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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine God’s communicable attribute of truthfulness.

Before we begin I’d like to let our listeners know that we have added a new feature to the website for this podcast. At the top of the transcript for every session, including all previous sessions, is a link to a pdf file for the session. You are free to download, save and share these files with others. In addition, if you go to the Archive link at the top of the home page for whatdoesthewordsay.org, you will also find links to pdf versions of three indexes. An index of references, an index of topics, and an index of Scriptures. These are updated with each new podcast. And now, let’s get back to our topic.

Dr. Spencer, we finished last time by noting that God is truth in all three of the meanings of that term; that is, metaphysical, propositional and ethical. What do you want to look at today?

Dr. Spencer: I want to discuss the topic of ethical truth a little more. Remember that ethics refers to the set of moral rules that govern how we live. In my experience, most people seem to agree with the idea that morality is absolute. They may say that morality can be different in different cultures, but then they will strongly denounce and even work to change practices they disagree with, even practices in other countries with completely different cultures.

So, for example, I doubt that very many women in the United States would have said that it was just a matter of culture and not a problem when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan and prevented women from working, attending school, or being in public places without a male family member.

Marc Roby: I’m quite sure you are right about that. Women, and most men as well, would agree that such rules are a violation of basic human rights.

Dr. Spencer: I think they would. So, independent of the politically correct postmodern notion that truth and morality are social constructs and vary from culture to culture, we see that most people prove by their actions that they firmly believe in moral absolutes. This is especially true when you discuss hot-button issues like abortion, homosexuality, same-sex marriage and so on.

The problem, as I demonstrated by talking about slavery last time and Hitler in the session before that, is that without God, there is no absolute authority anyone can point to as a basis for these moral absolutes. Therefore, if atheism were true, morality would be determined solely by the group with the power to enact and enforce the laws in a given time and place and we would have no basis for saying that the laws put in place by the Taliban were wrong.

Marc Roby: And, even within one culture, laws change over time.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, they do. Is that because what is moral changes over time? I think most people would say it does not. But, when you and I were young, it was illegal to be a practicing homosexual in this country, it was illegal to get an abortion, and it was out of the question for same-sex couples to get married. And yet, a large percentage of our population, including some who call themselves Christians, now approve of such practices and they are legal. In fact, if you disagree with these practices, the so-called progressives will call you hateful and send you to sensitivity training to try and correct your socially aberrant views.

Marc Roby: It is really difficult to believe how much has changed since the 1950’s.

Dr. Spencer: It is unbelievable how much they have changed. But, independent of what any of our listeners may think about such changes, I challenge them, as I did when we talked about slavery, to explain – without reference to God – on what logical basis someone could say that we are right now and the people were wrong 60 years ago? Or that the people were right 60 years ago and we are wrong now?

Marc Roby: I don’t think that’s possible without reference to God.

Dr. Spencer: And that is my point. Without God, it isn’t possible. In fact man, because he is a creature, has no authority to decide for himself what is right or wrong. God alone has the authority to tell us what is sin and what is pleasing to him, and he has done that in the Bible. And, not only has God clearly told us what behavior he approves, he has clearly warned us of the penalty for disobedience. The moral laws are no different than any other laws in the sense that there is a penalty to be paid for violating them.

Marc Roby: But, there is a huge difference between God’s enforcement of his laws and the state’s enforcement of our civil laws.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, there is. In fact, there are at least three major differences I can think of.

Marc Roby: What are those?

Dr. Spencer: The first is that God does not always enforce his laws immediately, or even in this life. For his own purposes he sometimes allows people to do wicked things without being justly punished in this life. Of course the state also fails to punish people sometimes, but only because the state is incapable of perfectly enforcing its laws.

But, even though God may choose to not enforce his laws immediately, the second major difference I see is that God does, ultimately, enforce his laws absolutely perfectly. He has perfect knowledge of everything and everyone, including our thoughts and motives and he is absolutely sovereign, so no violation of his law will ever go unpunished. Every single sin ever committed will receive the punishment that justice demands. Either we will be punished for our sins or, if we have accepted God’s gracious offer of forgiveness based on the atoning sacrifice of Christ, Jesus will have borne the penalty for our sins on the cross.

Marc Roby: Which is absolutely amazing grace. What is the third difference you see in God’s enforcement of his laws versus the state’s enforcement of its laws?

Dr. Spencer: God’s penalty for disobedience is far more severe than the greatest penalty man can mete out. People don’t like the doctrine of hell, but it is a clear teaching of the Bible. If you are a Christian, you really have no option but to believe that hell exists. You don’t have to take my word for it, read your Bible. Jesus Christ himself spoke of eternal hell more than anyone else. You have to do exegetical backflips, or simply not believe God’s Word, to not believe in eternal hell.

Marc Roby: But, of course, different sins will not all receive the same punishment.

Dr. Spencer: No, they won’t. The Bible indicates that there are different levels of punishment in hell. But no matter the level of punishment, hell is a terrible place, and it is eternal, with no hope of escape.

Marc Roby: Which is, of course, one of the main reasons many people reject the doctrine; it seems completely unfair to punish people eternally.

Dr. Spencer: Well, I don’t personally like the doctrine either. But God didn’t ask me, and he isn’t going to, and, more to the point, what I think doesn’t matter. I am a sinner and don’t fully grasp God’s holiness and the depth of sin. What does matter is that we grasp the fact that even the smallest sin you can imagine is motivated by a rebellious heart, and that rebellion is against the infinite, almighty, all holy, perfectly just Creator, so it deserves eternal punishment. Not only that, but people in hell do not repent and seek God’s forgiveness. Without his saving grace they cannot do so. Therefore, they continue to hate him and rail against him in their hearts, which increases their guilt every day.

Marc Roby: Hell is an unpleasant topic to say the least, but I think we have said enough about God being the one who has authority to establish moral law, that he will, ultimately, judge everyone, and that we will all either receive mercy based on the merit of Jesus Christ, or be eternally punished for our sin.

So, we have now established that God is truth in all three biblical senses of the term: he is metaphysical truth because he is the genuine God, he is epistemological, or propositional, truth because all that he says is perfectly true, and he is ethical truth because he establishes and enforces the moral law. What else do you want to say about God’s truthfulness?

