By Matt Smethurst:
The Bible makes many claims about itself within its text. What does it say?
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There are only two options when it comes to knowledge of a divine creator: revelation or speculation. Either he speaks, or we guess. Christians believe that, thankfully, he has spoken. The God of heaven and earth has “forfeited his own personal privacy” to reveal himself to us—to befriend us—through a book.1Scripture is like an all-access pass into the revealed mind and will of God.
By virtually any account the Bible is the most influential book of all time. No shortage of ink has been spilled on writings about it, against it, and in favor of it. But what does the Bible say about itself?
The Bible Is Inspired
When people claim the Bible is “inspired,” what do they really mean? Are they just saying it’s inspiring? Well, not quite. Sure, the Bible may inspire some of its readers, but the concept of “inspired” as used here has to do with the relationship between God and the Bible’s authors.
Now, the Bible’s human authors weren’t inspired in the way we typically use the word today. It’s not as if the Apostle Paul saw a gorgeous sunset, felt moved by its beauty, and then wrote Galatians. Nor does it mean he would enter some catatonic state, recite a bunch of words to a friend, then pick up the parchment and say, “Let’s see what God wrote!”
First and foremost, inspiration has to do with the fact that the Bible’s ultimate author is God. In 2 Timothy 3:16–17, Paul writes: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of Godmay be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”2 Notice how it says the entirety of the Bible is “God-breathed”—exhaled from God. No wonder, then, that the Bible is commonly referred to as God’s Word.3
But if God was the author, then what were Moses and David and Paul and John and all those others doing? Weren’t they writing Scripture, too? Indeed. You see, the Bible was written by God and humans—or, more precisely, by God through humans.4 The Apostle Peter explained it this way: “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”5 In other words, God made sure the human authors wrote exactly what he wanted them to write—no more, no less.
However, these authors weren’t passive robots. God didn’t erase their personalities or take over their minds. They wrote as thinking, feeling human beings. God simply worked sovereignly through their unique personalities and educations and backgrounds and experiences6 to enable—to inspire—them to write divine truth.7“Each word in the Bible is the word of a conscious human author and at the same time the exact word that God intends for the revelation of himself.”8
The Creator of the universe has spoken—in human history, in human language, through human beings. That’s what inspiration is all about. In answer to the question of who wrote the Bible—humans or God—the Bible itself answers simply: “Yes.”
The Bible Is True
OK, so Scripture is completely inspired, but is it completely true?
The Bible says that God’s Word is true because God’s character is true; God is not a liar.9 Therefore, the God of truth cannot speak words that are false. To doubt the truthfulness of God’s Word is to doubt the truthfulness of God himself.10
Some people think that while the Bible’s “spiritual” concepts are true enough, much of the other content (such as historical and geographical details) probably isn’t. But Scripture doesn’t make “any restriction on the kinds of subjects to which it speaks truthfully.”11 Besides, if the Bible isn’t fully reliable at every point, how could we be certain that it’s fully reliable at any point?
When we look at Scripture itself, we see that it is filled with claims to pervasive truthfulness.12 Every word it contains is described as flawless,13 eternal,14unbreakable,15 boundless in perfection,16 and completely reliable.17 As Jesus concisely stated, “[God’s] word is truth.”18
In fact, Scripture’s truthfulness is so comprehensively assumed that entire arguments can hinge on appeals to a single word,19 the number of a noun,20 even the tense of a verb.21 When properly interpreted, the Bible will never mislead you. What it says, God says.22
The Bible Is Authoritative
God owns the universe he spoke into existence. He rules as king over his creation—and that creation includes you and me. His loving authority, intended for our good, is exercised through his Word. In fact, God has so identified himself with Scripture that to disbelieve or disobey it is to disbelieve or disobey him.
