- Faith, reason, and the Word of God
- Only One Authentic Word - Part 2
- by David Norris
- Only One Authentic Word - Part 1
- Only One Authentic Word - Part 2
- Only One Authentic Word - Part 3
- Only One Authentic Word - Part 4
- Only One Authentic Word - Part 5
- Only One Authentic Word - Conclusion
The attacks made on Scripture have always been made on the same basis as in the Garden of Eden, the pretended autonomy of the human mind, the illusion that one can think what one will about what God has said quite apart from God and still be right, the belief that human reason is the final arbiter of truth, and that we can be left to make up our own minds as to whether what God says is true. If God has said it, then it cannot be anything other than true. "Let God be true, but every man a liar" (Romans 3:4).
To know anything about everything we need to know what God has said, and in particular we need to know what He has revealed to us about His Son.
The only proper stance where God speaks is unquestioned acceptance and willing submission. This is the only way we can be sure of knowing the truth about anything. Any other course than this means to accept the lie, to follow error, to rebel against our Creator. This false ideal of a free-booting human reason must be rejected, as this is the basic assumption supporting every type of infidel Bible criticism.
Our first parents were faced with the Word of God. They were told that they could eat of every tree in the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they were not to eat (Genesis 2:16-17). Satan was the original 'spin doctor', and his modern counterparts simply follow in their father's footsteps. Look at the 'spin' he puts on what God said to Adam, "Hath God said? ...God doth know..." Eve is quick to learn the technique, she appears to be adding to what God originally said with the words, "...neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die." (Genesis 3:3). Human reason is no judge of the truth of revelation. Even to suggest that there is a need to test the Word of God for truth at the bar of human reason is to concede the possibility that God could be in error, or to imply He could even lie. It is to attribute to the human mind an authority and facility of judgement it does not possess. It is to assert that there can be truth that differs from the thoughts of God. It is to presume to possess the same attributes as God Himself.
In the pages of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments we have the infallible, inspired, revelation of God, all that we need to interpret everything we encounter. The Bible is an 'oracular' book, when it speaks, God speaks. We can, we must, trust every word. As the Word of the living God, it demands we submit.
A mind that locates the final source of judgement within itself is an idolatrous mind, it has taken on prerogatives that belong to God alone.
It is to worship and serve "the creature more than the Creator" (Romans 1:25). Such a mind can only submit to Scripture and to God by first denying its own ultimacy. Those elevating their own critical judgement to a position of final authority will tolerate no rivals, especially one such as Scripture that claims to be a verbal revelation from the only source of truth. Whilst there are those who will seek to discount Scripture altogether, others adopt a kind of presumed objective neutrality and will seek to retain Scripture as one source among many from which truth is to be obtained; but in doing this, the ultimate decision about what is to be accepted or rejected they keep for themselves. God is placed on the same level as man and faces the same difficulties. This is the approach taken by all unbelieving Bible critics and so it must be challenged. The idea of a God is quite acceptable to unbelievers, but it will always be a 'god' who leaves with them the final decision as to what is right or wrong. We preach the Word of God without compromise, we make no concessions to the rebellious, godless, natural thoughts and opinions of men. Everyone is not entitled to his opinion; anything not in accord with Scripture is in every possible sense wrong. Every thought is to be brought under the rule of Christ. We must show the thoughts of godless men to be what they are: falsehoods! There can be no middle road, no mixture of God's thoughts with man's thoughts. There is no independent human thought to which God can add His. What is not of God is error.
We either submit unequivocally to God, or we oppose Him. There is truth and there is falsehood, with nothing in between, no mid-way position, no neutrality. God being the only source of truth, to claim a position of neutrality is itself to be in error, to be outside that truth. We can only arrive at the truth by relinquishing all presumed neutrality. The idea that one should go to God alone for the truth is not even considered as an option by unbelievers. In paradise Eve faced the choice: is God right or Satan? That she even entertained for a second the thought that Satan could be right demonstrated that she had already moved from the truth. Her position of 'neutrality' in which she was free to make up her own mind was one of unbelief and denial. She was considering God and Satan on an equal level and making herself the final judge of both. The question could not be decided by taking a vote, one was for and one against! Having abandoned God as the only source of truth, she believed that she was in a position to decide from what God said whether what He was saying was true or false, good or bad. To assume that there is any such a choice to be made carries with it the thought that God could be wrong. Who is in a position to know? That is the question, one to which there is only one answer. To suggest there is a choice to be made is to call upon men to be obedient and to rebel at the same time.
