Theology: The Doctrine of God
The Word of God
We have shown that the knowledge of God derived from nature is insufficient unto salvation. If man were ever to be brought to salvation, it was necessary for God to reveal a way whereby he could become a partaker of it. Although in retrospect we are able to deduce this truth, nature does not reveal it. It does disclose, however, that God is able to reveal something that is salvific in nature. This has encouraged some to claim to be the recipients of divine revelations and has caused people to believe such pretended revelations.
God, in His unfathomable goodness, being desirous to have a people of His own on earth whom He would lead unto salvation, has revealed to them a way of salvation, beginning with the first gospel declaration to Adam. The Seed of the woman would bruise the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15). In addition to this, God repeatedly gave to His prophets more comprehensive and clearer revelations which they in turn proclaimed to the people who then believed these revelations unto salvation.
The Word of God Prior to Moses
Whether these revelations had been recorded prior to the time of Moses and had been forwarded to the church of that time in written form, we can neither affirm nor deny. Similarly, it is not known to us whether Moses, upon divine command and having been led by the Holy Spirit into all truth, had recorded those matters which transpired from the beginning of time to his time by means of holy and divinely inspired writings, or whether he received them himself by virtue of immediate revelation via the inerrant transmissions of men guided by the Holy Spirit. Since the fathers in the sacred lineage lived for the duration of several hundred years, such transmission could transpire more readily. Abraham, who faithfully made the way of salvation known to his seed, was able to learn third-handedly all that had transpired before him. Abraham was informed by Shem, with whom he lived contemporaneously, Shem from Methuselah, and Methuselah from Adam.
We know one thing with certainty: The church of that time was neither deprived of the Word of God nor of divine revelations. Moses conveys this to us in his first book, and the fact that the elect of that time were brought to salvation makes this a necessary prerequisite. The Word of God of that time is generally referred to as the unwritten Word, as it neither appears to have been recorded, nor to have been transmitted to us in written form. We are limited in our knowledge concerning this by what Moses conveys to us. Only Jude speaks of the prophecy of Enoch in verses 14–15, which is rendered credible by his account. To contrive the idea, however, that there is an unwritten Word in addition to the Holy Scriptures which would reveal things not recorded in the Bible—as Roman Catholicism does in order to make their traditions credible—would be an act which would invoke the curses pronounced upon those who would add something to the written Word.
The Names Assigned to God’s Word
We generally denominate the written Word of God as the Bible, the word “Bible” itself being a Greek transliteration. In our language this word means “book,” which corresponds with the fact that the Bible is the Book of all books. Such it is called in Isaiah 34:16, “Seek ye out of the Book of the LORD”; in Mark 12:26, “the book of Moses”; in Luke 4:17, “the book of the prophet Esaias”; in Acts 1:20, “the book of Psalms”; in Revelation 22:19, “the book of this prophecy”; in Psalm 40:7, “in the volume of the book,” so called because at that time one did not make use of pages, but rather of a long strip of parchment which would be rolled up and tied together with a string.
The written Word is also called the Holy Scriptures in 2 Timothy 3:15–16. In Acts 8:32 it is referred to as Scripture. Since the art of printing had not yet been invented, everything had to be written by pen. Therefore, few possessed the entire Bible, the cost of a Bible at that time being thousands of dollars. Some only possessed a book of one of the prophets, one of the gospels, or one of the apostolic letters. In addition to this, many were not able to read. It was a wonderful mercy of God, upon which one cannot meditate without thanksgiving, that the art of printing was invented and put into practice a short time prior to the Reformation. As a result even a poor person can now own a Bible for a small price. Consequently, you will scarcely be able to find anyone of the Reformed faith who does not possess a Bible or at least a New Testament.
The Holy Scriptures are also denominated as the Word of God. In Romans 3:2 it is stated, “Unto them were committed the oracles of God.”1 God, in condescension to man, has revealed the way of truth in a manner consistent with humanity by speaking to holy men of God, who, moved by the Holy Ghost (2 Pet. 1:21), have spoken these things to the church, thus transmitting the words of God to her. “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son” (Heb. 1:1–2).
The Necessity of the Written Word
After God enlarged the church to include Abraham and his seed, to which she was primarily limited until the time of Christ, it pleased Him to give to His church an immovable and everlasting rule for life and doctrine, by submitting His will in written form to her. This does not imply that such was necessary from God’s perspective, as by His omnipotence He would have been able to reveal the way of salvation to His church without the written Word, and preserve the truth amongst her. From man’s perspective, however, there was such a necessity, in order that the truth would be preserved so much better against the wickedness of man whose heart is inclined toward superstition and carnal religion, carrying within it the seed of numerous heresies. This was also necessary to protect the church against the wiles of the devil because his objective is always to use the smoke of heresy to tarnish the truth, knowing that without the knowledge of the truth there can be no true godliness. Finally, this was necessary so that the gospel might reach every individual member of the church more efficiently, be transmitted from father to children, and be distributed among the nations that much more rapidly. It was needful for Jude to write (Jude 3). The written Word is a light upon our path (Psa. 119:105). If they speak not according to the law and to the testimony, “it is because there is no light in them” (Isa. 8:20). Thus, the existence of the written Word is a necessity.
Roman Catholicism, in order to safeguard their traditions and superstitious legends more effectively, contradicts the necessity of Scripture, presenting the following arguments:
There have been particular churches which have existed without the written Word, such being the case when the apostles initially proclaimed the gospel among the heathen and established churches among them.
Such was the case only for a short period of time. Even if they were not in the immediate possession of the written Word, they had the word of the apostles who were infallibly moved by the Spirit of God. Nevertheless, in a general sense the church had God’s Word in its possession, as one particular congregation would share it with another congregation (Col. 4:16). The Jews who were dispersed among the heathen had the written Word, and as you know, in many places they were generally the first to believe.
For the illiterate it is as if the written Word does not exist in written form.
They hear the Word read, as well as the quotation of Scripture passages by the minister, and thus their faith, and the faith of those who are able to read, is equally founded upon the written Word.
The Lord’s people are taught by the Lord Himself and therefore are not in need of other instruction (cf. Isa. 54:13; Jer. 31:34; 1 John 2:27).
(1) It may similarly be argued that the church certainly has no need for her traditions and therefore they must necessarily be discarded.
(2) When God instructs His people by means of His Word, they are being instructed by Him.
(3) One does not exclude the other, as God grants His Holy Spirit by means of His Word (Acts 10:44).
The Bible is comprised of this written Word and consists of sixty-six books. Thirty-nine were written prior to the birth of Christ and are therefore referred to as the Old Testament (2 Cor. 3:14). It begins with the first book of Moses, generally referred to as Genesis, and concludes with Malachi. These books are divided in a variety of ways, such as “Moses and the Prophets” (Luke 24:27); and “Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms” (Luke 24:44). Generally they are divided as follows:
(1) the books of the Law, that is, the five books of Moses;
(2) historical books, Joshua to Esther inclusive;
(3) poetical books from Job to the Song of Solomon;
(4) the prophets, consisting of the four major prophets from Isaiah to Daniel, and the twelve minor prophets from Hosea to Malachi.
The New Testament encompasses those Holy Scriptures which were written after the time of Christ, beginning with Matthew and concluding with the Revelation. These are divided as follows:
(1) the historical books, that is, the four gospels and the Acts of the Apostles;
(2) the doctrinal books from the Epistle to the Romans to the Epistle of Jude;
(3) a prophetical book, being the Revelation of John.
The Apocryphal, that is, the “hidden” books—being neither read in the churches nor recognized as divinely inspired—do not belong to the Bible. They are writings of human origin of which there are also so many today. They were composed prior to the time of Christ, neither by the hand of a prophet nor in the Hebrew tongue, but in the Greek language. They were neither given to the church, nor did the Jews to whom the oracles of God were entrusted (Rom. 3:2) accept them. They contain many errors and heretical statements contradicting the canonical books. For more comprehensive information you may refer to the excellent preface to the Apocryphal books by the Dutch translators of the Statenbijbel. It satisfactorily confounds Roman Catholicism which desired in later times to consider these books as canonical.
As the Holy Scriptures are the only rule for doctrine and life, the devil is intent upon overthrowing or obscuring this foundation to the utmost of his ability by means of instruments at his disposal. Therefore we shall engage ourselves to defend the Holy Scriptures, and for this purpose we shall consider, 1) their origin—both primary and secondary causes, 2) their contents, 3) their form, 4) their purpose, 5) the subjects to whom they are given, and 6) their profitableness. In considering each of these elements, we shall deal with matters of controversy which one can bring against them.
The Origin of the Holy Scriptures
With regard to the origin of the Holy Scriptures, we must consider the primary as well as the mediate causes. The primary, yes, the only essential cause is God. The evidence is as follows:
1) Throughout the entire Scriptures the following expressions are found: “God spake,” “God said,” “Thus saith the LORD,” and similar words.
2) God Himself did not merely proclaim the law with a loud voice (Exo. 20), but also recorded it in two tables of stone (Exo. 34:28).
3) God expressly commanded the sacred writers to record His Word, “Write this for a memorial in a book” (Exo. 17:14); “Write thou these words” (Exo. 34:27); “What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia” (Rev. 1:11).
This is also expressed in several other texts, as Isaiah 30:8, Jeremiah 30:2, and Hebrews 2:2. Such is also the purpose of the preface to the various books containing the credentials of the writers, whether they be prophets, evangelists, or apostles.
4) The entire Scriptures bear testimony to this, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Tim. 3:16); “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 Pet. 1:21); “The Spirit of the LORD spake by me, and His word was in my tongue” (2 Sam. 23:2).
This has been stated in rebuttal to Roman Catholicism, which denies that the Holy Scriptures were written upon divine command, but rather at this or that arbitrary occasion. The intent of such a notion is to secretly undermine the Scriptures and to give credence and respectability to Rome’s traditions. They seek to prove this by maintaining that God would have caused an orderly book to be written, in which all creedal issues would have been recorded in an orderly fashion, the words and stipulations being such that no misunderstandings or heresies could issue forth from them.
Answer: (1) Who was the Lord’s counselor? Who can say, “What doest Thou?” (Job 9:12); “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God” (1 Cor. 3:19). He makes foolish the wisdom of this world (1 Cor. 1:20); “Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men” (1 Cor. 1:25); “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him” (1 Cor. 2:14).
Errors and heresies do not issue forth from the Holy Scriptures, but from the corrupt intellect of man. “For there must also be heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you” (1 Cor. 11:19).
(2) We do not deny that some matters have been recorded at specified occasions; however, this does not eliminate the fact that God has inspired them and has caused them to be recorded.
The Inherent Divine Authority of the Holy Scriptures
Are the Holy Scriptures truly the Word of God, having divine authority, both in regard to historical accounts where many words and deeds of the ungodly are related, and in regard to the rule for doctrine and life? It is necessary for man to be convinced of this and to esteem the Scriptures as the Word of God. Therefore, how may man be assured that the Holy Scriptures are the Word of God?
Roman Catholicism answers that we must believe it because the church says that it is so. We do affirm that the true church, which believes and declares that the Holy Scriptures are the Word of God, is a means whereby the Holy Spirit brings man to the Word, and thereby persuades man to believe it. The church is neither the foundation upon which rests the faith that Scripture is the Word of God nor whereby man is assured thereof. Rather, the Holy Scriptures, by virtue of the inwrought evidences of their divinity and the Holy Spirit speaking in that Word, are themselves the foundation and basis whereby we believe them to be divine. The authority of the Word is derived from the Word itself.
The church cannot be the foundation upon which one believes the Scriptures to be the Word of God.
First, the church derives all its authority from the Word. We cannot acknowledge a church to be the true church except by means of the Word of God—and only if it preaches the pure doctrine and has the credentials which Scripture expresses as belonging to the true church. “Built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Eph. 2:20); “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house” (2 John 10); “… and avoid them” (Rom. 16:17).
If the Word of God is the only criterion by which we can determine a church to be the true church of God, then we must first acknowledge Scripture to be the Word of God before acknowledging the church to be the true church. Furthermore, we cannot receive the testimony of the church unless we acknowledge her to be the true church. Thus, we do not believe the Word to be the Word of God because the church affirms it, but on the contrary, we believe the church to be the true church because the Word validates her as such. A house rests upon its foundation, and not the foundation upon the house. A construction is subordinate to its cause rather than the cause being subordinate to what it has constructed.
The two can be interchangeable; Christ bore witness to John the Baptist, and John in return to Christ.
It is one thing to bear witness, but quite another to be the foundation of faith itself. Christ was Truth personified, and He testified with authority; John, however, was merely an instrument whereby the truth was disclosed, as every minister is today. God’s servants are nevertheless not the foundation upon which the faith of the hearers is resting; that foundation is Jesus the Christ. Rather, with the Samaritans we must confess, “Now we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard Him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world” (John 4:42).
The basis for respecting someone’s words is the person himself. The laws issued by the government derive their authority to demand compliance from the government itself. The laws do not receive this authority, however, from the person who publishes these laws either by reading or by displaying them. Thus, we acknowledge the Word to have divine authority solely because God is the One who speaks, “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the LORD hath spoken” (Isa. 1:2). The church merely functions as a herald.
If the Word derived its authority from the church, then we would have to hold the church in higher esteem than God Himself, for whoever gives credence and emphasis to someone’s words is superior to the person who speaks them. God has no superior and therefore no one is in a position to give authority to His words. “I receive not testimony from man” (John 5:34), exclaimed the Lord Jesus. Even though John testified of Him, that is, declared that He was the Christ, it would nevertheless be contrary to the will of the Lord Jesus that someone would believe for that reason only. John’s testimony was merely a means to an end. “But I have greater witness than that of John: for the works which the Father hath given Me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of Me, that the Father hath sent Me” (John 5:36).
“… which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). Whatever provides the truth with support and stability, provides it with the authority to be received as truth. Such is the relationship of the church to the truth.