True, the Bible isn’t the only authority in our lives. There are other rightful authorities, such as parents,23 pastors,24 and members of the government.25 None, however, is above God’s Word. The Bible is the highest authority. This means the correctness of every belief, value, opinion, statement, and sermon is decisively settled by the question: What does the Bible say?26
Regarding Christ’s own view of the Bible, it’s been observed that “[Jesus] appeals to Scripture, to each part of Scripture, and to each element of Scripture as to an unimpeachable authority.”27
Kings don’t give advice; they give orders. Obedience to the Word of God, therefore, is not optional. “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves,” the Apostle James writes. “Do what it says.”28
As J. I. Packer observes, “True Christians are people who acknowledge and live under the word of God. They submit without reserve to [it], believing the teaching, trusting the promises, following the commands. Their eyes are upon the God of the Bible as their Father and the Christ of the Bible as their Savior.”29 A Christian, in other words, is one who hears the voice of Jesus in Scripture and gladly follows him.30
J. C. Ryle remarked, “Happy is the man who possesses Bible! Happier still is he who reads it! Happiest of all is he who not only reads it but obeys it.”31 As countercultural and counterintuitive as it may feel, Christians believe submission to God’s Word is where true life and freedom are found.
The Bible Is Clear
The Bible is an ancient document. It can feel foreign, and some parts are certainly confusing.32 However, as the psalmist states, “The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.”33 God even commands parents to teach the Bible to their children.34
I’ve heard it said that Scripture is shallow enough for a child to wade, but deep enough for an elephant to swim. I think that’s profoundly right. The Bible is “written in such a way that its teachings are able to be understood by all who will read it seeking God’s help and being willing to follow it.”35
Sometimes Scripture is difficult to understand because it’s talking about complicated things. At these times, extended, prayerful study may be necessary. Often, however, it’s hard to grasp because we simply don’t like what it says. As Mark Twain famously quipped, “It ain’t those parts of the Bible I can’t understand that bother me; it’s the parts I do understand.” Often it’s not that the Bible is unclear but that we’re unreceptive.
The Bible Is Sufficient
Scripture contains all the words from God that we need in order to know him truly, trust him fully, obey him perfectly, and enjoy him abundantly. Peter says God has given us “everything we need for a godly life” through the knowledge available in the Scriptures.36 Likewise, Paul says, the Bible is so complete that through it we can be “thoroughly equipped for every good work”—“thoroughly” and “every,” not “partly” and “most.”37 It doesn’t get more comprehensive than that.
While the Bible may not tell us everything we want to know, it does tell us everything we need to know. Its truth isn’t exhaustive but it’s enough.38 It contains all we need to know in order to be saved39 and to obey God in faith40—no wonder such severe warnings accompany adding to or removing any of its words.41
“The case can be made that every corruption of biblical Christianity begins by compromising the principle of sufficiency,” one author observed. “Every deviation from Christianity established by Christ and the apostles begins by adding to the Bible or by taking away from it. Every deviation is the Bible plus or minus something.”42
The Bible Is Powerful
Since the Bible’s ultimate author is God, it is a book of unparalleled power. Its words are strong enough to melt hearts43 and change lives.44 The book of Hebrews states, “The word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”45
Saying the Bible is powerful is another way of saying it’s effective. The Holy Spirituses it to accomplish his plans.46 The book is an instrument of action in God’s all-powerful hand. “Do not put yourself at odds with the Word of God,” Swiss Reformer Ulrich Zwingli once remarked. “One can perhaps dam it up for awhile, but it is impossible to stop it.”47
It is crucial to realize that God intends his Word not simply to engage our minds, but to change our hearts. As one person put it, “The Bible was not written to satisfy your curiosity; it was written to transform your life.”48
The Bible Is Christ-Centered
Contrary to popular belief, the Bible is not simply a collection of ethical principles, moral platitudes, or abstract life lessons. It is a thrilling story.
Ultimately, that story is not about you and me. It’s about Jesus. In Luke 24, the resurrected Savior appears to two followers on the road to Emmaus. Luke recounts what happened:
“[Jesus] said to them, ‘How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”49
Later, after appearing to his eleven disciples, Jesus says to them: “‘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.’ Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.”50
It wasn’t just after his resurrection that Jesus spoke this way, however. During his earthly ministry he explained to the “Bible experts” of the day his central place in the great story: “‘You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. . . . If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.’”51
It’s been rightly noted that the Old Testament is “Jesus Christ concealed” and the New Testament is “Jesus Christ revealed.” From beginning to end—Genesis to Revelation—the plotline of Scripture anticipates, spotlights, and finds its ultimate resolution in God’s redeeming Son.52 And perhaps the most stunning thing about this story is that the central character loves us back.