Dr. Spencer: It is important to point out that God’s moral law is not arbitrary. It is based on God’s own character, it is a reflection of his perfect character. And we are made in God’s image and are made for fellowship with him. So, obeying God’s moral law is what is best for us. A Christian should delight in God’s moral law, even if it goes against what the person has believed all of his or her life prior to becoming a Christian. Romans 12:2 commands us, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” [1]

Marc Roby: And our minds are renewed by meditating on God’s Word and submitting to it as our ultimate authority.

Dr. Spencer: That’s exactly right. Our minds are very important. Christianity is not all about feeling. Feelings are there of course, and they are important. But our emotions are not to rule us in any way. Our minds – which really means our spirits – are to rule us, and our minds are to be submitted fully to the Word of God. In 2 Corinthians 10:5 the apostle Paul tell us, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” Therefore, it doesn’t matter what I think about homosexuality for example, nor does it matter what society says. God says it is sin. And unrepentant sinners will go to hell. Therefore, the only loving thing for me to do with a homosexual is to tell that person of God’s law and of the consequences for violating that law, and then to tell him or her that Jesus Christ has provided a way to be saved.

Marc Roby: But, that salvation requires true biblical repentance.

Dr. Spencer: Yes it does, and true biblical repentance requires forsaking our sin and walking in holiness. It does not, praise God, require perfection or none of us would be saved. But when we sin, we must repent and ask for forgiveness and, as Paul said in Acts 26:20, prove our repentance by our deeds.

Marc Roby: And praise God that he has made salvation possible. Do you want to say anything else about God’s truthfulness?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I have a three more short points make. First, in examining God’s truthfulness, we again see God’s simplicity.

Marc Roby: We should remind our listeners that by God’s simplicity we mean the fact that his attributes cannot be thought of separately, they all work together.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s right. And with regard to God’s truthfulness, we have argued that he is truth in the propositional sense precisely because he has the power necessary to make what he thinks is true actually be true. And, even more than that, when you look at the different possible meanings of the word true, you see that God’s truthfulness also includes his perfect knowledge in knowing what it means to be the only true God, his faithfulness in always keeping his word, his unchangeableness in not changing his word, his moral perfection in establishing and enforcing the moral law and so on.

Marc Roby: It is clear that his attributes all work together. And it makes me remember Question 4 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which we have mentioned before. The answer to that question says, “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” But, you said you had three more points to make, what is the second?

Dr. Spencer: The second point I want to make is that God’s truthfulness was what Satan challenged when he first tempted Eve. We read about this in Genesis Chapter 3. The serpent came to Eve and asked, in Verse 1, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” Of course, that is not what God had said. God had said that they could eat of any tree in the garden with the sole exception of one tree. But, as James Boice points out in his commentary on Genesis, Satan’s question was meant “to suggest that God is not benevolent and that His word cannot be trusted.”[2]

Marc Roby: Now, we must say that Eve didn’t completely accept Satan’s suggestion. She answered, in Verses 2 and 3, that “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, you’re right, she didn’t accept Satan’s lie completely, but notice that his lie had already borne some fruit; she added to God’s word by saying “you must not touch it”. God had not said that. He had said that the day you eat of it you will die, not that you will die if you touch it. In any event, Satan then goes on to directly contradict God. He says, in Verse 4, “You will not surely die”. And then he gives his false explanation for God’s prohibition. He says, in Verse 5, “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” John Murray explains that at this point, Satan “accuses God of deliberate falsehood and deception. God has perpetrated a lie, he avers, because he is jealous of his own selfish and exclusive possession of the knowledge of good and evil!”[3]

Marc Roby: And, sadly, Eve believed Satan. We read in the first part of Verse 6 that “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.”

Dr. Spencer: That is the sad truth. Paul writes about this in 1 Timothy 2:14. He wrote that “Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.” But Adam is a different story. He was not deceived, his sin was far worse for at least two reasons. First, it was worse because he was the one put in charge by God and he was the representative for the human race. Greater responsibility always implies greater culpability. And secondly, he sinned out of pure rebellion against God as James Boice notes.[4] This is why Scripture always lays the blame for the fall on Adam, not on Eve. In Romans 5:12 we read that “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned” and Verse 14 clearly tells us that one man is Adam.

Marc Roby: Paul also tells us this in 1 Corinthians 15:22 where he says that “in Adam all die”.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s right. But, let’s get back to the point I wanted to make about God’s truthfulness, which is simply this; it is an absolutely essential aspect of the being of God. If God were not truthful, then having his infallible word would be of no real value. How would we be able to tell which parts where true and which were lies? And his threats and promises would have no value either, how would we know that they were true? Now, it must be said that God’s other attributes are essential too. For example, if he were not omnipotent we couldn’t be sure that he had the power to keep his threats and promises. But his truthfulness somehow seems to more directly impinge on his holiness, justice, goodness and so on.

That is why Satan didn’t question God’s power to bring death, nor did he question God’s knowledge about the tree, instead he directly questioned God’s truthfulness. A God who is not truthful is no god, he is a devil.

Marc Roby: Jesus Christ himself said to the Jews, as we read in John 8:44, “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

Dr. Spencer: And, a little earlier in the same discourse he had said that “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

Marc Roby: I see your point. Truth is an essential characteristic of the true and living God and is essential for salvation. Lies destroy, truth saves.

Dr. Spencer: We see that even in more mundane matters. If you go to see the doctor and he determines that you have cancer, that isn’t something you want to hear. But if he lies and says you’re fine, you’ll die. If he tells you the truth, then perhaps it can be treated and you may live.

Marc Roby: Very well. You said you had three points to make, what is the third?

Dr. Spencer: It is that because truth is so important, and lies are the “native language” of the devil, we, as Christians must be zealous to know and speak truth. John Murray, in his Principles of Conduct, wrote, “This is why all untruth or falsehood is wrong; it is a contradiction of that which God is.”[5]

Marc Roby: Being truthful is not a common characteristic in this day and age.

Dr. Spencer: No, it isn’t. But a Christian must be. That does not mean that we have to tell everyone all of the truth all of the time of course, but when we do say something, we must seek to convey truth.

Marc Roby: I notice you didn’t simply say that when we do say something it must be true, you said we must seek to convey truth. I assume you have a reason for the more complex statement?

Dr. Spencer: I do. You can tell something that is completely true with the intent of leading people to believe something that isn’t true. But, when you do that, you are lying. The classical biblical example is Abraham telling people that Sarah was his sister. That statement was true, but he said it to make them think that she wasn’t his wife. In other words, it is the best possible kind of lie! If you’re caught, you can always say that what you said was true, even though your purpose was to deceive.

