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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine biblical anthropology. Last time we started going through the statement in Chapter IV, Paragraph 2 of the Westminster Confession of Faith, which says in part, “After God had made all other creatures, he created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after his own image; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfil it”.

Dr. Spencer, last time we discussed the fact that man was created male and female and with a reasonable and immortal soul. The next thing noted in this statement is that we were endued with knowledge. What do you want to say about that?

Dr. Spencer: I’m going to treat the next three things listed, which are knowledge, righteousness and holiness, all at the same time. In order to do this, I want to examine three verses from the Bible, which are, by the way, the verses cited by the Confession itself at this point.

Marc Roby: If I may begin, the first verse the Westminster divines cite is Genesis 1:26, where we read, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’” [1]

Dr. Spencer: That is also the verse we began with in our previous session and which led to the discussion of what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God.

And the second verse they cite is from the New Testament, Colossians 3:10. But, in order to have a complete sentence, let me read Colossians 3:9-10. Paul wrote, “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”

Marc Roby: And the final verse they cited was Ephesians 4:24. I’ll read Verses 22-24 in order to get a complete sentence. “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Dr. Spencer: And let me begin our examination of these New Testament passages by pointing out that both of them speak about an old self and a new self. The old self, of course, refers to an unregenerate person, in other words, a person who has not been born again. In other words, an unbeliever, someone who is still an enemy of God as Paul says in Colossians 1:21, where we read, “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.”

And then, both passages also speak about a new self, which refers to a person who has been born again. The passages then tell us some things about the change that takes place when a person becomes a believer.

Marc Roby: There is also an interesting difference in the two passages that is worth pointing out before we go on. In Colossians 3:9-10 the past tense is used. We are said to have “taken off” our old self with its practices and to “have put on the new self”. Whereas, in Ephesians 4:22-24 we are commanded to “put off your old self” and “to put on the new self”, which describes something we are to do, not something that is a completed past event.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is an interesting and important difference. There is a very real change that takes place when a person is born again and confesses Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. In 2 Corinthians 5:17 the apostle Paul wrote that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” And so, when the past tense is used, it is a clear indication of this change. It is evident in the life of a believer immediately.

Marc Roby: And yet, we are certainly not immediately made perfect.

Dr. Spencer: No, we’re not. And that is why the Bible also uses the present tense to talk about the continuing change that must take place in the life of a believer. Hence, we can be said in Colossians 3 to have taken off our old self, and then in Ephesians 4 be told to put off our old self. Both are true. And we will discuss this in more detail later, but for now I want to focus on the changes that are being made because they all tell us something about the image and likeness of God.

That image was radically defaced in the fall, but in Christ it is being restored. And so, as we already read, Colossians 3:10 says that we “have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”

Marc Roby: And so, clearly, knowledge is a part of the image with which man was originally made.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And we must note that for our knowledge to be in any way the image of God’s knowledge, it must be true and correct knowledge. The fall caused man to believe in lies. Paul tells us about unbelievers in Romans 1:21-23 and says, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.”

Marc Roby: That is the exact opposite of the progression taught in our schools today. Pagan religions that worship images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles didn’t come first and Christianity didn’t evolve from those religions. True worship came first and those pagan religions came when man rebelled against God. They are a perversion of true worship, not the first step in an evolution of religion.

Dr. Spencer: That is exactly right. Mans thinking became futile and our foolish hearts were darkened. We didn’t start out that way in the Garden. We became fools as a result of sin.

Marc Roby: And we read in Psalm 14:1 that “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, the denial of God is the essence of foolishness and rebellion. And it is the source of our knowledge being corrupted by lies. This does not, of course, mean that an unbeliever is incapable to having any correct knowledge. Unbelievers can know many things that are factually correct and can use that knowledge to make useful objects and do useful work. But, at the core of the worldview of an unbeliever there is a lie. And that lie does corrupt many specific areas of knowledge as well, certainly including anything having to do with eternal realities, the nature of God or the nature of man.

Marc Roby: Very well. We have established, I think, that to made in God’s image includes the fact that man was made with true knowledge. Although that knowledge certainly was not exhaustive knowledge about our world.

Dr. Spencer: Of course not. We aren’t told exactly how much Adam and Eve knew before the fall and it isn’t really important for us to know that. But what they knew, was true and correct. And, most importantly, their knowledge about God, however extensive it was, was true and correct.

