“To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.”(Isaiah 8:20)
Even as the sovereignty of God encompasses the whole of reality and cannot be limited to those things deemed ‘spiritual’, so the authority of the Word of God extends to all things. The antithesis is once more not between sacred and secular or nature and grace, but between those who accept the authority of Scripture and those who rebel against it, between the wisdom of God and the foolishness of men, between darkness and light. Every fact in this world serves the redemptive purpose of God. Unless we recognize this, everything we do will make little sense and ultimately achieve very little. Until we come to understand that everything about life on earth rests on the truth concerning Christ and His redeeming work, we build on shifting sand.
Within nature God reveals Himself to us, but He also reveals Himself more so verbally in Scripture. “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork” (Psalm 19:1). “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.” (John 5:39) It is in Scripture that we learn who God is. Inasmuch as God is revealed in nature, we need to remember that it is the God of Scripture whom we find there. Many things about God we can learn only from Scripture. Only in Scripture do we learn of the saving grace of God, yet it is the God of saving grace who reveals Himself in nature. We can only come to an understanding of God’s self-revelation in nature as we read the Scriptures.
Those who refuse the authority of Christ over creation, history and science, and over themselves, replace it with a pretended authority of their own, an imagined sphere of neutrality where God and man stand on the same ground. The Christian believer finds no intelligible interpretation of the world and human experience without first acknowledging God as Creator and Christ as Redeemer. On the other hand, the unbeliever thinks that within himself is to be found the power to make genuine statements about the nature of reality all of similar validity to those made by God Himself. Since the Garden of Eden, this has ever been the essence of apostasy ― “then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods” (Genesis 3:5). Having a schizophrenic view of reality ― secular and spiritual ― many nominal Christians also imagine they can have a broad understanding of the natural world and all things secular without reference to God and His Word.
After the fall man began to deny the revelatory character of nature, even that within his own consciousness. “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient” (Romans 1:28). He believed Himself to be autonomous, self-sufficient, and that his consciousness revealed only himself and nothing of God. He denied his own creation by God. Interpreting the world in which he lives was the work of his own natural powers apart from God. He was perfectly able to think his own original thoughts and be right without God.
The Scriptures teach us that the created world was never intended to function without an accompanying direct verbal communication by God. Nature and the providential work of God in human history reveal his judgement but also His goodness. The fall of man into sin brought about a curse upon nature. As a direct result of this, we must see that the world as it now exists does so in an abnormal condition. It is not as it originally was created nor is it as it will one day be. Creation as we see it in this abnormal state reveals to us the judgement of God. However, the revelation of the goodness of God within the natural world in the face of human sin and rebellion ought to lead us to repentance. The manifestation of God’s curse upon the natural world should lead us to accuse or to excuse ourselves. The whole of nature groans for release from God’s judgement and where it is abused it cries out for vengeance. “Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.” (Romans 8:21-22) The evidence of God in nature is clear as is that of His unfolding and unified comprehensive plan. If men do not see it, the problem lies with them and not with the evidence. That which is revealed of God in nature is substantiated and expanded in the pages of the Bible.
Despite the assessment man makes of himself, he is not a proper judge on his own of God’s revelation either in nature or Scripture. Only when the Holy Spirit gives him a new heart can he or will he accept the evidence of Scripture about nature or himself. The regenerating work of the Spirit of God enables the Christian believer to see all things in their proper perspective. The unbeliever deeply resents every suggestion that the Christian believer has any advantage over him in understanding: he believes, there is nothing the believer can know that he cannot also understand just as well. However, according to the Scriptures, the believer receives through the Holy Spirit a new power of sight by which he can appreciate the light shed by Scripture on all things, whereas the unbeliever instinctively rejects Scripture. Without the illuminating power of the Holy Spirit within us all revelation is of little use to us. One must be a Christian believer to gain a proper perspective and understanding of our world ― the unbeliever must rest content with that.
According to the Bible man has sinned against Christ by declaring his independence. He denies he is a creature of God. The unbeliever sees himself as ultimate judge of what can and cannot be true; there is no authority above his own. The Scripture constitutes for him one of many ‘authorities’ which he may consult, then accept or reject at will as he judges its relevance or validity. God does not control all things and so cannot know all things; He is not Lord of all and so there is no need to submit to Him in all things. The facts of the universe, he believes, are not dependent upon God but exist in and of themselves. Facts are not pre-interpreted by their Creator, but are irrational and need to be interpreted and ordered by human reason. Chance not God controls the universe. However, in truth, all things must be seen in relation to creation, Christ and redemption.
