Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Author and Authority of Scripture

It is my hope in writing here that our understanding of the personal authority of Scripture will be refreshed. It is a powerful word that bears weight in our lives precisely because of Him who authored it, God Himself. The words in Scripture are God’s very own words revealing His very own self to us. For when the Scripture speaks, God speaks. If in the Scriptures God speaks, then there is nothing that bears greater authority for the life of the Christian.

The Author of Scripture

In an overview of Scripture, we must first begin with who authored the words we hold before us in our Bible. Paul reveals to us and the church at Thessalonica who authored the words we read, “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard form us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God” (1 Thess. 2:13, emphasis mine). Scripture self-attests that is itself written by and contains the words of God Himself. Orthodox Christians have held to this understanding of the Bible for century upon century, before even both the Old and New Testaments were formally canonized. John Calvin reiterates the orthodox understanding that in the Bible, “God in person speaks in it.”[1]

Scripture is first and foremost a personal revelation. God in Scripture reveals Himself to His creation through a written medium. What once was orally circulated among the Israelites and early church was written for our benefit. It was written for many reasons[2] but chief among all reasons the Apostle John records for us in 20:31, “but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”  The content of the Christian faith, which has come to be written in our Bibles, is a personal revelation of God. It contains that which God has designed and implemented for His creation to know regarding who He is and therefore who we are. Or as R.C. Sproul puts it,

“The Scriptures come to us as divine self-disclosure. Here the mind of God is laid bare on many matters. With a knowledge of Scripture we do not have to rely on secondhand information or bare speculation to learn who God is and what he values. In the Bible he reveals himself.”[3]

Think with me now for a moment. Imagine you have been diagnosed with a rare disease. You head to your doctor for treatment and while waiting in the room you see a diploma on the wall. The diploma states that the doctor graduated a month ago. That might not instill much confidence in you for the decided treatment. If however the diploma was issued twenty years ago, it might garner more trust with the recommended treatment for the disease.

The authority and therefore subsequent trust of the patient, relies on the experience of the doctor. We assess articles and books in much the same way. We assess their ideas and propositions based on who wrote it, do we not? If we read a statement on the political climate in Israel only to find it was written by a botanist, it might not carry the same weight from a statement provided by a foreign affairs journalist.

The same concept holds true for Scripture. If we say they are simply words thought up by some who had incredible wisdom and stories to share, it would bear some weight. But if we were to say Scripture instead contains the very words of God almighty, there is no higher trump card with regards the author’s authority in the subject. Therefore we must begin any discussion on the place of Scripture in the life of the Christian with the awe-inspiring understanding that the words contained therein are no mere human word, but a divine self-disclosure of God Himself written for the benefit and direction of mankind.

Divine Inspiration

But the question then becomes “How did God reveal Himself if we know human authors put pen to paper to record the words we find in our Bible?” Theologians call the how of this recording process inspiration.

Among the many verses that speak of the inspiration of Scripture, 2nd Timothy 3:16 ranks highest in clarity, “All Scripture is breathed out by God.” The term “breathed out,” θεόπνευστος in the original Greek, literally translates “inspired by God.” Paul here with this language urges Timothy to recognize the Author of Scripture and the means by which He used to bring His word into being, inspiration. Inspiration is God’s design and means to reveal himself, and therefore “God’s word is God himself, understood as a speaking God, one who eternally communicates.”[4] Scripture therefore comes from God. It is his word, His pouring into written form His very own self. The Westminster Confession of Faith describes inspiration in this way,

“The Old Testament in Hebrew (the native language of the ancient people of God) and the New Testament in Greek (the language most widely known internationally at the time the New Testament was written) were directly inspired by God and have been kept uncontaminated throughout time by his special care and providence.”[5]

Through the means of inspiration, God literally “breathing out” His word, God enables human writers to accurately record in written format what He desires us to know. Chief among this relationship between the breathed out word and the method of writing it down is the action and influence of the Holy Spirit, “The infallibility and divine authority of the Scriptures are due to the fact that they are the word of God; and they are the word of God precisely because they were given by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost.”[6] But the Spirit guided the inspiration of God’s word through human writers, a relational dynamic between the Author and authors to which we must now turn.

