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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine the doctrine of the infallibility of the Bible. In our previous sessions we have shown that the Bible is infallible because God is its author, and that this is a critically important doctrine, which was central to the reformation. We also showed that Jesus himself used the Bible as his ultimate authority. Dr. Spencer, what else do we want say about this doctrine?

Dr. Spencer: I first want to point out that, as with every other doctrine, we should turn to God’s Word itself to see what it says. And, when we turn to the Bible, we find that it clearly claims to be the authoritative Word of God as we documented extensively in Sessions 4 and 27. I don’t want to repeat all of that here. But, let me quickly summarize what we said. The Old Testament clearly claims to be the very words of God in many places. In fact, phrases like “God said”, and “The Lord says” are used over 3.800 times. There is also an implicit claim to being the Word of God when the Old Testament tells us things about creation, or things said in heaven that cannot possibly be known by any human being except by divine revelation. In addition, as we saw with a couple of examples in our previous session, Jesus Christ treated the Old Testament as the authoritative Word of God, as did all of the apostles. We have quoted the famous statement in 2 Timothy 3:16 that “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (ESV) several times.

Then, with regard to the New Testament, we previously cited 2 Peter 3:16 where he calls the apostle Paul’s writings “Scripture”. We have also noted that in John 14:25-26 Jesus promised his disciples that the Holy Spirit would guide them and remind them of everything he said. Paul then explicitly mentions this guidance in 1 Corinthians 2:13, and he claims to speak the very words of God in 1Thessalonians 2:13. I will let interested listeners go back and listen to Sessions 4 and 27 for more details.

Marc Roby: And in that connection we should remind our listeners that all of the old sessions are available in the archive on our website, whatdoesthewordsay.org. So, we have made the case that the Bible itself clearly claims to be the Word of God. What else is there to say about infallibility then?

Dr. Spencer: There are even more references in Scripture that we have not previously adduced, and I think it would be worthwhile to go through some of them because this doctrine is so frequently denied in the modern church. For example, when the Sadducees tried to trick Jesus by asking him about marriage in heaven, Jesus rebuked them saying, in Matthew 22:29, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.”[1] Which clearly holds up the Scriptures as the ultimate authoritative standard for us.

In addition, Jesus frequently noted that what the Scriptures say will happen, not only will happen, but must happen. For example, in Mark 14:21 he said “The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him.” And in Mark 14:27 he told his disciples, “You will all fall away, … for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’” Then again, in Mark 14:49 he said, “But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” And, in Matthew 26:53-54 he asked the rhetorical question, “how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”, with the clear point being that it must happen this way because that is what the authoritative Scriptures have declared.

Marc Roby: It is compelling when you consider all of the references, and these are just ones that we had not mentioned in the previous sessions.

Dr. Spencer: It is very compelling. And it is also clear that it wasn’t just general ideas or principles that came from God, but the very words themselves; Christ said, in Matthew 5:17-18, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” In other words, every single word is infallible.

I don’t believe it is possible for a born-again person to carefully read the entire Bible, or even just the New Testament and come away with any view other than that the Bible is, in its entirety, the very words of our infallible God. And if it is his words, then it is itself infallible.

Marc Roby: And yet, there have been and still are many professing Christians who deny the doctrine.

Dr. Spencer: There have indeed been many, and are still many. And I think they must fall into one of two camps; either they are not truly born again, or they have had bad teaching and have not yet looked into this issue and carefully thought it through for themselves. You can be saved without believing this doctrine, as Article XIX of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy states[2], but it is an extremely important doctrine, and not believing it will stunt your growth and life as a Christian and, as I said last time, not agreeing with this doctrine is a serious warning sign that you may not be born again at all, you may be believing in a false gospel – so you should take it very seriously indeed. What is extremely sad is the number of ministers who have given up on this doctrine. But, that isn’t really all that surprising when you consider that many modern ministers are trained more as social workers than ministers of the gospel.

Marc Roby: That’s a pretty strong statement.

Dr. Spencer: Yes it is. But it isn’t hard to back up. Just listen to the sermons that are preached, look at the counsel that is given – if, in fact, any counsel is given, read modern supposedly Christian books and so on. So much of it is completely dominated by an anthropocentric, or man-centered, outlook, rather than a theocentric, or God-centered, outlook. Much of it is simply social work done in the context of the church. Human psychology, rather than the Bible, dominate.

In his book No Place for Truth: Or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology?, David Wells tells a story about when he was a seminary professor teaching theology. He says that after giving an introduction to the class on the first day an “obviously agitated student” came up and told him that he “had had a mighty struggle with his conscience about” whether it was right “to spend so much money on a course of study that was so irrelevant to his desire to minister to people in the Church.”[3]

Marc Roby: It’s amazing to think that someone could consider theology to be irrelevant to being a minister of the gospel!

Dr. Spencer: I agree. This man’s view of a minister was obviously that he is basically a social worker. But, even given that view what he said was wrong. Theology is not irrelevant to anyone. Every person alive is a theologian in one sense; they have all decided whether or not they think God exists, and if they think he exists, they have some idea of what they think he is like and what he requires of them. So, the question isn’t whether or not you will be a theologian, the only question is whether your theology will be biblical or not. This young man probably thought the only theology needed for a minister was to say that Jesus was a good example for us to follow and that God loves us and has a plan to bless us, or something along those lines. But, such a view of theology is not even close to biblical, and it can’t save anyone. In fact, with the anthropocentric view of most churches today, there is really nothing for us to be saved from because we aren’t really all that bad in the first place, and hell doesn’t really exist. So, the whole concept of salvation is missing.

Marc Roby: At that point you might as well join the Elks Lodge.

Dr. Spencer: Or spend your Sundays fishing, or golfing, or watching television and doing yard work, or whatever. And your morning quiet times in private meditation, rather than prayer and reading the Word of God.

Marc Roby: Very true. But we have digressed again, so let’s get back to the infallibility of the Bible. What other biblical evidence do we have that it claims to be the infallible Word of God?

Dr. Spencer: Let me cite some more examples. But, we must realize that when the New Testament speaks of the Scriptures – the Greek word used is γραφή – it is usually speaking of the Old Testament. Therefore, we understandably have more evidence for the Old Testament being the very Word of God than we do for the New. Although, as we saw a few minutes ago, there is compelling evidence for the New Testament as well. In any event, in Romans 1:2, Paul says the Scriptures are holy – he says this because he knows they come from the thrice-holy God. And, in Romans 3:2, Paul calls the Scriptures the “very words of God”.

There also a number of places where the words of Scripture are equated with the words of God, for example, in Romans 9:17 Paul wrote that “the Scripture says to Pharaoh: ‘I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’” But, this quotation is from Exodus 9:16 where the words are attributed to God himself, so we see that to say “Scripture says” is equivalent to saying “God says”.

Marc Roby: Are there other similar examples you want to cite?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, there are other examples as well. In Galatians 3:8 Paul wrote that “The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’” So, Paul tells us that Scripture said something, but he was quoting from Genesis 22:18, and when we look there we see that these words are again attributed to God himself.

And this isn’t just the apostle Paul. In Acts 4:25, we read that after Peter and John were released by the Sanhedrin, they returned to the other disciples and prayed to God, saying, in part, “You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: ‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?’” They were quoting from Psalm 2 when they said in prayer to God that he “spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of” David.

Marc Roby: That is a pretty clear statement that they considered the Old Testament to have been written by God through the agency of the Holy Spirit working in the human authors.

Dr. Spencer: And there are more examples as well. In Acts 28:25-26, the apostle Paul was speaking in Rome and said “The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your forefathers when he said through Isaiah the prophet: ‘Go to this people and say, “You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.”’”.  Notice that Paul says that God the Holy Spirit spoke through the prophet, in this case Isaiah, words that are recorded for us in Scripture.

Marc Roby: Yes, another very clear statement that God the Holy Spirit is the author of the Bible.

Dr. Spencer: Yes it is. We’ve already gone over a number of instances in previous sessions of Jesus himself treating the Old Testament as the infallible Word of God. But, we also have a very interesting statement from Jesus about how important it is to receive the Bible as the Word of God. In John 5:46-47, Jesus is rebuking the people for not believing him and he said, “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?”

Jesus is saying explicitly that if you fail to believe what the Old Testament says, you are not going to believe what he says either. This puts the lie to the idea that I can have some private relationship with Jesus apart from the Bible.

Marc Roby: That reminds me of Jesus talking to the men on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection. We are told in Luke 24:27 that “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is a good passage to mention. Jesus often spoke of the Old Testament prophecies concerning himself and used them as evidence that he was the promised Messiah. He clearly believed the entire Old Testament to be the infallible Word of God and we have given many more biblical references in earlier podcasts to show that.