Within the Roman Catholic Church the natural theology of Thomas Aquinas still prevails today. Thomas teaches that man can interpret all things in the natural universe in terms of wisdom residing within himself and without the need for reference to God and therefore Christ. Within Roman Catholicism as in all similar systems found in the professing Christian Church, there can be no Christ speaking comprehensively with absolute authority in Scripture. The Pope is said to derive his authority from Christ, but this ‘Christ’ has himself only limited authority to give for he does not hold power over all things. Many evangelicals hold similar views to those of the Church of Rome on these matters. It is taken for granted that sinful man is able on his own to come up with an essentially valid interpretation of the natural world. All he needs then is a little additional information about God which is to be found by referring to the Bible. This was not the position of any single one of the protestant Reformers.
God speaks not through mystical insight, but through the Word given to His people in Scripture. Scripture throws light on every fact in the world. We are not left to ourselves to work out what the world is all about and what we are doing here. God gives an interpretation along with the facts. The triune God is saving the world. Jesus said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). A God that is not the Father of the Lord Jesus is not God at all but an idol. The Son was sent by the Father to secure redemption. The Father and the Son sent the Spirit to inspire His servants to interpret the facts of redemption. God tells us about redemption in the Scriptures and only in the Scriptures.
We must hold to an all-embracing view of God’s will. If we leave whole areas out of the reach of God’s providence and sovereign rule, but accessible to human reason; if man can make up his own mind apart from God and still be right, then what need has he for the Scriptures? A wrong answer here and it stands to reason that we render it impossible for us to call for complete submission to the Scriptures or to Christ. The Roman Catholic Church has no really biblical view of Scripture because it seeks to interpret life in terms of grace and nature. We must have a view of the man without God that is consistent with Scripture and at the same time allows us to insist on the absolute truth of Scripture.
The authority of the Word of God must be presented in which the whole of human life is explained, as requiring unswerving allegiance the rightful sovereign of all creation. The claims of Scripture must come in the manner of the Lord Jesus as He faced Jerusalem, weeping over His own, appealing to them softly and tenderly offering rest from the toil and burden of sin. We must be all things to all men to save some.
Martin Luther, as did all the Reformers, held a strict view of Scripture, believing it to be verbally inspired.
“In Scripture you are reading not the word of man, but the Word of the most exalted God, who desires to have disciples that diligently observe and note what He says.”
Works (St Louis edition) IX, p.1818
“The entire Scriptures are assigned to the Holy Ghost. ― the Holy Scriptures did not grow on earth ―the Holy Scriptures have been spoken by the Holy Ghost.”
Works (St Louis edition) III, p.1890; IV, p.2095; III, p.1895
The Bible is the Word of God because whatever it says God Himself says. He speaks in its pages and we can have utter and complete confidence and trust in every single word. All Scriptures are to be ascribed to the Holy Ghost and therefore it is impossible for them to contain error. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16). This was the view held without exception by each of the protestant Reformers. The Scriptures are to be received with the same reverence that we reserve for God Himself. What we have in the pages of holy writ came from God alone with no human admixture. The Bible is not a mélange of the human and the divine any more than in the Person of Christ. It is the very word of God spoken through human lips and written by human pens. It did not drop down from heaven, nor was it given in a mechanistic or dictated manner but by God through the instrumentality of men. It is not a human product breathed into by the Holy Spirit and so heightened in quality, but is itself a divine product given through human instruments whose spirits were borne along in their task by God’s Spirit. “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:21). “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:9-10) “…to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us.” (Ephesians 3:19-20) Scripture writers were carefully prepared by God’s providence. They were given the gifts they needed within God’s overall purpose to redeem the world He created, to be accomplished by God through Christ as Christ Himself directed and controlled His chosen instruments through His Holy Spirit. The Bible is the Word of life to the whole world. The Bible is God’s book given through writers inspired by God and He speaks still to us through its pages.
The Bible is not just a record of what God has revealed but is itself part of the redemptive revelation of God. It is itself a redemptive act of divine origin able to make us wise unto salvation.