I emphatically reject the conclusion of this proposition. The most eminent proponents of the church are called pillars, which is true in daily conversation as well as in Scripture. “James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars” (Gal. 2:9).
Nevertheless these men did not give to the church the authority to be recognized as the true church. Similarly, the church is the keeper, the defender, and the protector of the Word. If there were no church, the Word of God and the truth contained in it would almost entirely disappear from the world. The expression “a pillar and ground” has no reference to the giving of authority and credibility, but rather to preservation and protection. The oracles of God have been committed to the church (Rom. 3:2). Her calling is to preserve and defend them, as well as to publish them abroad. What credence does this give to the Word of God itself?
No one would know that the Bible is the Word of God if the church had not declared it to be so. God is not now declaring from heaven that the Bible is the Word of God; therefore there must of necessity be someone who declares such to be the case in order that the people can hear it.
(1) No one can know which law the government has issued forth, except for the announcement by a herald and yet he is not the person who gives these laws their authority. Such is also the case here.
(2) The argument that no one can know that the Bible is the Word of God except the church declares it to be so, does not hold. It occasionally occurs that someone born and raised far distant from other people, and being ignorant of the existence of a church, will accidentally find a Bible in his home. While reading it diligently, he finds delight in these matters and they are used as a means for his conversion. Consequently he acknowledges the Bible to be of God and he begins to love His Word. I have known such an individual, and what has happened to him can also happen to anyone else. Hundreds of people are ignorant concerning the church and thus have no regard for it. Yet they will acknowledge the Bible to be the Word of God and may even attempt to seek out the true church by means of the Word. Whether the church or someone else gives us the Bible and declares it to be the Word of God is immaterial. In either case it can motivate a person to search, and while searching, he can discern evidences of divine authorship in it.
(3) The objector will claim the Roman Catholic Church to be the true church, thereby giving authority to the Word. We believe, however, that the Bible is the Word of God, but not because the Roman Catholic Church says it is, as we do not even recognize them to be the church of God. Thus, with how much more certainty—ten times more than they—can we declare that the Bible is the Word of God! And we are not basing this on the acknowledgement that the Roman Catholic Church is the true church. Scripture neither receives its divine authority from the pope, from papal assemblies, nor from the entire power structure of the Roman Catholic Church.
The church existed prior to the written Word and is better known than the Word; thus the church gives the Word divine authority.
The church is not older than the Word; the very opposite is true. The Word is the seed of the church. The first gospel message was issued forth prior to the existence of the church and was a means whereby the church came into existence. It is true that the church existed prior to the time that the Scriptures were fully contained in the Bible. Nevertheless, the church neither gave credence to the books of Moses nor to the Scriptures which followed. Today when someone is born under the ministry of the Word, Word and church are simultaneously present. Generally one acquires esteem for the Bible as the Word of God prior to comprehending what the church is and discerning what she has to say about the Word. From this it follows that the church does not have more recognition than the Word. The converse is true. Assuming that the church did precede the written Word and has more recognition, this fact would not give her the privilege above another to declare the Word to be divine.
Thus, the church does not give divine authority to the Word among men. We do not believe the Word to be divine because the church declares it to be so, but the Holy Scriptures themselves manifest their divinity to the attentive hearer or reader and this becomes clear from the following:
(1) The prefaces of the books of the Bible and apostolic letters, and such words as, “Thus saith the Lord,” “The Lord speaks,” “Hear the Word of the Lord,” etc., touch the heart.
(2) Scripture manifests its divinity to man by its revelation of the lofty mysteries of God and divine matters, which nature does not reveal, no human could have conceived, and which, apart from the operation of the Holy Spirit, cannot be comprehended. The divinity of Scripture is also manifested in the holiness and purity of its injunctions as well as by the way in which man is commanded to conduct himself. Therefore, all other writings which are not derived from this Word are carnal, unrefined, vain, and foolish, whereas those writings which are derived from Scripture compare to Scripture as a painting resembles a living human being.
(3) The divinity of Scripture is further evident from the power it exerts upon the human heart, for wherever the gospel is preached, hearts are conquered and brought into subjection to Scripture. The more those who confess the truth of Scripture are suppressed and persecuted, the more the Word will exert its power.
(4) It is evident from the wondrous light with which the Word illuminates the soul, the internal and external change it engenders, and the manner in which it fills believers with sweet comfort and inexpressible joy. It enables them to endure all persecution in love and with joy as well as surrender themselves willingly to death.
(5) Finally, it is evident from the prophecies which, having declared thousands of years in advance what would subsequently occur, have been fulfilled in minute detail, thus validating these prophecies.
These and similar matters are rays of the divinity of the Word which illuminate and convince man of this divinity by its inherent light. However, the task of fully persuading someone, especially a person who uses his corrupt intellect to judge in this matter, is the work of God’s Spirit who is the Spirit of faith (2 Cor. 4:13). He gives faith (1 Cor. 12:9), and bears witness that the Spirit speaking by means of the Word, is truth (1 John 5:6); “No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost” (1 Cor. 12:3).
The Mediate Causes Whereby God Has Provided Man with His Word
Having considered the primary moving cause, we now will consider the mediate causes or the means the Lord has been pleased to use in providing man with His Word. These were “holy men of God, moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Pet. 1:21). They received revelation,
(1) by means of immediate address, “With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently” (Num. 12:8);
(2) by means of a trance (Acts 10:10), and being “in the spirit” (Rev. 1:10);
(3) by means of dreams in which God would speak (Mat. 1:20), or in visions accompanied by verbal declarations (Gen. 18:13, 17);
(4) by means of angels, be it during sleep, during a trance, or while being awake (Gen. 18:2). In whatever manner the prophets received their revelations, they, as well as the evangelists and the apostles, wrote by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit who inspired them (2 Tim. 3:16), moved them (2 Pet. 1:21), and guided and directed them into all truth (John 16:13), showing it unto them (verse 14).
These men, being guided by the Holy Spirit in regard to matters, words, and style, wrote in the language in use by the church, thereby enabling her to understand the Scriptures. The Scriptures of the Old Testament were written in Hebrew, since at that time the church existed within that nation. Only a few chapters have been recorded in the Aramaic language which resembles Hebrew so closely that whoever understands Hebrew will almost be able to understand the Aramaic language fully. The Scriptures of the New Testament were written in Greek, this language being most commonly in use among the Gentiles.
Both languages have remained so untainted in the Holy Scriptures that even though various manuscripts contain some writing or printing errors, and heretics have sought to corrupt them in various places, the Scriptures have nevertheless been fully preserved due to the faithful, providential care of the Lord, as well as the meticulous attention given to the manuscripts by both the Jewish and Christian churches.
Only the aforementioned languages are authentic, having the inherent authority to be both credible and acceptable. It was in these languages that it has pleased the Lord, by the inspiration and direction of the Holy Spirit, to cause His Word to be recorded. All translations into other languages must be verified by means of the original text. Whatever is not in harmony with this text must be rejected, as God did not cause His Word to be recorded in the languages into which it is being translated, but only in Hebrew and Greek.
Roman Catholicism considers the common Latin translation to be authentic, albeit that some of the more educated among them, being conversant with Hebrew and Greek, are of a different opinion. Others among them would rather die in ignorance than come to the knowledge of the truth. Their efforts to whittle away the authenticity of the original texts are so fraught with ignorance that they are not deserving of a reply.
The Substance or Contents of the Word of God
The substance or contents of the Word is the covenant of grace, or to state it differently, it contains the perfect rule for faith and practice. This rule is comprehended in the Old and New Testaments. It is not true that part of this rule is to be found in each such that the Old Testament would not have been sufficient for the church of the Old Testament and that the New Testament would not have been sufficient unto salvation without the Old Testament, as if they of necessity belong together in the absolute sense of the word. This would suggest that if one book of Scripture were to be lost, part of this rule would be missing and therefore would not be perfect. One book or several together—for example, the books of Moses or the gospels—perfectly contain the complete rule for faith and practice. Someone being in possession only of these books would still be able to be saved, presuming he would understand them correctly. In giving us many Scriptures, however, authored by various prophets, evangelists, and apostles, all bearing witness to the same truth, the Lord is manifesting His wondrous goodness to us. One book will shed light upon one doctrine more comprehensively and more clearly, whereas another book will do so in reference to a different doctrine. Thus, all the books of both Old and New Testaments obligate us to believe and practice all that God commands, which implies that nothing may be believed or practiced which is external to the Scriptures. This confronts us with the following questions:
Is the Word of God a complete and perfect rule for man in reference to faith and practice, thereby implying that nothing needs to be, or may be, added?
Roman Catholicism denies that the Word of God provides us with such a perfect rule, insisting that unwritten traditions must be accepted and believed with the same veneration and faith as the written Word of God. We, on the contrary, maintain that the written Word of God is a perfect and complete rule, thereby rejecting as human inventions all unwritten traditions which pertain to doctrine or practice. This is verified by, “The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple” (Psa. 19:7). David as prophet does not merely make mention of the perfection which is inherent in the minutest detail of the Word of God, but rather how this Word functions in reference to man: it can infuse man with wisdom unto salvation, which in turn results in his conversion. Thus, the Word contains all that is essential for doctrine and practice. If such were not the case, then it would neither be capable of converting a man nor providing him with suitable wisdom. The written Word has been given for the express purpose that we might procure life by it. “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His Name” (John 20:31). Such an objective could not be attained if the written Word were neither sufficient nor a perfect rule for doctrine and life. Thus, it must be concluded that the Word is perfect.
The written Word is competent to teach the truth, to rebuke error, to correct evil, and to identify that which is good, so man may be made perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. In one word, it is able to make man wise unto salvation. More one need not desire, for to have this is to have all. Indeed, the vitality and efficacy of Scripture is such that it is both perfect and sufficient. Observe this in 2 Timothy 3:15–17: “The Holy Scriptures … are able to make thee wise unto salvation. 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, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”
Evasive Argument #1:
The word used is “profitable,” not “sufficient.” Ink is both profitable and necessary for writing, but not sufficient by itself.
Answer: It is written that the Word can make us wise unto salvation, and whatever is profitable unto salvation is of necessity also sufficient. In consequence of this there can be no additional requirements. The sun is profitable for illumination, which is equivalent to being sufficient, as no other light is either necessary or profitable when we are illuminated by the sun.
Evasive Argument #2: The apostle refers to the Old Testament. If the Old Testament were sufficient unto salvation, then the New Testament is not necessary. Since it is indispensable, however, then profitable here is almost identical to advantageous but it is not the equivalent of being sufficient.
(1) The Old Testament was sufficient prior to the coming of Christ who had been promised in the Old Testament. The New Testament does not propose a doctrine and practice which differs from that which is presented in the Old Testament, but rather confirms and augments that which was promised, and thus gives an exposition of its fulfillment. If the Old Testament were profitable to such a degree that it was sufficient for that time, then, due to their sufficiency, the combination of Old and New Testaments are all the more profitable.
(2) When Paul wrote these words to Timothy, several New Testament Scriptures were already available and therefore were included as well.
Addition to or Deletion from the Holy Scriptures Prohibited
It is forbidden to add to or delete from the written Word. All the curses recorded in this Word relative to such a practice confirm this. Thus the Word of God is a complete rule for doctrine and practice. This can be observed, as we read, “Ye shall not add unto the Word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it” (Deu. 4:2); “If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this Book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life” (Rev. 22:18–19); “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” (Gal. 1:8).
Evasive Argument #1:
Moses makes reference to that which he spoke and not to that which he wrote. John only referred to his book, the Revelation, and not to the entire Bible.
That which Moses spoke, he, upon the Lord’s command, also recorded as a faithful servant of God. In writing the book of the Revelation, John wrote the conclusion of the Word of God. John placed his prohibition at the very end of the Revelation as a seal upon the entire revealed and recorded will of God in His Word. The reason for this prohibition is identical for every book of Holy Writ, and thus for the entire Scripture, the reason being that God had inspired those writings and none other.
Evasive Argument #2:
The prophets have added much to Moses, and the apostles have added to both.
This is not true in reference to the rule for doctrine and practice, but only as far as exposition, augmentation, and application are concerned, this being inspired and commanded of God. Paul declared all the counsel of God (Acts 20:27), and yet did not go beyond Moses and the prophets (Acts 26:22).
Evasive Argument #3:
The texts refer to an addition or deletion which would contradict and corrupt that which has been recorded, but not to something which conforms to and complements the text.
Whatever one adds to a perfect work has a corrupting effect. The texts do not merely refer to all that is contradictory, but to all exceptions, as well as whatever is composed beyond the written text (Gal. 1:8).
All traditions which are extrabiblical are inventions and institutions of men. There are no traditions which have been handed down to us by Christ and the apostles. Never does Christ or an apostle direct us to unwritten traditions, but always to the Word (cf. Isa. 8:20; Luke 16:29; John 5:39; 2 Pet. 1:19–20). God condemns all institutions of men. “But in vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Mat. 15:9). The institutions of Roman Catholicism are superstitious, erroneous, and contrary to God’s written Word.
Many books of the Holy Scriptures have been lost, such as The Book of the Wars of the Lord, The Book of the Just, The Book of the Chronicles of Israel, The Book of the Prophets Nathan and Gad, The Letter to the Laodiceans. In addition, not all the words and deeds of Christ have been recorded. We may believe that the apostles also wrote additional letters which are not in our possession. Thus, we must conclude that the Bible is not complete.
(1) These books have never been regarded as a rule for doctrine and practice. Scripture mentions several other books which have been written by pagan authors (Acts 17:28; Titus 1:12).
(2) We believe that Christ has spoken and done many things. Furthermore, we believe that the apostles have written many letters to the congregations, also by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Such particular congregations were obliged to receive these letters as being of divine origin. These were not in the possession of other congregations, however, and after the apostolic period were not preserved for the church of God. The Scriptures which we may now have are therefore not incomplete, but nevertheless are and remain a perfect rule for doctrine and practice. The entire gospel is contained in them, and apart from Scripture nothing else has ever been said or written about Christ and the apostles which has been recognized as a rule for doctrine and practice for the congregation. Indeed, even if we had fewer books in number, we would nevertheless be in possession of a perfect rule. It is the Lord’s goodness, however, to give us the same gospel by the agency of many persons, as well as by means of many amplifications, applications, and expositions—all being abundantly sufficient for us. A distinction needs to be made between the essence of a matter and the details of it.
