29 April, 2008

Scripture: Source

And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.
2 Timothy 3:15-17.

The causes for the Reformation have been viewed from many perspectives. Specifically or materially the cause of the Reformation was the nature of salvation: is man saved by a cooperation of works and faith, or by faith alone in Christ alone? Foundationally or formally the issue was one of authority: to whom do we appeal; Scripture and ecclesiastical tradition, or Scripture alone?

There are more reasons for the Reformation, but essentially it lies in this: upon what or whom do we ground our belief and action? At the time of the Reformation this question was applied to the all-important question of our standing before God: how can an unrighteous sinner be accepted by a holy God? The resounding answer rediscovered at the Reformation was, “by grace through faith.” It wasn’t a new answer to the question. It wasn’t as if Luther, Calvin and the other Reformers thought up a better question than that of Roman Catholicism. It was the same that Augustine had given before Luther, and Paul before Augustine. Moreover, before Paul, Moses had left the same record in describing Abraham’s belief: “And he believed in the LORD and he counted it to him for righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6).

The important thing to notice is that the answer was derived from Scripture. Luther, Calvin, Knox, and the Puritans after them had a great appreciation and reverence for the early church Fathers before them. Simply reading through their writings makes this beyond dispute. However, they were willing to take Scripture alone as the final word and ultimate authority by which all writings and actions were to be judged; a decision they were willing to make even in the light of much suffering, difficulty and bloodshed.

Why is this? Were not men such as Augustine, Athanasius, Tertullian and others holy, exemplary and commendable? Surely they were! May the Lord be pleased to raise up many more such men for the church today. So why then did the Reformers and their descendants subject the writings of these men, as well as popes and councils to the Scriptures?

The answer lies in the passage quoted at the beginning. Only the Scriptures were given by inspiration of God. This is that which separates the teaching of mere men, even good and holy men, from the teaching of inspired men in Scripture.

In our day we are ready to misunderstand the meaning of the text before us. Inspiration today usually means something synonymous to motivation. “Inspirational music” is that which motivates us to cherish life, beauty and goodness. An “inspirational speaker” motivates us to live in accordance to his message. It is true that Scripture is in this sense “inspirational.”

However, notice that the verse claims not that “All Scripture is inspirational.” Instead it claims that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God.” That is, the cause or source of Scripture is inspiration of God.

The way in which our translators understood “inspiration” is somewhat foreign to us today. They were intending a meaning related to breathing. Whereas it is somewhat foreign, it is not altogether so. For instance, one who has trouble breathing makes use of a respirator. Literally “inspiration” could be translated “to breathe into.” Thus the meaning of the verse has to do with God breathing.

This is why Peter wrote, “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 Spirit.” The prophets and apostles were not simply wanting to write something that would motivate God’s people unto holiness. They were writing as the Spirit of God moved them along. God was speaking through them.

This is why Scripture is called “the word of God.” Paul makes mention of this in 1 Thessalonians, “when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God…” This is something of a mystery, because the words were “heard of us”. That is, the Thessalonians heard Paul and others speak. However, what they heard was not simply Paul’s message. Ultimately and really this was God’s message, “the word of God.”

Thus, “given by inspiration of God” means that the Scriptures were spoken by God. The Bible is God’s message to his people and his world. This is a glorious truth for all men! When reading the works of the ancients such as Plato’s Symposium, Seneca’s moral essays and other works of renown, one is struck with much that is wise and noble. However, as you read through these works you become chillingly aware of a great mixture of truth and error. Such men offer some of the best that uninspired men can produce. But this is at one and the same time wondrous and dangerous. It stands as a ruined statue. There is a glory to it, but it is imperfect. Why would we imagine anything less when we realize the source of such writing? The source of such writing is fallen man.

This is not the case with Scripture. As we read through its pages we read through the very mind of a perfect and holy God. This is so because the source of Scripture is God himself. This is the God who has perfectly communicated his mind to man. The same God whose message is without spot or stain, because he is holy and cannot mislead or sin. This is why the Reformers were willing to subject the decrees and councils of church history to Scripture alone. This is what led Luther to say at the Diet of Worms with his life on the line, “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the Word of God.” (Bainton, Here I Stand).

This has profound implications for all of life. It not only marks out the way to answer the question put forth to the Reformers during Luther and Calvin’s time relating to justification. It also marks out the way to answer all questions dealing with God’s “glory, man’s salvation, faith and life” as the Westminster Confession notes. How should I live? How should we worship? How should the church function? All of these must ultimately be answered by God. How do we know God's answers to such questions? Through Scripture. It is not that the writing of uninspired men is unhelpful. On the contrary, as the Lord has granted teachers to the church to provide aid in understanding Scripture, such teaching is immensely helpful. But it is just that, insofar as they aid in understanding God’s message they are helpful.

Ultimately we do not want to rest such decisions on good men who are prone to err. We must not look merely at how questions have been answered in our generation. Nor can we answer such questions based on an internal feeling or appreciation. These most important questions must be answered by God. How should I live? This is a question God must answer. How should we worship? This question must have a follow-up question: Whom are we worshipping? Jehovah, the triune God of all. When we realize the object of worship, we then realize the answer to the first question. Only God can inform us how we should worship him. And so on with all the other questions of faith and practice. With every question facing us today relating to true religion, let us go to the one treasury of untainted, perfect and sufficient answers – the holy word of God. May the Lord add his needed blessing as we do so.

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