Let no one imagine it is possible to accept God, receive His Son, and at the same time refuse the authority of His written Word. A refusal of God's revelation as sole source of truth is a refusal of His person. An acceptance of Satan's lies is an acceptance of his person, the two cannot be torn apart. We cannot claim at one and the same time to love God and yet doubt, deny, disallow, or in any way diminish the absolute authority of Scripture. On this point we heartily endorse the words of C. H. Spurgeon:
"I do not understand that loyalty to Christ which is accompanied by indifference to His words. How can we reverence His person, if His own words and those of His apostles are treated with disrespect?"
Satan had become the god of this world, the father of lies, in making himself an alternative source of truth. To whom would Eve submit, whom would she worship?
Whom we worship, His Word we accept. Whom we reject, his word we deny. Those who accuse us of 'bibliolatry' thereby show whose children they are!
The Scriptures and the Lord
Bear one tremendous Name.
The Written and the Incarnate Word,
In all things are the same.
Joseph Hart, 1712-68
Deny the authority of the Scriptures, deny the authority of the Saviour, it is precisely the same. Writes the apostle Paul, "For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, 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, which effectually worketh also in you that believe." 1 Thessalonians 2:13
The Bible is the one, authoritative, verbal revelation of God, there is no other. It speaks with absolute authority, no less than were we hearing the voice of God thundering down from the heavens. It is to be obeyed to the letter. It cannot be questioned.
"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. For he received from God the Father honour 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. 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." 2 Peter 1:16-19
It is this immovable, authoritative word before which sinful men will not bow, and therefore neither do they bow before the One whose Word it is. They reserve to themselves the right of veto.
Not everyone will reject the authority of the Bible outright. There are those who seek to add to Scripture or to supplement it in some way from other sources. Some even make the often blasphemous claim that this supplementary revelation comes from God in the form of dreams, visions, 'tongues' or prophecies. Many in pentecostal and charismatic circles may deny that such 'revelation' and 'prophecy' supersedes Scripture, relegating it to a secondary level. Nevertheless, anything placed alongside God's Word actually deprives it of its final authority in the same way as does tradition and the 'living voice of Christ' in the church of Rome. Clearly, such people are not really submitted to the Word of God at all, rather they show themselves to be dissatisfied with what God has revealed in the Bible. Perhaps they do not like what He has said, it is certainly not sufficient for them.
There are many ways in which the authority of Scripture may be set aside even inadvertently and by some who ought to know better. Many read the Scriptures, but take account at the same time of church councils, creeds, the testimony of science, and Bible commentators and critics. We must remember that, whilst we may value the writings of saints now with their Lord, we may well have benefited from creeds and confessions formulated many years ago, they remain the writings and comments of men, however godly. Too many explain the Bible in terms of confessions and statements of faith, so that they have in practice acquired an authority virtually on a par with the Bible itself. Statements of Faith are important these days, when every heterodox sect the devil ever invented claims its teaching is based on Scripture, but we must not forget that the purpose of such Statements can only be to explain to others what we mean when we say we believe the teachings of the Word of God. They can never be more than their name suggests, Statements of Faith. They should never be used as the determining factor in the interpretation of Scripture, but they are themselves subject to correction by Scripture.