The Bible Is Precious
The Bible is the most valuable treasure in the universe. It’s our food,53 our life,54 our comfort,55 our strength,56 our guidance,57 our desire,58 our hope,59 our love,60 our joy,61 and our treasure.62
Did you know that even the books of Leviticus and Chronicles and Obadiah were written to encourage you? That’s what the Bible says, anyway: “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.”63 Everything. What a sweeping word! Paul is going so far as to claim the entirety of the Old Testament was written for you—to instruct you, to encourage you, to help you endure, and to flood your heart with hope.64
And while we must avoid “bibliolatry”—treasuring Scripture more than its Author—it’s striking to note how inseparably connected God’s Word is with God himself.65Indeed, to abandon it is to abandon him.66 Until Jesus returns and our faith becomes sight, we must live in the “age of the ear.”67 “For now,” Augustine said, “treat the Scripture of God as the face of God. Melt in its presence.”68 As one great preacher remarked, “To me the Bible is not God, but it is God’s voice, and I do not hear it without awe.”69
The Bible is a bottomless treasure chest of beauty and wonder. It claims to be inspired, true, authoritative, clear, sufficient, powerful, Christ-centered, and precious. May God help us to treat it as such.
The Holy Spirit is often described as light. He shines into the dark places of the heart and convicts us of sin (John 16:7-11). He is a lamp to illumine God’s word, teaching what is true and showing the truth to be precious (1 Cor. 2:6-16). And the Spirit throws a spotlight on Christ so that we can see his glory and be changed (John 16:14). That’s why 2 Corinthians 3:18speaks of becoming more like Christ by beholding the glory of Christ. Just as Moses had his face transfigured when he saw the Lord’s glory on Mount Sinai (Ex. 34:29; 2 Cor. 3:7), so will we be transformed when, by the Spirit, we behold God’s glory in the face of Christ.
The Spirit, then, is a light to us in three ways: by exposing our guilt, by illuminating the word of God, and by showing us Christ. Or to put it another way, as Divine Light, the Holy Spirit works to reveal sin, reveal the truth, and reveal glory. When we close our eyes to this light or disparage what we are meant to see by this brightness, we are guilty of resisting the Spirit (Acts 7:51), or quenching (1 Thess. 5:19) or grieving the Spirit (Eph. 4:30). There may be slight nuances among the three terms, but they are all speak of the same basic reality: refusing to see and to savor what the Spirit means to show us.
There are, then, at least three ways to grieve the Holy Spirit—three ways that may be surprising because they correspond to the three ways in which the Spirit acts as light to expose our guilt, illumine the word, and show us Christ.
First, we grieve the Holy Spirit when we use him to excuse our sinfulness.
The Spirit is meant to be the source of conviction in the human hearts. How sad it is, therefore, when Christians try to use the Spirit to support ungodly behavior. We see it when people—whether genuinely deceived or purposeful charlatans—claim the leading of the Spirit as the reason for their unbiblical divorce, or for their financial impropriety, or for their new found sexual liberation. The Holy Spirit is always the Spirit of holiness. He means to show us our sin not to excuse it through subjective feelings, spontaneous impressions, and wish fulfillment disguised as enlightened spirituality. If the Holy Spirit is grieved when we turn from righteous into sin, how doubly grieved he must be when we claim the Spirit’s authority for such deliberate rebellion.
Second, we grieve the Holy Spirit when we pit him against the Scriptures.
The Spirit works to reveal the truth of the word of God, not to lead us away from it. There is no place in the Christian life for supposing or suggesting that careful attention to the Bible is somehow antithetical to earnest devotion to the Holy Spirit. Anyone wishing to honor the Spirit would do well to honor the Scriptures he inspired and means to illuminate.
Sometimes Christians will cite the promise in John 16:13 that the Spirit “will guide you into all the truth” as reason to expect that the third person of the Trinity will give us new insights not found in the Scripture. But the “truth” referred to in John 16 is the whole truth about everything bound up in Jesus Christ, the way, the truth, and the life. The Spirit will unpack the things that are to come, insofar as he will reveal to the apostles (see v. 12) the significance of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and exaltation. The Spirit, speaking for the Father and the Son, would help the apostles remember what Jesus said and understand the true meaning of who Jesus is and what he accomplished (John 14:26).