“And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” (2 Timothy 3:15-17)
Seeing that the giving of the Bible is in itself a redemptive act, it follows that an understanding of the Bible, if it is to be true, must be Christocentric for apart from Christ there is no way of salvation. This is the first and most important principle of biblical interpretation. In the whole of Scripture there is nothing but Christ, in the Old as in the New Testaments. All of Scripture has a bearing upon Christ; everything applies to Him directly or indirectly. Since God can only be known through Christ, He is the essential content of Scripture.
The key to understanding the whole of Scripture, then, is the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son. He came to this earth, died for our sins, has risen from the dead, sits now at the right hand of His Father and is set to return. He is at the centre of Scripture and a rejection of Him will close to us all meaning in the Old or the New Testaments. Men know not Christ because they are ignorant of the Scriptures. Jesus Himself testified:
“And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:44-47)
The writers of Scripture, though divinely inspired, wrote and recorded in a human fashion. This is not to deny its divine element. A maxim of the Reformation approach to Scripture was: Scriptura sacra est Deus incarnates ― sacred Scripture is God incarnate. There is an analogy to be drawn between the nature of Scripture and the person of Christ, between the Word of God written and the Word made flesh. Following the formula of Chalcedon the Lord Jesus is fully man but at the same time fully God. In a similar manner Scripture is fully human and yet fully divine. Like the person of Christ the human element of the Bible cannot be anything other than perfect. Scripture is no more liable to error than is the human nature of Christ.
Roman Catholics along with many evangelical protestants have a view of God’s providence that gives too much place to an assumed sphere of human autonomy so such a consistent view of the authority and inspiration of Scripture becomes impossible. In employing human beings as instruments prepared for their task by God, the words that they speak are at the same time the words of God. What they write will be wholly subject to the will of God without obliterating their own personality. There can be here no mechanistic determinism. Words are at one and the same time both spontaneous and determined by the will of God. Those who have no genuinely biblical understanding of the human personality find that man can only be spontaneous if he is at the same time free from the determinative counsel of God. The truth is the opposite: man can only be truly free when he acts within the determinative counsel of God. This teaching about Scripture is undermined by an unfounded presumption of human autonomy free of God. There is a high co-relation between what the Bible says about the sovereignty of God and the notion of the inerrancy of Scripture. Inerrancy will be rejected where the idea of a self-sufficient God and human responsibility cannot be reconciled. Human responsibility must always be placed and guarded within God’s comprehensive and over-ruling providence. Roman Catholicism and all that derives from it is a mixture of Bible and Aristotle’s philosophy. By way of answer, the Reformers argued for the absolute necessity, authority, clarity and sufficiency of Scripture within the redemptive purpose of God. One’s belief about the nature of Scripture cannot be torn away from one’s whole system of belief as a whole.
The purpose of the redemptive work of Christ is that the world which has fallen into sin might be cleansed, regenerated, and reveal the glory of God. Scripture is pivotal in this redemptive purpose. Rather than seek access to the person of Christ in spite of Scripture, it is here we shall find Him. “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me” (John 5:39). Indeed, it is impossible to find Christ without the Scriptures. They constitute the last redemptive act in which the revelation of God in Christ for this generation is found and completed. It is utterly impossible to know or understand what God has done for us in Christ without the Scriptures. The Holy Spirit works now within the hearts of men and they believe His Word.
Continuing the analogy with Christ, even as the redemptive work of Christ is a finished work so must Scripture be a finished revelation for God has nothing more to say to us than what He has already said in Christ.
“God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.”
“But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:12-14)
The Roman Catholic Church has a continuing sacrifice in the Mass. It has a continuing revelation in the church. Such teaching contradicts all that we read in Scripture. However, even as the work of Christ in securing salvation is finished, so the work of revealing Him to us in Scripture is also finished. As there is nothing more to be done, so there is nothing more to be said than what God has already said.
Christian believers find their norms in the final revelation of Christ through the Scriptures. Within the Roman Church revelation continues in the Church and more particularly through the Pope. A similar pattern is discernable among evangelicals, especially among those who have been influenced by the modern Pentecostal and Charismatic movement: the word of God is mediated through the gifts in the Church. Although there is a formal acknowledgement of the authority of Scripture, the practice is very different and effectively undermines Scripture. Revelation continues in their churches through an exercise of charismatic ‘gifts’ and through the ministrations of the leaders of their groups. In other churches the situation is not dissimilar. Liberals say the Bible contains the word of God. The neo-orthodox and many evangelicals will say the Bible is the word of God but only as it speaks to the reader. There is an allegiance to a ‘living continuing’ word in the Church giving expression to new ideals and teaching in line with the times in which we live. At its heart there is a blurring of the distinction between the inspiration experienced by the original writer of the Scriptures and the illumination experienced by those who subsequently read its pages resulting in a mysticism that is cut loose from Scripture. All these so-called ‘revelations’ can be little more than notions dreamed up and developed by apostate men apart from God, apart from the Bible.