Marc Roby: Alright. Are we done discussing God’s truthfulness?

Dr. Spencer: I think so.

Marc Roby: Then let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We are out of time for today.

 

[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] James M. Boice, Genesis: An Expositional Commentary, Zondervan, 1982, Vol. I, pg. 134

[3] John Murray, The Principles of Conduct, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1957, pg. 126

[4] Boice, op. cit., pg. 136

[5] Murray, op. cit., pg. 125

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine God’s communicable attribute of truthfulness.

Dr. Spencer, at the end of our previous session you made a shift that I didn’t notice at the time. We had been talking about moral laws and the idea that if God doesn’t exist, might, in a human sense, does make right. You then said that “at the end of the day truth really does depend on power because it depends on authority.” So, you switched from talking about what is right, to talking about what is true. Can you explain that shift?

Dr. Spencer: I did make a jump there in order to get to the conclusion before we ran out of time and, in hindsight, the jump was too large. So, let’s go back and fill in the blanks so to speak to make it clear how I got to that conclusion.

Marc Roby: OK, please do.

Dr. Spencer: We had finished briefly discussing different theories of truth and had then pointed out that our worldview has a pervasive influence on what we believe to be true. It is therefore, extremely important that our worldview be correct. But, our worldview is not something most of us consciously develop or even think about, so you had asked for an example of how we can test whether or not our own worldview is true.

Marc Roby: Yes, I recall that.

Dr. Spencer: And I responded by saying that we can test whether some of the fundamental tenets of our worldview are true or not. Our worldview comprises a set of beliefs about the world we live in, things we believe to be true. And those beliefs can be examined by realizing that we can draw conclusions based on them, in other words things that should be true if the underlying beliefs are true, and then we can check those conclusions to see if they’re right. And I gave the example that if an atheistic worldview is correct, then there can be no absolute morality.

Marc Roby: And I think we established that conclusion reasonably well.

Dr. Spencer: I do too, although I may want to come back to that topic later. But, getting back to our example, if an atheist believes in absolute morality, and in my experience most do, even if they won’t say so, his worldview is inconsistent. I argued that absolute morality only exists because God has the authority and power to establish and enforce moral law. But I skipped over making the connection that God’s authority and power do not end with his being able to establish the moral law. In fact, he has the authority and power to determine everything that exists in this universe and is absolute sovereign over everything that happens in the universe, so that whatever he thinks is true, is necessarily true.

Marc Roby: And that is what is meant by saying that truth is, ultimately, a person, it is God.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s right. Of course, truth is also a property of a statement, but ultimately, a statement is true if it corresponds to what God thinks is true. Wayne Grudem, in his Systematic Theology, defines God’s attribute of truthfulness this way: “God’s truthfulness means that he is the true God, and that all his knowledge and words are both true and the final standard of truth.”[1]

Marc Roby: Grudem uses the word “true” in two different ways in that definition, doesn’t he? To say that God is “the true God” is a different usage of the word than to say that his words are true.

Dr. Spencer: You’re right. John Frame, in his book The Doctrine of God, discusses three different meanings of the word truth as it is used in the Bible.[2] And all three meanings are important because God is truth in all three senses of the term. The first of these three meanings is called the metaphysical.

Marc Roby: Metaphysics refers to the branch of philosophy that studies the fundamental causes and nature of things.

Dr. Spencer: Mm-Hmm. In talking about the truth as being a person last time, we quoted what is perhaps the most famous verse in this regard, John 14:6, in which Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” [3] Jesus was using the word truth in its metaphysical sense there. We sometimes use the word that way in our normal speech as well. For example, you might hear someone be described as a true outdoorsman. Which means that the person corresponds to the ideal picture of what an outdoorsman should be.

Marc Roby: Of course, my picture of an ideal outdoorsman might be different than yours.

Dr. Spencer: That is certainly possible. And that brings up an interesting point relating to the truthfulness of God. In John 17:3, the great high priestly prayer of Jesus, he is praying to his Father in heaven and says, “this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” When Jesus says the Father is “the only true God” he is using the term in its metaphysical sense, but we have to deal with the same question you raised; whose idea of the true God must the Father conform to in order to be the true God? Many people throughout history have rejected the true God because the God of the Bible doesn’t fit their personal idea of what God should be like. For example, many reject God because in their view he shouldn’t allow any suffering in this world.

Marc Roby: In fact, many people at the time of Jesus rejected him because they were looking for a political Messiah who would deliver them from their bondage to the Romans.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s true. In fact, Jesus spoke about the fact that people rejected him for not living up to their expectations for the Messiah. In Luke 7:31-35 he says, “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other: ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not cry.’ For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.”’ But wisdom is proved right by all her children.”

Jesus was making the point that the people who rejected John for being too ascetic and Jesus for not upholding the Jewish traditions of the time were just like children who were upset with others who wouldn’t join in one game by dancing, or in another one by crying. But, we don’t get to choose the game! God is sovereign, not us.

Marc Roby: And, as Jesus said, “wisdom is proved right by all her children.”

Dr. Spencer: Precisely. And what he meant was that the fruit produced by the ministry of John the Baptist, which was serious repentance, and the fruit produced by Jesus’ own ministry, which was salvation for sinners, would prove them to be true. And so, when people today refuse to accept the God of the Bible because the God they want would never allow suffering into this world, or would never send people to hell, they are being just like the Jews of Jesus’ day. Therefore, we must again ask, in the high priestly prayer of John 17, when Jesus said that the Father is “the only true God”, whose idea of the true God must the Father conform to in order to be the true God?

Marc Roby: Well, I would assume that, since Jesus is the one praying, it would be his idea of the true God that he has in mind.

Dr. Spencer: And I would agree with you. But Grudem points out an interesting and unavoidable circularity here. He says, correctly, “that it is God himself who has the only perfect idea of what the true God should be like. And he himself is the true God because in his being and character he perfectly conforms to his own idea of what the true God should be. In addition, he has implanted in our minds a reflection of his own idea of what the true God must be, and this enables us to recognize him as God.”[4]

Marc Roby: And, I might add, he has also revealed to us in his Word what it means to be the true God. I am thinking, for example, of places like Isaiah 41:22-23, where God mocks the idols of the people saying, “Bring in your idols to tell us what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. Or declare to us the things to come, tell us what the future holds, so we may know that you are gods.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is a good passage. According to God, a true God should be able to tell us what the future holds.