Inspiration and Human Authors

While God inspires Scripture He has only written by hand the Ten Commandments on the two tablets of stone that He gave to Moses (Exodus 31:18). He has spoken to many to record what He has said and stimulated others to write a Divine word. God’s method of inspiration has worked in a myriad of ways to record for us, in our Bible, the very words of God, even if mankind was the one to put pen to paper. Or as John Calvin puts it, “…we affirm with utter certainty (just as if we were gazing upon the majesty of God himself) that [scripture] has flowed to us from the very mouth of God by the ministry of men.”[7] There is a miraculous relationship in the formation of the Bible between man and God.

In the Old Testament we see many examples of this inspiration. In Exodus 19:6b we see God speaking and inspiring Moses to record God’s very words, “These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” The inspiration and recording of God’s word continues with Joshua and moves towards the prophets. When a prophet says, “Thus says the Lord,” they are speaking on behalf of Another the very words God inspired them to speak. The prophets are “claiming that their words are the absolute authoritative words of God.”[8] In the New Testament we have a myriad of written forms, from Gospels and Acts recounting the life, death, burial of Jesus, and the formation of the Chruch, to a myriad of letters to individual churches or peoples. In all of these writers God inspired both the form and words to communicate the good news of the Gospel for our benefit. The great Princeton theologian Charles Hodge states the doctrine of inspiration this way,

“Inspiration was an influence of the Holy Spirit on the minds of certain select men, which rendered them the organs of God for the infallible communication of his mind and will. They were in a sense the organs of God, that what they said God said.”[9]

However Hodge’s initial definition could lead us to believe that all the human writers did was act as “organs” for God, as mere puppets whose hands the Spirit moved. Theologians call this misunderstanding of inspiration the “mechanical theory of inspiration.” Hodge continues to clarify what we mean and don’t mean with inspiration,

“The ancients, indeed, were accustomed to say, as some theologians have also said, that the sacred writers were as pens in the hand of the Spirit; or as harps, from which He drew what sounds He pleased. These representations were, however, intended simply to illustrate one point, namely, that the words uttered or recorded by inspired men were the words of God. The Church has never held what has been stigmatized as the mechanical theory of inspiration. The sacred writers were not machines. Their self-consciousness was not suspended; nor were their intellectual powers superseded. Holy men spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. It was men, not machines; not unconscious instruments, but living, thinking, willing minds, whom the Spirit used as his organs.”[10]

We must affirm that men were not coopted by the Spirit, but retained their very humanness in the inspiration and recording of Scripture. The writers of the Old and New Testament “wrote out of the fullness of their own thoughts and feelings, and employed the language and modes of expression which to them were the most natural and appropriate. Nevertheless…the spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, and their words were his words.”[11] God employed the uniqueness of his writers but this does not negate it is a word from God. 2nd Peter 1:21 sums it up nicely, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Spirit.”

The means of God’s self-revelation in Scripture, divine inspiration through created beings, is simply an astounding method. Of all the ways God could have given us a revelation of Himself, He chose to employ His very fallen creation to do so. In so doing God further displays His desire to be in relationship with us when He could have simply written it all with His own hand. This is the awe-provoking doctrine of inspiration.


Therefore, because of the cooperation in Scripture’s inspiration, it is “correct to conclude that there is no untruthfulness of error in any part of the words of Scripture.”[12] Scripture retains then the utmost authority, because of the Author and truthfulness of the words recorded. Calvin states, “Hence the Scriptures obtain full authority among believers only when men regard them as having sprung from heaven, as if there the living words of God were heard.”[13] The reformers in the Protestant Reformation came to refer to this understanding of the authority of Scripture as sola scriptura, Latin for by Scripture alone. Scripture is the sole rule of faith and practice for the life of the Christian. It’s authority for our lives cannot be overstated.

But what do we mean by authority? Authority implies obedience. If you have a supervisor at work, he bears authority over you in regards your job. If he is a tyrant who knows little of the job he is asking you to perform, it will be difficult to be obedient to his authority. If however he is all-knowing, all-powerful, and has your flourishing in mind, obedience and submission will be a delight. God wields this kind of authority and it is given to us in the Scriptures. The Westminster Confession of Faith speaks of this authority,

“The Bible speaks authoritatively and so deserves to be obeyed. This authority does not depend on the testimony of any man or church but completely on God, its author, who is himself truth. The Bible therefore is to be accepted as true, because it is the word of God.”[14]

God has chosen to reveal Himself to us. He does so through human writers who are inspired by His Spirit to record everything sufficient for our salvation and knowledge of Him. Therefore the Bible itself bears the authority of God Himself. How joyful we are to be to submit to His word for our lives because God longs for our flourishing, He longs for us to be a joyful people, a people knowing their created purpose to bask in and exalt in the very glory of God Himself. Christian, know that when you pick up your Bible and read it, you are reading the very words of God to you that He has so miraculously joined together for His glory and your joy. 