Marc Roby: Alright, I think we have presented enough evidence today, and in previous sessions, to clearly demonstrate that the Bible is the infallible Word of God.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. The doctrine we have been advocating by the way, is often called the plenary, verbal inspiration of the Bible. The word plenary just means all, and the word verbal refers to the individual words. So, to speak of the plenary, verbal inspiration of the Bible just means that every individual word was breathed out by God himself.

Marc Roby: Having established the biblical doctrine, let me ask you the question that I’m sure many of our listeners have in mind. What do you say about all of the supposed errors in the Bible? We are saying that it is infallible, but can an infallible book have errors in it?

Dr. Spencer: That depends on what you mean by an error. Everything the Bible teaches us is true. But, when we say the Bible is inerrant, we do not mean, for example, that the grammar is perfect or that every number is precisely correct. James Boice notes that this is one reason some people don’t like the term inerrant.[4] But it would be silly, I think, to say that the Bible is in error if something in it is ungrammatical, or if when the it says 300 people did something the number was actually 302. The rules of grammar are violated by great writers all the time, the purpose of language is communication and the rules of grammar, while useful, are not absolute laws. And when I say 300 people did something, I think every reasonable person recognizes that I’m giving a round number. They wouldn’t say I was wrong if the precise number was 298, or 303.

Also, the Bible uses every kind of normal human expression to communicate truth. So, for example, if I read a newspaper report that says something like “all of the fans in the stands jumped to their feet when the ball was hit”, do I accuse the newspaper of being factually incorrect if, in fact, a few people stayed seated, or slowly stood up rather than jumping up? Of course not. We all recognize hyperbole as a normal mode of communication. So, the word “all” does not always mean “all”. You have to use the context to judge the true meaning. Also, if I look on the calendar on my cellphone or computer, it tells me the time of the sunrise and the sunset for today. Should I conclude that whoever chose those words actually thinks the earth stands still and the sun rotates around us? Of course not! I understand that is a common expression that refers to what we normally see.

Marc Roby: I sense that we are getting ready to launch into an entirely different discussion at this point, so this is probably a good place to finish for today. I’d like to remind our listeners that we invite them to email their comments and questions to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] Available from http://defendinginerrancy.com/chicago-statements/ and also from http://www.alliancenet.org/the-chicago-statement-on-biblical-inerrancy

[3] David F. Wells, No Place for Truth: Or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology?, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1993, pg. 4

[4] James Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised in One Volume, InterVarsity Press, 1986, pg. 71

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine the doctrine of the infallibility of the Bible. In our previous sessions we have made several points: First, the Bible is infallible because God is its author, and he is infallible. Second, that this is a critically important doctrine because without it our faith is, ultimately, based on subjectivism. And, third, the idea that Scripture alone is to be our authority was the formal cause of the reformation, which further emphasizes the importance of this issue. Dr. Spencer, how do you want to begin today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to start by saying that in holding up the Bible as the ultimate authority for life, we are not in any way opposing science, history, or any other human endeavor to gain knowledge; in fact, we encourage them. God created us with the ability and desire to understand the world around us. We just need to remember that the Bible is our only infallible source of information. But, we should certainly try to understand as much of the world around us as we can and to put that information to good use in fulfilling what is sometimes called the creation mandate.

Marc Roby: For those listeners who may not be familiar with that term, let me explain that the creation mandate refers to God’s command to Adam and Even in Genesis 1:28, where we read that God, “blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’” [1]

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. The theologian John Murray, in his book Principles of Conduct, speaks even more generally of the creation ordinances, which include filling and subduing the earth, labor, the weekly sabbath, marriage and more. He wrote, “The whole earth is full of God’s glory. The chief incentive in subduing the earth and the chief end to be promoted by it would have been the discovery and exhibition of the manifold wisdom and power of God.”[2] He says it “would have been” because this command was given before the fall. But, he then goes on to show that the creation ordinances did not cease with the fall, so making God’s manifold glory manifest should still be our main goal.

Marc Roby: Which agrees with the Westminster Shorter Catechism. The answer to the first question of the catechism says, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”[3]

Dr. Spencer: The catechism and Murray agree because both are biblical. But, in addition, there are other secondary purposes for man to learn how to properly manage and use the earth’s resources. For example, as the population grows it is necessary for our technology to get better in order to be able to feed everyone.

The current population of the earth could not possibly be supported if we had not greatly increased our ability to grow food. Modern farms are dramatically more efficient in producing food than they were just 50 years ago, let alone a thousand years ago. That’s a good part of the reason why the dire predictions of mass starvation by Paul Ehrlich in his 1968 book The Population Bomb didn’t come true.

Marc Roby: So, fulfilling the creation mandate is a good thing. But, of course, the Bible also tells us that studying creation should drive us to God himself.

Dr. Spencer: Yes. Studying creation should definitely drive us to God. How can you look at the beauty, immensity, and complexity manifest in nature without finding yourself in awe of the God who created it all? Psalm 19 famously begins, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.” (Ps 19:1-3)

Marc Roby: I love that psalm. And it goes on, after discussing creation in Verses 1-6, to talk about God’s revelation in his Word.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. Verse 7 begins “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul.” The “law” here really refers to all of Scripture. And, in the King James Version, it says “The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul”. It is speaking about the use of the Word of God in bringing about new birth and salvation, in other words conversion, through the work of the Holy Spirit.

We can learn a great deal about God from creation itself, but as we argued in Session 22, that knowledge is only sufficient to leave us without excuse. It should cause us to recognize that there is a God and to give him glory, thank him for life and all blessings, and seek to know and please him. But, the Bible is absolutely necessary for salvation and to live a life pleasing to God as we explained in Session 24.

Marc Roby: The central importance of the Word of God was emphasized by Christ himself as well. When Satan tempted him to turn stones into bread after 40 days of fasting in the desert Jesus replied, in Matthew 4:4, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Dr. Spencer: That is a great verse, and of course Jesus answered Satan’s other temptations the same way, by quoting the Bible. So, his answers affirm that our Lord himself considered the Bible to be the infallible Word of God.

In addition, we should notice that Christ was quoting from Deuteronomy 8:3, where Moses explained to the people that God had allowed them to experience hunger during the exodus so that they might learn that the Word of God is every bit as important for life as food. You can have physical life without the Word of God, but you cannot have spiritual life without it. And when you deny the infallibility of the Bible, you deprive yourself of the Word of God because you are now the authority who must decide which parts of the Bible are his word.

Marc Roby: You have argued that the Bible is authoritative and infallible because it is the Word of God. But, in doing so, you assumed that God exists and that the Bible is his word. But, you often hear people say that we should read the Bible from a neutral point of view to see if it is true. How would you respond to that charge?

Dr. Spencer: I would respond as the great Old Testament Scholar E.J. Young did in his book Thy Word is Truth. He wrote that “There can be no neutral position. We believe that either God is our Creator and the One who alone gives meaning to all aspects of life, or that we are faced with the dismal gloom of relying upon the human mind as the ultimate point of reference and predication.”[4]

His language is a bit old fashioned here. To rely on “the human mind as the ultimate point of reference and predication” means to use our minds as the ultimate judge of what is true. Predication means to make a statement of fact about something.

Marc Roby: We all remember from grade-school grammar that a sentence has a subject and a predicate, and the predicate tells us something about the subject.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, and it’s the same root word. And Young’s point is very important. There is no neutral position. As we have argued many times before, there are only two possible ultimate authorities; either God’s revelation, or man’s reason. A Christian’s ultimate authority must be God’s revelation, which is only found in the Bible.

Marc Roby: Which, it is important to point out, is not opposed to reason in any way.

Dr. Spencer: That is important. And Young addresses that issue. He writes[5] that when compared with the “crude polytheism of the Babylonian documents”, and the “pseudo-creation accounts of the ancient world, … the Bible stands out like a fair flower in a dreary, barren desert.” And that when you look at man’s attempts to find some way to atone for his sins and then look to the Bible you see “How unspeakably grand is the doctrine of salvation by grace!”

Marc Roby: In other words, the Bible is its own best evidence once the Holy Spirit changes our hearts so that we receive it.

Dr. Spencer: The Bible is definitely its own best evidence. We spent a number of sessions looking at external evidence that corroborates the Bible, which is of great use to a Christian to bolster our faith. But, that is not the basis for our faith as we noted a number of times. If we have determined that the Bible is true because it conforms to some external standard, then the Bible itself is not be the ultimate standard, human reason is. You simply cannot escape from this choice.

Nevertheless, to believe the Bible is absolutely not belief without warrant, it is not a leap in the dark, it is belief that is entirely consistent with all evidence and logic. But, it is a belief that cannot be attained without new birth – sin blinds the unbeliever and prevents him from accepting what he knows to be true. So, as you said, the Holy Spirit must change our hearts so that we can receive the Word of God. Which is why the apostle Paul thanked God for doing this work in the Thessalonian church. In 1 Thessalonians 2:13 he wrote, “we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God”.