Let me quote the theologian Charles Hodge about this knowledge. He wrote that “Adam knew God; whom to know is life eternal. Knowledge, of course, differs as to its objects. The cognition of mere speculative truths, as those of science and history, is a mere act of the understanding; the cognition of the beautiful involves the exercise of our aesthetic nature; of moral truths the exercise of our moral nature; and the knowledge of God the exercise of our spiritual and religious nature.”[2]

Marc Roby: And we could add that Adam not only knew moral truths, but he lived in accordance with them.

Dr. Spencer: That’s quite right. In fact, Hodge also wrote that “The knowledge here intended is not mere cognition. It is full, accurate, living, or practical knowledge; such knowledge as is eternal life, so that this word [knowledge] here [in Colossians 3:10] includes what in Eph. iv. 24 is expressed by righteousness and holiness.”[3]

Marc Roby: And that quote provides a perfect segue to our discussion of the next verse cited by the Westminster Confession, which is Ephesians 4:24. This verse says that we are “to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Dr. Spencer: And we can again conclude that since the new man is “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness”, that must also have been the case for Adam and Eve prior to the fall. In redeeming his people from their bondage to sin, God is restoring the image that sin defaced, and that image included our being like God in righteousness and holiness.

Marc Roby: I think most people have a fair idea of what it means to be righteous, it is to do that which is right. And to be holy means, in this context, to be morally pure or blameless.

Dr. Spencer: And it is important to add that to be righteous is to do what is right in the sight of God, not what man thinks is right. Although the two terms righteousness and holiness can certainly be distinguished, Hodge points out that “These words when used in combination are intended to be exhaustive; i.e., to include all moral excellence.”[4]

Therefore, we can conclude by saying that when the Westminster Confession says that God “endued [man] with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after his own image”, it means that man was created with a true and proper understanding of who God is and who man is and that he was morally upright and faultless. He obeyed God’s precepts perfectly.

Marc Roby: And the result of his perfect obedience was perfect happiness and perfect fellowship with God.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely.

Marc Roby: Your statement that man was created with a proper understanding of who God is and who man is also reminds me of the first line to Calvin’s great work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion, which says that “Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”[5]

Dr. Spencer: And the similarity to his statement was quite deliberate. Properly understanding the Creator/creature distinction is crucial for us to be good image bearers. An ambassador always has to remember his place. He represents his government and country. He has no authority to do or say what he wants to do or say.

Marc Roby: That’s a good analogy to keep in mind. As Christians, we are to always represent Christ.

Dr. Spencer: Very true. But let’s get back to the statement from Chapter IV, Paragraph 2 of the Westminster Confession of Faith. It says that “After God had made all other creatures, he created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after his own image; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfil it”. We have now discussed all of this except the last phrase, which says that man was created having the law of God written in his heart and with the power to fulfil it.

Having the law written in the heart is again an aspect of being endued with knowledge. That knowledge, as we have seen, includes moral knowledge.

Marc Roby: So the thing that is added by this last phrase is that man was created with the power to keep the moral law.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. Theologians, as is often the case, have a Latin phrase that they use for this. Prior to the fall, Adam and Eve were posse non peccare, which means that it was possible for them to not sin. Of course, they were also posse peccare, which means that they were able to sin. God did not prevent their sinning.

In any event, the Confession is right in telling us that man was created with the power to keep the moral law. If that were not so, Genesis 1:31 would not be true. We read there that “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”

Marc Roby: How sad it is that it didn’t remain very good.

Dr. Spencer: That is very sad indeed. All of the troubles we experience are the result of human sin. God’s purpose in creation is the manifestation of his own glory, not the immediate pleasure of man. We will get to the effects of sin as the last topic in our study of anthropology, but for now I want to continue looking at our being made in the image of God.

Marc Roby: Very well, we’ve finished looking at the statement in the Westminster Confession of Faith, so what is next?

Dr. Spencer: I’d like to read a fairly lengthy passage from Charles Hodge about what is called the essential image of God in man. But before I read it, I need to tell our listeners about Aristotle’s distinction between the essential nature of something and the accidental nature.

The essential nature, or essence, of a thing is its fundamental nature.[6] If you take away the essence, you take away the thing itself. The accidental nature of a thing includes all of those aspects that are not essential to its being.[7] So, for example, the essential nature of a chair would include the fact that you can sit on it. Its accidents might include the fact that it is made out of wood, or metal, or that it has four legs as opposed to a single large pedestal.

Marc Roby: Alright, that makes sense. So what is the quote from Hodge?

Dr. Spencer: Hodge wrote, “While, therefore, the Scriptures make the original moral perfection of man the most prominent element of that likeness to God in which he was created, it is no less true that they recognize man as a child of God in virtue of his rational nature. He is the image of God, and bears and reflects the divine likeness among the inhabitants of the earth, because he is a spirit, an intelligent, voluntary agent; and as such he is rightfully invested with universal dominion. This is what the Reformed theologians were accustomed to call the essential image of God, as distinguished from the accidental. The one consisting in the very nature of the soul, the other in its accidental endowments, that is, such as might be lost without the loss of humanity itself.”