The understanding and interpretation of the Bible, is effectively what these people say it is. The Bible is thus made subservient to another voice of authority. In this way, the authority of the Scriptures themselves is reduced to little more than a formality. Wherever there is another voice of revelation, Scripture will always have a diminished role despite protestations to the contrary. They have fallen back upon the wisdom of the natural man, dead in trespasses in sins. This can never be a position held by those who have a proper regard for the Lord Jesus, for those who love and obey Him will also love and obey His Word. Much of Christendom that once acknowledged the legacy of the Reformation has now forsaken it or even rejects it. Virtually all will attribute to man some independence of will from the counsel of God. Many who remain faithful still tone down what they once professed with vigour.
Following through with our comparison of Christ and the Scriptures, the revelation of God in Christ is opposed within the written Scriptures by unbelievers just as much as it is in the person of Christ Himself. The natural man hates Christ therefore also hates His Word and its claims upon him because it challenges him to repent of sin. He discerns nothing and cannot.
“But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14)
The unbeliever is blind to his own blindness; he will not accept that it is at all possible for a believer to see and understand things he cannot. His opposition to Scripture is based upon an inflated view of his own self-sufficiency. To cite Martin Luther on Scripture yet again:
“It is our unbelief and corrupt and carnal mind which does not allow us to perceive and consider that God speaks to us in Scripture, or that Scripture is the Word of God”
Works (St Louis Edition) IX, p.1818
Christ-rejecters will resist the Scriptures right up until the last moment when its light overpowers them. Most work out a useless compromise adding Christianity to those areas that do not affect day-to-day living, supplementing the Bible with what can be discovered by reason.
Thomas Aquinas taught: “Grace does not abolish nature but perfects it.” As a rational creature, so Aquinas, man can reason and so is able to perceive the eternal law of God. By reason alone he can know good and evil, still the position of the Roman Catholic Church. Within the natural sphere there is a relative autonomy ascribed to reason which by its own unaided light can discover natural truth about the universe and man’s place in it. The reformer Martin Luther justifiably railed against such an understanding of reason. Christ, the Word made flesh, said Aquinas, exists in the supernatural realm with God and His angels, and makes contact with men only through the sacraments of the Church. In nature, reason was declared self-sufficient and autonomous in her own sphere: that of the temporal world order. Natural reason was fully independent of the written Word of God. Morality, political life all are areas governed by autonomous natural reason. That which is above nature and temporal life comes within the area of grace to be apprehended by the light of God’s revelation. It goes without saying that almost all in the Christian world today, including many non-Catholics, have absorbed much of this element of the teaching of Aquinas. Sad to say, many within a nominally ‘reformed’ and evangelical tradition have gone in the same direction, leaving behind the legacy of the Reformation.
They perceive nature and natural law as operating outside the Scriptures or God’s grace and having no need of divine assistance. All nature has its own inherent laws that have nothing whatever to do with grace. All are accessible to believer and unbeliever alike, whether on a scientific or a moral level. For Thomas nature and grace are complementary rather than opposing spheres: “Grace does not abolish nature but perfects it.” This is a pagan not a Christian concept.
The teaching of the Bible is that the ‘heart’ is the religious root and centre of human nature. We identify the heart as the source of psychical functions, including the will. Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle, replaces this with human reason. Human nature, according to Aquinas, is not depraved root and branch demonstrating this in rebellion and apostasy, but human nature has simply been ‘wounded’. In an utter contradiction to the Bible, his conclusion is that man’s reason impels man to accept and do what is good and to refrain from evil. In truth, the opposite is the case.