Marc Roby: But, we recognize that there are many professing Christians who do not agree that the Bible is the infallible Word of God. What would you say to them?

Dr. Spencer: I would say that we must be very careful about our salvation. It is the most important thing there is for us to consider because our eternal destiny is at stake. Perhaps you have been taught that the Bible is not God’s Word, but that it only contains God’s Word, or that it becomes God’s Word as you interact with it, or whatever. But you need to think that through very carefully. As we have been laboring to demonstrate, if you don’t believe that the Bible is entirely the infallible Word of God, then your faith is based on subjectivism. And, if that is the case, you may not have a biblical Christianity. You may be believing in a man-made substitute, which will not save you.

Marc Roby: That warning is very serious. In our last session you quote the theologian John Murray who wrote that one aspect of biblical faith is “our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority of Scripture as the Word of God.” [6]  And that this “is inseparable from a state of salvation.” [7]

Dr. Spencer: I understand that this may be a hard word for some people to hear, but Murray is exactly right. But, I also said that these statements are an expression of a mature faith that has been thought through. It is my hope that our listeners will think this through carefully, recognizing the extreme importance of the issue. If they do not find themselves agreeing with the Bible’s own declarations that it is the infallible Word of God, that is a strong indication that they may not be born again.

Marc Roby: That immediately brings Paul’s letter to the Galatians to mind, where he warned them, in Galatians 1:6-7, saying, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a very serious warning. But, there are many people today who are not turning away from the true gospel to a different gospel, they have simply never known anything but a different gospel because they go to a church that doesn’t preach the true gospel found in the Bible. And that is a very dangerous thing.

Marc Roby: Jesus Christ himself gave us a frightening warning in Matthew 7. In Verses 21-23 Jesus told the people that “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

Dr. Spencer: What a frightening passage. And doing the will of God certainly includes believing the gospel as it is presented to us in the Bible, not as it is distorted by some men. It is always important for us to remember that calling ourselves Christians will not save us. The only way I will be saved is if Jesus Christ owns me as his on that day.

So, one of our chief reasons for doing this podcast is to lay before people what the Bible itself says so that they can trust in the true gospel of grace.

Marc Roby: And there are many ways of twisting and perverting that gospel of grace and, thereby, turning it into a damnable man-made religion.

Dr. Spencer: And there are ditches on both sides of the road. On the one side of the road is the ditch of lawlessness. This is the common idea that because we are saved by grace our own works don’t matter at all and we can go on living however we want to live so long as we once said “Jesus Christ is Lord.” But this idea is completely foreign to the Bible. I am saved by grace alone; my own works are in no way at all meritorious and do not earn my salvation. But, if I have truly been saved, then I am, as Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17, a new creation and, as he wrote in Ephesians 2:10, I have been “created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for [me] to do.”

Marc Roby: I love the way Paul puts it in Romans 1:5. In the Greek it says we have been called into the obedience of faith. Which makes it clear that true saving faith has obedience as a necessary concomitant.

Dr. Spencer: That is a great way to put it. Our works are necessary to prove that we are, in fact, new creations. So, our works are the evidence that we are truly born again, not the cause of our being born again. But, there is a also ditch on the other side of the road, and that is legalism; the idea that I can somehow earn my salvation by fulfilling the law. I think this view is also common today, but with a very defective sense of what it means to fulfill the law.

There are many professing Christians out there who think that they will be saved because they are, quote-unquote, good people who try to be kind to everyone and keep the Golden Rule. These people need to see their sin in all of its ugliness and, therefore, their true need for Christ and the biblical, gospel of grace.

Marc Roby: Which brings us back to the infallible Word of God.

Dr. Spencer: Yes. We need to understand what God has revealed in his Word about our sinful condition and what we must do to be saved. No plan conceived by man can save us, which is why the infallibility of the Bible is so important. If it isn’t infallible, then we have no way to avoid the ditches on either side of the narrow path, we are bound to listen to the ideas of men instead of to God.

Marc Roby: Let me take a stab at stating your argument in a different way. If the Bible is not infallible, then the Bible is not the word of God; and if we do not have God’s words, then we have nothing solid on which to base our supposed understanding of God, salvation, or anything else for that matter. To rule out an infallible Bible is to rule out the God of the Bible, which of course is what unbelieving man wants to do. Once we’ve ‘X’d out God, then we can listen to and follow our own opinions and thoughts. But, we are warned twice in the book of Proverbs, in 14:12 and 16:25, that “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a very clear way to state the argument. E.J. Young wrote about this question of listening to God or man in Thy Word is Truth. He wrote, “Having their vision obscured by the dense fog that modern theology is casting over the way, many do not realize that there is a crossroad. They are not aware that they must decide which road they will follow. Unless something is done, they will travel on, taking the wrong turning, until the road leads them at last into the valley of lost hope and eternal death.

“Pray God that He will awaken His people from their slumber. Pray that He will warn them of the dangers that lie ahead in the forsaking of His Word.”[8]

Marc Roby: And part of the dense cloud that modern theology produces is the misconstruing of what it means to be saved by grace as we just illustrated. We are praying that all of our listeners will choose the right path, meaning to trust the infallible Word of God as their ultimate standard for truth.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. And, we have already shown that Jesus Christ himself considered the Bible to be the infallible Word of God. So, it seems obvious that anyone who calls himself a Christian must do the same.

Marc Roby: That does seem reasonable. I look forward to getting into more biblical evidence for the infallibility of God’s Word, but we are out of time for today. I’d like to remind our listeners that we would very much like to hear from them, and they can email their questions or comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] John Murray, The Principles of Conduct, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1957, pp 37-38

[3] WSC, Q1

[4] E.J. Young, Thy Word is Truth, the Banner of Truth Trust, 2012, pg. 32

[5] Ibid, pg. 33

[6] John Murray, Collected Works, Vol. II, Banner of Truth Trust, 1977, pg. 241

[7] Ibid, pg. 254

[8] Ibid, pg. 35

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine the doctrine of the infallibility of the Bible. In our previous session we argued that this is a critically important doctrine because if the Bible is not infallible, then our faith is, ultimately, based on subjectivism. We closed by quoting from the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, which says, in part, that “Recognition of the total truth and trustworthiness of Holy Scripture is essential to a full grasp and adequate confession of its authority.” Dr. Spencer, what do you want to add to that?

Dr. Spencer: I mentioned last time that the authority and infallibility of the Bible are inextricably linked, and you see that point clearly in the sentence you just quoted from the Chicago Statement. Notice that they link a “recognition of the total truth and trustworthiness” of the Bible, in other words our believing that it is infallible, to “a full grasp and adequate confession of its authority.” By adequate confession I think they mean one that is conducive to living a proper Christian life. I would like to begin therefore by more forcefully making the point that the authority and infallibility of the Bible are inextricably linked.

Marc Roby: Please do.

Dr. Spencer: If the Bible is infallible, then it logically follows that it is inerrant, simply meaning that it does not have errors in it.

Marc Roby: Now, when you say it does not contain any errors, I think it is important to note again that you’re talking about the autographs.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I am. Our copies can obviously contain printing errors, poor translations and even, in a few cases small errors caused by errors in the manuscripts we have available.

Marc Roby: But none of these small errors in any way affect any doctrine of biblical Christianity.

Dr. Spencer: No, they don’t, and that is an important point. In fact, with regard to these small errors, James Boice points out that “due to the extraordinary number and variety of the biblical manuscripts, there is no reason to doubt that today’s text is identical to the original text in all but a few places. And these few problem areas are clearly known to commentators.”[1] Which agrees with what we said last time regarding the number and quality of our existing manuscripts.

Marc Roby: OK, but I think we’ve gotten off topic just a bit. You said that if the Bible is infallible, then it logically follows that it is going to be inerrant. What were you going to say next?

Dr. Spencer: I was going to say that the only alternative to the Bible being inerrant is that it does, in fact, contain errors. And, if the Bible contained errors it would logically follow that not everything in it would have authority, because not everything in it would be from God, from whom all authority comes. That would leave us with the horrible problem of deciding for ourselves which parts of the Bible have authority and which don’t. And you can easily guess what would happen.

Marc Roby: I can think of a number of things.

Dr. Spencer: So can I, but let me give one concrete example to illustrate the seriousness of the problem. Suppose that a man named John was extremely unhappy in his marriage and was convinced that he had done everything possible on his end to work the problems out. Further suppose that his wife had not committed adultery, their problems were just relational. What do you think he would decide about Jesus’ statement in Matthew 5:32, where he says, “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress”,[2] which implies that divorcing a wife for any reason other than adultery is sin. Do you think John would conclude that he can’t divorce his wife, or would he conclude that statement was some kind of error?

Marc Roby: I’m pretty sure he would conclude that Jesus didn’t really say that.