“I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now” (John 16:12). This indicates that many essential things have not been recorded. Thus, we must conclude that the Scriptures are not complete, and therefore need to be augmented by means of traditions.
After Christ’s resurrection the apostles were stronger in faith and grace, and during the forty days of His presence among them He spoke about the things concerning the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3). Thus, Christ spoke to them about those things which they were previously not able to bear. They were moved by the Holy Spirit who guided them into all truth (John 16:13). This Spirit would teach them all things and bring to remembrance all things which the Lord Jesus had told them (John 14:26). Thus, tradition is eliminated and the Holy Scriptures are and remain perfect, the apostles having recorded “all that Jesus began both to do and to teach” (Acts 1:1), which encompasses all that is essential unto salvation.
“Hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle” (2 Th. 2:15). Here the apostle expressly makes mention of traditions which were taught verbally, thus distinguishing them from traditions taught by letter. Consequently, there are traditions which have not been recorded, but which nevertheless must be adhered to.
The apostle did not only write but he also engaged in live preaching. The substance of his preaching, however, did not differ from the substance of his writing, and vice versa. It was in essence the same gospel. Therefore “by word or by letter” merely refers to different manners of presentation and not to matters which differ essentially. Therefore this does not lend support to the use of tradition.
The Jewish church also instituted various practices—passing them on to subsequent generations—which were not commanded, however, such as fasting in the fourth, fifth, seventh, and tenth month (Zec. 7:5 and 8:19); the days of Purim (Est. 9:21–26); and the feast of the dedication (John 10:22). In similar fashion the Reformed Church also has her traditions, which implies that also now we may and must uphold tradition.
The practice of fasting was commanded by God; the determination of necessity, time, and circumstances was left to the church (Joel 2). Special days of thanksgiving are also commanded, the occurrence and frequency of which are to be determined by the church. There is no basis in the Word, however, upon which the church may legislate the observation of such days for subsequent generations. Such practices should be denounced and the church should not observe them. This is true also for our so-called feast days which ought to be eliminated. Regarding feast days consult Res Judicata by D. Koelman, as well as his other scholarly and devotional writings. Other external religious ordinances and circumstances are principally commanded in the Word of God, the stipulations of which are left to each individual church, and consequently are alterable according to time and place. In doing so, however, all superstition must be avoided and such practices must not have an adverse effect upon doctrine and practice. Thus, the perfection of the rule of Scripture will not be violated, nor will the use of unwritten traditions be advocated.
The Old Testament: Binding for New Testament Christians
Does the Old Testament continue to be a rule for doctrine and practice for Christians in the New Testament?
The Anabaptists reply negatively, whereas we reply in the affirmative. Our proof is as follows:
First, the Old and New Testaments contain the same doctrines and the same gospel; thus the Old and the New Testaments are one in essence, differing only in circumstances and the manner of administration. The church of the Old Testament anticipated the coming of Christ and therefore had a ministry of types and shadows. The New Testament church reflects upon Christ who has come and therefore has a ministry without shadows. The Old Testament is one in essence with the New Testament and therefore is as much a rule for us as is the New Testament. Subsequently we shall demonstrate more comprehensively that such is evident in both Testaments, which is the reason why the apostle, while preaching in the New Testament dispensation, said “none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come” (Acts 26:22).
Secondly, there is but one church from the beginning of the world until the end of time. The books of the Old Testament were given to the church as her regulative principle, and such is therefore true for the New Testament church as well. Even the ceremonies, which were instituted to be practiced only for a period of time, are applicable to us in the New Testament—not to be practiced as such, but for the purpose of discerning in them the truth and wisdom of God, and also for the attainment of a better knowledge of Christ from the details of those ceremonies.
Thirdly, the church of the New Testament is built upon the foundation of the prophets as well as of the apostles. “Built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Eph. 2:20). Thus the writings of the prophets are as regulative for us as the writings of the apostles.
The word “prophets” should be interpreted as referring to the prophets of the New Testament, of whom we can read in 1 Corinthians 12:28, Ephesians 3:5, and Ephesians 4:11. This is indicated by the order in which they are mentioned, as the apostle first makes mention of the apostles and then of the prophets.
(1) The prophets of the New Testament, to whom reference is made in these texts, did not leave behind any writings. Consequently, the church cannot be built upon their writings.
(2) Whenever mention is made of prophets in the New Testament, the reference is generally to the prophets of the Old Testament (Luke 24:25, 27).
(3) The fact that the apostles are mentioned before the prophets lends no support to such a sentiment. The prophets are placed before the evangelists in Ephesians 4:11, and yet evangelists are superior to prophets in the New Testament.
Fourthly, Christ and the apostles substantiated their doctrine by means of the Old Testament. They direct us to the Scriptures of the Old Testament, demonstrating the profitability of the Old Testament for us who are in the New Testament dispensation. “Search the Scriptures; for … they are they which testify of Me” (John 5:39); “For whatsoever things were written aforetime [that is, the books of the Old Testament] were written for our learning” (Rom. 15:4); “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them” (Luke 16:29); “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed” (2 Pet. 1:19); “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the Word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11). All this demonstrates with exceptional clarity that the Scriptures of the Old Testament are as regulative for us as those of the New Testament.
“In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away” (Heb. 8:13). Since it then already was waxing old and ready to vanish away, at the present time it has vanished long ago. Thus, we conclude that the Old Testament is no longer regulative for us.
In this text the apostle is not referring to the books of the Old Testament, for he commends them, declaring them to be profitable for instruction, reproof, etc., (Rom. 15:4, 2 Tim. 3:15–17).
Rather, his reference here is to the administration of the covenant which will be demonstrated in more detail later. Even though the ceremonies relating to the administration of the covenant have ceased, the books of the Old Testament do not therefore cease to be regulative.
“For all the prophets and the law prophesied unto John” (Mat. 11:13); therefore the prophecies of necessity ceased at the time when John appeared on the scene.
The prophets and the ceremonial laws proclaimed that Christ would come, whereas John proclaimed that Jesus had come. The fulfillment implies the cessation of the promise; as such these promises must no longer be understood to be prophetical in nature. Their prophecies continued to be valid in other respects, however. They prophesied concerning the suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, and of His return to judge the world. In this sense the prophecies could not cease with John, the reason being that they had not as yet been fulfilled. The Lord Jesus makes reference in this text to prophecies and their fulfillment, but not to the issue whether the prophetic Scriptures are regulative. The one terminated with the coming of Christ, and the other will always be valid.
“Christ is the end of the law” (Rom. 10:4). Therefore, the Old Testament ceased to function at the coming of Christ.
Answer: The apostle does not refer to the termination of its enduring validity, for Christ states, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Mat. 5:17–18). Rather, Paul refers to the objective in view, that is, that the function of the law is to lead to Christ, that through His fulfilling of the law by His life and passion one may become a partaker of justification.
The External and Internal Composition of the Holy Scriptures
The composition of the Holy Scriptures is both external and internal. To the external belong the orderliness, clarity, and suitability of the style of Scripture, most succinctly giving expression to each doctrine considered individually as well as conveying the internal harmony between the doctrines, and at the same time displaying the majesty of God by whose Spirit they have been recorded. A man of worldly wisdom seeks to use ornate vocabulary, but will rarely be able to adequately describe the wondrous fortitude, dignity, loftiness, and elegance of the style of Scripture. The language used in the most elegant speeches of orators is in comparison but the language of farmers and children. They are not learned enough, however, to perceive this.
The internal composition of Scripture relates to the orderly and precise meaning which corresponds with the thoughts and objectives of the Speaker, that is, God. The meaning of each word, affection, or argument is not two, three, or fourfold, but rather singular in nature. It is an accepted fact that the essential meaning of something can only be singular, as there is in essence only one truth. Thus, the Scriptures are clear and comprehensible, for the sincerity of the Speaker makes it a requisite that He express His meaning in a singular and simple fashion so that His hearer neither be confused nor misled by ambiguous words.
Such a meaning is referred to as the literal meaning which is expressed in either singular or compound form. The singular meaning of the sentence is expressed either precisely or metaphorically. The precise meaning of the sentence is expressed when one articulates his thoughts by using vocabulary which immediately expresses the substance of the matter at hand, such as, “God is just and man is sinful.” The literal meaning is expressed metaphorically when one expresses himself with words from which the original and precise meaning is deduced, in order to express one’s view that much more clearly, graciously, and forcefully. Such a manner of speech is frequently used which in the discipline of oratory is often illustrated by examples such as, “Herod is a fox,” that is, he is cunning and crafty.
The compound meaning of the speaker is expressed when both type and antitype are placed side by side; the one part of the sentence contains the type and the other part the antitype. This is illustrated in the following text: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up” (John 3:14). Each element of the sentence when viewed individually has a well-defined meaning of its own; however, the true intent of the sentence is only expressed by joining both clauses together. The meaning of Scripture which the Holy Spirit wishes to convey is always singular in nature. One may and must rely upon this truth without any distrust. One and the same matter can be viewed from various perspectives, and therefore also be expressed in various forms. Every expression, however, fits precisely in the context in which it is found and in which it is to be comprehended. The views and expressions of Scripture are therefore internally related to each other. They fit together and are by no means different, much less contradictory in nature. Therefore, the Scriptures do not permit various interpretations of the same matter or text.
Scripture is not Subject to Various Interpretations
In order to facilitate the pope’s placement upon the seat of judgment, Roman Catholicism maintains that one and the same text can have a fourfold meaning. First, there is the literal meaning which, incidentally, is the only meaning that we acknowledge. Secondly, there is the allegorical or figurative meaning, when matters of a temporal and physical nature symbolize those of a spiritual dimension, as in Galatians 4:24 where Hagar and Sarah are expressive of two covenants. Such is also the case when something from the realm of nature is used to instruct and motivate man to fulfil his obligation. This is illustrated in 1 Corinthians 9:9, where it is stated, “Doth God take care for oxen?” by which the congregation is exhorted to care for their ministers. Thirdly, there is an analogical or mystical meaning, such as when heaven is depicted by means of earthly objects. This is the case in Revelation 21:2 when “Jerusalem” refers to heaven. Fourthly, there is a tropological meaning which is established by an exchange of words, something which is resorted to when application is made to our daily walk or for the purpose of amending it.
If one were to maintain that in a particular text one meaning is evident, whereas in another text a different meaning must be advocated, we would readily submit to such a view. For then the literal intent of the Holy Spirit is taken into consideration, whether this is the case in a singular or a compound sense, primarily or metaphorically. However, the practice of assigning a fourfold meaning to every text, however, must be considered absurd. We can tolerate the occasional use of one text to make several applications, and we can cope with someone who acts foolishly in this regard and exceeds the limits of reason. To maintain, however, that in every text the Holy Spirit has four interpretations in view, is to make the Holy Scriptures ludicrous. Even though God is infinite and therefore capable of comprehending many matters of infinite dimension simultaneously, He nevertheless is not addressing Himself, but rather men who have but a puny and finite intellect. As He speaks, He is as desirous to be understood clearly as when man uses speech to express his thoughts to others. Man’s ability to speak is not derived from the Bible; rather, the Bible is written in the language of man. It uses man’s language in a more distinguishable, clear, and intelligible manner than the most brilliant lawyer is capable of, so that there is not the least reason for misunderstanding. Misunderstandings concerning Scripture are generated by the ignorance and obstinacy of man. Several questions need to be dealt with relative to this issue.
Do the words in Holy Writ always convey every possible meaning which may be assigned to them?
Who could have ever imagined that anyone would arise who would answer this question in the affirmative? Yet today there are many individuals who believe this to be true. We emphatically answer in the negative for the following reasons:
First, this is evident from the four reasons which we stated in a previous paragraph, rejecting the concept that the Word has multiple meanings. Apply that principle to this situation.
Secondly, if this were true, then no certainties could be found in the entire Scriptures, and various opinions would simultaneously have to be accepted as truth. In such a situation a passage would have various meanings, one person accepting one and someone else another meaning, all being of equal value. We would then have to tolerate every opinion, since each person would be able to justify the meaning he selected for the words in question. It should be obvious to everyone that such is the logical consequence of this view. Whether there are some individuals who apply this concept in this fashion is known only to those who interact with them. Thus it would be possible to make the truth and the lie compatible.
Thirdly, the most denigrating and ludicrous expositions imaginable would have to be accepted as truth, as several persons have demonstrated with numerous texts in Scripture. Such expositions cannot be rejected by those who hold to this proposition, even if they themselves perceive that a given position is ludicrous. This notion is therefore a dreadful desecration of the Word and an affront to God. It would suggest that He would speak in an ambiguous manner or express many different and contradictory meanings in one and the same text.
Fourthly, we are not permitted to deal with human writings, such as wills, contracts, and financial receipts, in this manner. What a disgrace it would be to proceed in such a fashion! Much less may one deal in such a way with the Word of the living God, since He gives expression to every doctrine as well as His intent in a most fitting, orderly, clear, and forceful manner. Even if God were hypothetically (if I may speak of God in such a fashion) to express and aim at all that is true in one paragraph, He is nevertheless not addressing Himself, but men. Thus, He is speaking in a human fashion, in a way which men are best able to understand.
This principle applies only if the meaning of the text neither contradicts the rule of faith, nor is contrary to the Holy Spirit’s sacred objectives, nor conflicts with the context.
(1) If we were to carry the true ramifications of this principle to their logical conclusion, it would constitute a contradictio in adjecto, for the latter assertion would refute the first. The implication would be that no word in all of Scripture could mean what it truly should, since the meaning would always be dependent upon the manner in which this principle is applied.