Marc Roby: If I might try to summarize and explain, Hodge is saying that both man’s original moral perfection and his being a rational, volitional being are essential to his being made in the image of God.

Dr. Spencer: I think that’s accurate. I’m not absolutely certain what would be considered accidental in this context, but I suppose the physical form of man; namely that we have a head, two arms, two legs and a torso might be the sort of thing that is meant. In any event, what is important, and the reason I read the quote, is that it tells us that reformed theologians have emphasized man’s original moral perfection and the fact that he is a rational, volitional being as being essential to our being made in the image of God.

Marc Roby: Is there anything you want to add before we conclude for today?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, one thing. The fact that we are moral, rational creatures is also essential to our performing the one function that clearly distinguishes us from the animals. The great Puritan theologian John Owen wrote that “The approaching unto God in his service is the chief exaltation of our nature above the beasts that perish.”[8] He also wrote, in the Greater Catechism, “Was man able to yield the service and worship that God required of him? Yea, to the uttermost, being created upright in the image of God, in purity, innocence, righteousness, and holiness.”[9]

Marc Roby: That’s wonderful. Our being made in the image of God is what distinguishes us from all other creatures and it is what enables us to worship and serve God, which is our greatest joy.

And now I’d like to remind our listeners that they can email questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We’d appreciate hearing from you.

[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] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997, Vol. II, pg. 101

[3] Ibid, pg. 100

[4] Ibid, pg. 101

[5] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Translated by Henry Beveridge, Hendrickson Publishers, 2008, pg. 4

[6] John Frame, The History of Western Philosophy and Theology, P&R Publishing, 2015, pg. 751

[7] Ibid, pg. 739 (see page 150 and especially footnote 59 for further explanation of essence and accidents)

[8] Quoted in: Beeke, Joel R. & Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life, Reformation Heritage Books, 2012, pg. 670

[9] Ibid

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine the characteristics of the Word of God, which is the Bible. Dr. Spencer, last time you discussed general and special revelation and then briefly defined four characteristics of Scripture, which can be remembered by the acrostic SNAC; sufficiency, necessity, authority, and clarity.

But, before we begin today, I think it would be good to suggest some reading material for those listeners who want to follow along in our study in a little more depth.

Dr. Spencer: That would be a good idea. The first, and by far most important, book I recommend is the Bible itself. Every Christian should be reading the Word of God every day. Jesus told us in Matthew 4:4 that “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” [1] The Word of God is food for a Christian. And you should read all of it, not just your favorite Psalms and stories. I strongly recommend having a good reading list and going through the entire Bible every year. It isn’t like a novel, which you usually read only once. The Bible should be read over and over again throughout the Christian life. Just like we need to eat real, physical food regularly, so we also need a regular diet of the Word of God. The reading list we use in our church, which I think is a good one, is available online as a pdf file that you can download, the link is in the transcript of this podcast.[2] In addition, I would recommend that you use a good study Bible, like the ESV Reformation Study Bible. The notes are a big help, especially for a Christian who is not yet extremely familiar with the Bible. Just remember that the notes are not inspired.

Marc Roby: I wholeheartedly agree that daily reading of the Word of God is a necessary discipline for a Christian to be able to have what the Puritans used to call an overcoming life. In other words, a life that overcomes sin, the world and the devil. What books do you recommend in addition to the Bible?

Dr. Spencer: Let me start with theology books. If you have never read much theology before, I suggest beginning with James Boice’s book Foundations of the Christian Faith.[3] It is an excellent book, very readable, not too long, readily available and not very expensive. You will also find it valuable even if you are already familiar with theology. If you want something a bit longer and more detailed, I would suggest Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology.[4] If you want to go even further, I would suggest Charles Hodge’s Systematic Theology[5] and, of course, John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion.[6] Finally, in addition to the Bible and systematic theology, I would also suggest reading commentaries to help you with specific books of the Bible. Pastor Matthew’s commentaries, available at graceandglory.pub, are all outstanding.[7] Also, the classic Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the complete Bible is wonderful and is available both online and in book form.[8] The detailed references for all of these are in the transcript.

Marc Roby: That list should keep people busy for a while. What do you want to begin with today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to start fleshing out the characteristics we mentioned last time; sufficiency, necessity, authority and clarity.

Marc Roby: Very well. Are we going to look at them in that order?