Dr. Spencer: I think you’re right. In other words, he might say that the Bible has authority to govern his life, but he would then completely eviscerate that authority by concluding that anything in the Bible that opposes his own view is an error.

Marc Roby: That would be the natural, sinful, human tendency.

Dr. Spencer: In other words, if the entire Bible was not the authoritative Word of God, then none of it would really have any authority because we would have to decide which parts have authority. And our natural, sinful tendency would be to say that the parts we agree with have authority, and the parts we don’t agree with do not have authority. In other words, I am the ultimate authority. We see this all the time when people argue that you can be a Christian and divorce your spouse for irreconcilable differences, or be a Christian homosexual, or any number of other examples we could name.

But, that is not biblical Christianity and, therefore, it is not a Christianity that will save you from hell. It is no better than any other man-made religion. If I am a true, born-again Christian, then I must accept the entire Word of God as his infallible, authoritative word.

Marc Roby: Are you saying that if someone doesn’t agree with this doctrine that they are not a true Christian?

Dr. Spencer: I don’t think I would go that far. But, I would argue that they do agree with it, even if they are not yet aware of that fact. When a person is first born again and exercises true saving faith, that faith is not mature, and you wouldn’t expect that they have had time and opportunity to think it all through carefully. And, if they don’t receive good sound teaching, it may take a while for them to do so. But, when we believe something to be true, that necessarily requires that we have determined there is sufficient reason to accept it as true. And the Bible is the only source of our knowledge that we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ. So, if a person has truly placed his trust in Jesus Christ and is saved, that means that he has judged the Bible to be trustworthy. And, if he thinks that through carefully, which is what we are trying to help people do now, he will realize that the only consistent position is to believe that the entire Bible is infallible.

Marc Roby: The theologian John Murray makes that point. He even goes so far as to say that one aspect of biblical faith is “our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority of Scripture as the Word of God.”[3] And that this “is inseparable from a state of salvation.”[4]

Dr. Spencer: And I would agree. But I think that is an expression of a mature faith that has been thought through. So, if one of our listeners does not agree with this doctrine, it may be that he is truly saved, but has not yet thought this all through carefully. And, if that is the case, I hope and pray that our discussion of this material will result in his giving this topic careful consideration, because it is the clear teaching of the Bible itself that it is the infallible Word of God as we will demonstrate in later sessions. So, if I find myself disagreeing with it, on this doctrine or any other doctrine, I am the one who needs to change. The problem is with me, not the Bible.

Marc Roby: Of course, that presupposes that we understand the Bible correctly.

Dr. Spencer: Of course it does, and we will talk about that issue more later as well. But for now, I want to move on with making the case for the importance of the doctrine of the infallibility of the Bible. Let me begin by noting that the Westminster Confession of Faith recognized the central importance of the Word of God and that it receives its importance – and we could add its infallibility and authority – from the fact that God is its author.

In Chapter 1, Paragraph 4 of the confession we read that “The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, depends not upon the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.”[5] When they say it is to be “received”, I think they mean it is to be believed and obeyed. But, they were also indicating that they were simply receiving the revelation from God, not passing judgment on it as being correct.

Marc Roby: Which would, of course, again make man the ultimate authority, not God.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. As we’ve discussed before, we must use our reason to recognize and understand the Word of God, but not to judge it. The theologian R.C. Sproul, in his Layman’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith commented on the use of the word receive in this phrase in the confession and wrote that “When the early church settled on the books of the canon, it spoke of receiving these books as canonical. The church fathers were humbly recognizing the authority of these books, not presuming to give them authority, when they stated, ‘We receive these apostolic writings as the sacred Scriptures’ … The authority of Scripture does not depend on the testimony of any man or of the church; its authority depends and rests wholly on God, the supreme author of the Bible. Scripture should be received, not so that it can become the Word of God, be because it already is the Word of God.”[6]

Marc Roby: That is a very clear statement of the distinction between receiving the Word and judging the Word. I think it is also important to point out that the statement you read is in Chapter 1 of the confession of faith; so the Westminster Confession of faith begins with the Word of God.

Dr. Spencer: That is an important point. The confession begins with the Word of God because it is only in the Word of God that we learn what God wants us to believe and how we are to be saved.

Marc Roby: The Westminster Confession was also responding to the Roman Catholic church, which placed the traditions of the church on a par with Scripture.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. The Council of Trent was an ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic Church and was called in response to the reformation, which most people mark as having begun with Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the Wittenberg Church door on October 31, 1517. In the Council of Trent, the Roman Catholic Church officially decreed that it “receives and venerates with an equal affection of piety, and reverence, all the books both of the Old and of the New Testament … as also the said traditions”[7], which is referring to the traditions of the church. They go even further and declare that if anyone does not receive the traditions of the church as of equal value with the Bible itself, “let him be anathema.”[8]

Marc Roby: And to be anathema means to be cursed and excommunicated from the church, in other words, to be damned.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. The Roman Catholic Church has never rescinded the decrees of that council, so if we do not accept the traditions of the church as of equal authority with Scripture, we are, according to the Roman Catholic Church, damned to hell. The problem with that view is that it is giving the church the power to declare something with the same authority as God himself. And the reformers were united in their condemnation of that view. This issue of the absolute and sole authority of the Scriptures has been called the formal cause of the reformation, and it is voiced in the famous Latin phrase sola Scriptura, which means Scripture alone.[9]

Marc Roby: But, the reformers did not simply throw away all the traditions of the church.

Dr. Spencer: No, they did not. In fact, the reformers embraced those traditions when they were consistent with the teachings of the Bible. R.C. Sproul, in his book What is Reformed Theology? Says that “the Reformers embraced the doctrines articulated and formulated by the great ecumenical councils of church history, including the doctrine of the Trinity and of Christ’s person and work formulated at the councils of Nicea in 325 and Chalcedon in 451.”[10] The reformers were returning to the Word of God as the supreme authority and were testing everything according to it.

Marc Roby: That reminds me of what we are told in Acts 17. Paul and Silas had been preaching about Christ in Berea and we are told, in Acts 17:11, that “the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a great passage to make this point. The Bereans were commended by God himself for testing what the apostle Paul told them by looking in the Word of God. In Paul’s closing comments to the church in Thessalonica he wrote, in 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21, “do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good.” And, while he doesn’t say it here, it is clear that he would have them test everything by the Word of God, since that is what he labors to do in every one of his letters.

Marc Roby: And so, getting back to the Westminster Confession of Faith, they chose to begin by declaring that the Bible alone has absolute authority.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. In addition to the passage we read earlier from Chapter 1 Paragraph 4, it might be worthwhile to give one more quote, which clearly shows that what you just said is true, the confession clearly does state that the Bible alone has absolute authority. Chapter 1 concludes with the following statement, in Paragraph 10; “The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.”[11] When the confession says “in whose sentence we are to rest”, it is using the word “sentence” in the sense of a judicial finding or judgment. In other words, we are to use the Bible as the ultimate authority in judging everything and we are to rest in its judgment.

Marc Roby: Well, I know that we have more to say on this topic, but this seems like a good place to stop for today. I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We would love to hear from you.

[1] James Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised in One Volume, InterVarsity Press, 1986, pp 75-76

[2] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[3] John Murray, Collected Works, Vol. II, Banner of Truth Trust, 1977, pg. 241

[4] Ibid, pg. 254

[5] From http://www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs/index.html

[6] R.C. Sproul, Truths We Confess: A Layman’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith, P&R Publishing Co., 2006, Vol. One, pg. 13

[7] From: The canons and decrees of the sacred and ecumenical Council of Trent, Trans. J. Waterworth (London: Dolman, 1848), The Fourth Session, DECREE CONCERNING THE CANONICAL SCRIPTURES, pg. 18. Available in pdf form from file:///C:/Users/rrspe/Documents/Religion/Books%20&%20Papers/Council%20of%20Trent%20-%20decrees.pdf

[8] Ibid, pg. 19

[9] R.C. Sproul, What is Reformed Theology?, Baker Books, 1997, pg. 30

[10] Ibid, pp 28-29

[11] From http://www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs/index.html

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by beginning to examine the doctrine of the infallibility of the Bible. Dr. Spencer, I suspect that this doctrine is unfamiliar to most of our listeners, why is this topic important?

Dr. Spencer: It is important because true Christianity stands or falls with the truthfulness of the Bible. By “true Christianity” I mean a Christianity that has the power to save a person from eternal hell and bring him into the very presence of God in eternal heaven. That’s why I often refer to “biblical Christianity”, by which I simply mean the true Christian religion as revealed by God, in distinction from all man-made variations and imposters. The bottom line is that, if the Bible is not completely and totally the very Word of God, and therefore completely infallible, our faith is built on the shifting sand of subjectivism and is bound to unravel one doctrine at a time, which is precisely what we see happening in the church today.