(2) This principle is flawed as has been demonstrated by several individuals in reference to various texts, since by the use of this rule the meanings of words can be arbitrarily established, and thus the biblical parameters of faith be redefined. Everything is acceptable, one exposition as well as another. According to this principle they can and must also maintain that the Holy Spirit has all these various meanings of the Word in view, thus enabling one to create a context as it pleases him. These stipulations are essential to discern the correct meaning of each text, and are potent medicine for those who maintain that every word does not mean what it potentially can mean. The meaning of a word can only be such as is congruent with the requirements of the specific circumstances in which it occurs.
Many texts will permit a two or threefold interpretation. One can find this to be true by consulting various scholarly expositors, and by what one hears from the pulpits. This is even true for those who object to this principle, suggesting that any given word can be understood to mean one thing as well as another. From this it is evident that even those who oppose this principle agree that words are subject to various interpretations.
When expositors in writing or speaking make mention of a variety of meanings associated with a word, they are not admitting thereby that this text, or the word within this text, has various meanings. They are merely admitting that because of their darkened understanding they are not able to interpret this text absolutely and do not dare to say with certainty which meaning the Holy Spirit has in view. If emphasis is under consideration, one should compare the translation with the original text.
This principle yields much light as one seeks to understand the Word of God; it enables one to perceive the full force and emphasis of the text.
(1) This principle will make it very difficult to understand the Word. Only if one were to dispense with his love for the truth, could such a principle enable one to understand the Word quickly. Anything will then be acceptable and one cannot err, as the words mean what is most conveniently suitable at the moment.
(2) God’s Word always speaks with emphasis, and all words are used in full effect, so that the meaning of a word or sentence is never diluted. Those who wish to introduce heresy, or who desire to maintain the viability of their heresies, will use the full force and emphasis of a word, as if that were capable of altering the true meaning of a given text. Scholars are conversant with such trickery, and the simple must be on guard when they hear words used in such a fashion.
Everyone understands that words are sometimes taken in a narrower and a wider sense, thereby including a wide variety of meanings. Some words or sentences are viewed from such a broad perspective so as to include at once all the consequences which naturally flow out of them. From this it is evident that one can utilize words either with full force and emphasis or with less than full emphasis.
The issue at hand relates to the various meanings of words which have one meaning in one text and another in a different text. If a word has one meaning in one text, it does not necessarily follow that it has the same meaning in other texts. The meaning is determined by that particular text. Some words have reference to a special and unique doctrine, whereas some words are general or common, and in their meaning embrace everything which is comprehended in that general word. Sometimes this comprehensive meaning finds full expression and sometimes the meaning must be deduced from that which immediately follows. This process will yield the literal meaning of those words, and neither determines the magnitude of the force or the emphasis of them.
Must all doctrines relative to faith and practice be established on the basis of words expressly recorded in Scripture, and are they to be disqualified as being according to truth if such is not the case? Can the meaning of a text be determined by applying the logical principle of necessary consequence?
Anabaptists, in order to deny infant baptism, hold to the first principle. We hold to the second with this understanding—that we do not accept what people deduce with their darkened and corrupt intellects, but that which is contained in the text and becomes evident by virtue of necessary consequence. This is verified as follows:
First, man is rational and his speech is rational. In all his interactions his verbal expression generally implies consequences. Since God speaks to man in a human fashion, His verbal expressions also imply consequences. Sometimes these consequences are verbalized, and at other times the matter is merely mentioned—containing the consequence by implication. Among the innumerable consequences which are expressed consider this one: Christ, the Head of all believers, has risen from the dead. This proposition implies that all who are members of Christ must of necessity be spiritually alive. The latter is implied in the first and is consequently deduced from the first, “… that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). Consider the following as an example of an implied consequence: “I am … the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exo. 3:6). This implies
(1) that they who had been deceased long before the time of Moses are yet alive;
(2) that there shall be a resurrection from the dead. This is confirmed in Matthew 22:31–32: “But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read … I am the God of Abraham … God is not a God of the dead, but of the living.”
Secondly, the purpose of Scripture is to be profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, refutation of error, and for comfort (Rom. 15:4; 2 Tim. 3:16). No one can make application toward himself or someone else except by way of inference, which causes one to reason as follows: “Since God has expressed such and such in His Word, I must refrain from doing this, and I must do the other; I am in error as far as this opinion is concerned; in this area I ought not to consider myself defeated, but I ought to be encouraged.” Since our names are not recorded in the Bible, how would anyone be able to use the Bible in a profitable manner except by way of application? All application, however, is made by way of inference.
If such were the case, then our faith would rest upon a fallible foundation, for in drawing conclusions one can be in error as human intellect often errs in the process. Whatever one claims to extract from a text by way of logical deduction may be refuted by another.
(1) It cannot be logically concluded that the potential for error will necessarily lead to error. Our eye can fail to perceive something correctly, even though such is generally not the case. That which one person cannot perceive clearly due to nearsightedness or failing vision, the other is able to perceive clearly.
(2) Our faith is not founded upon rational deduction extracted from a certain text, but upon the text itself. Our ability to reason is merely a means whereby one may perceive that a certain doctrine finds expression in the text. Such a conclusion cannot be drawn from the realm of nature, but only on the basis of revealed truth which is the foundation for faith. Our reasoning cannot deduce anything from the text which was not already inherent in it, but can extract and unveil what is contained in the text already. Thus, faith is not founded upon reason but upon the Word of God.
“No prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation” (2 Pet. 1:20). Thus, we must conclude that everything relative to faith must be based on actual words of Scripture itself, which makes private interpretation inappropriate.
Private interpretation is not the comprehension and knowledge of a given text acquired by reasoning. If such were the case then Scripture would not be profitable for doctrine, etc. (2 Tim. 3:16). Then the exhortations to search the Scriptures (John 5:39) and to compare spiritual things with spiritual (1 Cor. 2:13) would be without purpose, and one neither could nor should heed them. It is evident that everyone in particular should and must exercise discriminatory judgment in dealing with Scripture. Private judgment, however, consists of the fabrication of a person’s own views—views which originate in his own intellect. It is the bringing of Scripture into subjection to such views and declaring as final authority on the matter, “I determine that such and such shall be the interpretation.” Private interpretation is to assign a meaning to a text which is foreign to Scripture, is not extracted from Scripture, and is the product and conclusion of a person’s own intellect.
“Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit; lest any man should beguile you with enticing words” (Col. 2:8, 4). To engage in deductive reasoning is the practice of philosophy. We must refrain from making deductions which generate conclusions without substance.
The apostle warned against the abuse, not the lawful use of all things. Philosophy is the art of reasoning. It is innate in man to acquire knowledge about a certain issue by virtue of the process of reasoning, an ability which he utilizes in all his mental and verbal activities. The ability to reason improves by way of exercise. The desire to acquire wisdom by way of reasoning is denominated as philosophy, which in itself should not be labeled as vain deceit. Paul does not label philosophy as vain deceit but indicates that in their argumentation deceptive individuals can formulate that which has a semblance of being reasonable, which, however, very easily could beguile, deceive, and mislead the simple. One should be on guard for such people and their activity, and listen to Scripture rather than reason. All this, however, has nothing in common with the proper use of reason in attempting to understand Scripture—to use it as a means to extract what is concealed in every text, which is but drawing conclusions on the basis of the Word.
“Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). One must cast down imaginations and bring all thoughts into captivity. Thus, all conclusions drawn from the Word by way of thoughtful deliberation should be rejected.
(1) If man must cease to deliberate and think, he would have to dehumanize himself. He would even have to reject that which has been expressly recorded in Scripture, as he would not be able to do this without deliberation and thought processes.
(2) This text explains itself, for it speaks of imaginations and high things which exalt themselves against the knowledge of God. Such must obviously be cast down and be “brought into captivity.” That is not true, however, concerning deliberations and thought processes by means of which one acquires knowledge about God and His Word, whereby one searches to discover what is contained in the Word and in every text—also what is discovered to the conscience by way of deduction.
The Perspicuity of the Holy Scriptures
Are the Scriptures perspicuous?
Roman Catholicism maintains that the Scriptures are so obscure that they cannot be comprehended except by the use of unwritten tradition and authoritative declarations of the church; and that every text can only be understood in a manner which is congruent with the interpretation of the Roman Catholic Church, since she determines such and such to be the meaning of a given text.
(1) that some matters are beyond human comprehension, as for instance, the manner of God’s existence, He being one in essence yet three Persons. This is also true for His eternity, His infinity—being without limitation, His unconditional goodness, the union of the two natures of Christ, and similar mysteries. These truths are presented to us and everyone can see with one glance that they are recorded in the Word. Since, however, these matters cannot be fully comprehended, they are believed.
(2) All men are not capable of understanding the Scriptures from a spiritual perspective, which nevertheless have been expressed clearly. Similarly, the sun cannot be seen by a blind person even though the sun is an illuminating body. One who is nearly blind sees only a glimmer of light and therefore is not able to distinguish things clearly. Even among those who are able to see there are degrees of clarity in the exercise of vision. This is not due to a flaw in the sun, but is to be attributed to man himself. Such is also the case with spiritual light. A natural man is capable of discerning words in a natural way, as well as the meaning and much of the internal harmony of Scripture; however, he is not able to understand its spiritual dimension, for such is foolishness to him. He is as ignorant in this matter as a blind heathen. God favors some with general enlightenment whereby they are able to perceive the glory and preciousness of divine truths. Those who may be recipients of grace are favored by the Lord with enlightened eyes of understanding while reading or listening. Also here there is a difference in degree; there are children, young men, and adults. The least of them perceive the purpose of Christ and as they attentively read the Word, they comprehend all that is necessary for them unto salvation. They discern the truth contained in the Word; they know and believe it precisely because it is found in the Word. Others make more progress and discern more doctrinal truths, perceiving their interrelatedness. Still others receive even more light but yet remain pupils; their light is not comparable to the knowledge of the saints in heaven.
3) One must recognize that many texts of Scripture, when considered individually, may be clearly understood in reference to godliness and salvation even though one may not be cognizant of their interrelatedness. Many texts no sooner become subject for consideration when more diligent study becomes necessary. The interrelatedness of many texts to other texts also cannot be immediately discerned—not because the text itself is neither clear, orderly, nor suitable, but due to the lack of light in the person studying.
(4) The knowledge of the Holy Scriptures is imperfect even in the most advanced, and in many is very limited. Such are in need of instruction, not due to any lack of clarity in the Word but in order that they might acquire the ability to see the light. Such instruction should not be given by conveying the judgment of the church, with the traditional arguments relative to the issue at hand, or by a resting in these, but it should occur when the issues are presented and explained in various ways so the recipient of this instruction may see for himself what Scripture has to say and thus come to an understanding of the issue itself.
Therefore we answer the question whether the Scripture is perspicuous enough to be understood in the affirmative. A regenerated person with the smallest measure of grace is able to understand that which is necessary unto salvation when he reads Scripture attentively. Not only is Scripture perspicuous as far as orderliness and manner of expression is concerned, but it is also intelligible for a converted person, the eyes of his understanding being enlightened (Eph. 1:18). This is evident from the following:
First, from express declarations by God Himself, “The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes” (Psa. 19:8); “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psa. 119:105); “A light that shineth in a dark place” (2 Pet. 1:19).
Secondly, God has given His Word to enlighten, govern, and comfort those who are His, as becomes evident from, “… enlightening the eyes” (Psa. 19:8); “… for our learning … comfort of the Scriptures” (Rom. 15:4); “And that from a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation … and is profitable for instruction” (2 Tim. 3:15–16); “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to Thy Word” (Psa. 119:9).
This objective of Scripture could not be achieved unless the perspicuity of the Scriptures is such that they can be understood.
Thirdly, a writer is flawed if he does not write in an intelligible manner. The more plain and clear his presentation of matters is, enabling the reader to discern the very marrow of the issue at hand, the more learned he is. One can then conclude that he thoroughly understands his subject matter and that the clearer he writes the better the result will be. God, however, is the Father of lights, an unapproachable Light, and He has given the Scriptures to make His mysteries known to man. It is therefore most certain that the Holy Scriptures incomparably surpass all other writings as far as clarity and perspicuity are concerned, and therefore are most supremely suitable for the instruction of mankind.
Fourthly, those who possess worldly wisdom, even though they are blind concerning the subject matter, shall be compelled to confess that many passages of the Holy Scriptures, as far as style and manner of presentation are concerned, can be comprehended by men of limited understanding without instruction. This enables such individuals to understand the matters themselves. This is true, for example, in statements such as, “There is one God, and one Mediator between God and men” (1 Tim. 2:5); “Christ died for our sins” (1 Cor. 15:3); “But now is Christ risen from the dead” (1 Cor. 15:20); “Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him” (Psa. 2:12); “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life” (John 3:36); “There shall be a resurrection of the dead” (Acts 24:15). Is there obscurity in expressions such as these? Since he does not have spiritual eyes, however, the natural man is not able to understand these matters in a spiritual fashion. Converted persons, on the contrary, have enlightened eyes of understanding (Eph. 1:18). They have received the anointing of the Holy Spirit who teaches them all things (1 John 2:27). They are taught of God (Isa. 54:13). For these reasons the Scriptures are clear and intelligible for them.
“In which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other Scriptures, unto their own destruction” (2 Pet. 3:16). Something which is of such a nature and has such consequences cannot be deemed clear, and is obscure to our understanding.
(1) The apostle was referring to some rather than all matters in Paul’s letters—letters he had penned with divine wisdom.
(2) He was referring to matters and not to style and manner of presentation. These matters were lofty and deep mysteries, but were nevertheless presented in a most clear and exact manner.
(3) He was not speaking of men unlearned in the things of nature, but rather to unlearned and unstable men—men who are in the state of nature and are void of the Spirit—who are neither taught of God nor have spiritually enlightened eyes. He had unstable men in mind who do come to church and are somewhat acquainted with divine truths but who are without a spiritual foundation and are being tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine. Such persons wrest not only the lofty doctrines expressed by Paul—which they cannot understand—but also wrest other Scriptures to their own destruction. “But these speak evil of those things which they know not: but what they know naturally, as brute beasts, in those things they corrupt themselves” (Jude 10).