Dr. Spencer: We are going to look at the first two in order, yes. So, let’s go ahead and begin with sufficiency.

Marc Roby: Alright. You said last time that the Bible provides sufficient information for salvation and as our guide for living. What else do you want to say about that?

Dr. Spencer: The first thing I want to do is contrast the Bible with general revelation. Remember that by general revelation we mean all of creation, including our own conscience, our sense of right and wrong, and our intuitive sense that there is more to a person than just their physical body. As we noted last time, that revelation is sufficient to leave people without excuse before God. We read in Psalm 19:1-4 that “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. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”

Just as Paul declared in Romans 1, which we quoted last session, general revelation is sufficient for every person to realize that God exists, and it should cause us all to give thanks to him for this life and to seek to know him. But, that knowledge is not sufficient for salvation, or to tell us how to live a life pleasing to God.

Marc Roby: I’m sure that statement will bother some people, because they wonder about the fairness of someone who has never heard the gospel being sent to hell.

Dr. Spencer: I certainly understand that objection. It was one that I had before I was saved. But the answer given to us in Romans 1 is that all people have sufficient information to leave them without that excuse. They know that God exists, but they refuse to give him thanks and truly seek him. That is why they are condemned. God tells us in Deuteronomy 4:29 that if “you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.” The problem is that no one does that until and unless God himself draws us, as we are told in John 6:44.

Marc Roby: The fact that our salvation is based on a gracious work of God is emphasized in Ephesians 2:8-9, where we read that “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. And grace is God’s unmerited favor. It is not deserved. We all deserve hell. What is surprising is that God chooses to save some. And he does that through his word, the Bible.

In 2 Timothy 3:14-15 the apostle Paul instructed Timothy to “continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” Also, in James 1:18, the Lord’s brother wrote that God the Father “chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.” Also, the apostle Peter wrote, in 1 Peter 1:23, that we “have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” All three of these Scriptures show us that God uses his Word, the Bible, to bring us to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: But, as you shared from 1 Corinthians 2:14 last session, “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.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. When we say that the Word of God is sufficient for salvation, we mean that it reveals all of the information necessary to be saved, but we need more than just information. The devil has all of the information, and he also knows it’s all true. But intellectual assent to the truth of the Bible will not save us, which is why in James 2:19 we read, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” To be saved, we must first be born again. Without that, we will never repent and trust in Christ alone for our salvation. Remember last session I quoted from James Boice’s book, Foundations of the Christian Faith. He said that “special revelation has three stages. First, … redemption in history. … Second, … revelation in writing.” And third, “the application of these truths to the mind and heart of the individual by the Holy Spirit.” [9] That application by the Holy Spirit begins with new birth, or regeneration. Without regeneration, knowledge of the Bible simply adds to our guilt.

Marc Roby: So, when we talk about the sufficiency of the Bible, we are not saying it is sufficient for salvation all by itself.

Dr. Spencer: Right. It contains all of the information necessary, but the Holy Spirit must do a work in us to allow us to receive that information with faith.

Marc Roby: Alright, so we now know what it means to say that the Bible is sufficient for salvation, what about the fact that we also said it is sufficient to guide us in living the Christian life?

Dr. Spencer: Well, we can again contrast special and general revelation. God has given every human being a conscience. And even in people who have not been born again the conscience mediates against many of our most wicked impulses. For example, most people are not going to murder someone just because they get angry at the person. Nor are most people willing to mug someone and take his money because they want it. But, we all know that there are many exceptions to this rule. Our conscience can be a good guide, but if we repeatedly violate it the Bible tells us it can stop working properly. In 1 Timothy 4:2 Paul writes about “hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.” For example, if you keep lying over and over, you reach a point where your conscience no longer objects. It has ceased to function properly.

Marc Roby:  At that point I think you’re eligible to become a politician.

Dr. Spencer:  You might be right about that. But in addition to becoming seared, our conscience can also be corrupted. People can, for example, use their reason to convince themselves that something is alright when, in fact, it is clearly not alright. A good example of this might be sex before marriage. People may argue that since God made sex it is good and natural and that waiting for marriage is just an old-fashioned idea that was part of the culture at the time of the Bible, but is not true anymore, especially since we have birth control now. But, if we examine the Bible carefully, we see that sex outside of marriage is clearly a sin and will always be sin. The point is that we need to train our conscience using the Word of God, in other words, using special revelation.