To assert the primacy of the reason, of the human intellect, is at the same time to affirm its inherent relative sinlessness. Every single aspect of the human constitution has been affected by sin and the fall: the intellect no less than the emotions and the will. To ask someone to believe any part of the Scriptures he will not be able to accept as credible is to ask him at the same time to reject it because of his unbelief and sin. The mind of man is neither innocent nor neutral and it is incapable of impartial judgements. It is in rebellion against God, has committed high treason against Him. The purpose of God’s special revelation extends beyond the presentation of objective truth about the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus, His death and resurrection ― it must bring men from rebellion to obedience. The work of the Holy Spirit in granting regeneration implied in the work of Christ goes beyond mere impartation of objective knowledge which on its own will save no one. Men remain lost without Christ and the only place He can be found is in and through the Scriptures.
“Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
It is because of a sinful heart that we need the Scriptures to find Christ. Any Christ found outside the Scriptures is a false Christ. We need the Scriptures, but also the illumination of the Holy Spirit to understand and accept them for what they are. Without this we shall reject them and everything in them. Those who reject the Scriptures reject the Christ of the Scriptures. Those who fail to put themselves under their exclusive authority show themselves to be still sitting in the darkness of their own rebellion. We need new light and a new power of sight.
The special revelation of Holy Scripture does not come to us just as intellectual information to be academically assimilated. We do not have a mechanically given Scripture, neither does its meaning come to us in a cold mechanistic way. It is an organic whole and we receive it as such. There is no need whatever for any human interpreter to mediate between us and God’s Word for us to understand it. This stands against the Roman Catholic idea that the ordinary Church member cannot safely interpret the Bible on his own. The Bible is its own interpreter under the Spirit of God. This does not mean, however, that we should totally ignore what others have said, but all creeds and commentaries are to be judged by the clear teaching of Scripture and not the other way round. He who would interpret Scripture is not a free agent but is its prisoner.
It was the Holy Spirit who gave the Holy Scriptures; it is the Holy Spirit alone who in the end will interpret its meaning to our hearts and minds. If God does not open our eyes to understand what we read in the Bible, it will remain forever a closed book to us, shrouded in darkness. We cannot approach this book as we would any other text; we must see it as the inspired Word of God, if it is to be of any benefit to us. With this in mind our reading of it should be with care, reverence and with prayer. Apart from the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit we can have no proper understanding of Scripture. The reformer, John Calvin, wrote:
“For Scripture is the school of the Holy Spirit, in which as nothing useful and necessary to be known has been omitted, so nothing is taught but what it is of importance to know.”
Institutes III, XXI, 3
“If true religion is to beam upon us, our principle must be, that it is necessary to begin with the heavenly teaching, and that it is impossible for any man to obtain even the minutest portion of right and sound doctrine without being a disciple of Scripture.” Institutes, I, 6:2
Martin Luther writes in similar vein:
“…the Holy Spirit instructs us in His own school, outside of which naught is learned save empty words and idle fables.” Works III, p.127
Christ came to redeem sinners who have turned against God. Man in his natural state is spiritually blind, wilfully blind and therefore there is nothing other than a rejection of God to be expected from him. They cannot and will not see.
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.” (Romans 1:18) Unbelievers hate every thought that God as an identifiable authority rules over them. They do not want to meet God. They prefer to think there is no evidence to substantiate His existence, no revelation of Him as God, as Creator and Judge, not a trace of Him anywhere. In securing our redemption Christ has moved into enemy territory. He came to save those who do not want to be saved because they think they have no need to be saved. For this reason, if for no other, the inscripturation of an authoritative and redemptive Word of God is essential. Only someone accepting Scripture as the totally authoritative authentic revealed Word of God will also accept the fact what the Bible says about him as sinner. At the same time, only those who accept a biblical view of Scripture itself will accept a biblical view of sin. They will do so because they view the Bible as authoritative. Those who do not speak from Scripture have no authority for what they say and prate from their own darkened minds.
Every sinner needs the Scriptures because every sinner needs Christ. Scripture does not become effective until the Holy Spirit convicts and convinces the sinner of his sin and need of salvation. The sinner will not otherwise admit, certainly not from experience, that he is a sinner. He may admit other things, that he is not what he should be, may even admit to being wicked. What he will refuse to admit is that he has sinned against God, against Christ, against His revealed will, set God aside and become a law unto himself. God is brought down to the level of man, and man exalted to become as God. Men do not and will not see any need of God’s grace until by God’s grace they are made to see their own need.
