In the last century and into this one, the doctrine of the inspiration and authority of the Bible has received the greatest amount of scrutiny. The higher critical methods that came out of Germany in the 19th century have greatly contributed to many people’s skepticism of this doctrine. As a religious studies student at a secular state institution, I have had the (mis)fortune of seeing how destructive these methods are to the faith of many unsuspecting Christians. I say “unsuspecting” because there are some who call themselves Christians, yet undermine faith in the Bible; thus, undermining Christianity itself. Christianity stands or falls with the resurrection of Christ, that much can be said. However, if we do not have an inspired, inerrant, AND infallible Bible, then the Gospel’s testimony of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection would be untrustworthy. And if the Bible is untrustworthy, and faith in Christ is for this world only, then we are of all people most to be pitied (1 Corinth. 15:19). Thus, in this brief article, I will seek to elaborate on the inspiration and authority of the Bible.
In WCF 1.1, the Divines talked of “the light of nature,” or what has always been understood as “natural revelation.” Insofar as natural revelation manifests to us “the goodness, wisdom, and power of God,” natural revelation is limited in what humans can know about the fullness of God. Certainly, humans can know that there is a Deity, and can know something of his character and power, and this leaves us without excuse. This is why many make the case, based off of Romans 1 and what this chapter of the WCF is alluding to, that no one can blame God for not making things “clear.” Indeed, God has already made himself clear in nature, and, had it not been for the Fall, would most certainly have been sufficient revelation for man’s salvation.
Unfortunately, this is not the world we live in. Since the Fall, the Lord, in many different ways over time, was gracious to his people by giving us what theologians call, “special revelation.” The Confession states in 1.1 that this “special revelation” is for “preserving and propagating the truth,” for the more “sure establishment and comfort of the church against the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world,”. In other words, this “special revelation,” God’s Holy Word, is, in the simplest of terms, man’s only rule for faith and practice. It is sufficient for man to know why he needs salvation, that there is a way of salvation, and what the hope of our salvation affords us. It is also sufficient in how we do evangelism, how we preach, and how we interact with a hostile world. Furthermore, “those former ways of God’s revealing his will unto his people being now ceased” means that personal revelations of God’s will for one’s life and for other’s has now ceased (Heb. 1:1-2; Jn. 20:31). This is why Reformed and Presbyterian believers have long rejected the continuation of certain supernatural gifts, over against those who believe in them (i.e. new prophecy, speaking in tongues, etc.). It must be stated, however, that it would be irresponsible to be insensitive to someone’s own supernatural experiences. However, if it cannot be tested against Scripture, as I believe many experiences in the Holiness/Pentecostal tradition turns out to be, then they must be rejected. This is why Presbyterians and others in the Reformed world have long cherished their Creedal and Confessional standards. It summarizes well our faith in a clear and concise way, but it also guards against a free-for-all in spirituality, which has become the unfortunate consequence for Christianity in the United States.
This is also important in regards to evangelism and cultural engagement, as I alluded to above. The Bible is quite sufficient on it’s own to answer the objections of the world, which I will also allude to in proceeding paragraphs concerning the Canon. Since I and other faithful Christians believe God’s Word is sufficient in this way, we see no reason to resort to gimmicks and worldly methods in doing evangelism, preaching, or worshipping God. God, in his Word, calls us to be faithful and to trust Him. For that reason, we trust the Holy Spirit to, in his own good time, illumine hearts and minds that we cannot. This is the very point the WCF makes in 1.6, “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word:”. A.A. Hodge in his commentary on the Confession of Faith explains this point when he says, “This necessity does not result from any want of either completeness or clearness in the revelation, but from the fact that man in a state of nature is carnal, and unable to discern the things of the Spirit of God.” Man needs spiritual illumination when reading the Bible. Otherwise, he may never come to a sound knowledge of the truth.
In chapter 1.2 and 1.3, we maintain that the 66 books, minus the Apocrypha, are what God has revealed. The objection by many opponents to biblical authority is by way of a question: Is this not arbitrary? And who makes these books the standard over others? Why exclude them? The Confession teaches in chapter 1.3 that the Apocrypha, “not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the canon of the Scripture, and therefore are of no authority in the church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved, or made use of, than other human writings.” There is a historical argument to be made for this as well. For generations, the Hebrew Bible had long excluded the Apocrypha because they did not originate from any one of the prophets. While the books are valuable for understanding the inter-testamental period, they are hardly useful for more than that reason. Hence, the Old Testament only has 39 books, which is only 24 in the Hebrew Bible since certain books that are divided in the Christian Old Testament are not divided in the Hebrew Bible.
A similar argument is made in regards to the New Testament writings: like the Apocrypha not having prophetic authority, those gnostic Gospels and pseudo-epistles that “did not make the New Testament canon” were without 1.) Apostolic authority, 2.) utilized by the early Church, 3.) contradicted already established apostolic teaching. Certainly, there are other arguments that can be made in defense of inspiration; namely, the available manuscripts currently in possession of New Testament scholars. The amount of manuscripts are a historians dream come true with the amount of manuscripts, the dating, some being dated in the early-mid 2nd century, a generation after the Apostles, and so forth. Arguments for the Resurrection, namely, the Minimal Facts argument advanced by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona are equally helpful blessings to the Church in establishing the inspiration and authority of the Bible. I heartily commend these things to you as useful tools, but it does go beyond the scope of this article.
The last point I wish to make is in regards to WCF 1.4, when it says that, “The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man, or church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.” (2 Pet. 1:19-20; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 1 Thess. 2:13).
The section of WCF 1.4 is part of the Protestant sola, “Sola Scriptura.” Protestants have long believed, over against the Roman Catholic Church, that Scripture alone is authoritative, and not alongside popes, bishops, councils, etc. which have so often contradicted themselves, as Martin Luther pointed out in some of his own writings. Our trust, obedience, and dependence upon God’s Holy Word is based upon God and God alone. We do not believe God would mislead us, indeed he has not misled his people from ages gone by. Scripture shows time and again of God’s faithfulness to his people, and even still by preserving his Word for thousands of years. We have the Bible today because God has been faithful in preserving it for us, the only book that we look to for God’s will for our lives, to build up one another, on how to worship God, and on how to do evangelism. In our day where there is an ever increasing secularism pushing against God’s people from every side, the Church worldwide, and the Presbyterian Church in particular, ought not to forget it’s commitment to the inspiration and authority of the Bible. Even more so, the Church ought not forget that the Bible is sufficient to answer the culture on it’s own terms, as I alluded to in preceding paragraphs.
Do we really believe the Bible is authoritative and sufficient? Do we really believe that God has preserved his word, as the Westminster Confession of Faith has outlined? Do we believe it is the only sufficient rule for faith and practice, not only in worship but in how we do evangelism in the wider culture? These questions point to the relevance of the Confession today, because one who not only cherishes but fully subscribes to the Confession as a standard of Christian belief would answer “yes” to these questions. To that end, I commend to you the Confession’s view on Scripture.
Dale a religious studies and philosophy student at Appalachian State University, and hopes to enter seminary at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Dale is also a member of a congregation in the Presbyterian Church in America.