It would appear that for some, the results of long hours spent poring over hardbound tomes of Systematic Theology, along with a constant examination of the minutiae of historical theology, have been mistaken for the word of Scripture itself and submission to its authority. We need to be most careful in this respect. Many of us have reason to give thanks to God for the writings of godly men, when deprived of regular Bible teaching. We thankfully recognise with C. H. Spurgeon that not all light comes through a cracked tile in our own roof. Helpful though all these things may be, nothing can replace personal study of the Bible, and everything else we read must be subject to the scrutiny of God's Word. Many, we fear, would not have fallen into imbalance and error had they, rather than dipping their noses deep into the writings of men, spent that same precious time prayerfully consulting the Scriptures. Some prophetic interpretations seem to owe more to newspaper blather and internet dross than to careful biblical exegesis. We must rather interpret what we read in the Telegraph or the Mail by the Scriptures and not the other way round. Some look to history and thank God for the wonderful way in which God has worked in the past, but they then go to Scripture and, hardly realising what it is they are doing, read into its pages what they have read of history. We must all be so careful. Yet others restrict the authority of the Bible, referring it only to 'matters of faith', thus marking out for themselves an area of autonomy where God does not have the last word. All these viewpoints have one thing in common: they will not allow the Bible its unique place of authority. Everything we do or even think is a matter of faith, "for whatsoever is not of faith is sin" (Romans 14:23).
Supplementary revelation also sometimes slips in under the guise of 'guidance'. It is said that, as the Scripture speaks only in general terms, what is required in addition is individual revelation for specific and personal situations. Individual Christians do not need individual revelation, but each one of us does need the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit in our study of the Scriptures. In Scripture we shall find deposited there all the revelation we shall ever need and more besides. As we read its pages under the influence of God's Spirit, we shall begin to see and understand as God does. God has promised to believers, collectively and individually, that He will indeed lead us all into all truth, into a progressively more comprehensive understanding of the revelation He has given us. Let not those who throw Scripture back in God's face by failing to study it, or by implying its inadequacy, suppose for one minute that God is going to stoop down from heaven and make a special revelation just to pander to their whim! It is 'misguidance', first to neglect Scripture then to claim to receive specific details about our lives directly from the throne of God!
Some set aside the authority of Scripture by interposing a human interpreter between the Word of God and the reader. At this point, the occasion for Satan to slip in his own falsehoods has arrived. This intermediary may be an infallible pope or church; it may be 'scholars' and 'experts' mediating God's Word to us through a maze of manuscripts and supposed exegetical complexities. By intermediary we understand, a situation where the interpretative principle is the assumed autonomy of human reason, which must by definition be adrift from God and be functioning in unbelief and rebellion. An interpretation is being sought from within the mind and heart of the person making it instead of from Scripture. Such is the nature of a false prophet whose word we ought not to heed, he has no word from God.
Denying the need for a human intermediary is not to deny that there are those gifted by God to preach and expound the Word. The essential principle of exegesis remains, the Scriptures themselves provide their own infallible interpretation. The Word of God, even as His providence, is best explained by God Himself.
"God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain."
If Scripture is to speak to our hearts with divine authority God intends, it will be both clear and immediately accessible to every believer. Saying that the Bible is clear in its meaning is not the same as saying every part can be understood with equal ease.
Does the Bible put an end to all use of reason? Not at all, but there is a marked difference in the use of reason by believers and unbelievers. The unbeliever makes his fallen reason the last court of appeal in all matters, whereas for the Christian believer his ultimate source of authority is God's infallible Word illuminated to his mind by the same Spirit who inspired it.
"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." 2 Peter 1:20-21
There is no conflict between reason and faith for the believer. He will recognise his mind to be a gift of God, but at the same time has faith in the divine Author of Scripture and an implicit and unquestioning trust in His Word. This is the continual cry to God from the heart of the believer: "Shew me thy ways, O Lord; teach me thy paths. Lead me in thy truth, and teach me: for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day." Psalm 25:4-5
"For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ." 1 Corinthians 2:16
It is the Christian who is thinking as God does and in accord with Scripture who is the most rational of all His creatures.
The unbeliever throws most of his energies throughout his life into escaping from and denying the truth. Even as sinners men cannot live without God. He mercifully restrains them from living completely according their godless philosophies. Further-more, in His infinite goodness, God continues to permit His sun to shine upon all men without distinction. He sends rain to water the ground and prospers what they do, all to the end that they may yet repent and turn to Him. It is of God's mercy that sinful men are not left to reap right now what they sow daily in rebellious unbelief and wickedness. Even as the prodigal was able to spend each day in sin and riotous living only by misuse of his father's substance, so the sinner daily abuses the good gifts of God.