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JT Holderman is Assistant Pastor of Bellevue Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Gap, PA.

[1] Calvin John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2 vols., ed. John T. McNeill, Ford Lewis Battles trans. (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), 78.
[2] See chapters 2, 3, and 4 for a fuller understanding of the purpose of Scripture.
[3] R.C. Sproul, Knowing Scripture (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1977), 25.
[4] John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2010), 48.
[5] The Westminster Confession of Faith, 1.8, emphasis mine.
[6] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 1 (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2008), 153.
[7] John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, 80.
[8] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 74.
[9] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 154.
[10] Ibid., 157, emphasis mine.
[11] Ibid., 157.
[12] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 83.
[13] John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, 74.
[14] The Westminster Confession of Faith, 1.4.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Plea To Delight In Scripture

Over the next few months we will be looking together at a series on the overview of the Scriptures supremacy in the life of the Christian. And I want to begin our series with a plea: treasure and delight in God’s word! Before we even get to any understanding of the overview of the Christian Scriptures, I want to plead with you to delight in them. I want to begin by first aiming primarily at your heart and then later at your mind, building a greater foundation for our understanding of Scripture. For when something occupies our heart it inevitably occupies our mind; the same cannot be said in reverse.

But first we must give reason for why “treasuring” and “delighting” is the desired response from God for our reading of Scripture. The Psalmists lead us to see God’s word in its proper context, as a word from the Lord to be both treasured and delighted in:

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul…more to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. (Psalm 19:7a,10)

In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches. I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word. (Psalm 119:14-16)

The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces. (Psalm 119:72)

The image of the Bible the Psalmists paint is a grand mural of human affections. The words chosen to display the proper understanding of how we view God’s word are not weak; they do not use words here that connote a lukewarm affection. Instead the words chosen convey the utmost affection. God’s word is to be more desired than any wealth, or any sweetness to the tongue. It is to be not obligingly read but delighted in, to come bounding toward with a sense of joy over the privilege to read the very words of God to us. Jonathan Edwards, the great New England preacher, exhorts us to be like-minded with the Psalmists:

But that treasure of divine knowledge, which is contained in the Scriptures, and is provided for everyone to gather himself as much of it as he can, is a far more rich treasure than any one of gold and pearls.”[1]

Edwards and the Psalmists knew the reason we are to hold Scripture in such high regard for our lives is because the word of God is the only thing that can transform our lives from what they are to what they were created to be! We have a created purpose to live in relationship with God almighty. To delight and treasure Scripture then is to simply delight and treasure God Himself. To delight and treasure Scripture is to prefer God and His word over anything else the world paints as desirable for the purpose of your life; it is to reclaim from the outset that God has created you with a greater purpose than that which the world purports your purpose to be.

Chances are we don’t wax eloquently about our love for the Scriptures. We probably don’t refer to our Bible as our delight and treasure in conversation. Maybe we should. What if Scripture was truly a delight to take up and read instead of something we come to as an obligation, as something we are supposed to read as Christians (Pharisaic legalism)? What if instead we took up God’s word out of delight, how would our reading of God’s word change our relationship with God? Here’s what would happen: If we delighted in God’s word we would therefore delight in God Himself because the words contained within are God-breathed, they are the words of the Lord Himself. Take a love-letter for example. When the recipient reads the letter they are delighting in the words on the page, but the delight is not in the words only, the delight that transpires is directed towards the author of the letter, showing their affection for the recipient. So too a delight for Scripture dashes a lukewarm love of God and inspires a person to treasure Him.

You were created to treasure God with your life. As I have been aiming at the affections of your heart, to delight in God’s word and therefore to delight in God, Jesus also has much to say about your heart. In Matthew 6:21 He says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” What we treasure aligns the center of our being, our aim in life. I want you to treasure the Lord and so does Jesus! He states His greatest desire for your life in Matthew 22:37, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” In order to “love the Lord your God with all your heart” he must be your treasure because what you treasure aligns your whole heart. Heart and treasure and inextricably linked and the aim of delighting in Scripture is that it would lead you to treasure God.