In addition, the Bible tells us that a true God should also be the one who created all things. Over and over again in the Old Testament God reminds his people that he is the one who created the heavens and the earth. For example, in Isaiah 45:18 we read, “For this is what the LORD says— he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited— he says: ‘I am the LORD, and there is no other.’”

Marc Roby: There is only one Creator, and he alone is the true and living God.

Dr. Spencer: And, as Grudem pointed out, God “implanted in our minds a reflection of his own idea of what the true God must be, and this enables us to recognize him as God.” So, when God points out that he alone is the Creator, the Lord of history, the Savior of his people, and the Judge of all, it resonates with our inner sense of what it means to be God and, if we have been born again, we recognize it as true.

So, when we read that God is the true God, the metaphysical use of the term truth here means that we recognize God, as he reveals himself to us in his Word, to correspond in his fundamental nature, to what it means to be God. But we also see that he is the one who defines what it means to be God, so we need to jettison any unbiblical notions of God from our thinking. There is no external standard to which God must conform. He is the standard.

Marc Roby: I think we all need to meditate for a while on God’s description of what the true God should be and his revelation of himself as that true God.

Dr. Spencer: These ideas definitely warrant some careful thought. And let me add one more quick point related to the metaphysical meaning of truth. In John 1:17 the apostle says that “the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

John Murray makes an important point about this verse in his book Principles of Conduct. He wrote that “We should bear in mind that ‘the true’ in the usage of John is not so much the true in contrast with the false, or the real in contrast with the fictitious. It is the absolute as contrasted with the relative, the ultimate as contrasted with the derived, the eternal as contrasted with the temporal, the permanent as contrasted with the temporary, the complete in contrast with the partial, the substantial in contrast with the shadowy. … What John is contrasting here is the partial, incomplete character of the Mosaic dispensation with the completeness and fulness of the revelation of grace and truth in Jesus Christ.”[5]

Marc Roby: That statement gives us even more to meditate on. In the meantime, you said that Frame lists three meanings of the word truth as it is used in the Bible. What is the second meaning?

Dr. Spencer: The second is epistemological, or propositional truth, which is, as Frame points out, “a property of language, rather than reality.”[6] In other words, if I say that I was born in California, the proposition is either true or false. That is the predominant sense in which we were using the term in our last session when we discussed theories of truth. A statement is true if it corresponds to reality as far as that can be determined, and if it is also consistent with all other statements we know to be true.

Marc Roby: And God is also truth in this propositional sense. For example, we are told in Hebrews 6:18 that “it is impossible for God to lie”.

Dr. Spencer: We also read in 1 Samuel 15:29 that “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind”. That is why Grudem’s definition says, “all his knowledge and words are” true. And this is the point I was making last time. Since God is the Creator and the sovereign Lord of history, he controls this universe both in terms of its underlying nature and in terms of what happens to it over time. Therefore, whatever God thinks is true, is necessarily true as we have said. Grudem says, “since God knows all things infinitely well, we can say that the standard of true knowledge is conformity to God’s knowledge. If we think the same thing God thinks about anything in the universe, we are thinking truthfully about it.”[7]

Marc Roby: In other words, God is not only true, he is the standard of truth. Grudem’s definition also says that God’s knowledge and words are “the final standard of truth.”

Dr. Spencer: And Grudem explains that statement further. He says that “God’s words are not simply true in the sense that they conform to some standard of truthfulness outside of God. Rather, they are truth itself; they are the final standard and definition of truth.”

Marc Roby: We talked about ultimate standards of truth way back in Session 4 and you pointed out that there really are only two possibilities; either human reason or divine revelation.

Dr. Spencer: Those are the only two options. But we also pointed out that even though human reason is not the ultimate standard of truth for a Christian, it is necessary. It is a gift from God and without it we can’t understand his revelation to us. But, we must use our reason in a subservient role. It cannot stand in judgment over God’s revelation, it must be used to understand that revelation correctly.

Marc Roby: And that applies to general revelation as well as to the Bible.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it does. We must be careful to never let human reason be the ultimate standard for truth, even when we are doing science. Francis Bacon, often considered the father of empirical science, is famous for his statement about God’s two books; the book of nature and the book of the Bible. But, as Christians, we must place the Bible above nature because it is God’s infallible word to us. We can use our understanding of nature to help understand the Bible correctly, but we can never let what we think we know from nature overrule the Bible. So, for example, the idea that all life emerged from non-life by some natural process is unacceptable because it clearly contradicts the Bible. Of course, as I pointed out in Session 1, I don’t think that idea has much scientific merit either, it is the result of an atheistic worldview.

Marc Roby: Which again points out the importance of our worldview. But, let me bring us back to our topic of God’s truthfulness. You said that Frame discussed three biblical meanings of the word truth and we’ve covered two of them, the metaphysical and the propositional meanings. What then is the third?

Dr. Spencer: The third meaning is the ethical. The three meanings are, of course, all related. Frame says that “Metaphysical truth is genuineness; epistemological truth faithfully represents what is genuine; ethical truth is faithfulness in all areas of life.”[8]

So, with regard to metaphysical truth we quoted John 17:3, which called God the Father “the only true God”, and which speaks of his being the genuine article, to use a colloquial expression. Then with regard to epistemological, or propositional, truth you quoted Hebrews 6:18, which says that “it is impossible for God to lie” and that tells us that God faithfully represents what is genuine. Then, finally, ethical truth, as Frame says, is “faithfulness in all areas of life.”

Marc Roby: And ethics refers to the moral rules that govern our behavior.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. And God is ethical truth in at least two ways. First, Jesus Christ, who is God incarnate and, as we are told in John 1:18, makes the Father known to us, walked in perfect obedience to God’s commands. He himself declared in John 8:29 that he always did what pleased the Father. And, secondly, God is ethical truth in the sense that he alone has authority to tell us what is right and what is sin. In other words, he alone has authority to give us the moral rules that govern our behavior. Without God’s authority to do that, we are left with moral relativism and morality must be defined by human reason and is, therefore, changeable.

Marc Roby: Yes, I liked what you said in our previous session; that if someone is a logically consistent atheist, he must agree with the premise that might makes right.

Dr. Spencer: I did say that, yes. And I was deliberately being provocative. I certainly did not mean, for example, that any individual who has sufficient might to take something from another is morally right to do so. But, as I noted, if there is no God, we have a serious problem trying to defend any set of laws as being inherently right.