Marc Roby: That is a very strong statement and I look forward to seeing how you back it up. Where shall we begin?

Dr. Spencer: Let’s begin, as usual, by looking at the what the Bible itself says. In 2 Timothy 3:16-17 the apostle Paul wrote that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”[1]

The Greek word translated as “God-breathed” by the NIV is θεόπνευστος, which literally means breathed out by God, which is how the English Standard Version renders it. The King James Version says that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God”, which is why you hear people say that the Bible is inspired by God.

Marc Roby: By which they don’t mean that God gave the person the idea or encouragement to write, which is what we usually do mean by the word inspire.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. We can talk about some actor or musician giving an inspired performance, but that is an entirely different usage of the word. That’s why I don’t like to say the Scriptures are inspired by God, it is too easily misunderstood. The NIV and ESV translations are better here. The Greek says that all Scripture is breathed out by God. The idea is that the Bible, while written by human authors, is uniquely the very words of God himself. We discussed this in Session 27 when we examined the authority of the Bible, and the authority of the Bible is inextricably linked to its infallibility. But, the bottom line is that the Bible is completely infallible because God is infallible and he is the author of the Bible.

Marc Roby: It would be good to define precisely what you mean when you say that the Bible is infallible.

Dr. Spencer: The word infallible means not capable of being in error, so it is a stronger statement than saying the Bible is inerrant, which is, of course, also true. When I say that the Bible is infallible, I mean that because it is the very words of God, who himself is the perfect, all-knowing, sovereign creator of all things and who cannot lie, the Bible, in its original manuscripts, is incapable of being in error.

Marc Roby: These original manuscripts are called the autographs, but we don’t have them in our possession, so how can the doctrine of infallibility be important if it only applies to the autographs?

Dr. Spencer: As we noted back in Session 7, there is a science called textual criticism, which allows us to reconstruct what the autographs said based on the copies we have available. This science is used on other ancient documents as well. We covered this topic in some detail in Session 7, and I am only going to summarize the argument here. But it necessarily begins by examining the copies we have of the original documents, because if these were not complete, or if they were corrupted too badly, textual criticism would yield a very uncertain or incomplete result. In the case of the Bible however, we have very good and complete copies.

The Old Testament has been preserved almost perfectly through the millennia, which we know because the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were found in 1947, gave us copies of much of the Old Testament from before the time of Christ and they agree to an astonishing degree with the next oldest extant copy we have, which is from about 1000 AD. With regard to the New Testament, it is by leaps and bounds the best attested book from antiquity, bar none, as even non-Christian scholars will admit.

Marc Roby: Alright, so we have really good copies of the original documents. What then is this science of textual criticism?

Dr. Spencer: Let me repeat what I said in Session 7 about it because it is critically important to our present discussion. E.J. Young, in his book Thy Word is Truth, provides a marvelous example of how textual criticism can work.[2] He says to consider a schoolteacher who writes a letter to the President of the United States. To her great joy, she receives a personal reply. It is a treasure which she shares with her pupils by dictating the letter to them. And, after collecting the assignment, which gives her 30 imperfect copies of the letter, she loses the original. The question is, can she reconstruct it from the 30 imperfect copies? And the answer is, of course, yes. With a very high degree of certainty she can reconstruct the original letter. The different copies will contain spelling errors, missing or added words and so on, but these errors will be different in the different copies, so by comparing the 30 copies she can surely correct these errors and arrive at a very good copy of the original.

There is, of course, more to it, but that gives you a good idea. When this technique is applied to the Bible, we’re able to reconstruct with very high confidence what the autographs said. And, unlike most ancient documents, we don’t have to fill in holes where there is material missing. When you combine our many different manuscripts, we have reliable, complete copies of the entire Old and New Testaments.

Marc Roby: Alright, so we have very good copies, in the original languages, of the autographs. But, what about the translations that most of us read?

Dr. Spencer: Well, first let me note that the New Testament quotes from the Septuagint, which is a Greek translation of the Old Testament that was in use at the time of Christ, so clearly translations, in and of themselves, are not a problem. Also, as you would expect, some of them are better than others. Translation is never exact and it isn’t neutral either. The particular theological biases of the translator can significantly affect the final result. That is why we should read different translations to find out what the differences are and then also examine the theological biases of the translators. You should also look in good commentaries that go back to the original language and discuss the reasons for various choices made during the translation process.

Marc Roby: That sounds like a lot of work. How can a layperson, with limited time and knowledge, be sure that he or she is getting to the right answer?

Dr. Spencer: First of all, pray. Then you trust God to guide you. And, hopefully, if you have found a good church, led by pious and learned men, you can ask for their help. We use the 1984 New International Version, or NIV, Bible in our church, but it is no longer readily available and the newer versions of the NIV have been corrupted by liberal theology, so if you are looking to purchase a new English-language Bible, I would recommend the English Standard Version, or ESV. The New King James Version is also good. The old King James is still good too, but most modern readers find the English in it a bit difficult to understand.

Finally, it is very important to note that the basic message of salvation is so clearly taught in the Scriptures, that even a poor translation is sufficient to bring you to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. You may get some confusion on secondary points, but the basic message is there.

Marc Roby: And, if a person is born again, then he is guaranteed to have the Holy Spirit to guide him as he seeks to learn God’s truth more completely.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. If you have been born again, you are never truly alone in your search for God’s truth. That doesn’t mean that you don’t have to put forth the effort and be careful, but God will guide you. And, if you are reading your Bible, God will also use that to help you recognize whether or not you are in a good church. We have a mutual friend who was saved and started attending a Jehovah’s Witness church – which is definitely not a true Christian church. But, he was reading the Bible and discovered for himself, guided by the Holy Spirit, that that church did not truly stand on the Word of God, so he left and found a good church.

Marc Roby: Alright, you’ve established that the Bible claims to be the very words of God, which makes it infallible, and you’ve argued that the copies we possess in our own language are extremely good representations of what the original documents said, so now let me get back to your opening statement. You said that if we give up on the infallibility of the Bible, our faith will unravel one doctrine at a time. Can you defend that statement?

Dr. Spencer: Sure. If the Bible had errors in it, how would we determine where they are? The only answer is that we would have to look to human reason and scholarship to see if what the Bible says is true. That may sound like a plausible approach, but if you think about it for a bit you can see that it is fatally flawed.

First of all, it means our ultimate standard for truth is human reason, but every rational person admits that human reason is fallible and human knowledge is limited, so our conclusions are necessarily conditional and subject to later revision.

Marc Roby: Can you give us an example of what you mean?

Dr. Spencer: Sure. Prior to the 1990’s many scholars taught that king David was a purely mythical character. But, as we noted in Session 19, the discovery of the Tell Dan Stele and other evidence now makes it clear that King David was a real person in history.

If we subject the Bible to our current understanding of history and science, our ultimate authority is really human reason, not the Word of God. And that is shifting sand. It really leaves us with subjectivism because we have to decide which parts of the Bible to believe and which not to believe. As I just noted, while it may sound reasonable to do that for historical issues, such as the question of whether or not Kind David was a real, historical figure, that really is not a solid foundation.

In addition, it is clearly not a reasonable approach when it comes to what the Bible tells us about God and how to be saved. On what basis are we going to decide which statements are true and which are not? If the Bible cannot be relied upon completely, we are left with our own subjective ideas about God and salvation.

Marc Roby: Perhaps another example would be useful.

Dr. Spencer: Consider the fundamental question of God’s nature. The Bible tells us that there is one God, but that he exists in three persons. On what basis, outside of the Bible, can someone say whether that teaching is true or not? There are many other doctrines that are similar. Where, besides the Bible, can we look to see whether an eternal heaven or hell exists? What about how we can escape the punishment of hell? These things are only revealed to us in the Bible. If it isn’t infallible, then we can’t possibly know that what it teaches us about these most important issues is right.

Marc Roby: I see your point.

Dr. Spencer: There is a lot of confusion in the modern church world because so many people have given up on the infallibility of the Bible. As a result, people question whether there really is an eternal heaven, or an eternal hell, or whether Jesus Christ truly rose from the dead, or even whether or not Jesus Christ is truly God, or was born of a virgin.

Let’s examine just one common example. Many people who claim to be Bible believing Christians will say that they don’t believe in eternal hell. And the argument they give will virtually always be something like this; God is love and it wouldn’t be loving for God to punish people for all eternity, so I can’t believe that God would do that.

Marc Roby: I’ve heard similar arguments.

Dr. Spencer: Even if the argument is far more sophisticated than I’ve made it sound, it still boils down to human theorizing about what God would or would not do. But, if we believe the Bible to truly be God’s infallible Word, then the question can only be answered by looking at the Bible; and when you do that, the answer is quite clear.