Thus the text does not suggest that Scripture is obscure in the doctrines which must be known unto salvation; especially for those who are regenerated, which was the point of contention.
“And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me?” (Acts 8:30–31). Since Scripture cannot be understood without further instruction, it lacks the clarity necessary for it to be understood.
(1) Far be it from us to exclude the necessity of instruction. Those who are still unconverted are in need of instruction, as they are without knowledge concerning spiritual matters, however clearly they may be presented. Our reference here is not to what the Scriptures are for the unconverted. A blind person cannot read and therefore cannot become conversant with the contents of a book by means of reading. For everyone who has begun to receive spiritual eyesight and also for those who have made further progress—each one at his own level as no one comes to perfection in this life—instruction is a means whereby one may progressively advance. The necessity of instruction, however, does not imply obscurity in Scripture, but rather takes into account the loftiness of its doctrines and the incompetence of the person who is reading it.
(2) The purpose of instruction is not to make Scripture more clear but to make a person more capable of discerning the mysteries contained in Scripture.
“For now we see through a glass darkly” (1 Cor. 13:12).
This text does not refer to Holy Scripture, but to the believer, declaring that the knowledge he may possess in this world is but a glimmer compared to the knowledge which he shall have in heaven. This text therefore is not relevant to the issue at hand, namely, whether the godly can understand the Holy Scriptures to their comfort, direction, faith, and salvation, or whether the Scriptures are so obscure that the godly can barely understand anything.
The Word of God cannot be understood apart from the illumination of the Spirit of God. Thus we conclude that it is too obscure to be understood, as is evident in the following texts: “He opened to us the Scriptures” (Luke 24:32); “Open Thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law” (Psa. 119:18).
(1) We readily admit that man needs to be enlightened by God’s Spirit before he can understand Scripture in its spiritual sense. Apart from this illumination he cannot comprehend spiritual matters, as they are foolishness to him.
(2) The texts themselves indicate that the problem is not with the perspicuity of Scripture, but with man’s intellect, which must be wrought upon by the Holy Spirit before he can understand the spiritual matters presented in Scripture.
The Pope Not the Infallible Judge of Scripture
Is there a superior and infallible judge upon earth who can rule in disputes concerning the Holy Scriptures, to whom every one, upon God’s command, should submit? And if there is such a judge, would this be the church, an ecclesiastical assembly, or the pope of Rome?
Roman Catholicism claims that God has appointed such a judge, this judge being the pope of Rome. Even if they occasionally make references to churches or ecclesiastical assemblies, they nevertheless surrender to the pope in the end. They have appointed him to be the head of the church and have elevated him above ecclesiastical assemblies, for the majority views him to be infallible when he makes a declaration from his papal chair.
(1) that many doctrinal heresies have originated from man’s corrupt intellect, the one being of more and the other being of less significance. “For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you” (1 Cor. 11:19).
(2) Every individual church member, whether he be a government official or an ordinary citizen, as a member has the necessary discernment to understand Scripture.
(3) According to the rule of God’s Word, the elders as representatives of the church and as servants of Christ, may render their judgment as office-bearers in an effort to settle disputes which concern external matters, and thus preserve peace and the unity of faith. According to Romans 16:17, they are also authorized to remove from the midst of the congregation those members who are unwilling to abdicate their heresies. It is not within the jurisdiction of the church, however, to judge concerning any member’s conscience, neither can a person’s faith be founded upon the judgment of the church. This is the jurisdiction of the Holy Spirit only. This Spirit speaks in and by means of the Word; and upon the Word alone may faith be founded.
(4) Thus, we deny that there is an infallible judge upon earth who rules in disputes and to whose judgment everyone must surrender. We deny even more emphatically that either the Roman Catholic Church, its ecclesiastical assembly, or the pope can be judge. We do so for the following reasons:
First, there is not one jot or tittle in the Bible which makes reference to such a prominent, superior, and infallible judge who is to judge in disputes and ascertain the meaning of the Holy Scriptures. Much less is there any reference that such authority is vested with assemblies of the Roman Catholic Church or with the pope. Let one proof text be produced! Paul in his letter to the Romans would certainly have made some mention of such a privilege—of such a weighty matter in which the very truth of Scripture is at stake. The apostle Peter also would have done or said something to indicate such a privilege and would have given some injunction that the pope of Rome should succeed him and have infallible authority to judge in disputes. He does not mention a word relative to this matter; in fact, Scripture tells us that Peter was rebuked by Paul (Gal. 2:11). At the first ecclesiastical assembly held in Jerusalem (Acts 15:13), Peter was not even the chairman, but the assembly acted according to the judgment of James. Thus, all the activity of the pope is nothing but a usurpation of authority. He presumptuously claims authority for himself which he has neither received nor can validate.
Secondly, the pope is not infallible in doctrine or in practice. Some have been exceptionally ungodly, having been fornicators, occultists, heretics, and atheists; this has been confirmed by papal chroniclers. How can such individuals function as infallible judges in disputes that relate to doctrinal issues? The secrets of the Lord are with those that fear Him (Psa. 25:14). Yes, also in our day the pope legislates in direct contradiction to Scripture. He forbids the use of foods which God has created and which are to be received with thanksgiving, and he also forbids marriage, both of which are contrary to 1 Tim. 4:3. He condones incestuous marriages which God has forbidden. He commands that a piece of bread be worshipped as God. He has instituted the religious worship of angels, deceased saints, and images—all of this being directly contrary to Scripture. Can such a man be an infallible judge? How abominable!
Thirdly, Roman Catholicism itself does not acknowledge the pope to be infallible judge. To illustrate this we shall present a few small extracts from the public proclamation made at the Court of Parliament, the great Chamber of Tournelle, gathered by papal edict on January 23, 1688, in France. This proclamation was printed in The Hague in the German language by Barend Beek.
“We wish to make known in this commonwealth the new sentiments concerning the infallibility of the pope, which, in fact, is precipitated by his stubbornness. Who could have imagined that the pope, who is held before us an example of holiness and virtue, would be so attached to his sentiments and so jealously guard the illusion of vain authority? The injunctions of the pope, as unjust as they were, only served the purpose of investigating their unjust claims. The pope jealously strives for the excelling of his papal office in ostentatious novelties. Furthermore, the addition of vain threatenings of excommunication to this edict has not succeeded in causing even the most fearful souls and those who have a most principled conscience to be the least frightened. The pope’s use of spiritual weapons in an entirely secular matter is an intolerable abuse, thus causing such a scandalous novelty to have the illusion of righteousness. When Pope Gregory IV threatened French bishops with excommunication, they replied boldly that they would not be obedient to the will of the pope. Furthermore, if he would have come with the intention to excommunicate them, he in turn would have been exiled. ‘Si excommunicaturus veniret, excommunicatus abiret.’ Can anything more unreasonable and unjust be imagined—if not to say more abominable—than the issuance of this proclamation? Even the entire world is convinced that, rather than the zeal of God’s house, envy and spite engendered the publication of this proclamation. In these circumstances there is nothing to fear from this clap of thunder from the Vatican. How expedient it would be if all the ecclesiastical matters in this commonwealth could be dealt with without one being under obligation to turn to Rome, and that the pope would be entirely subordinate to the ecclesiastical assemblies, who are authorized to correct him and modify his proclamations. Does such conduct emulate the care and meekness of the apostles in their governing of the church? What a strange matter it is that the pope, after having sat in the chair of St. Peter, has not ceased to negotiate with the disciples of Jansenius, whose doctrine was condemned by his predecessors. He has showered them with favors, has praised them, etc.”
Such is the esteem Roman Catholics have for their pope. Far be it therefore from us to acknowledge him as infallible!
Fourthly, the objective is to have a tangible, infallible judge for the settlement of all disputes. This objective, however, is certainly not accomplished by the pope who elevates himself as an infallible judge. All Protestants refuse to acknowledge him as such. Whenever he pronounces his “anathema” upon them, they in turn pronounce it upon him. How can he, being one of the parties in the dispute, be the judge? And have the disputes between the squabbling factions of Dominicans and Jesuits, Jesuits and Jansenists, and Quietists and Operatists ever been settled? These sects are still alive and well within the pope’s domain. From all this it becomes apparent that the pope is not, nor is he qualified to be, an infallible judge in disputes.
Fifthly, the Word of God teaches us that in reference to religion, doctrine, and practice one should not look to man, but only to the Word as the infallible rule, acknowledging it to function as judge in disputes and recognizing that Scripture is its own expositor. This logically follows since it is the Word of the only sovereign Judge of heaven and earth who is the most excellent Wisdom and lives to all eternity. No sovereign while still living on earth would tolerate his subjects to presume—whether subject to him in pretense or in truth—to be infallible interpreters of his commands, imposing their interpretations upon his subjects and requiring compliance with them. Much less shall the living God tolerate such presumption. He speaks with utmost clarity and does not refuse the illumination of His Holy Spirit to those who ask Him for it. He who refuses to be subject to God shall much less be subject to the declaration of a man who exalts himself against the Word of God, while he who wishes to subject himself to God only shall reject the heretical declarations of the pope with loathing.
Sixthly, it is God’s will that everyone’s doctrine and practice should be in accordance with His Word. This is evident from the following texts:
“To the law and to the testimony” (Isa. 8:20); “Search the Scriptures” (John 5:39); “Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures” (Mat. 22:29); “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them” (Luke 16:29). For this reason the Lord Jesus, although very God, confirmed His doctrine from the Scriptures, which may generally be observed in the gospels. Such was also the practice of the apostles as is evidenced by their sermons recorded in the Acts of the Apostles and by their letters. Indeed, Peter does not recommend himself as being infallible but recommends the word of prophecy in 2 Peter 1:19. Luke commended the Bereans who made the Word their standard of reference as they investigated whether the things spoken by Paul were truly so (Acts 17:11). Not one word in the Bible refers to an infallible earthly judge but Scripture itself is established as judge. To its declarations we are to give heed as being the oracles of God. Thus we conclude emphatically that neither the true church, much less the Roman Catholic Church, nor her ecclesiastical assemblies, nor the pope who is the focal point of her entire establishment, are to be the judge in disputes of doctrine or practice.
Seventhly, add to these reasons texts which emphatically establish the Word of God itself to be judge, “… the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day” (John 12:48); “There is one that accuseth you, even Moses” (John 5:45); “All scripture … is profitable for doctrine, for reproof” (2 Tim. 3:16); “The Word of God … is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).
Thus the Word itself is arbiter in the disputes which arise concerning the Word of God, for it is the sovereign, living God who speaks in it, has spoken in it, and speaks by means of it until this very moment. Thus, the Word must be viewed as if God were continually narrating it to us with an audible voice from heaven.
Moses, the high priest, the prophets, and all the priests functioned as judges in doctrinal disputes in the Old Testament. Therefore the pope, cardinals, bishops, and ecclesiastical assemblies function similarly in the New Testament. “For the priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts” (Mal. 2:7).
(1) Moses and the prophets received extraordinary revelations from God for the purpose of making these known and recording them. There was, however, no continuation of this practice in respect to common teachers, neither in the Old nor in the New Testament.
(2) None of them, much less the common teachers, had the authority to issue a superior judgment about that which had been recorded. They had ministerial and official discernment, however, enabling them to apply the truth of the Word to individual persons and issues. In this discernment they were not infallible, as is also the case today.
There must of necessity be an earthly, infallible judge to arbitrate disputes, for otherwise the truth could not continue to exist in the church; neither could the church continue to exist according to the truth, and no disputes would ever be resolved.
(1) The truth will always remain in the Word, and the Word within the church.
(2) The church is preserved by means of the truth, just as the truth within the church is preserved by virtue of the ministerial discernment which the elders exercise on the basis of the Word of God. They are called to use the truth to combat heresies as well as deal with persons who are in error, instructing them thereby, and if they persist in their error, to exclude them from the fellowship of the church. In order to accomplish this there is no need for a superior and infallible judgment.
(3) There will never be an absence of disputes; neither will heresies disappear. They would not be eliminated even if there were an infallible judge upon earth. Such disputes continue to surface even in the papal domain, albeit the pope and the ecclesiastical assemblies are presumed to be infallible judges.
The Word is not capable of hearing the grievances of the opposing parties and therefore cannot function as arbiter in disputes. Consequently, there must of necessity be another judge.
Such can be true for human writings and of an individual who expresses himself inadequately, ambiguously, or obscurely. Such, however, is not true for the perfect law of the sovereign, omniscient, all wise and everlasting God who joins His Spirit to His Word, declaring all truths plainly, clearly, and accurately, and thereby rejecting all errors which present themselves in opposition to it. The Holy Spirit has foreseen whatever errors might arise. He who neither has eyes nor ears will be incapable of hearing the pronouncement of either a visible and audible judge, or of God in His Word. Even if the spirit of error concerns the spiritual realm, God nevertheless remains Judge, maintaining the truth by means of His Word and countering all error.
The dispute concerns the Word itself, referring to its meaning; therefore Scripture itself cannot make a pronouncement in this area but requires the services of an infallible judge.
If a dispute arises in reference to the laws of an earthly sovereign must there then be someone other than the sovereign who authoritatively declares what is the meaning of such a law? May a subject do this or should this be the responsibility of the sovereign if he is still alive at that moment? Everyone can understand that this is the responsibility of none other than the sovereign alone. However, God lives, and He speaks clearly and perspicuously in His Word, doing so by means of various ways, methods, and texts, so that if a man is not able to understand the Word in one text, he may do so in another. For this purpose he must compare Scripture with Scripture which will lead him to the conclusion that God is the expositor of His own Word. Thus, Holy Scripture, or the Holy Spirit speaking by means of the Word, is the judge who renders a decision in the disputes which arise among men. To appoint another infallible judge is to elevate someone above God and His Word, which God will not tolerate.