For example, in 1830 it was legal in some states in this country to own a slave. But now it is illegal everywhere in this country. Was there a change in some underlying law of morality? No, there was a Civil War and the 13th Amendment to our Constitution was passed. Now I certainly hope, and expect, that our listeners will all agree slavery as it existed in this country prior to the 13th Amendment was morally wrong. But there is a very serious question that we should all ask ourselves; namely, “On what basis can we make the statement that slavery is wrong?” What makes us right and the people who were in favor of it in 1830 wrong?

Marc Roby: That is a question most people would find unsettling to even ask.

Dr. Spencer: I realize that, but it is an important question. We all tend to think that we are morally superior to people we disagree with. And, if we are part of a group that has the power at the moment, we may even feel somewhat smugly justified in feeling that way. But the question stands. Other than the fact that the majority view is in our favor and the north was able to win the Civil War, what makes us right and the people in favor of slavery in 1830 wrong?

Marc Roby: Yes, I see your point, although I’m sure it will make a lot of people uncomfortable.

Dr. Spencer: It does make us uncomfortable. When we find ourselves objecting to the statement that “might makes right”, and even self-proclaimed atheists typically do so, we are implicitly saying that there is some higher authority or standard for right conduct. But where does that standard come from?

Marc Roby: Obviously I would say it comes from God.

Dr. Spencer: Of course. And I would agree. But if someone claims to not believe in God, how can they answer the question?

Marc Roby: I don’t think they can. And we are out of time, so I think we will need to finish this discussion next time. Let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org; we’d love to hear from you.

[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 195

[2] John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God, P&R Publishing Company, 2002, pg. 475

[3] 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.™.

[4] Grudem, op.cit., pg. 195

[5] John Murray, The Principles of Conduct, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1957, pg. 123

[6] Frame, op. cit., pg. 477

[7] Grudem, op. cit., pg. 195

[8] Frame, op. cit., pg. 478

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine God’s communicable attributes.  Dr. Spencer, we finished with God’s wisdom last time, so are we moving on to the next attribute examined by Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we are. The next attribute he examines is God’s truthfulness.[1] Which immediately brings to mind Jesus’ statement in John 14:6 that “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”[2]

Marc Roby: It also brings to mind Pilate’s famous question, “What is truth?” (John 18:38)

Dr. Spencer: You had to bring that up, didn’t you?

Marc Roby: Well, it is a question that is extremely relevant in this day and age.

Dr. Spencer: I have to admit that. In a 2001 poll, Barna found that only 22% of Americans believed in absolute truth.[3] Then, in a 2016 poll, he found that only 59% of professing Christians believed that moral truth is absolute and that only 15% of people listing no religion thought so.[4] These results seem inconsistent to me, and there are others out there that vary widely too, but all of them show a very disturbing pattern that many, if not most, people in the United States reject the idea of absolute truth, at least with respect to morality. So, it is certainly well worth taking some time to discuss what truth is.

Marc Roby: I agree. So, how would you define truth?

Dr. Spencer: As with many questions there is a short answer and there is a very long answer. Let me begin with brief summary of the very long answer. But first, let me preface my comments with a disclaimer. I’m not going to try and give a detailed, exhaustive or precise presentation, I’m just going to give the general flavor of the arguments because it will lead us to an important conclusion.

Marc Roby: OK, your disclaimer is duly noted.

Dr. Spencer: The question of how we define truth is, not surprisingly, one that philosophers have spent a considerable amount of time on. There are three major theories I’d like to look at. The correspondence theory of truth, the coherence theory of truth and the pragmatic theory of truth. There is significant overlap among them as we will see, but virtually all other theories boil down to some version or combination of these three. Now, when I say that I have to add that I am simply ignoring so-called theories of truth that deny the existence of absolute truth.

Marc Roby: You mean like the idea that all truth is relative?

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. All the postmodern ideas that deny the existence of absolute truth are complete failures of human reasoning. Let me quote from The Great Ideas, which is a summary analysis of the great books of the western world. It summarizes the arguments against any view that is skeptical about the existence of real truth claims. It says that “Across the centuries the arguments against the skeptic seem to be the same. If the skeptic does not mind contradicting himself when he tries to defend the truth of the proposition that all propositions are equally true or false, he can perhaps be challenged by the fact that he does not act according to his view. If all opinions are equally true or false, then why, Aristotle asks, does not the denier of truth walk ‘into a well or over a precipice’ instead of avoiding such things.”[5]

Marc Roby: That’s a great quote. I think it is extremely important to point out that the idea that there is no such thing as absolute truth is self-contradictory and, frankly, silly.

Dr. Spencer: It certainly is. If there is no such thing as absolute truth, then that statement itself is also not an absolute truth, which means that absolute truth can exist. Or, as the Great Ideas put it, if someone says that all propositions are equally true or false, then that proposition itself is also equally true or false, which negates it.

That is why I’m not going to spend any time dealing with these postmodern ideas. And it is also why I find the poll results I noted at the beginning so disturbing; our educational system has failed in a massive way if a majority, or even a large percentage, of people in this country do not believe in absolute truth. As I noted before, that is a complete failure of human reasoning, it is irrationality.

Marc Roby: Very well, let’s get back then to the correspondence, coherence and pragmatic theories that you mentioned. Can you give a brief synopsis of these three?

Dr. Spencer: Certainly. The pragmatic theory of truth simply says that whatever works is true. But that obviously begs the question of what you mean by saying that something works.

Marc Roby: It seems to me that it would be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to give a completely general description of what you mean by saying that something works.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. And, in fact, that idea can lead you far astray. For example, if I were to define what works by saying that a given statement is true if it gets me out of some difficult situation, then I’m in serious trouble in terms of defining truth, because a lie will often work to get me out of some difficult situation. Therefore, I would be saying that a lie is true.

Marc Roby: That is, unfortunately, true.

Dr. Spencer: Nice pun. In one sense the pragmatic theory is the least important of the three precisely because it is difficult to define what you mean by saying that something works. On the other hand, both the coherence and correspondence theories could be thought of as versions of the pragmatic theory with specific definitions for what it means for something to work. So, if I look at it that way, I could say that the pragmatic theory is the only theory of truth.

Marc Roby: OK, so what are these other two theories then?

Dr. Spencer: According the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the coherence theory says the truth of a given proposition “consists in its coherence with some specified set of propositions.”[6] Of course, that leaves us with the problem of defining this set of propositions, or statements. But, at the very least, we can certainly say that whatever set of propositions we consider to be true the statements should all be consistent, or coherent, with one other.