The infallibility of the Bible is of central importance because it establishes the only firm foundation for our faith. Once we have come to the realization that Word of God is infallible, then all speculation and human philosophizing go away and the only question we need to ask on any issue we are interested in, is “What does the Word of God say?”

Marc Roby: And hence the title and subject of this podcast.

Dr. Spencer: Precisely. But, I really want to emphasize how important this issue is and establish clearly in our listener’s minds that, if they are Christians, the Word of God is not only their absolute authority, it is also infallible. The book I quoted from earlier, Thy Word is Truth, by the great Old Testament scholar E.J. Young, was written precisely because he saw this issue as central to our faith.

Marc Roby: And that book was written in 1957!

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely, and the problem is much worse now. Young states his purpose in writing the book clearly on page 7; he wrote that his purpose was “To acquaint the intelligent layman with the Biblical doctrine of inspiration and to convince him of its importance”.[3] I’m going to be using his book quite a bit in our discussion on this topic and I highly recommend it to our listeners, it’s still readily available in print from many sources.

Marc Roby: The debate over this topic also led, in 1978, to a large number of biblical scholars producing the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right, and I think the opening paragraph of that statement would be good to read. It says, “The authority of Scripture is a key issue for the Christian Church in this and every age. Those who profess faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are called to show the reality of their discipleship by humbly and faithfully obeying God’s written Word. To stray from Scripture in faith or conduct is disloyalty to our Master. Recognition of the total truth and trustworthiness of Holy Scripture is essential to a full grasp and adequate confession of its authority.”[4]

Marc Roby: That is a wonderful statement, and a good place to end for today. I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] E.J. Young, Thy Word is Truth, the Banner of Truth Trust, 2012, pg. 57

[3] Ibid, pg. 7

[4] Available from http://defendinginerrancy.com/chicago-statements/ and also from http://www.alliancenet.org/the-chicago-statement-on-biblical-inerrancy

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine the four characteristics of special revelation, that is the Bible. We introduced the acrostic SNAC, and last time we examined the S, which stands for sufficiency. We explained that the Bible provides sufficient revelation for salvation and for life, so that a person who has been born again has all that he or she needs to be saved and to live a life that’s pleasing to God.

The next characteristic described by SNAC is necessity. So, Dr. Spencer, what do we want to say about the necessity of special revelation?

Dr. Spencer: We first want to remind our listeners that the Bible is not necessary to know that God exists and to know something of his power and glory. As we noted last time, general revelation is sufficient for that purpose and is available to everyone, so no one has an excuse for not seeking God, as the apostle Paul argues in Romans 1.

But, the Bible’s revelation is absolutely necessary for salvation and to live a life pleasing to God. Let’s talk about salvation first. In Luke 10 we read a marvelous account of Jesus having fellowship with some of his disciples as he was on his way to Jerusalem, where he knew that he was going to be betrayed into the hands of the Jewish and Roman authorities and crucified for the sins of his people. On the way he stopped at the home of his friend Martha, in Bethany, just two miles from Jerusalem. Martha was the sister of Mary and Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. While Martha was distracted with the preparations for dinner, Mary sat at Jesus’ feet listening to him. And at one point, Martha came to them, clearly upset that Mary wasn’t helping, and said to Jesus “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”  (Lk 10:40)[1] Jesus’ reply is very important. He said “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Lk 10:41-42) His point is clear. We must do all sorts of things in this life, including preparing dinner, but there is only one thing that is truly needful. Life is short, and eternity never ends, so the only really essential thing in this life is to make sure that we are saved and will spend eternity in heaven, rather than hell.

Marc Roby: Alright, given that our eternal destiny is at stake, why then is the Bible necessary for salvation?

Dr. Spencer: It is necessary because, as Peter said about Jesus Christ in Acts 4:12, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” And the Bible is the only place we are told what we need to know about Jesus Christ and his work. We can know from extra-biblical sources of course that the person Jesus Christ lived, as we noted in Session 21. But the Bible is the only place we are told about the real meaning and significance of the person, life, death and resurrection of Christ. It is the only place that tells us that Jesus was not just a man, but was also God incarnate. It is the only place we are told that he lived a perfect, sinless life to fulfill the law and then offered himself as a sacrifice to atone for the sins of his people.  And it is the only place where we are told that if we repent of our sins and place our faith in Jesus Christ alone, we will be saved. As Paul wrote in Romans 10:9, “if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” To say that Jesus is Lord however, requires that we understand he is the unique God-man and that he is the Creator and Lord of the universe. And to believe that God raised him from the dead is a partial statement, but in the context of the whole passage, Paul is clearly referring to all of Christ’s saving work, his perfect life, sacrificial death and resurrection.

Marc Roby: The apostle Paul also notes the necessity of knowing the truth about Jesus Christ.  A bit later in Romans 10, in Verses 13 and 14 he writes “‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”

Dr. Spencer: And, of course, it is the gospel message of Jesus Christ that we are to preach. It is this message that is necessary for salvation. And the Bible is our only infallible source of knowledge. Knowledge about our own sinful nature, knowledge about God, and most importantly, knowledge about the only Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: Now, many people are disturbed by the exclusive nature of this claim. They think that people who sincerely hold to other beliefs will also be saved and, therefore, it is entirely possible to be saved without hearing and believing the gospel. How would you respond to that statement?

Dr. Spencer: I would respond first by pointing out a clear difference between biblical Christianity and all other religions. Christianity is the only religion that tells us the truth; namely, that we are all sinful, deserving of God’s wrath, and unable to save ourselves. We need God to do something or we will certainly be lost. Every other purported way of salvation is based on man’s effort, we must do something to earn heaven. But that is impossible. We are sinners and cannot do anything to earn heaven. Sin incurs guilt, which is a debt that must be paid. If we were able to stop sinning completely, we could stop incurring further guilt, but our guilt for our previous sins would still be there. The penalty would still have to be paid. And, of course, no one ever completely stops sinning in this life either.

Marc Roby: I think many people believe that their good deeds and bad deeds will be put on a balance scale and, if the good deeds outweigh the bad, they will make it into heaven.

Dr. Spencer: That certainly is a common view. But, it is wrong for two reasons. First, God’s standard is perfection and he judges our motives and thoughts as well as our deeds. Since nothing we ever do is perfect, we have no good deeds to balance the bad. And second, the point I was just trying to make is that every sin must be punished. And God has decreed that the payment must be a blood sacrifice. God told Moses in Leviticus 17:11 that “the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.”

Marc Roby: I suspect most modern people consider that idea somewhat barbaric.

Dr. Spencer: I’m quite sure that’s true. But we need to come to grips with just how serious sin is. It is cosmic rebellion and it must be atoned for. We recoil naturally from blood, partly because we are removed from the need to kill and prepare our own meat, but also because we intuitively understand that blood represents life. The fact that blood is required to atone for sin shows just how serious the problem really is. God cannot simply wink at sin.

Marc Roby: I’m sure that some would object and point out that we are called to forgive others, so why can’t God do the same?

Dr. Spencer: God cannot forgive sin without the penalty being paid because he is the judge of the universe. If I steal from someone who happens to be a judge, he can forgive me on a personal level. But, if the case comes before his court and I am found guilty of the crime, as judge he cannot simply say that he forgives me. Justice demands that I be given some form of punishment and he must abide by the laws of the state and sentence me appropriately. As Judge of the universe, God must do what is just and right according to his own laws, and the just and right penalty for breaking any of God’s laws is death—eternal death.

But, praise God, he paid the penalty for us. In what is probably the most famous of all Bible verses, John 3:16, we read that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” We must ask, “Why did God have to give his Son?” – which refers, of course, to his death on the cross. The answer is that the debt must be paid. Justice must be served. Either we must pay the debt, or it must be paid for us. But we are incapable of paying the debt, eternity in hell will not fully do it, so God chose to pay it for us. No other religion truly understands the need for an atoning sacrifice to pay the infinite penalty for our sins.

Marc Roby: And certainly no other religion reveals the truth that God has shown his incomparable love by atoning for our sins himself. It is humbling and amazing to think about God loving wretched sinners like us enough to punish his own eternal Son instead of us.

Dr. Spencer: Yeah, it’s absolutely mind boggling. But, there is a flip side to this amazing love. To reject this gracious offer of God is terrible sin. People reject the offer because they don’t want to acknowledge that they are sinners, worthy of punishment. And they don’t want to acknowledge that God is the Supreme Lord of the universe. But, to reject this gracious offer is to show contempt for God’s grace. It is to call him a liar as John writes in 1 John 5:10, “Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.” That is why, if you go on in John Chapter 3 and look the next two verses, 17 and 18, you read, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

Marc Roby: I remember one of our esteemed senators recently grilling a Christian nominee for public office because he had written something about people who didn’t believe in Christ being condemned already.