One must hear the church, and whoever refuses to do so must be excommunicated (Mat. 18:17). Thus the church is capable of rendering infallible judgment in reference to disputes.
Such a conclusion does not necessarily follow from this. The elders2 render a ministerial and applicatory judgment over particular circumstances, and only in harmony with the Word. In this context there is the obligation to hear them and whoever refuses to subject himself to the Word which the elders hold forth must be excommunicated.
The Function of Reason in the Exposition of Holy Writ
Is not reason the expositor of Holy Writ?
The Socinians, and whoever concurs with them, maintain that the entire Word of God as well as every individual text must be examined in the light of reason, and that one should accept nothing as truth which is not congruent with reason. Whenever Scripture appears to contradict reason, then it must be understood as reason determines. In the event that Scripture does contradict reason, then, in opposition to Scripture, reason must be adhered to as an infallible principle.
We agree that intellect and reason are absolutely necessary to understand Scripture, and thereby to exercise faith. They are only the means, however, whereby we may know what God says in His Word, and this Word works faith and is the foundation of faith. Thus, intellect and reason may not be considered as a basis for, as a rule to go by, or as a touchstone, in determining whether that which God reveals in His Word is truth. We believe this solely because God declares it to be so. Reason must surrender itself to the Word; the Word must never surrender itself to reason. Reason is to Scripture what Hagar was to Sarah; it is the servant and not the master. This is evident
First, from a consideration of the condition of man’s intellect. It has not merely been affected by sin relative to natural matters—having a limited capability to perceive matters and much less to comprehend them—but particularly relative to spiritual matters, being completely blind in that respect. “Having the understanding darkened” (Eph. 4:18); “For ye were sometimes darkness” (Eph. 5:8); “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14).
Such is the nature of man that Scripture cannot deal with such a conceited and clumsy creature any differently from the way the organ grinder treats his donkey. He slanders that of which he is ignorant and he corrupts himself with that which he has in common with the dumb animal (Jude 10). Who would venture to elevate man’s darkened intellect to exercise judgment regarding the lofty mysteries which it has pleased the only wise God to reveal? Each source of light has a limited environment in which it shines. This is true for a candle, a torch, as well as for the sun. This also applies to man’s ability to see. One with excellent vision can distinguish matters in the distance which a nearsighted person cannot distinguish at all. This is also the case with man’s knowledge. Should someone with an undeveloped intellect judge concerning the mysteries and particulars of physics, metaphysics, geometry, and astronomy? Thus it is with man’s intellect and reason. They have too many limitations, and therefore are not capable of penetrating the lofty mysteries of the divine Word. Consequently, they cannot sit in judgment over God’s Word.
Secondly, the mysteries which have been revealed are far beyond the reach of our intellect; hence reasoning cannot even approach to within a thousand miles of their meaning. How then can it be the judge regarding them and be the bench mark by which these mysteries should be evaluated? “Canst thou by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection?” (Job 11:7); “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain to it” (Psa. 139:6); “Lo, these are parts of His ways: but how little a portion is heard of Him? but the thunder of His power who can understand?” (Job 26:14). Whoever is to judge what the meaning of Scripture is, and determine what is to be accepted as truth and what should or should not be believed, must be able to understand all truth in absolute perfection. Man’s intellect and his reason, however, are not capable of penetrating the lofty mysteries of God and thus are not qualified to render judgment in such matters. If we must reject all that our reason cannot comprehend, then we must reject the eternity of God and all His perfections such as His omnipresence, infinity, etc. We would also have to reject the Holy Trinity, so clearly revealed in God’s Word, as well as the union of the two natures of Christ and the creation of the world itself. Reason cannot fathom how God created everything out of nothing; however, this is understood by faith. Indeed, would we not have to reject nearly everything?
Thirdly, that which can clearly be discerned and comprehended by way of reasoning for one person will appear to be contradictory to the reasoning of another, and a person will subsequently reject as false what he once considered to be true. Thus in many matters man cannot be certain. Whoever lies repeatedly no longer has any credibility. Our reason deceives us so frequently, however, that it cannot possibly function as either judge, bench mark, or expositor of Holy Writ.
Fourthly, faith and reason are totally different avenues by which one may determine the validity of something. If something is validated by reason, faith is necessarily excluded. If something is accepted as truth by faith, reason is necessarily excluded. Reason can only acknowledge that which has been stated by someone else, and then only if such a statement does not belong to the realm of the impossible. The truth of the matter, however, is validated by faith only. The divine mysteries of the Word of God must be accepted as certainty only by faith, by virtue of the fact that God has said it—He who is true and cannot lie (Acts 26:27; Heb. 11:1, 6; John 16:27). In this respect reason is useful only to determine whether a particular matter is to be found in the Word of God. If such has been determined, then there can be no suspicion or distrust as to whether it is true, for this would render God suspect—as if He were capable of lying. Faith accepts the infallibility of the issue at hand and if it is beyond reason’s ability to determine the validity of a certain matter, this does not mean that this matter is contrary to reason. In such a case reason must be silent and admit that this matter is beyond its reach and that faith alone acknowledges it as truth.
Fifthly, God’s Spirit reveals the mysteries of the Word to the heart, testifies that the Word is truth, and gives faith to embrace it. Thus reason is excluded from functioning as judge and arbiter in determining whether a matter revealed in Scripture should be believed or not. This is confirmed in the following passages: “Flesh and blood has not revealed it unto thee (that is, reason has not taught you this), but My Father which is in heaven” (Mat. 16:17); “Then opened He their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45); “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6); “Open Thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law” (Psa. 119:18); “And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth” (1 John 5:6). Scripture testifies that reason must be brought into captivity (2 Cor. 10:5).
Sixthly, if reason were the judge over Scripture and were to determine which portion of the Word of God should or should not be believed,
(1) God would be subject to the judgment of man, thereby summoning God before man’s judgment seat to give an account of what He has said;
(2) all religion would function in the realm of the natural rather than the spiritual and would be void of faith;
(3) the greatest philosophers and the most intelligent men would be the most enlightened divines, which is directly contrary to the word of Christ, “I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes” (Mat. 11:25). Such absurdities necessarily follow from these propositions. They are as absurd as that which now follows.
Religion is a reasonable service according to Romans 12:1. Thus reason must judge in all matters of religion in order to determine how each text of Holy Writ is to be interpreted.
In the Old Testament dumb animals were sacrificed as types which, when considered apart from the antitype, could not be pleasing to God. However, God being a Spirit demands that He be served in spirit and in truth, with intellect as well as with reason. Here reason is a means in determining what God has revealed. Irrespective of whether the matter which God has revealed can be fully understood and comprehended or if it can be comprehended to such a degree as is necessary unto salvation, even though the matter itself transcends our comprehension—it is sufficient for man as far as believing is concerned. It may not be concluded, however, that reason is to function as judge over every doctrine and text. Reason is the servant and not the master.
Many doctrines can be deduced from the realm of nature, as the Lord Jesus generally taught in the parables. Hence, in matters of nature reason is the judge and therefore also the judge in reference to the doctrines contained in Scripture.
It is incorrect to state that any of the doctrines relative to faith can be deduced from nature. That which belongs to the realm of nature is used only to further explain the doctrines of faith and to impress them more deeply upon the heart. Furthermore, God has a most perfect knowledge of natural matters.
Many doctrines are not expressly defined in Scripture, but are formulated by way of logical deduction. Reason alone determines whether such deductions are correct or not. Thus, reason judges as to what one should or should not believe.
Those doctrines, which by way of sound argumentation may be deduced from a text, are contained in the text itself and one accepts them as true simply because God states them to be so. Consequently, the matter which may be deduced from this text is true, and therefore reason cannot be involved. Reason is the vehicle, however, by which one comes to the conclusion that a particular doctrine is contained in a given text, and by necessary consequence may be deduced from the text. Reason judges whether the proper conclusion has been made, but not whether the doctrine which has been deduced from the text is true.
Scripture defines certain doctrines which reason determines to be contrary to proper judgment, knowing that such cannot be the case. Thus, reason should judge what is congruent with or contrary to the truth, and consequently should determine what one ought to believe.
It is not true that Scripture proposes something which reason judges to be contrary to fact. Whatever God reveals in Scripture concerning the realm of nature is true and by virtue of His testimony is infallible.
Scripture does not Support the Erroneous Views of Men
Does God’s testimony in Holy Scripture concur with the erroneous opinions of men?
There are those who answer in the affirmative, but we emphatically deny this. It is πρῶτον ψεῦδος, that is, the original lie, to maintain that the earth revolves and the sun is stationary.
It should not be too surprising that heathen who are ignorant of God and His Word, or atheists who reject both, would speak in such a fashion. That those who know God and acknowledge the Holy Scriptures to be of divine origin speak in such a fashion, however, cannot but be heard with great consternation by anyone who loves God. Is not God the God of truth and therefore truthful? Is He a man that He should lie? Is not He the God who cannot lie, and shall a holy and truthful God lie? If God were to say something contrary to truth and against better knowledge, thereby verbally making Himself like unto men who are of erroneous judgment—would this not constitute lying and would He not, by speaking in like fashion, encourage men to adhere to their error? Is not the Holy Spirit the Spirit of truth and does not He lead into all truth? All Scripture is inspired by God. Holy men of God have spoken, being moved by the Holy Ghost. The Word of God is true and far be it from the Almighty that He should pervert judgment (Job 34:10, 12).
I ask you, “Where in the Holy Scriptures does God adjust His testimony to the erroneous opinion of men? Where can even the semblance of such a thing be found?”
The Holy Scriptures state in many places that the earth stands still, is stationary, and that the sun circles it, as it appears to be this way to men, and they have that erroneous notion. Nevertheless it is undoubtedly true that either the world circles a stationary sun or that the one as well as the other revolves and circles in an established circuit.
Who would concern themselves about the fact that philosophers and astronomers discuss this matter? To bring God’s Word into this discussion, however, thereby generating the suspicion that God and His Word are guilty of erroneous statements, is something which cannot be tolerated. It is certain that God in His Word uses various and illustrious figures of speech. It is also true that God in His goodness condescends to the frail and limited comprehension of men, directing them by way of visible and natural things to the spiritual. To maintain, however, that God in His Word is guilty of untruth is a statement that can only be heard with great consternation. Would he who loves God not vehemently protest against such a statement?
The truth is that God states in many places in His Word states that the sun is in motion, her circuit resulting in both day and night, and that the world remains both motionless and stationary. Nowhere does God speak to the contrary, as we will demonstrate in chapter 8. Since God states it to be so, it is truth and we are to embrace it as truth. Is not God the Creator, maintainer, and governor of all things, who is much better acquainted with His own work than is man with his limited and darkened understanding? Should men not subject their judgment to the very sayings of God? Or should one attempt to bend and twist the clear declarations of God in such a way that they agree with our erroneous thinking? Whatever God declares, also concerning things in the realm of nature, is true. God says that the world is motionless and stationary, being circled by the sun, and thus it is a certain and incontrovertible truth.
“And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night” (Gen. 1:16). Here sun and moon are denominated as two great lights, even though some stars are much larger than the sun or moon. Thus, God speaks in harmony with the erroneous opinion of men who judge sun and moon to be the greatest lights due to their external appearance.
(1) God does not make a comparison here, but merely refers to sun and moon as viewed individually, stating that the sun is a greater light than the moon. God does not call them the greatest, but great lights. Where is error or an erroneous statement to be found here?
(2) God does not make mention of celestial bodies, nor does He state that the sun and moon are larger in size as bodies than some stars, thus being the largest bodies. Note, however, that God makes reference to lights. Are not sun and moon greater lights, if not the greatest lights, even though the text does not state this? Which stars generate more light? There are none, are there? To speak of lights as bodies is to speak erroneously and to be guilty of error, and by virtue of this error to be guilty of the dreadful practice of attributing error to God Himself. If one engages in such activity, then which truth cannot be distorted?
“Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, moon, in the valley of Ajalon” (Josh. 10:12). The fact is that the sun was neither in Gibeon, nor the moon in the valley of Ajalon; rather, it merely appeared to be so. Thus, a statement is made which is congruent with erroneous opinion. This is also true for that which follows, that is, that the sun and moon stood still.
Were people at that time so naive to be of the opinion that the sun and moon were actually upon earth? Far be it from us to suggest such a thing! Therefore this is neither an example of an erroneous opinion nor of an erroneous statement. It merely indicates that to their perception the sun then appeared to be near Gibeon and the moon to be near Ajalon, and that they remained in those apparent locations. A miracle occurred here. This miracle did not occur in reference to the earth as if her circuit were interrupted, but it occurred in reference to the sun and the moon whose circuits were interrupted. All this clearly proves that sun and moon revolve around the earth.4 There is neither the least indication of error, nor do we have a falsehood here.
“… about midnight the shipmen deemed that they drew near to some country” (Acts 27:27). [The Statenvertaling reads as follows: “… omtrent het midden des nachts vermoedden de scheepslieden, dat hun enig land naderde,” that is, “… about midnight the shipmen deemed that some country drew near to them.”] This is an erroneous sentiment, for the country did not draw near to them; instead, the ship drew near to the country.
These men, had they been of the opinion that the ship was stationary and that the land drew near to them, would indeed have been ignorant mariners. They were, however, not that demented. This is but a common expression whereby it is indicated that the land is drawing near. Such an expression is still in daily use and is neither an erroneous sentiment nor a falsehood. It thus remains incontrovertible that God in His Word does not adjust His testimony to the erroneous sentiments of men.
Thus far we have discussed the origin, substance, and structure of the Holy Scriptures, upon which follows the fourth subject, namely, the purpose of Scripture. The purpose of Scripture is to provide man with a steadfast and unchangeable rule for doctrine and practice in order to lead him in the way of salvation. “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His Name” (John 20:31); “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Rom. 15:4); “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to Thy Word” (Psa. 119:9).