Now I must say that I don’t see how this theory can stand by itself. You need to say what the “specified set of propositions” is, and there is no guidance provided by this theory as to how you guarantee those propositions are true. You can imagine concocting a set of propositions that are entirely self-consistent, that is, coherent, and yet are false.

Marc Roby: In other words, that theory is missing any notion that our ideas have to, at least in some way, correspond to the physical world.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And that leads us to the correspondence theory of truth; which says that whatever corresponds to reality is true. Personally, I think that at the end of the day a good definition of truth has to have a combination of correspondence and coherence. Certainly, any statement we make that can be tested must correspond to reality to be called true, but it also seems that all of the statements you believe to be true must be consistent, in other words, they must cohere.

To give a couple of examples, if I tell you that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, you can easily test to see whether or not what I have said is true. But, if I tell you that murder is wrong, how do you check to see if that corresponds to reality?

Marc Roby: I don’t think there is any observation or test I could make to answer that question.

Dr. Spencer: I don’t think there is. But I am quite confident that it is true that murder is wrong. And, as a Christian, I would defend that statement by saying that God tells us it is wrong.

Marc Roby: But that statement obviously begs the question of how you can know that God exists and that he tells the truth.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it does. In previous sessions we have discussed the fact that the Bible claims to be the infallible word of God. And we have given a large amount of extra-biblical evidence to corroborate that claim. We have also shown in other ways that the biblical worldview is coherent and corresponds to reality. In fact, I would say that the biblical worldview is the only worldview that is completely consistent and in accord with reality. But let’s put off that discussion for another time.

Marc Roby: That sounds reasonable, we could obviously spend far more time than we want to right now discussing that.

Dr. Spencer: We certainly could. The study of how we know what we know and how we can determine if our beliefs are rationally justified is called epistemology. It is a very important field and we will get into it in more detail in a later session. But the question Pilate asked, “What is truth?” is often used to avoid a meaningful discussion. In fact, in one sense the question is a waste of time.

Marc Roby: Now hold on a minute, you just offended the philosophers in our audience. How can you make such a statement?

Dr. Spencer: I first said that such inquiries are very important, so hopefully the philosophers will forgive me. But when I said that the question is, in one sense, a waste of time, what I meant is very easily illustrated.

Suppose someone throws a rock through my living-room window and I run outside and find a five-year-old boy in the front yard playing with rocks. If I ask him, “Did you throw the rock that just came through my window?” Do you think he knows the difference between telling me the truth or a lie?

Marc Roby: Well, any normal five-year-old certainly would.

Dr. Spencer: And that is precisely my point. On a very practical day-to-day level we all understand what truth is. It is that which corresponds to reality. If he had, in fact, thrown the rock that went through my window he and I both understand it would be a lie for him to say he had not done so. And we also both know that he would be telling the truth if he admitted that he had done so. Now, we must grant that it can be far more difficult to deal with the meaning of truth when we get to some other topics, but most of the time it is obvious.

Marc Roby: I see your point. And so I assume this is also the short answer to the question that you noted at the start; that the truth is that which corresponds to reality.

Dr. Spencer: That is the short answer, yes.

Marc Roby: Have you said all that you want to for now in response to the question, “What is truth?”

Dr. Spencer: Not quite. There is an incredibly important related point to discuss here, and that is the subject of worldview. I used that word a minute ago without definition because most people have a reasonable idea of what it means, but I think Phil Johnson, who is a retired law professor from UC Berkeley, gives a wonderful definition. In his forward to Nancy Pearcey’s book Total Truth he wrote that “Understanding worldview is a bit like trying to see the lens of one’s own eye. We do not ordinarily see our own worldview, but we see everything else by looking through it. Put simply, our worldview is the window by which we view the world, and decide, often subconsciously, what is real and important, or unreal and unimportant.”[7]

Marc Roby: That is a great definition, and it explains why our worldview is so important, it affects everything we think.

Dr. Spencer: And because our worldview has such a pervasive influence on what we believe to be true, it is an important thing to examine. We should ask ourselves whether or not our worldview itself is true! Phil Johnson said it is a bit like the lens of our eye, and we know that if the lens is bad, our vision will be bad. We will not see things correctly.

Marc Roby: It seems as though our worldview is something which is formed mostly unconsciously though, so how could we examine it?

Dr. Spencer: We can test whether or not some of the fundamental tenets of our worldview are true or not.

Marc Roby: And so, we get back to the definition of truth.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we do.

Marc Roby: Can you give me an example of how we can test our worldview?

Dr. Spencer: I’d love to. Suppose, for example, that I am convinced that there is no God. In other words, my worldview is an atheistic worldview, matter and energy and the laws of physics are all that exist. If that worldview is true, then there are certain conclusions that simply must be true.

Marc Roby: Such as?

Dr. Spencer: Such as the conclusion that there cannot be any such thing as a moral absolute.

Marc Roby: Why do you say that?

Dr. Spencer: Because the laws of physics certainly do not contain any moral commands, they simply specify how matter and energy can interact. Moral laws require authority. If you tell me that I’m not allowed to take my neighbor’s car for example, I can ask, “Who says I can’t take my neighbor’s car?”

Marc Roby: I assume that your neighbor, for one, wouldn’t like it very much.

Dr. Spencer: I’m sure that’s true, but suppose I’m much stronger than my neighbor and I take it anyway. Who is to say that is wrong? Obviously, our society has laws that say it is wrong, but why should I obey those laws?

Marc Roby: Well, because you’ll end up in jail if you don’t.

Dr. Spencer: And that makes my point nicely. The ultimate test of a moral law is whether or not someone has authority to enforce it. So, ultimately, without authority, there is no moral law. But, without God, the only authority that exists is raw human power. Either the power of an individual, or the power of some group.

Crudely speaking, our government is founded on the principle that the majority should decide the laws. So, the authority of the government is actually the authority of the majority, which is based, ultimately, on the power of the majority. But there is no moral law that says majority rule is right and a dictatorship is wrong for example. So, if I am an atheist, I cannot say that a dictatorship is immoral. I can say that I don’t like it, but I cannot be logically consistent and say that it is morally wrong. And now, let me take this argument to the final step. If I am an atheist, I am being logically inconsistent, in other words irrational, if I claim that what Hitler did in the holocaust was morally wrong.