As we look forward to how the rest of this series might awaken an affection for God’s word and God Himself within you, I leave you with the story of Augustine of Hippo’s conversion in AD 386. Augustine had struggled with the search of truth for years. It brought him eventually one day in a garden in Milan, Italy to break down into tears where he was in the midst of wrestling with the truths of the Christian Scripture. While on a bench in the garden God brought him to see the capital T truth of the Gospel:

“I wept, my heart crushed with very bitterness. And behold, suddenly I heard a voice from the house next door; the sound, as it might be, of a boy or a girl, repeating in a sing song voice a refrain unknown to me: ‘Pick it up and read it, pick it up and read it.’ Immediately my countenance was changed…taking this to be nothing other than a God-sent command that I should open the Bible and read the first chapter I found…I seized it, opened it, and read in silence the first heading I cast my eyes upon: Not in riotousness and drunkenness, not in lewdness and wantonness, not in strife and rivalry; but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh and its lusts (Rom. 13:13-14). I neither wished nor needed to read more. No sooner had I finished the sentence than it was as if the light of steadfast trust poured into my heart, and all the shadows of hesitation fled away.”[2]

It was a delight to pick up the Bible, not a begrudging duty, that led Augustine to become a giant in Christian history with respect to delighting in God. Augustine fell in love with the Lord and with His Scripture. Through the Scripture, God became Augustine’s highest delight.

Do you love God? Do you want to know Him? Do you want to earnestly say He is your treasure? Then heed the call of the Psalmists crying out to you to delight in God’s word, heed the call of the neighboring children in Milan to “pick it up and read it.” I pray that God would awaken a delight in your hearts for His revealed word. I pray that he would incline you to wear out the pages of your Bible. Wipe off the film of dust possibly covering your Bible and embark on a journey of delight, a delight in God’s word and therefore a delight in God.

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JT Holderman is Assistant Pastor of Bellevue Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Gap, PA.

[1] Jonathan Edwards, The Sermons of Jonathan Edwards: A Reader, ed. Wilson H. Kimnach (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1999), 36.

[2] Augustine, Confessions (New York: Knopf, 2001), 182-183.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

A Prayer for Those Who Pray: In Time of Trial

By Dr. Wilfred A. Bellamy

My heavenly Father, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, help me to approach you with deepest reverence. I am in awe of you, guard me that I may not presume upon you, or question you, or instruct you, but rather may I come humbly and yet with holy boldness.

You are fully beyond the grasp of my understanding. Your thoughts and your ways are beyond my finding out. Help me not to guess your intentions but to bow in obedience to the lot that you have cast for me. In all of this I love you supremely, I extend my love to you, and gladly and gratefully receive your perfect love. I acknowledge that it is in love that you are silently planning for me. This is personal, awesome, I cannot comprehend such grace.

When I consider the love of the Lord Jesus Christ manifest at Calvary, your love expressed in Him and through Him, my heart melts. He is mine and I am His, given to me as well as for me – what a great concept that is! I am never so much mine as when I am His or so much lost to myself until I am lost in Him; then I find my true manhood.

But I must confess that my love is sometimes frosty, sullied by the complexity of the moment. It is not always the love of warmth and softness toward you, and often I do not understand you. May your love be more revealed in all its fullness in me. May it be more fervent and glowing. May it be seen by those who see me and may they know that it is the reflected light of the Lord of glory.

So make my life fruitful that by living in your love my character may be transformed from day to day. May I become the perfect copy of my Master and my Lord. Help me to overcome the burdens, my challenges to faith, my pain, my bereavement, that I may see beyond them to “Jesus, Lover of my soul,” and bear witness to the one who owns me, the one to whom I am surrendered, who has laid claim to my life and will sustain me to the end of life as I know it – and then usher me into His immediate presence in great glory and majesty.
“O Lord Jesus, let me sense your Presence,O Divine Spirit, rest upon me,O Holy Father, look on me in mercyFor the sake of your well-beloved Son.”


-Rev. Dr. Wilfred A. Bellamy PH.D. is an ordained minister in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARP).