of Chapter 1 of the Confession speaks to the authority of Scripture, but more specifically it addresses the “why” of Scripture authority. Why does Scripture have authority with the Christian? The Confession answers that is not because of the testimony of any man or church, but because it is the Word of God. Last time we saw that this means that the Scripture is self-authenticating. It does not need the authentication of a supposedly infallible church, because it is itself the infallible Word of God. Rome’s claim to authenticate the Scripture to the Christian (and thus claim final authority over the Christian) is wrong because it usurps the authority of the Word of God over the Christian.
But the inherent authority of the Scriptures means also that they are self-interpreting and self-supreme. Consider, first of all, the self-interpreting character of Scripture.
Given its claim to authenticate Scripture, it was logical for Rome also to claim to have exclusive authority to interpret Scripture. Only the infallible church, they taught, could properly interpret the Scriptures. In response to this, the Reformers drew their own necessary and logical conclusion from the fact that the Scriptures were self-authenticating. They concluded that the Scriptures were self-interpreting. This may seem a somewhat strange thing to say, but it is the assertion of paragraph 9 of this first chapter of the Confession. Here is what it says:
The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched by other places that speak more clearly.2LCF 1:9
The Scripture does not mean what Rome says it means. The Scripture means what it says it means.
The church is also tempted in our day to allow extrabiblical and secular views to control how it interprets the Bible. Secular science is allowed to control the meaning and interpretation of Genesis 1-3. Secular philosophy is allowed to control our interpretation of the Bible’s teaching about marriage and gender. Such underminings of the teaching of the Bible are simple denials of the self-interpreting character of Scripture.
All this means that the Scripture is self-supreme. That is, it requires that we say what the Confession says in paragraph 10 of this chapter. Listen to that paragraph:
The supreme judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Scripture delivered by the Spirit, into which Scripture so delivered, our faith is finally resolved.2LCF 1:10
The Confession simply articulates here the teaching of Scripture itself. Think, for instance, of Isaiah 8:19, 20.
When they say to you, “Consult the mediums and the spiritists who whisper and mutter,” should not a people consult their God? Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn.Isaiah 8:19-20 NASB
There is no dawn for those who do not adhere devoutly to the self-interpreting and supreme Word of God!
How the Scripture is Authoritative
I have been writing in these posts that the focus of the Confession with regard to the authority of Scripture is on the “why” of scriptural authority. Paragraph 4 answers that “why” question by saying:
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
In this paragraph, the Confession proceeds to answer a second and closely related question with regard to the authority of the Scriptures. Having answered the question, Why, it takes up the question, How, in paragraph 5. Listen to what it says on this issue:
We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the church of God to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scriptures; and 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; yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth, and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.2LCF 1:5
The key assertions of this paragraph are its final ones. Regardless of the testimony of the church which ought to carry some weight with us; and even regardless of the majestic and divine quality of Scripture which is self-authenticating and ought to authenticate the Scriptures to us; still no one comes to full persuasion and assurance in the divine authority of Scripture except through the additional witness of the Holy Spirit.
This witness of the Holy Spirit is not the witness of the Holy Spirit in Scripture itself. Yes, the Scripture was inspired by the Spirit. Yet, this means that in a certain sense the Spirit speaks and witnesses every time it is read. But the Confession here is not talking about that. It is talking about something in addition to that. The language is clear in this regard. It speaks of “the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.” The keywords are “by and with.” This is a work of the Spirit in addition to and different from the work of inspiration by which He creates the Scriptures.
This work is called by theologians “the testimony of the Holy Spirit.” The testimony of the Holy Spirit does not supplement the authority of Scripture as the living Word of God as if the authority of Scripture is somehow deficient or lacking without it. It is not some defect in the self-authenticating power of Scripture that makes it necessary. Rather, and in one word, it is sin that makes it necessary. No matter how bright the light of Scripture, men are blind to and unable to see its brilliant light. It is the testimony of the Holy Spirit which supplies this light. Think of passages like these:
And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.Matthew 16:17
Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”John 3:3
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.2 Corinthians 4:3-6
To believe Scripture originally and to profit from Scripture continually, it is necessary to have the special help of the Spirit. Let us never forget to pray for the help of the Holy Spirit to profit as we study the Scriptures. We need it as Christians. Let us cry out for the Spirit for the unconverted as they perhaps read and hear the Scriptures His witness, His teaching ministry, His enlightenment is necessary if they are to be saving enlightened by the light of the gospel of Christ in Scriptures.
Dr. Sam Waldron is the Academic Dean of CBTS and professor of Systematic Theology. He is also one of the pastors of Grace Reformed Baptist Church in Owensboro, KY. Dr. Waldron received a B.A. from Cornerstone University, an M.Div. from Trinity Ministerial Academy, a Th.M. from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. From 1977 to 2001 he was a pastor of the Reformed Baptist Church of Grand Rapids, MI. Dr. Waldron is the author of numerous books including A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, The End Times Made Simple, Baptist Roots in America, To Be Continued?, and MacArthur’s Millennial Manifesto: A Friendly Response.