Marc Roby: I’m sure that statement will raise a few hackles.

Dr. Spencer: I hope it does, because my point is to try and shock people into thinking carefully. If you don’t believe in God, you cannot rationally believe in moral absolutes. The conclusion is that morality is defined by whoever has the power to enforce the rules.

Marc Roby: In other words, might does make right.

Dr. Spencer: If you’re going to be a logically consistent atheist, yes, you have to say that. You can certainly say that you don’t like what Hitler did, and you think it was wrong and, by the way, I would certainly agree with you. But, if there were no God, Hitler, if he were still around to answer for himself, could simply say, “Who are you to tell me what is right or wrong?”

Marc Roby: Of course, World War II sort of answered that question. The ones who were telling Hitler what he was doing was wrong were the ones who defeated his armies and removed him from power.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. In other words, it is another example of might makes right in a human sense. But Hitler died and then he faced the only perfect judge of all men and received his final, eternal judgment.

Marc Roby: That is a sobering thought. You said at the beginning that discussing the meaning of truth would lead us to an important conclusion. Can you state that conclusion now?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, I can. The important conclusion is that at the end of the day truth really does depend on power because it depends on authority. The word authority comes, of course, from the word author, which means the person who creates something. We give the word authority a broader meaning based on power. For example, one dictionary I looked in says that authority is the power to give orders or make decisions. But, the greatest authority comes from being the one who creates something. If I author a book, I can make it say whatever I want it to say. And God is the author of the universe. He created it to be exactly the way he wanted it to be. And he sustains it and governs it to continue to be exactly the way he wants it to be. So, he has ultimate authority and, in a very real sense, he is truth. Whatever God thinks is true, is true because he has the power to make it be true.

Marc Roby: And so we get right back to John 14:6, which you quoted at the beginning, Jesus saying, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. Truth, in the ultimate sense, is not a property of a statement, it is a person. It is God.

Marc Roby: That seems like a great place to end, so let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions or comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We look forward to hearing from you.

[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 195

[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] See http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_poll5.htm

[4] See https://www.barna.com/research/the-end-of-absolutes-americas-new-moral-code/

[5] The Great Ideas, A Syntopicon of Great Books of the Western World, Vol. II, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1952, pg. 915

[6] See https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/truth-coherence/

[7] Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth; Liberating Christianity form its Cultural Captivity, Crossway Books, 2004, pg. 11

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine the characteristics of Scripture. We introduced the acrostic SNAC, which stands for sufficiency, necessity, authority and clarity. We have discussed the sufficiency, necessity and clarity of Scripture in previous sessions, so today we move on to examine the authority of Scripture. Dr. Spencer, where do you want to begin?

Dr. Spencer: As always, let’s begin with Bible itself. It clearly claims to be the authoritative Word of God. So, I like what Wayne Grudem says in his definition of the authority of Scripture. He says that “The authority of Scripture means that all the words in Scripture are God’s words in such a way that to disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God.”[1] Now we must be clear that he doesn’t mean that God personally spoke every word in the Bible, but only that he inspired the writers in such a way that what they wrote is completely true. When we read the Bible, we find many things said by many different people, and even by some things spoken by angels and Satan. And the Bible was written by a number of different people, who used their own words. The classic biblical statement about the nature of Scripture is found in 2 Timothy 3:16, where we are told that “All Scripture is God-breathed” [2], and in 2 Peter 1:21 we read that “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

Therefore, although we are not given a detailed account of how God accomplished this, we know that everything that has been written was in some way guided by him so that Paul could truthfully say it is God-breathed, and Grudem is right to say that to disbelieve or disobey the Bible, is to disbelieve or disobey God.

Marc Roby: And, of course, there are many places in the Old Testament where something is prefaced by the statement “God said”; so, at least some of Scripture is made up of words that God himself spoke.

Dr. Spencer: That’s true. We discussed the Bible’s claim to authority in Session 4, and in that session I noted that Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that the Old Testament uses sayings such as “God said” or “The Lord says” over 3,800 times.[3] Also, in the New Testament we have many quotations of things said by Jesus Christ, who is himself God. But, it is important to note that even those things that are clearly not said by God, have his authority. Everything we read in the Bible is authoritative, we shouldn’t make the mistake that many make of saying that it is only authoritative when it speaks about matters pertaining to salvation.

We must also be careful to point out however, that not everything you read in the Bible is good or true, because we have wicked statements of Satan and others recorded there as well. But, even when we are being told about a lie that Satan or some person spoke, the content of what they said is being truthfully relayed to us.

Marc Roby: Since you brought up Session 4, perhaps it would be good to remind our listeners that the old podcasts and their transcripts can all be found on the website, whatdoesthewordsay.org.

Dr. Spencer: That is a good reminder. And I don’t want to go back and cover all that we said in that session, but we adduced a number of Scriptures to support the fact that the Bible itself, both the Old and New Testaments, presents itself, from beginning to end, as the very words of God.

Marc Roby: And the theological term used for that idea is the plenary inspiration of Scripture.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. The word plenary simply means complete, or including every member. So, the plenary inspiration of Scripture means that every single word is inspired by God.

Marc Roby: But, we should be clear that when you say every word is inspired by God, you don’t mean the Bible was simply dictated by God.

Dr. Spencer: Of course not. Although some parts of it were. For example, the letters written to the seven churches in Asia, as recorded in Revelation 2 and 3, all begin with Christ telling John to write what he says. So, these letters apparently were dictated. And, in a number of places in the Old Testament prophets God tells a prophet to go and tell someone that the Lord says something as you noted a couple of minutes ago. So, presumably, those passages were also essentially dictated. But, the vast majority of the Bible is written by human authors under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Marc Roby: And you can tell that by their different styles and vocabularies.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, you can. And yet, the Holy Spirit “carried them” along as we saw earlier in such a way that what they wrote is exactly what God wanted them to write. And that is the main point. Since God is the Sovereign Lord of creation and history, and since he knows absolutely everything perfectly and exhaustively, and since he cannot lie or make a mistake, the Scriptures themselves must be infallible.

Marc Roby: Which also means, of course, that they are inerrant.

Dr. Spencer: It’s good that you mentioned that since inerrant is a term you often hear. And yes, given that they are infallible, which means that it is impossible for them to be wrong, it also true that they are without error. I usually prefer the stronger word infallible since it is at least logically possible for man to write things that are without error, but given that God is the author of the Bible, it is not possible for it to have any errors in it.