The highest and ultimate objective of all things, as well as of all that is recorded in the Word of God, is the glorification of God. Such is also true of the Word of God itself which contains the revelation of God’s wondrous goodness, unsearchable wisdom, unchangeable truth, and omnipotent power. It particularly refers to the manner in which all these effect the conversion, the consolation, the joy, the wondrous light, and the salvation, of which the elect by means of this Word become partakers. “Praise ye the LORD: … (for) He sheweth His Word unto Jacob, His statutes and His judgments unto Israel” (Psa. 147:1, 19); “Seven times a day do I praise Thee because of Thy righteous judgments” (Psa. 119:164).
The Holy Scriptures: To be Read by Every Member of the Church
The church is the recipient of the Word of God. “He hath not dealt so with any nation [as with Israel]: and as for His judgments, they have not known them” (Psa. 147:20); “Chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God” (Rom. 3:2); “… to whom pertaineth … the covenants, and the giving of the law” (Rom. 9:4); “… which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15).
May and must God’s Word be read by everyone?
Since the Word of God has been given to the church and thus to every member of the church, it follows that it must also be read by everyone. Roman Catholicism expends much energy to make Scripture obscure and to remove it out of the hands of the people. Their errors become clearly evident in this practice because they seek to make the people entirely dependent upon the pope, his cardinals, ecclesiastical assemblies, bishops, and priests. In fact, the Council of Trent expressly forbade the reading of the Bible. We, on the contrary, consider this to be a dreadful act of ecclesiastical robbery, whereby the way to heaven is closed. We maintain therefore that every man, learned or unlearned, may and must read the Word of God. This becomes evident from the following:
First, since the reading of Scripture is nowhere forbidden, who would muster the courage to forbid this practice? The church has never forbidden this. This horrible edict finds its origin in the Council of Trent which was not an orthodox but an anti-Christian ecclesiastical assembly.
Secondly, from the time of Moses until Christ and from the time of Christ until this present day the Bible has always been read by every member of the church. Yes, some were so diligent in this practice that they were able to quote entire apostolic letters from memory.
Thirdly, God has expressly commanded the common man to read His Word. “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates” (Deu. 6:6–9). Observe to what extent they had to familiarize themselves with Scripture. “Search the Scriptures” (John 5:39); “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom” (Col. 3:16); “I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren” (1 Th. 5:27); “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed” (2 Pet. 1:19). It is dreadful indeed to forbid what God has commanded!
Fourthly, those who read the Word are commended in Scripture, and a blessing is also pronounced upon them. “Blessed is the man … (whose) delight is in the law of the LORD; and in His law doth he meditate day and night” (Psa. 1:1–2); “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11); “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy” (Rev. 1:3).
Fifthly, the nature and purpose of Scripture are such that it must be read by everyone.
(1) It is the testament or will of God; a will may and must be read by the heirs.
(2) It contains letters addressed to everyone in the church, this being evident at the beginning of every letter; a letter may and must be read by everyone to whom it is addressed.
(3) The Word is the sword with which every believer must defend himself against spiritual enemies (Eph. 6:17). Would one then rob the spiritual warrior of his weapons?
(4) It is the means unto conversion, the seed of regeneration (1 Pet. 1:23), as well as the source of spiritual illumination (Psa. 19:8), instruction, comfort, and the means unto spiritual growth (Rom. 15:4, 1 Pet. 2:2).
(5) It is written for the very purpose that everyone would read it. “Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it” (Hab. 2:2). From all this it has been incontrovertibly demonstrated that every individual may and must read the Word of God.
Objection #1: “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine” (Mat. 7:6). Thus it must be concluded that the Holy Word of God may not be given to everyone to read.
In this manner we might conclude that one ought not to preach to the unconverted. The reference here is not to the reading of Scripture, but rather to the instruction, exhortation, and reproof of those who become even more wicked in response to this, and might harm the one who is speaking. Such, however, is not applicable to believers and others who are desirous to hear the Word of God.
Many errors have been generated by common men who have read the Holy Scriptures. This has been to their own disadvantage as they wrest the Scriptures to their own destruction, as well as to the disadvantage of others who have been misled by these errors. Thus, it would be more beneficial to withhold the Holy Scriptures from them.
By means of the individual reading of Scripture, the errors of popery as well as other errors will be discovered and exposed. However, the reading of Scripture does not generate such errors. Errors are generally propagated by misguided scholars. Even though some abuse Scripture with their corrupt intellect, this does not negate the use of Scripture itself. Without the Word of God one will most certainly err.
If everyone is permitted to read the Word of God, preaching is unnecessary. Since preaching is a necessary practice, however, there is no need to read Scripture.
Reading and hearing function very well together (Rev. 1:3; Acts 17:11). Both preaching and reading instruct, motivate, lead to repentance, and comfort every believer; hence, reading and hearing have identical results. It is the same Word received in a twofold manner. Though there is a distinction between reading and hearing, they are not contradictory in nature.
We do not forbid the reading of Scripture categorically, as we give many permission to read it, that is, those whom we trust will not create problems by doing so.
This is directly contrary to the Council of Trent. This statement is made in an effort to avoid embarrassment for those who live among Protestants. Neither pope nor priest have the authority to withhold from anyone the privilege of reading the Bible. The privilege to read Scripture is a divine gift for which we owe gratitude neither to pope nor priest. To withhold Scripture from anyone is an act of ecclesiastical robbery as well as spiritual murder.
The Translation of the Scriptures into Other Languages
Since Scripture has been given to the congregation, to every individual member and must be read by everyone, and since the church of the New Testament is to be found throughout the world among various nations and languages (Rev. 5:9), it becomes a necessity to translate the Holy Scriptures into every language. This will enable everyone both to read and hear the Word of God in his own language, as was the case when the apostles spoke in tongues (Acts 2:8). For this purpose the Bible has already been translated into a large variety of languages. Three hundred years prior to the birth of Christ the Old Testament was translated from Hebrew into Greek by seventy-two men who were very conversant with both languages. This occurred under the direction and with the financial support of Ptolomeus Philadelphus, king of Egypt. During the apostolic era the Old Testament was translated into Aramaic, by Jonathan Onkelos, and other unknown translators; afterward it was also translated into the Syrian language. Later, a number of individuals translated the entire Bible into Latin which, next to Greek, was the most common language at that time. Among those Latin translations there is also one which is endorsed by the papacy as being valid. Subsequently, the Bible has been translated into almost as many languages as there are nations in which the church may be found. All translations, however, have not been derived from the original Hebrew and Greek languages in which holy men moved by the Holy Ghost have written. Such translations are derived from other Greek or Latin translations. They merely qualify as transcripts. Such is the case with various Dutch translations which are now referred to as the “old” translations.
In compliance, however, with the decision of the National Synod held in 1618 and 1619 in Dordrecht, a number of carefully selected scholars, being commissioned by the most honorable gentlemen of the General Assembly,5 faithfully translated the entire Bible into Dutch from the original Hebrew and Greek texts. In order to do this as accurately as possible, additional scholars were commissioned to thoroughly inspect and verify the translation work of the initially selected scholars. Consequently, this translation greatly excels all other Dutch translations, including both the older and the newer.6 It is such an accurate and careful rendering of the original text that scholars, friends, and even enemies are all astonished. Those who wish to quarrel about this only convey how inadequate their knowledge of the original languages is, for if a word could have been translated differently, the translators have made note of this in the margin. Thanks be unto the Lord for this unspeakable gift!
As accurate as a translation may be, it nevertheless is neither authentic nor infallible. The meaning of a given word can be inaccurate and therefore when there are differences of opinion, a careful comparison of each translation to the original text is a necessity. A faithful translation will convey all that is contained in the original text; however, since it is a different language, there will also be distinct linguistic differences as far as vocabulary is concerned. The original texts are directly inspired by God and originate with God—both as to doctrinal content as well as the words. In translations, however, only the doctrinal content is divinely inspired, not the words. An unlearned person, being incapable of comparing translations with the original languages, can nevertheless be assured of the veracity of the doctrinal content of the translation if he may perceive the internal doctrinal cohesiveness and harmony of a translation. There is also the witness of the Holy Spirit who in speaking through this Word bears witness to the veracity of God’s Word in its translated form. In addition to the approbation of both scholars and the godly, the veracity of the translation is also confirmed by the powerful effect the Word has upon one’s own heart, as well as the hearts of others. Yes, even the enemies of true religion who are conversant with both languages must attest to the veracity of this translation, agreeing that it is both faithful and accurate. If anyone understands one or another word differently, he may be convinced by comparing it with the original language.
Concerning the Greek translation of the Old Testament by seventy-two translators (that is, the Septuagint [LXX]), as well as the common Latin translation called the Vulgate, the following needs to be asked: Are these translations as authoritative as the original texts? Do they have the same credibility, so that the choice of vocabulary must likewise be deemed infallible, as the recorded text of the prophets, gospel writers, and apostles who were inspired by the Holy Spirit?
Roman Catholicism maintains that such is the case; however, we deny this as will be evident from the following:
First, these two translations are no more the result of the infallible inspiration of the Holy Spirit than are all other translations. They are the result of the work of fallible people in spite of all their efforts not to fail in this task. Therefore, neither these nor any other translations may be placed on equal footing with the original text as far as esteem and infallibility are concerned.
Secondly, it is very evident to all scholars—even Roman Catholic scholars rendering their judgment in this matter—that considerable errors are to be found in both translations. It is evident that the Septuagint was misguided in several places, as the translators used a Hebrew Bible without vowel markings, which God, however, caused to be written with vowel markings. Think for instance of a letter written in which vowels are absent. One might be able to discern the main issues, but could also easily come to erroneous conclusions. It can readily be discerned that the common Latin translation of the Old Testament was from the Greek rather than the Hebrew. Both translations contain serious errors. Since this fact was acknowledged by papal scholars, the pope had ordered that the common Latin translation be somewhat corrected. This explains why many in Roman Catholicism do not recognize any translation as being authentic.
Christ and His apostles always made use of the Septuagint when quoting texts from the Old Testament. Thus, they acknowledged the validity of this translation, thereby rendering it authentic.
Christ and the apostles were concerned with the meaning of a text rather than the words themselves. They did not always make use of this translation, but frequently used the Hebrew text itself. They made use of the Greek translation since it was better known among the people, the Greek language being in more common use than the Hebrew language. Therefore, the fact that texts were quoted from the translation of the LXX does not prove that it was on equal footing with the original text.
Since both the Hebrew church as well as the Greek church had an authentic Bible in their respective language, the Latin church should also have an authentic Bible in her language.
This conclusion has a dual flaw. The Hebrew church possessed the Word as immediately inspired by God in reference to both doctrine and vocabulary. They did not have the Scriptures of the New Testament. The Greek church did not possess the Old Testament in its authentic language; they used a translation instead. They did possess the New Testament in its authentic form, however, since it also had been immediately inspired by God. The Latin church, on the contrary, was in possession of only a translation—not an original manuscript, such as both the Hebrew and Greek texts are. If this conclusion is correct, then each nationality, according to the same rule, ought to be in possession of an authentic translation.
Since both translations (LXX and the Vulgate) are the oldest translations and have been used over a long period of time, they should at least be viewed as authentic.
An error is not transformed into truth by virtue of the progression of time. As old as the Latin translation may be, there are many translations which are even older.
The Necessity of Scripture
Is Scripture a necessity?
The last particular concerning the Word of God which must be considered is its necessity and profitability. The Word of God is necessary and profitable not only for beginners and little ones but also for the most advanced and spiritual believers here upon earth. It is a brook from which a lamb may drink and an ocean in which an elephant can drown. He who is of the opinion that he has advanced beyond Scripture is a fool. He gives evidence that he is ignorant of the spirituality of the Word as well as ignorant of himself. God by His omnipotence could have gathered and preserved His church and caused her to grow without the written Word. It is, however, according to the wisdom and goodness of God to care for His church in a most appropriate and steadfast manner, making His will known to her by means of a written document. In our day this is enhanced by the art of printing. Everyone can have God’s Word in his home and thus be enabled daily to obtain guidance and nourishment from it. God has bound man to His Word to keep him from straying outside of its perimeter. Thus, the Word of God is necessary as well as profitable. This is evident from the following:
First, it is the only means instituted by God to faith and conversion. Without the Word none shall believe. “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom. 10:14, 17). Apart from the Word no one can be regenerated. “Of His own will begat He us with the Word of truth” (James 1:18); “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever” (1 Pet. 1:23).
Secondly, the Word of God is the food which nurtures the spiritual life of the converted: “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word, that ye may grow thereby” (1 Pet. 2:2). Since many persons use the Word so infrequently, they are in darkness, unsteady, tossed to and fro by all winds of doctrine, live in sorrow, suffer from weak faith, and experience the hiding of God’s countenance.
Thirdly, the Word of God is the only rule whereby the condition of our hearts, thoughts, words, and deeds should be governed. “And as many as walk according to this rule” (Gal. 6:16); “To the law and to the testimony” (Isa. 8:20); “Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all Thy commandments” (Psa. 119:6). If people neglect to retain the Word of God in mind and heart, they will begin to elevate their own intellect as their Bible, and thus will mislead themselves and be a cause for concern to others. Such neglect will result in a sinful life as well as much backsliding. Yes, many who do not establish the Word of God as their rule of life “will seek to enter in, and shall not be able” (Luke 13:24).
Fourthly, the Word of God provides a steadfast comfort. “That we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Rom. 15:4); “Unless Thy law had been my delights; for they are the rejoicing of my heart” (Psa. 119:92, 111). This comfort which originates from the Word may come while reading or hearing it or during prayer and meditation. It may originate from a text of Scripture or when the soul, while engaged in sweet exercise, is directed to a text. Such comfort is generally of a much deeper and more fundamental nature, and more steadfast and durable than the comfort which the soul receives without any reflection upon the Word. One should refrain, however, from insisting upon the application of a specific text of Scripture at a specific moment of time, for such expectation will readily rob him of a sweet, spiritual frame. It is therefore desirable to read or hear the Bible read frequently so that one may have ready access to a supply of Scripture in time of need. Furthermore, while meditating, texts of Scripture may be impressed upon the heart to the comfort of the soul—yes, even during dreams. Such often occurs with passages which previously had not arrested one’s attention, not even knowing where to find them in the Bible.