God is the one who defines what is sin and what is not sin. And God is the one who tells us what we are to do to live a life pleasing to him. The only objective place we can turn for that kind of moral guidance is the Bible. And the Bible is sufficient to tell us all that we need to know to please God. In Deuteronomy 32:47, Moses had told the people God’s commands and then said, “They are not just idle words for you—they are your life.” The Bible tells us in many places that we will be blessed if we obey the commands of God, which are given to us in the Bible. For example, in Deuteronomy 28:2 we are told that “All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the LORD your God”, and this statement is then followed by a lengthy listing of the many blessings of God. The same message is in the New Testament. For example, in John 13:17, Jesus tells us, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” Therefore, we can reasonably conclude that the commands given to us in the Bible are sufficient for the purpose of living in a way that is pleasing to God.

Marc Roby: That makes me think of Psalm 1, where we read “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s a classic passage to make this point and, of course, in that passage, when he talks about the ‘law’ of the Lord, he’s talking about the whole of the Bible. Or we can look in Matthew 7:24-25 where Jesus tells us that “everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” This parable is again telling us that if you put Jesus’ words into practice you will be blessed.

Marc Roby: I think we have established that the Bible, when heard or read by someone who has been born again, is sufficient for salvation and to direct us in how to live. Is there anything else to say about this characteristic of the Word of God?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, there is. The sufficiency of the Bible makes clear that we don’t need any new revelation from God, either for salvation or for life. This speaks powerfully against the Roman Catholic church’s view of tradition. The Roman Catholic church places the traditions of the church on an equal footing with Scripture. Which, in practice, really means that they trump scripture. But, even if they didn’t, there is a clear problem. If any of the teachings of the church were necessary for life or doctrine, what can we say about the people who lived prior to the time the church came up with that teaching? The Bible would not have been sufficient for those people.

This also speaks against the Mormon cult. I had some Mormons come to my door one day who said that Mormonism was just like the reformation. Their claim was that just as Martin Luther and the other reformers corrected the abuses that had developed over time in the Roman Catholic church, so Joseph Smith corrected abuses that had developed since the time of the reformation. But that is complete nonsense. The reformation did not introduce any new revelation from God, it went back to the Word of God itself, which had been there the whole time. The existing errors were errors in interpretation and application of the existing revelation. Whereas Joseph Smith introduced a whole new revelation, the Book of Mormon, which contradicts the Bible at many points. Knowing that Scripture is sufficient for salvation and life guards against our being deceived by any new so-called revelation.

Marc Roby: The Bible itself tells us in many places to not add to the words of God. For example, in Deuteronomy 4:2 Moses tells the people “Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you.”

Dr. Spencer: That is absolutely true. And similar warnings are given in Deuteronomy 12:32, Proverbs 30:6 and Revelation 22:18-19.

Marc Roby: That raises and interesting question though. How do we reconcile these statements with progressive revelation? If we consider the statement I quoted from Moses, I can imagine someone might object and say that if Moses told the people not to add to his commands, what are we to say about the rest of the Old and New Testaments, which were revealed after the time of Moses?

Dr. Spencer: Grudem talks about this in Chapter 8 of his Systematic Theology, which is on the sufficiency of the Bible. He points out that to say that man can’t add to the Scripture is not the same thing as saying that God can’t add to it. Now, of course, the Mormon’s for example, would say that God did add to it with the Book of Mormon. But, I think that view is impossible to accept for two reasons. One, the Book of Mormon contains so many counterfactual elements and, two, there is no need for further revelation. Let me quote Grudem on this second point because I think he says it very well, and his explanation tells us both why there was more revelation after the time of Moses, and why there hasn’t been more after the time of Christ. He wrote that “At each stage in redemptive history, the things that God had revealed were for his people for that time, and they were to study, believe, and obey those things. With further progress in the history of redemption, more of God’s words were added, recording and interpreting that history”[10]. “After the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, and the founding of the early church as recorded in the New Testament, and the assembling of the books of the New Testament canon, no further central redemptive acts of God in history (…) have occurred, and thus no further words of God have been given to record and interpret those acts for us.”[11]

Marc Roby: That certainly is a powerful argument that we have no need for further revelation. And I think that is a good place to stop for today. I again want to encourage 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] See http://gracevalley.org/wp-content/uploads/ReadScheduleNonLpYr.pdf

[3] James Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised in One Volume, InterVarsity Press, 1986

[4] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Zondervan, 1994

[5] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997 (3-volume set)

[6] E.g., John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Translated by Henry Beveridge, Hendrickson, 2008

[7] https://graceandglory.pub/

[8] E.g., Matthew Henry’s Commentary, New Modern Edition in six volumes, Hendrickson, 1991 and https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-complete/

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

[10] Grudem, op. cit., pg. 130

[11] Ibid

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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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