Redemption begins with God. This cannot be emphasised sufficiently. This fact has sadly been lost sight of today. Man is a sinner and in no position to help himself. It follows that God alone can testify to the revelation He has Himself given. His self-revelation is self-testified. So we turn to the Bible for information on its own inspiration. Unless as desperate sinners we have an absolutely inspired Bible, we have no God interpreting anything at for us and no true interpretation of anything.
If anyone claims to know anything independently of God, he is placing himself on the same level as God Himself. Our understanding to have any basis in truth can only be an re-interpretation of what God has revealed to us in the Bible. This can only come to us though the medium of language and linguistic expression which must be accurate. ‘Verbal inspiration’ means inspiration extends to words as well as thoughts which are necessarily clothed in words.
Because of the nature of the book, no one approaches the Bible in a neutral or detached manner. A reader will believe it to be God’s Word or will deny it. This will determine how its teaching is received. However, it is the Bible itself that must in the end show us how it is to be interpreted. Our hermeneutics are derived from the Bible itself and not in contradiction to it otherwise our interpretation can have no authority. This is a stance of faith towards the Bible and its claims about itself.
Given that we need the Holy Spirit to open our eyes, the Scriptures have an essential perspicuity, a basic clarity. Each passage will have one clear, definite sense of its own ― Scriptura sua radiat luce. It is lucidly written and is ‘as the sun when compared with all other lights’. It is not a closed book accessible only to experts. Such mythology has been propagated by those who fear its influence upon the common man, who know that even the simplest mind will find that which contradicts their own cherished doctrines. The Roman Church was and still is afraid of what too much liberated Bible reading can do, as are many others. Such a ‘priestly class’ exists in most Church groups, to whom is given the task of expounding the definitive interpretation. But it is given to the ploughboy as to the professor enlightened by the Holy Spirit to make good sense of Scripture. This is not to say that there are not some difficult passages, but such darker parts should be examined in the light of clearer passages. It is the practice of many teaching error to do the opposite, to obscure what is clear by introducing that which is dark. However, the natural man will not call anything perspicuous which is not completely clear to his own darkened intellect.
It is not intellectual incapacity that makes Scripture appear unclear. Rather, it is the fact of our own willing blindness towards the truth.
“But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4) How then can we say the Scriptures are unclear when this is due to our own spiritual blindness? To understand the Bible we need the enlightenment from the Holy Spirit, otherwise its pages will remain little better than blank and we shall understand nothing. “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.” (2 Corinthians 2:12)
Not everyone who refuses the comprehensive authority of the Scriptures does so from a vicious spirit. The intentions of many are not malevolent, but they do not seem to be able to make any sense of them. They say the Scriptures are not clear and many passages they find obscure. They are not counted among those who laugh and sneer at anyone who does believe the Bible. There are, of course, many things in the Word of God that are hidden and remain so for the present. But we should not conclude from this that nothing in the Bible is therefore clear.
The whole of Scripture, Old and New Testaments, constitutes an organic whole. Being God’s revelation from start to finish the Bible must necessarily be a unity and its contents throughout be in agreement one part with another with no contradictions. This being so Scripture is to be interpreted by comparing Scripture with Scripture, text with text, passage with passage. Plainer passages will explain those less clear, the plain needing no further explanation.
Scripture passages must be interpreted in the light of the whole of Scripture. There is a real need to preach the whole counsel of God. Piecemeal teaching leads to error. Sects and cults, those who deny the basic doctrines of the Bible, will often cite verses in isolation snatching that which appears to favour them and obscuring, concealing or corrupting that which does not. There is little point in exchanging text for text with such people, if the whole counsel of God as revealed in the whole of Scripture is ignored.
The primacy of the literal sense, the plain and obvious significance of the passage is to be established. The Bible has suffered at the hands of its friends by unjustified allegorization and ‘spiritualization’ in support of their special teachings. The historical and grammatical meaning supplies the only real basis for sound doctrine. The direct, indisputable meaning is that on which our faith may rest without wavering. Spiritualizing away the plain and literal sense is something we may safely leave to sects and other Bible-jugglers. Any spiritual meaning we may see cannot be divorced from the literal sense.