Marc Roby: Now, you’re of course speaking about the autographs, or in other words, the original manuscripts when you say that.

Dr. Spencer: Yes. But as we discussed in Session 7, given the science of textual criticism and the huge number of manuscripts we have available, we have a nearly certain copy of the original autographs. In addition, what small doubts remain do not affect any significant doctrine of Christianity in any way. So, while there may be small errors here and there in our copies, and there can certainly be errors in our translations as well, we have great confidence that what we have is a reliable record of the very words inspired by God. And, therefore, with minor and non-critical exceptions due to copyist errors, or translation errors, or printing errors, the Bibles that we have are infallible. And that is why the Bible has intrinsic authority, meaning that its authority is an essential trait because of its very nature.

Marc Roby: In other words, it isn’t authoritative because someone has declared it to be so.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. Whether I think the Bible has authority or not makes no difference. It does have authority. Whether I think it is infallible or not doesn’t matter, it is infallible. The two ideas are inextricably woven together with the inherent infallibility and authority of God himself.

Marc Roby: Which is why we have said a number of times that the Bible must be a Christian’s ultimate authority.

Dr. Spencer: Mm-hmm. In the middle of Christ’s High Priestly prayer in John 17, he prays to the Father for his followers and says, in Verse 17, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” This is a very interesting statement and the English translation properly reflects what it says in the Greek. It does not say, “Your word is true”, it says “Your word is truth”, which is very different. As Wayne Grudem points out in his Systematic Theology,[4] had Jesus said “Your word is true”, it could be taken to mean that the Word of God has been compared with some external standard for truth and found to be in compliance with it. But, to say “Your word is truth” is a different statement. It implies that the Word of God itself, is the ultimate standard for what is true.

Marc Roby: And, of course, Jesus calls himself the truth in one of his famous “I Am” statements. In John 14:6 we read that he said “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Dr. Spencer: Very true. And Martyn Lloyd-Jones points out that in Luke 24:44, during one of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances, he told his disciples that “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”[5] In other words, he was saying that everything written about him in the entirety of the Old Testament must take place. In Session 4 we noted that in John 10:35, Jesus said that “the Scripture cannot be broken”, which is an even broader statement than he made in Luke 24. So, all of Scripture is the truth. All of it is infallible. It cannot be broken. Whatever it declares will happen will, in fact, happen. We just need to be sure that we are understanding it correctly.

Marc Roby: And that requires that we be born again. We’ve noted before that it says 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.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that point deserves repetition. I think James Boice makes an interesting point in this regard in his book Foundations of the Christian Faith. He points out that the fact that the Holy Spirit is the author of the Bible and the one who enables us to properly understand the Bible gives us a great balance to help us avoid errors in interpretation. He wrote that “The combination of an objective, written revelation and its subjective interpretation to the individual by God’s Spirit is the key to the Christian doctrine of the knowledge of God. This combination keeps us from two errors. The first is the error of overspiritualizing revelation.”[6] He then explains what he means by this first error of “overspiritualizing revelation”. It occurs when someone says that God has spoken directly to them by his Spirit, but fails to check and see whether what they think the Holy Spirit is speaking is in agreement with the Bible, which is the written word of the Holy Spirit. We don’t deny that the Holy Spirit speaks to people in various ways and at various times, but he will never contradict what is stated in the written Word of God. The second error that we avoid by needing both the written word and the illumination of the Holy Spirit is what Boice calls “overintellectualizing God’s truth”, by which he essentially means people who study the Bible without ever being transformed by it. When you come across a Bible scholar who knows a great deal about God’s word, but fails to understand it properly, you know that he has not been born again.

Marc Roby: As Jesus said, you will know them by their fruit.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And the first fruit of regeneration is repentance and faith. But, without regeneration, you can study the Bible in the original languages for your entire life and you will never properly understand it.

Marc Roby: Alright. So, we have established, partly back in Session 4 and partly today, that the entire Bible is the authoritative, infallible Word of God. And that the authority and infallibility of the Bible go hand in hand. We have also noted that to disbelieve or disobey what the Bible says is to disbelieve or disobey God himself. And we have noted that a person must be born again to understand the Bible correctly and produce the fruit of repentance and faith. What else do you want to say about the authority of the Bible?

Dr. Spencer: I want to move on to discuss the delegated authority that God gives to people through his word.

Marc Roby: Very well. We discussed authority in Session 5 and noted there that it is something most modern people don’t like. So, what else do you want to say about it?

Dr. Spencer: Well, our modern egalitarian mindset is, in one limited sense, perfectly biblical. The Bible indicates that all human beings are made in the image of God and are precious in his sight. There is no inherent superiority in terms of worth of men over women, or of one race of people over another, or even of one individual person over another.

Marc Roby: Now, there are, of course, many undeniable differences in ability between different people, not all men and women are created equal in that regard.

Dr. Spencer: That is clearly true. And I have never met a person who denies that obvious fact. I dare say that no one would want to pay money to come watch me play basketball, or come hear me play guitar. When we spend our money on something like watching a sporting event or going to a concert or a play, we want to watch the best. And not very many people deny that there is a need for someone to have the authority to make decisions at a company, for example, either. And yet, for some reason people get very offended at the idea of authority in a family, or in the church.

Marc Roby: That is an interesting phenomenon. And yet, the Bible pretty clearly establishes authority in three different spheres; the family, the church and the state.

Dr. Spencer: Right, and the church and the state are, in a sense, an outgrowth of the family. In his book The Doctrine of the Christian Life, John Frame refers to all of these as “spheres of society” and points out while discussing the Fifth Commandment, which is to honor your father and mother, that “The family is the fundamental sphere from which all others are derived. This is true historically, developmentally, and logically.”[7] He then goes on to describe that, historically, Adam was the prophet, priest and king in his family. And, developmentally, parents of young children are “their authoritative source of teaching, discipline, employment, and religious leadership.” And, finally, he writes that, “logically speaking, rule in all spheres is similar to that of the family.”

Marc Roby: That is an interesting point, and I look forward to discussing these different spheres of authority, but we are out of time for today. I’d like to close by reminding our listeners to email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org.

[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 73

[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] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Authority, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2016, pg. 50

[4] Grudem, op. cit., pg 83

[5] Lloyd-Jones, op. cit., pg. 46

[6] James Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised in One Volume, InterVarsity Press, 1986, pg. 56

[7] John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life, P&R Publishing Company, 2008, pp 584-585

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