This means that the Spirit is responsible for the truths the apostles preached and that in turn were written down in what we now call the New Testament. We trust the Bible—and do not need to go beyond the Bible—because the apostles, and those under the umbrella of their authority, wrote the Bible by means of the Spirit’s revelation. The Bible is the Spirit’s book. To insist on exegetical precision, theological rigor, and careful attention to the word of God should never be denigrated as stuffing our heads full of knowledge, let alone as somehow opposed to the real work of the Spirit.
Third, we grieve the Holy Spirit when we suggest he is jealous of our focus on Christ.
The Holy Spirit’s work is to serve. He speaks only what he hears (John 16:13). He declares what he is given; his mission is to glorify another (John 16:14). All three persons of the Trinity are fully God, yet in the divine economy the Son makes known the Father and the Spirit glorifies the Son. Yes, it is a terrible thing to be ignorant about the Spirit and unwise to overlook the indispensable role he plays in our lives. But we must not think we can focus on Christ too much, or that when we exalt Christ to the glory of God the Father that somehow the Spirit is sulking off in the corner. The Spirit means to shine a light on Christ; he is not envious to stand in the light himself.
Exulting in Christ, focusing on Christ, speaking much and singing often of Christ are not evidences of the Spirit’s dismissal but of the Spirit’s work. If the symbol of the church is the cross and not the dove, that’s because the Spirit would have it that way. As J. I. Packer puts it, “The Spirit’s message to us is never, ‘Look at me; listen to me; come to me; get to know me,’ but always, ‘Look at him, and see his glory; listen to him, and hear his word; go to him, and have life; get to know him, and taste his gift of joy and peace.’”
Again, to know nothing of the Holy Spirit is a serious mistake (cf. Acts 19:2). But when Christians lament an over-attentiveness to Christ or moan about too much emphasis on the cross, such protestations grieve the Spirit himself. The Holy Spirit is not waiting in the wings to be noticed and lauded. His work is not to shine brightly before us, but to shine a light on the glory of Christ. To behold the glory of God the Father in the face of Jesus Christ the Son is not to sideline the Holy Spirit; it is to celebrate his gracious work among us.
Whether we are talking about holiness, the Bible, or Jesus Christ, let us never set the Spirit against the very thing he means to accomplish. We do not honor the Spirit by trying to diminish what he seeks to exalt. And we do not stay in his step by pushing others (or ourselves) in the direction of the very things that grieve him most.
Encouragement from Darryl Dash:
Pastors can always use encouragement. If you’re a pastor (or even if you’re not), here are some truths that you might find encouraging today.
- God promises to use his Word (Isaiah 55:11). When God speaks, things happen. No matter how feebly preached, God honors the proclamation of his Word.
- Our weakness displays God’s glory (2 Corinthians 4:7). Our weakness doesn’t diminish God’s glory. It provides greater contrast between us and the surpassing power of the God we serve.
- God uses the “things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are” (1 Corinthians 1:28). If you and your church don’t look like much, you are just the type that God loves to use.
- Your position is secure (Romans 8). There is no sermon that you could preach that would make you more acceptable to God. There is no sermon, however bad, that can remove you from the love of God.
- Our imperfect churches display the manifold wisdom of God (Ephesians 3:10). When God wants to display his wisdom to angelic beings, he points to the church. The fact that church exists despite our failings causes angels to marvel and to glorify God.
- Your work is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58). We often don’t see it, but because of the resurrection we can stay at it, knowing that our work isn’t wasted.
If all Scripture is breathed out by God (2 Tim. 3:16), then there is a unity to be found across the pages of the Bible. Without minimizing the differences of genre and human authorship, we should nevertheless approach the Bible expecting theological distinctives and apparent discrepancies to be fully reconcilable.
The unity of Scripture also means we should be rid of, once and for all, this nonsense about being red letter Christians, as if the words of Jesus are the really important verses in Scripture and carry more authority and are somehow more directly divine than other verses. An evangelical understanding of inspiration does not allow us to prize the truths in the Gospel more than truths elsewhere in Scripture. If we read about homosexuality from the pen of Paul in Romans it has no less weight or relevance than if we read it from the lips of Jesus in Matthew. All Scripture is breathed out by God, not just the parts that spoken by Jesus.
God’s gracious self-disclosure comes to us through the Word made flesh and by the inscripurated word of God. These two modes of revelation reveal to us one God, one truth, one way, and one coherent set of promises, threats, and commands to live by. We must not seek to know the Word who is divine apart from the divine words of the Bible, and we ought not read the words of the Bible without an eye to the Word incarnate. When it comes to seeing God and his truth in Christ and in Holy Scripture, one is not more reliable, more trustworthy, or more relevant than the other. Scripture, because it is the breathed out word of God, possesses the same authority as the God-man Jesus Christ.