Dr. Spencer: I remember that questioning too. Apparently, that senator doesn’t know that our constitution expressly forbids any religious test for holding public office. But, returning to the topic of the necessity of the Bible for salvation. Given the fact that God has decreed that there is only one way of salvation, and given the fact that the Bible is the only place where we learn of Christ’s work of redemption, the Bible is absolutely essential for salvation.

Marc Roby: There is an obvious question I suspect some of our listeners are asking at this point. Since we must know what the Bible says about Jesus Christ to be saved, what about people who lived prior to Christ? How were they able to be saved?

Dr. Spencer: Salvation was available to the people who lived prior to Christ on the same basis it is available to us today, by faith in Christ. We look back on Christ and his completed work, but they were saved by looking forward to the promised Messiah. Remember that the Hebrew word Messiah and the Greek word Χριστός (Xristos), from which we get our word Christ, both mean anointed one. We spoke about the progressive nature of revelation in Session 6. We noted then that God gave the protoevangelium, meaning the first or original version of the gospel message, to Adam and Eve right after the fall. In Genesis 3:15 we read that God told Satan “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

Marc Roby: And, as the term progressive implies, over time God revealed more and more about this Redeemer, who is Jesus Christ.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. And those whom God enabled by regeneration repented of their sins, placed their trust in the promises made to them, and lived their lives in humble, albeit imperfect, obedience to please God.  In Hebrews 11 we are told about a number of great Old Testament believers and, in verse 13, we read that “these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.” In other words, they knew that they had an eternal home and they were looking forward to it. Their focus was not on this life, but on the life to come, and they fully trusted in God’s promise to provide a Savior.

Marc Roby: And God is always faithful to keep his promises. You mentioned that the Bible is also necessary for us to live in a way that is pleasing to God. But, many people today think that they are pleasing God by simply doing what they think is right. What would say to those people?

Dr. Spencer: If they are not explicitly seeking to know and do God’s will in his way for his glory, then he is not pleased with them, even if and when what they do is, in itself, good. We must remember the creator/creature distinction. God alone has the authority to tell us what is right and wrong. We need to remember what I said in Session 23 when we discussed the sufficiency of the Bible, our consciences can be desensitized by sin, and they can also be corrupted by our own reason when it operates independently. It is not our place to decide what is sin and what isn’t sin. That is God’s prerogative alone. Our consciences must be informed by the Word of God. Our reason is a wonderful tool and we must use it to understand and apply God’s Word. But, our reason can also be a terrible enemy, especially when we allow it to be influenced by Satan and the world.

Marc Roby: What you’re saying reminds me very much of Martin Luther. He is famous for his stand at the Diet of Worms of course when he was commanded to recant his teachings and faced possible death if he refused. He said “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason …, I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen”.[2]

Dr. Spencer: I find it interesting that when people cite that statement, they often omit the first part and simply quote the part that says “it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience”. But Luther had it completely right. It is only unsafe to go against conscience if our conscience is captive to the Word of God. The Bible must be our ultimate authority. If I find myself disagreeing with something I’ve read in God’s Word, I must first be sure that I am understanding it correctly. But, if I am understanding it correctly and still find myself disagreeing with it, then I must change. I am wrong.

Marc Roby: At this point it seems that you have started to speak about a different attribute of the Word of God, its authority.

Dr. Spencer: You’re right, I have sort of moved into that territory. But, it is impossible to treat these things completely independently. When we say the Bible is necessary for salvation and to live a life pleasing to God, we have to presuppose its authority. It obviously can’t be necessary if it has no authority to speak on these topics.

Marc Roby: That makes sense. So, if we simply assume for the moment that the Bible does have authority, can you give us an example of how to apply this idea that the Bible must define what is right?

Dr. Spencer: There are a number of important and current issues in the church where the authority of Scripture to define what is right is of critical importance. For example, many professing Christians today have given up on the idea of eternal hell. They will either say that it doesn’t exist at all, or that it isn’t eternal. The basic rationale for believing either one of these two theses always boils down to human reason saying that it is somehow not fair. There is no cogent biblical argument in favor of either of these positions. I don’t want to get into in detail now because our subject is the necessity of the Bible, but let me give a quick summary of a couple of arguments.

In Matthew 25:31-32 Jesus told us about the Day of Judgment, when he will come to judge all people. He said that “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” He then goes on to describe the judgment and with regard to those who have rejected him he says, in Verse 41, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” And then again, in Verse 46, “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” In all three places where the word “eternal” is used in the NIV translation of those verses, the Greek word is αἰώνιος (aionios), which means eternal, or without beginning or end.[3] We could cite other evidence, but the Bible could not be more clear about the eternal nature of both heaven and hell.

Marc Roby: And for those of us looking forward to heaven, that is a wonderful thought. But, we are out of time for today, so are we done with examining the necessity of the Bible, that is special revelation?

Dr. Spencer: We are. But, I’d like to make a summary statement I think. The Bible is necessary for living a life pleasing to God precisely because it is God alone who has authority to say what is sinful and also to tell us how we are to worship him.

Marc Roby: Very well, that concludes this session. But, I want to remind our listeners to email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org.

 

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] As quoted on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diet_of_Worms

[3] A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Walter Bauer, 2nd Ed., Revised and augmented by F.W. Gingrich and F. Danker, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1979, pg. 28

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of theology today by beginning a study of systematic theology. Dr. Spencer, I think it would be a good idea to define what systematic theology is.

Dr. Spencer: That would certainly be a good place to start. The word theology comes from two Greek words, theos (θεός), which means God, and logos (λόγος), which can mean word, or statement, or reasoning.[1] It is the origin of our English word logic, for example. But it is also the root of a suffix in many words, like anthropology or archaeology, where it has come to mean the study of something. So, theology is the study of God.

There are different kinds of theology and the modifiers aren’t always used in a consistent way. In our podcast introductions we have been saying that we are studying “biblical theology”, by which we mean theology according to the Bible. But, according to the 19th-century theologian Charles Hodge, biblical theology would, strictly speaking, be a compilation of the facts presented in the Bible.[2] In contrast, systematic theology looks for the relations between these facts and seeks to draw conclusions from them. He uses geology as an illustration. You can simply compile a list of facts; for example, the locations, size shape and so on of different rivers. Or you can study the causes and relations between different geological facts, which is, in general, more useful.

Overall, I like the definition given by Wayne Grudem the best. In his book Systematic Theology, he writes that “Systematic theology is any study that answers the question, ‘What does the whole Bible teach us today?’ about any given topic.”[3]

Marc Roby: Now, I have to point out that that definition originally came from John Frame.

Dr. Spencer: OK, I knew you’d been itching to get a reference in to one of your favorite theologians. And you’re right, the definition comes from Frame and Grudem does gives him credit in a footnote.

Marc Roby: Just wanted to make sure the record was straight.

Dr. Spencer: I think it’s straight. And it is a good definition. What we are interested in doing is seeing what the whole Bible teaches us, specifically about we are to believe, and how we are to live our lives.

Marc Roby: Alright, where do we want to begin?

Dr. Spencer: We want to begin, as Wayne Grudem and many others have done, with the Word of God itself.

Marc Roby: Perhaps I should remind our listeners that we have already covered this topic to some extent. In Session 4 we discussed the fact that the Bible itself claims to be the very Word of God and that it alone is the ultimate standard, or authority, for a Christian. Then, in Sessions 5 and 6, we discussed the Bible’s authority and its progressive revelation of Jesus Christ as the Savior. So, what else do want to say about the Word of God?

Dr. Spencer: I want, first, to stress the importance of the Word of God. Although it is not the only revelation we have from God, it is the only revelation we have that tells us what we must do to be saved. Theologians often speak of both general and special revelation. General revelation refers to creation itself, including man, our conscience, reasoning and entire being. While special revelation is often used to refer to the Bible, although we’ll see in a few minutes there is more to it.

General revelation is so named because it is available to everyone in general. We are told about it in Romans 1:20-21, which say that “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him”. [4] This is a very important point. General revelation is sufficient for the purpose of leaving men without excuse. We should know that there is a God, we should give him glory and thanks, and we should seek to know him and please him. But, in our natural state, we do none of those things.

Marc Roby: And, of course, because men reject God, Paul tells us in Romans 1:18-19 that “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And that is where special revelation comes into the picture. It is called special revelation because it is not available to every single person. And it is only in special revelation that God reveals to us how we can be reconciled to him and have the sentence of his wrath removed from us.

Marc Roby: Which is, of course, by being united to Jesus Christ by faith.

Dr. Spencer: Right. That’s the core of the gospel message. In his natural state, man is a sinner who has rejected God and is under his wrath. Paul writes in Ephesians 2:1 that we were dead in our trespasses and sins. But, if we repent of our sins and place our trust in the redeeming work of Jesus Christ, we’ll be saved.

It is the unique job of God’s special revelation to give us this gospel message.