If men are to know the truth about anything, they need to know what God thinks. To know what God thinks, He must tell us. We need revelation in the first place because we are finite creatures. Adam from the outset needed God to speak to him. The matter has now become more complex because of the entry of sin into the world. We now need revelation additionally, because we are guilty sinners. Sin has seeped into every corner of man's being, he is soaked in sin. He is born in sin, greets each day with sin in his heart, lives each day in sin, and each night lays down his head on the pillow with yet more guilt laid to his account. "The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies." Psalm 58:3
If he will not repent, it were better that such a person were cut off by God. He is cumbering up God's earth, he is of little use to anyone, least of all to himself, and he is only storing up more judgement for the moment he stands before his Maker! Such a person as this, such as we all once were, will only submit to the authority of His Word when God, by a gracious working of His Spirit, breathes life where once death reigned. Only then will the light chase the darkness from the deepest corners of the mind, to see and believe.
The guilty sinner will do all he can to deny the truth, for to admit it leaves him condemned before God. His mind, along with the rest of his personality, has been twisted by sin so that it distorts everything it sees. The sinner will often understand very well what is being said to him in the Gospel, but his natural inclination because of sin is to pervert it. The sharper the mind, the more effective will be the distortion. The unrepentant sinner is thus hardly a person to be trusted to give us an unbiased opinion of the Scriptures. It is rather like asking an unreformed criminal to be judge and jury at his own trial! We are not going to get to anything like the truth out of such a person. A mind in flight from God is seeking only to hide in yet further darkness. Sin is synonymous with darkness and the truth with light. Presented with the Word of God, the powers of the unbelieving intellect will be set in motion to escape the light of truth.
Every fact of the universe interpreted in the light of Scripture conspires against the sinner, loudly proclaims his sin, his guilt, and thus his need of Christ.
"And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather then light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be manifest, that they are wrought in God." John 3:19-21
Not only is the sinner on the run from the truth, but he has allied himself with Satan against God. In return for his willing cooperation rather than making him wiser, instead of 'becoming as gods' as promised, Satan has blinded his mind. He now moves across the face of God's earth with all the vision and discernment of a man who has colluded in the removal of his own eyes in order to see better! Satan was a liar and a deceiver from the beginning!
"The god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them." 2 Corinthians 4:4
To ask someone to judge the truth of Scripture for themselves is to accede to their assumed ultimacy whilst all the time demanding they submit to God. Here is a clear contradiction, we cannot do both of these things at once. Only the acceptance of the authority of our Saviour speaking to us through the pages of the Bible provides any ground for fruitful discussion.
In view of the veritable Babel of contradictory claims to the truth, we need an infallible criterion by which the authentic Gospel of Christ can be immediately recognised, and that God has given us in the completed revelation given by the prophets and apostles.
"For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ."
1 Corinthians 3:11
"And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone." Ephesians 2:20
That which has not come from the apostles must be judged by that which has. No non-apostolic writing stands on the same ground. There can be no other foundation. Without apostles there can be no further revelation. The prophets and apostles are long since gone, but we still have their teaching perfectly preserved for us in the pages of holy writ. We have no other source texts, and nothing can be added to what they have said. There is nothing else to be said. Indeed, an apostolic anathema rests upon everyone seeking to do such a thing. Adding to, or changing in any way, the Word of God once given is a perversion; it is another gospel, which is not another. Paul is most emphatic:
"I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another Gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed." Galatians 1:6-9
This anathema must also apply to those who tamper with the text of Scripture, mess with the manuscripts, transform translations to make them say what they would have preferred God to have said. 'Revelations' other than the one final revelation of Scripture must in the nature of the case be bogus. There is no possibility of them being other than the product of the human imagination or worse, a demonic diversion destined to lead those who follow them away from the Gospel of Christ and into an endless fog of false mysticism. To add to Scripture is to bring down the apostolic curse upon one's own head. Scripture, when interpreted by Scripture, is clear, authoritative, and our necessary spiritual food. It permits no additions or alterations to it, and no subtractions from it. Every single interpretation is subordinated to Scripture as a whole. We cannot concentrate on some passages to the exclusion of others, if our understanding is to be balanced and accurate. Darker passages are to be explained in the light of those more readily understood.