By Russell D. Moore:
The Internet is abuzz with conversation about the “T” in “LGBT” this week, after California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law legislation supporting “equal access” for students who believe themselves to be the opposite gender from their biological sex. As a conservative evangelical Christian, I believe the so-called transgender question will require a church with a strong theological grounding, and a winsome pastoral footing.
Ultimately, the transgender question is about more than just sex. It’s about what it means to be human.
Poet Wendell Berry responded to techno-utopian scientism with the observation that civilization must decide whether we see persons as creatures or as machines. If we are creatures, he argued, then we have purpose and meaning, but also limits. If we see ourselves, and the world around us, as a machine, then we believe the Faustian myth of our own limitless power to recreate ourselves.
This is, it seems to me, the question at the heart of the transgender controversy. Are we created, as both the Hebrew Scriptures and Jesus put it, “male and female,” from the beginning or are these categories arbitrary and self-willed? Do our bodies, and our sexes, represent something of who we were designed to be, and thus impose limits on our ability to recreate ourselves?
Laws such as those in California will quickly test the boundaries of society’s tolerance for a psychological and individualistic definition of gender. There are reasons, after all, why societies put boys and girls in different bathrooms, men and women on different sports teams. When gender identity is severed from biological sex, where does one’s self-designation end, and who will be harmed in the process?
As conservative Christians, we do not see transgendered persons as ”freaks” to be despised or ridiculed. We acknowledge that there are some persons who feel alienated from their identities as men or as women. Of course that would be the case in a fallen universe in which all of us are alienated, in some way, from how God created us to be.
But we don’t believe this alienation can be solved by pretending as though we have Pharaoh-like dominion over our maleness or femaleness. These categories we believe (along with every civilization before us) are about more than just self-construction, and they can’t be eradicated by a change of clothes or chemical tinkering or a surgeon’s knife, much less by an arbitrary announcement in the high school gym.
The transgender question means that conservative Christian congregations such as mine must teach what’s been handed down to us, that our maleness and femaleness points us to an even deeper reality, to the unity and complementarity of Christ and the church. A rejection of the goodness of those creational realities then is a revolt against God’s lordship, and against the picture of the gospel that God had embedded in the creation.
But this also means that we will love and be patient with those who feel alienated from their created identities. We must recognize that some in our churches will face a long road of learning what it means to live as God created them to be, as male or female. That sort of long, slow, plodding and sometimes painful obedience is part of what Jesus said would be true of every believer: the bearing of a cross. That cross-bearing reminds us that God doesn’t receive us because of our own effort but because God reconciled us to himself through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Our transgendered neighbors will disagree with us, of course, that discipleship means an acceptance of who we are as men and women, and that our selves are not separate from our bodies. We should expect such disagreements. But we believe we can no more surgically alter our gospel than we can surgically alter our gender.
All we can do is say what we believe as Christians: that all of us are sinners, and that none of us are freaks. We must conclude that all of us are called to repentance, and part of what repentance means is to receive the gender with which God created us, even when that’s difficult. We must affirm that God loves all persons, and that the gospel is good news for repentant prodigal sons and daughters, even for those who have trouble figuring out which is which.
Sound theology should shape everything we do in corporate worship. But what does that mean for music in particular? Don Carson recently sat down with worship leaders Keith Getty and Matt Boswell to discuss the relationship between the truth we believe and the songs we sing.
The best book on the doctrine of Scripture has never been written, and is by J.I. Packer.
Every time I teach on the doctrine of Scripture, I find myself reaching for a few J.I. Packer quotations that have coalesced in my memory to form a complete statement on bibliology. But when I reach for the book they’re in, I discover that they’re not in a book. They’re in three different books: ‘Fundamentalism’ and the Word of God (1958), God Has Spoken: Revelation and the Bible (1965, rev 2005), and Truth and Power: The Place of Scripture in the Christian Life (1996).