Marc Roby: But it gives us a lot more than just the bare gospel.

Dr. Spencer: It absolutely does. It gives us everything we need for life and doctrine. In other words, it tells us everything we must believe and everything we must do. Not only to be saved, but to live a life pleasing to God. And not only does it tell us these things, it is our only infallible, objective guide for salvation and the Christian life. Remember in Sessions 2 and 3 we examined the answer to Question 3 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which states that the Bible “principally teaches, what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.” That is the same as saying it teaches us doctrine and life.

Marc Roby: Now I can hear some Christians objecting at this point, because they will say that God reveals to them directly, by his Holy Spirit, what they are to do.

Dr. Spencer: I believe that God does reveal things to his people by his Holy Spirit. But, the Holy Spirit is also the author of the Bible, and God cannot lie, and he cannot change or contradict himself. So, the subjective revelation that a Christian may get from the Holy Spirit must always be subservient to the objective Word of God.

If you think the Holy Spirit has revealed something to you that contradicts the Bible, then you are wrong. And we need this kind of objective standard, because we are all prone to misunderstanding the prompting of the Holy Spirit, or to thinking the Holy Spirit is speaking when, in fact, it is either our own sinful nature welling up, or a suggestion even of the devil. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 2:11 that “we are not unaware of [Satan’s] schemes”. In the Greek, the word the NIV translates here as “schemes”, and which the ESV and other versions translate as “devices” is noama (νόημα), and the root meaning is really “thoughts”. So, the verse could perhaps be better translated as “we are not unaware of Satan’s thoughts.” In other words, Satan puts thoughts into our minds. And we need some objective standard for distinguishing between our own sinful thoughts, the thoughts of Satan, and the thoughts the Holy Spirit brings to us.

Marc Roby: And the Bible is that objective standard.

Dr. Spencer: Yes it is, which is why we have said a number of times in these podcasts that the Bible must be the ultimate standard of truth for a Christian. We can’t let our subjective experiences be the ultimate rule because they can simply be wrong. And there is no way for anyone else to help me if my subjective understanding is the ultimate standard. Suppose, for example, I tell you that God has spoken to me and told me that I should do something, if my subjective experience is the ultimate standard, then you can’t say much at that point. Who are you to contradict God? So, if you think I’m wrong, your only options would be to leave it alone or call me a liar. But, if I tell you that I think God spoke and told me to do something, you can speak to me if what I think God wants me to do is unbiblical. You can, and should, say to me, “Richard, I don’t think that is the Holy Spirit speaking. Let’s look at what the Holy Spirit said in the Scripture.”

Marc Roby: And I think we all need that kind of correction from time to time.

Dr. Spencer: We absolutely do. Which is why being a member of good church and having good Christian fellowship is so important.

Marc Roby: It reminds me of the apostle Paul rebuking and correcting Peter in Galatians 2:11.

Dr. Spencer: That is a great example. We aren’t told the entire conversation, but I’m confident that if Peter didn’t immediately recognize he was wrong and repent, Paul would have argued from the Scriptures to show him that he was wrong.

Marc Roby: Of course, the apostles had the advantage of having heard Jesus himself speak.

Dr. Spencer: That certainly was a great privilege. But, I think that in many ways we are far more privileged today.

Marc Roby: How so?

Dr. Spencer: Because God has provided us with a written record of all the words and deeds of Jesus that it is important for us to know about. We don’t have to rely on our memories.

Marc Roby: That is certainly a good thing, especially as we get older!

Dr. Spencer: I agree. My memory is sometimes pretty bad. But, we have an even greater advantage because not only do we have the written record, we have nearly 2,000 years of scholarship and exhortations from godly men and women to help us understand and apply the Word of God, and to encourage us to hold firmly to the faith.

Marc Roby: That is a tremendous benefit indeed. And it is sometimes astounding, as well as humbling and edifying, to read the insights of some of the great saints of the past.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely true. But, I also want to point out that the Bible is not going to be properly understood by anyone unless and until that person is born again. What I mean by “properly understood” here is that the message is received and responded to with saving faith. We read in 1 Corinthians 2:14 that “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

Marc Roby: That is so true.

Dr. Spencer: The fact that the Bible cannot be properly understood without the Holy Spirit working in us is why I said there was more to special revelation than just the Bible itself. Since the whole point of the term “special revelation” is to talk about what is needed for salvation and living the Christian life, we need to keep in mind this necessary work of the Holy Spirit even if we say that special revelation is the Bible, as is frequently done.

I think James Boice makes a good point in his wonderful book called Foundations of the Christian Faith. He writes that “special revelation has three stages. First, there is redemption in history. This centers in the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. He died in the place of sinners and rose as proof of their divine justification. Second, there is a revelation in writing. This is the Bible. God has provided interpretive records of what he has done for our redemption. Finally, there is the application of these truths to the mind and heart of the individual by the Holy Spirit. As a result the individual is born again, receives the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior, and is enabled to follow him faithfully until life’s end.”[5]

Marc Roby: It is clear from my own experience that we need the Holy Spirit to apply the truths of the Bible to our own lives.

Dr. Spencer: My experience is the same. Not only must we be born again, we must also be walking in humble obedience and be filled with the Spirit or our reading of the Bible will not be as useful as it could be. God refuses to speak to someone who is sinning and refusing to repent. But, when we are right with God, his Holy Spirit causes the Bible to come alive. When we read it we see ourselves, and it brings us to repentance, greater faith, a deeper understanding of God, and a clearer understanding of what he wants us to do.

Marc Roby: I find it amazing how you can read a passage you’ve read many times before and yet, because of your different situation, God shows you something completely new and different in the passage.

Dr. Spencer: I’ve had the exact same experience. But, as I’ve been saying, this standard is an objective standard. And one of the things that means is that I’m not free to run off and go crazy with my subjective interpretations of what the Word of God says. That is part of the reason it is so important that this revelation be in written form. If I have misinterpreted it, I need to be able to sit down with someone and have him show me where I went wrong.

Marc Roby: That, of course, requires that we agree on how to read the Word of God.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we must agree on how to properly read and understand the Word. The science of properly interpreting the Word of God is called Hermeneutics, and we will get into that in a later session. For now, I want to move on to mention four key characteristics of special revelation.

Marc Roby: What are those?

Dr. Spencer: They are sufficiency, necessity, authority and perspicuity.

Marc Roby: I’m sure at least some of our listeners are not familiar with the word perspicuity.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure you’re right. Perspicuity means clarity. So, perhaps, we could say that the word perspicuity is not particularly perspicuous.

Marc Roby: Maybe it would be better not to have said that.

Dr. Spencer: Yeah, perhaps you’re right. In any event, I thought it was important to at least introduce the term since it is used in theology and since the acronym you will sometimes hear for these four characteristics is SNAP, which stands for sufficiency, necessity, authority and perspicuity. But, if you like, we can change the acronym to SNAC, standing for sufficiency, necessity, authority and clarity.

Marc Roby: Why are these terms so important?

Dr. Spencer: They are important because they tell us some very important things about the Word of God given to us in the Bible. First, it is sufficient, which of course begs the question, “Sufficient for what?” And the short answer is, that it provides sufficient information for salvation and as our guide for living. The Bible is also necessary, which again begs the same question, “Necessary for what?” And the short answer is also the same, it is necessary for salvation and a proper Christian life. There is only one way to be saved, and that is through faith in Jesus Christ. But, the only place we learn who Christ is, what he did, and how we can be saved is the Bible. So, either a person has to read it for himself, or he has to be told what it says by someone sent to preach the gospel to him. Thirdly, the Bible is authoritative, which again begs the question, “Authoritative for what?” This time the answer is more comprehensive. The Bible is authoritative for everything it speaks about. As we have pointed out several times, it is a Christian’s ultimate authority. And, finally, we come to clarity, or using the old term, perspicuity. What this means is that the Bible is clear about those things for which it is necessary and sufficient. In other words, the basic message of salvation and how to live a life pleasing to God is clear. You don’t need a degree in theology, nor do you need to be exceptionally bright in order to understand the basic message of the Bible. A child is able to understand it sufficiently to be saved.

Marc Roby: But, of course, there is so much more there as well. Even a very intelligent and learned person can spend a lifetime studying the Word of God and never fully plumb the depths.

Dr. Spencer: That is certainly true. There is always more that we can learn about from the Word of God.

Marc Roby: I look forward to exploring the Word of God further, but we are out of time for today. I want to close by reminding and encouraging our listeners to send their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org.

 

[1] E.g., see A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Walter Bauer, 2nd Ed., Revised and augmented by F.W. Gingrich and F. Danker, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1979, pp. 477-478

[2] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997, Vol. I, pp. 1-2

[3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Zondervan, 1994, pg. 21

[4] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[5] James Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised in One Volume, InterVarsity Press, 1986, pg. 37

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