Fifthly, the Word is a special means for sanctification. “Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy word is truth” (John 17:7). God’s Word does not only work sanctification by means of continual exhortation by which the soul is inclined towards obedience by the very voice of God. It also works sanctification through a continual dialogue with God Himself while hearing, reading, and meditating upon His Word as the believer seeks to regulate his life by means of the Word. In addition to this the soul will be more exercised in faith and will become more established in the truth by virtue of its consistent use of God’s Word. Faith then gives birth to love, and love in turn to sanctification. Yes, the soul is led further in this way into the mysteries of God’s Word and perceives many matters which it previously was not able to discern. Every new acquaintance with spiritual mysteries, however, as well as each mystery itself, has a sanctifying influence. Those who are remiss in reading and lax in acquainting themselves with God’s Word will be deprived to a considerable degree of these blessed fruits.
Sixthly, the Word of God is the spiritual sword which must be wielded at all times in our battle against the devil, heresies, and our flesh (Eph. 6:17); “For the Word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). Those who stand ready with this sword stand firm, provide themselves protection, and are victorious over their enemies.
Seventhly, to state matters comprehensively, the Word of God is the only means whereby we can be saved. “It is the power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16); “The gospel of your salvation” (Eph. 1:13); “The engrafted Word, which is able to save your soul” (James 1:21). Therefore, whoever desires salvation will esteem and acknowledge the Word of God as necessary and profitable and will be desirous for this Word.
Our Obligations Toward the Holy Scriptures
Since we have shown the Word to have all these qualities, it obligates everyone to the following:
First, man must acknowledge, value, believe, and view the Word of God in this manner. Apart from this, the Word shall not be profitable. “The Word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith” (Heb. 4:2). At times our unbelieving heart, being incited by the devil, will cause us to doubt whether the Word of God is truly inspired by God. This at times can cause believers much grief and be very injurious to them. Even then they still perceive that the power of God’s Word touches their heart, which no mere human manuscript can accomplish. And if human writings touch their heart, it is only insofar as it makes use of the Word and is taken from it. Even in this condition they readily perceive how the Word of God is a source of rest and comfort for the believer, how powerful a means it is unto the conversion of men, and that there is no purer, better, and more certain way unto salvation on earth. This ought to convince everyone to bring their thoughts into obedient captivity to the Word of God, nipping all wrong impulses in the bud, lest by permitting such thoughts to be multiplied the soul will become more distraught. This subject will be treated more comprehensively when considering the diseases of the soul in chapter ninety-three, “The Temptation whether God’s Word is True.”
Secondly, men ought to rejoice wholeheartedly in this most precious gift of God, embrace it with much love, and be joyful whenever they may either behold it or hold it in their very hands. Almost the entire world is deprived of the Word. Papacy deprives its people of it, burning the Bibles together with those who have read it. We, on the contrary, may have it in our possession and may hear and read it. How our hearts ought to rejoice over this fact! “I have rejoiced in the way of Thy testimonies, as much as in all riches. O how love I Thy law!” (Psa. 119:14, 97); “More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb” (Psa. 19:10).
Thirdly, we should thank and magnify the Lord, who has given it for this. “At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto Thee because of Thy righteous judgments” (Psa. 119:62); “Praise the LORD, O Jerusalem; praise thy God, O Zion. He sheweth His word unto Jacob, His statutes and His judgments unto Israel” (Psa. 147:12, 19).
Fourthly, make use of the Word of God in prosperity, adversity, darkness, seasons of doubt, times of perplexity, and your entire walk. Nothing can befall you, nor is there any duty in which you must engage where the Word of God would not provide you with comfort, peace, counsel, and direction. “Thy testimonies also are my delight and my counselors; I have chosen the way of truth: Thy judgments have I laid before me; Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path; Thy testimonies have I taken as an heritage for ever: for they are the rejoicing of my heart” (Psa. 119:24, 30, 105, 111).
Fifthly, purchase this inestimable jewel, and be diligent in giving it a place in your home. One of the current customs which I consider most desirable and praiseworthy is that of many prominent citizens having a large, beautiful Bible, together with a Psalm book, on display in every room. If only they would use them more frequently! One of the most appropriate acts of mercy is to provide the poor with Bibles, and to question them frequently whether they are also reading them daily. Those of limited means who do not wish to receive anything as a gift, must be diligent in saving all their pennies for the purpose of purchasing a Bible. Those who are not able to read must exert every effort to learn, with the objective to be able to read the Word of God. A home without a Bible is a ship without a rudder and a Christian without a Bible is a soldier without a weapon.
When the Reformation initially took hold in the Netherlands, it was customary for some prosperous citizens to visit the poor with a New Testament in their pocket for the purpose of reading a portion to them, as most people were not able to read. After this, they would give a charitable donation to them. Sea captains would do similarly upon returning home from a journey. In doing so they met the needs of those who either did not possess a Bible or who were not able to read. In this way there was mutual edification and it caused the Reformation to take hold. How profitable it would be if this practice would still be in vogue as many lack the qualifications to express themselves relative to Scripture!
Sixthly, read, search, and meditate upon the Word of God with all diligence and persistence. This should even be the practice of kings. “And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life” (Deu. 17:19). It is the duty of scholars as well. “Give attendance to reading” (1 Tim. 4:13). It is the privilege and obligation of the lowly and of every individual. “Search the Scriptures” (John 5:39); “Have ye not read?” (Mat. 12:3).
The eunuch read while riding in his chariot (Acts 8:28). The Bereans searched the Scriptures daily (Acts 17:11). How everyone ought to practice this in private, prior to going to work, both by himself alone, and with his family! At noon when one nourishes his body, he ought also to nourish his soul. In the evening after work, one must end the day by seeking some refreshment from the Word of God. In the meantime, while engaged in his occupation, by meditating upon what has been read, the soul will maintain communion with God. He will be enabled to understand the spiritual meaning as well as experience the power of God’s Word. This will cause the soul to grow in grace, prevent vain thoughts from arising, control the tongue, suppress corruptions, and direct man to fear God.
Guidelines for the Profitable Reading of Scripture
For the reading of Scripture to be profitable, there must be preparation, practice, and reflection.
First, the preparation for reading God’s Word. Each time when one engages himself to read:
(1) He must, with mental concentration, place himself in the presence of God. He must promote a reverent, spiritual frame, being conscious that the Lord shall speak to him. The consciousness of that reality should cause us to tremble with holy reverence. To promote such reverence, reflect upon Isaiah 1:2, “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the LORD hath spoken.”
(2) He must lift up his heart to the Lord, beseeching Him who is the Author of this Word for His Spirit, that He may cause us to perceive the truth expressed in God’s Word and apply it to the heart. Our prayer ought to be with Psalm 119:18, “Open Thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law.”
(3) He must also attentively incline the heart to obedience in order to exercise faith, be receptive to comfort, and comply with all that which the Lord shall proclaim, promise, and command, saying, “Speak, LORD; for Thy servant heareth” (1 Sam. 3:9).
Secondly, the practice of reading God’s Word. As you read, it is essential to do so calmly and attentively rather than to do it hastily with the objective of bringing the exercise of this duty to a conclusion. If there is a lack of time, it is better to read less but to be attentive in doing so. One can read God’s Word in a twofold manner, that is, either by personal study or by utilizing the research of others. This should be determined by both availability of time as well as ability.
In order to read God’s Word in a studious and scrutinizing manner, one must observe the context preceding and following a given text and take notice of both the manner of speech and the objective of the text. The text must then be compared with other texts where the issue at hand is explained more comprehensively, and with texts which are similar in content. For this purpose it is advantageous to consult the excellent marginal notes,7 which will shed much light upon the text. In following this procedure one will be able to search for and ascertain the literal meaning of the text. We should not merely cleave to the literal meaning, however, as so many literalists do. This is being merely satisfied with the rind of the fruit which provides neither strength nor food for the soul. One must penetrate to the kernel itself, seeking to perceive the internal essence of the matter. For this the natural man is blind, regardless of how learned, proficient in the Word of God, and able he may be to understand the context and convey the literal meaning of the text to others. A godly person, on the contrary, immediately begins to view the unique clarity, nature, and power of spiritual matters contained in the text and his perception increases the more he engages himself in observing and meditating upon these matters. Regardless of how often he may read the same words and chapters he will always perceive something of which he has not been aware before. The truth he finds in the Word is always new again and becomes increasingly sweeter. It is true that the process of ascertaining the literal meaning of the text is sometimes not accompanied with many spiritual exercises, but it qualifies a person to better understand the Holy Scriptures and afterward to be wrought upon the more readily, and in a more thorough and powerful manner.
Four treacherous shoals must be avoided in this respect.
Whoever runs aground on one of these will not be able to ascertain the correct meaning of the Word of God but will rather obscure the spirituality of the Word.
The first practice that needs to be avoided is to assign every allowable meaning to a given word, in consequence of which any meaning of the Word of God is acceptable as long as it does not violate the regulative principle of faith and the circumstances surrounding the text. Whoever adheres to such a practice makes a fool of himself and wrests the Scriptures. The meaning of Scripture is simple, clear, straightforward, and concise, expressing matters in a more organized manner than any man would ever be capable of doing. This obligates us to search out carefully what the specific intent and objective of the Spirit is in every text.
The second practice to avoid is that of forcing everything into a framework of seven dispensations, as the entire concept of seven dispensations is erroneous. It would be tolerable if this were limited to the Revelation of John; however, it would prevent one from ever ascertaining the correct meaning of the book of the Revelation. It is, unacceptable to search for seven dispensations throughout the entire Bible, subordinating every scriptural issue to a dispensation. That would take away the true meaning, spirituality, and power from the Word.
The third practice to avoid is to relegate everything to the realm of prophecy, relating everything to a special era in the New Testament dispensation and considering it as fulfilled or as yet to be fulfilled. This means that hardly anything remains which is of contemporary relevance. There are those who relate everything to the church and the antichrist. Even the parables of the Lord Jesus as recorded in the gospels are denominated as prophecies, and are considered to be references to the church and the antichrist. Whoever engages in such a practice wrests the Word of God, robbing it of its spirituality and power. It is true that all ceremonial procedures from Adam to Christ and all prophecies in the Old Testament are not explained in the New Testament. It is therefore an enjoyable and advantageous study to search out those things which are not explained in the New Testament, but nevertheless are certain and infallible. In doing so one will often discover singular declarations concerning the nature of the Lord Jesus and His execution of His mediatorial office, as well as prophecies which indeed have been fulfilled. In this way our faith is increased and is greatly strengthened. In the pursuit of this, wisdom and moderation should be exercised, however, while refraining from making radical statements by insisting on specific meanings. How often have others, and also we ourselves, been in error in the exposition of prophecy, discovering subsequently our adherence to an erroneous view! Godly humility is essential when engaging in such a study.
A fourth practice, insisting that no text in Scripture can be correctly understood unless viewed in its context, is also to be avoided. Apart from the fact that the context itself is usually obvious, it is generally easy to grasp even for an uneducated but godly reader—easier than some are ready to admit. Where the context is not so readily perceived—one interpreting the context differently from another—it is due to man’s darkened understanding. A godly person, when reading Scripture in all simplicity and being capable of perceiving its spiritual dimension, will often be more capable of understanding the context than others, even though he frequently will not be able to prove his case as would a scholarly person who is in the state of nature. An awareness of the context is not always essential, however, to the correct understanding of a text or a passage. There are thousands of expressions in God’s Word which, when heard or read individually, have a precise meaning, give full expression to their doctrinal content, and are sufficiently penetrating to stimulate faith, render comfort, and be exhortive in nature. This is illustrated in the following examples, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life” (John 3:36); “Ask, and ye shall receive” (John 16:24); “Blessed are the poor in spirit … that mourn … the meek … who do hunger and thirst after righteousness,” etc. (Mat. 5:3–12). Yes, many of the proverbs of Scripture are presented without an apparent context; whoever would search for a context in such a situation would be guilty of obscuring the matter. This much we state about ascertaining meaning in reading Scripture.
One can also read Scripture without engaging in studious research for the meaning of the text. This could be referred to as a practical reading of Scripture. Such is the case when, with a humble, hungry, and submissive spiritual frame, one places himself before the Lord while reading slowly and thoughtfully as if hearing the voice of God, and subjecting himself to the Holy Spirit to operate upon the heart as he reads. If he encounters something which is not immediately understood, he will put such a passage aside for the time being and continue his reading. Whenever there is a passage which has a special power upon the heart, such a person pauses in order that this Scripture might have its effect in the heart. Then he prays, gives thanks, rejoices, and is filled with amazement—all of which revive the soul and stimulate it to obedience. Upon concluding these exercises he will continue reading. After having read a chapter, he will meditate upon it, time permitting. When he encounters a remarkable text, he will mark or memorize it. In such a fashion both the learned and the unlearned should read the Word of God. In so doing, one will understand its spiritual meaning with increasing clarity and God’s Word will increasingly become more precious to us. “If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God” (John 7:17); “If ye continue in My Word, then are ye My disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31–32).
The reflection upon reading Scripture consists in
(1) joyfully giving thanks that the Lord has permitted His Word to be recorded, that we may have it in our homes, that we can and were privileged to read it, and that it was applied to our heart;
(2) painstakingly striving to preserve this good spiritual frame which is obtained by reading God’s Word;
(3) meditating while engaged in one’s occupation upon that which one has read, repeatedly seeking to focus his thoughts upon it;
(4) sharing with others what was read, whenever possible, and discussing it;
(5) especially striving to comply with what was read by bringing it into practice.
If the Holy Scriptures were used in such a fashion, what wondrous progress we would make in both knowledge and godliness! Children would soon become young men, and young men would soon become men in Christ Jesus.
Wilhelmus à Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, ed. Joel R. Beeke, (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 1992), 1:23–81.