Many claiming to preach the Gospel of Christ tend to present what they perceive to be the least objectionable aspects of the Gospel first in order to attract the unbeliever. They identify those things which they think they have in common with all men so as not to awaken any suspicion that they are in anyway different from others. What they so often fail to make clear is that they come as ambassadors of the sovereign King of kings who demands nothing less than unconditional surrender and will be satisfied with nothing less. The unbeliever will accept Scripture only as ‘expert advice’ and not absolutely and unquestionably authoritative. Man is the final authority and judge and he will accept advice only as long as he is left with the final choice. They operate under the motto: let God present Himself to you and then you be the judge, rather than insisting upon the authority of what God has revealed. They continue by insisting that it is ‘reasonable’ to believe the Bible, assuming that unaided human reason will make the right decision if properly approached and persuaded. Let it be said most clearly, that a god who comes forth from this kind of conjecture is emphatically not the God of the Scriptures.
The relationship between a Christian and his God is a deeply personal one. It is not really something that should easily be exposed to public scrutiny. Very often it cannot be confined to verbal descriptions. We need to be very clear that whatever the apparent reality of such experience, it can never form the basis of Christian teaching. We need to ask ourselves what can validate the truth, what informs the interpretation of that which takes place silently and unseen deep within the soul of the Christian believer. Standing alone without some external validation cannot be held to be the norm for all others. It cannot be validated by comparing it with that of others and finding it to be similar or even identical. We cannot argue, we have all had the same experience therefore it must be true. All may well be false and often is. When it comes to the Christian faith the temptation is greater here than elsewhere to argue purely from experience.
The only reliable and safe source of information about what is going on within our heart and soul is the Word of God, the Holy Scriptures. Only after knowing what the Scriptures teach can we turn our attention to the voice of human experience. We may find bright and uplifting testimonies in hymns and biographies to what is perceived to be the grace of God. We may look with yearning at times when God has worked in extraordinary ways. Yet none of these things can ever furnish a foundation by which to measure what we experience. It can frequently be very difficult to discern between those whose experience is genuine and those whose experience is a total deception. What many view as the height of spiritual attainment when looked at in the light of Scripture turns out to be a lie.
The accounts given by genuine Christian believers as to the work of God in their souls can only ever be a faint reflection of that which has gone on within. It will be something they hardly understand themselves. Only when we are taught by God’s Spirit in conjunction with the Scriptures can we begin to appreciate what we and others have experienced of God’s grace. Experience on its own actually teaches us very little and nothing with certainty. It is spiritual naivety to think otherwise. It is to lay ourselves open to deception to think that because someone is convinced of the veracity of what they have experienced, it must necessarily be what they claim it is. We need to ensure that our feet stand securely on the solid foundation of Holy Writ. Such can speak with clarity and assurance. Others may well speak with a confused voice. They may have within their testimony that which bubbles and froths, then disappears. True understanding rests on the teaching of the Bible.
We cannot claim experience is determinative and at the same time say that we submit to the Word of God. Any who downgrades, doubts, denies or refuses the teaching of the Scriptures, its theology and its Gospel, cannot claim at the same time to have a genuine knowledge of Christ. Those who identify themselves with those who deny the Gospel as revealed in Scripture, claiming a common experience with them, are likewise far from Christ. This is commonly the case in the current rapprochement with Roman Catholics made by evangelicals and charismatics. It is clear these people know nothing of Christ.
The Bible is concerned with renewing of Christian believers, the elect, after the image of God, but we cannot place this at the centre of all things. God is at work in heaven and on earth in man through history, in Scripture, the coming of Christ, and salvation. Personal salvation is not the last link. The hour that completes redemption is an hour of reckoning for all creation. The biblical revelation of the return of Christ, a great and notable event, is the consummation of all that has gone before and includes a final catastrophe whereby all shall receive its due. “Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” (2 Peter 3:12-13)
The elements shall burn with an awful heat, but out of it shall emerge the beauty and glory of God’s original purpose. The present ill, injustice, wickedness and the plague of all that is unholy, all that turned against God and His Anointed shall become truly hellish. Everything that is ungodly shall receive its due in a world where sin has held sway for so long.
Christ shall triumph over Satan, sin and death and they shall receive their due. Wheat shall be separated from tares (see Matthew 13); the mingling of the true and the false will come to an end. All the wisdom and counsel of God will be vindicated. It will be shown that God is righteous in all His judgements. It is here where all things must be centred. The salvation of the redeemed simply serves this end: that God be justified in all His works and glorified through judgement.
“He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” (John 3:36)
This article appears in David's book 'What it really means to be a Christian'.