I don’t know how Packer or his publishers think of these books, but I think of them as his Scripture trilogy. They don’t exactly fit together tightly, and don’t seem to be part of a plan. There is a great deal of repetition among them. They were provoked by very different situations and aimed at different audiences. The ‘Fundamentalism’ book is feisty and contrarian, God Has Spoken was first written specifically for Anglicans, and Truth and Power is itself gathered up from disparate essays to make a book.
None of the three is perfect, but I shelve them together, and taken together these 500 pages cover most of what I need for a doctrine of Scripture. It’s also worth noting that Packer has written more than this on bibliology; the fugitive pieces are tracked by Paul R. House in the chapter “God has Spoken: The Primacy of Scripture in J.I. Packer’s Ministry,” in J.I. Packer and the Evangelical Future: The Impact of His Life and Thought.
A few favourite lines. From ‘Fundamentalism’ and the Word of God:
Accordingly, we shall contend that ‘Fundamentalism’ (in so far as consistent Evangelicalism is meant by this term) is in principle nothing but Christianity itself. (p. 22) (Packer goes on to give reasons why the word itself is not helpful in 1958, p. 30ff)
Poetry, according to Wordsworth, consists of emotion recollected in tranquility. Doctrine, according to Liberalism, has a precisely similar character. (p. 26)
One reason why Evangelicals are regarded by some as obscurantist is that, in fact, they sometimes are. (p. 36)
But if the term ‘Evangelicalism’ be given its historic meaning –fidelity to the doctrinal content of the gospel– then ‘liberal Evangelicalism’ is a contradiction in terms… (p. 38)
It is true that many sixteenth- and seventeenth-century theologians spoke of Scripture as ‘dictated by the Holy Ghost’; but all they meant by this was that the authors wrote word for word what God intended. The language of dictation was invoked to signify not the method or psychology of God’s guidance of them, but simply the fact and result of it; not the nature of their own mental processes, but the relation of what they wrote to the divine intention. (p. 78)
According to Scripture, God reveals Himself to men both by exercising power for them and by teaching truth to them. Indeed, the biblical position is that the mighty acts of God are not revelation to man at all, except in so far as they are accompanied by words of God to explain them. Leave man to guess God’s mind and purpose, and he will guess wrong; he can know it only by being told it. (p. 92)
From God Has Spoken:
Scripture… proves itself to be God’s authentic word by mediating God’s presence, power and personal address to us in and by its record of men’s knowledge of Him long ago. (p. 19)
God judges our pride by leaving us to the barrenness, hunger, and discontent which flow from our self-induced inability to hear His Word. (p. 26)
Revelation is a verbal activity. ‘God spoke.’ This is not a metaphor for some non-verbal mode of communication; the verb is being used as literally a any human words about God can ever be. (p. 63)
The fact we must face is that if there is no verbal revelation, there is no revelation at all, not even in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. (p. 73)
From Truth and Power:
The Bible is and always has been the book of the church, the source of its faith, thought, preaching, order, worship, praise, prayer and song. The inseparability is conscious; the church always has been, and when in its senses has tried to show itself to be, the church of the book, learning its identity, calling, mission, knowledge of God and knowledge of itself in and under God from the pages of Holy Writ. (p. 47)
Have you ever noticed that we use the phrase ‘Word of God’ in two sense? Sometimes we use it to mean the text of Scripture, as when we call printed Bibles copies of the Word of God. That is a natural usage, but not a strictly scriptural one. When the Bible uses ‘word of God’ in revelatory contexts, it means God’s message, either (as int he prophets) a particular occasional communication to some person or persons or (as in the New Testament) the gospel, God’s message to the world, or (as in Ps. 119) the total message of the Scriptures. (p. 105)
Suppose one resolves before God to make the quest for life and health and peace through Jesus Christ one’s priority and to that end to become a latter-day Bible moth. (p. 148)
J.I. Packer’s words, as relevant today as they were in 1958:
“The honest way to commend God’s revealed truth to an unbelieving generation is not to disguise it as a word of man, and to act as if we could never be sure of it, but had to keep censoring and amending it at the behest of the latest scholarship, and dared not believe it further than historical agnosticism gives us leave; but to preach it in a way which shows the world that we believe it wholeheartedly, and to cry to God to accompany our witness with His Spirit, so that we too may preach ‘in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.’
The apologetic strategy that would attract converts by the flattery of accommodating the gospel to the ‘wisdom’ of sinful man was condemned by Paul nineteen centuries ago, and that past hundred years have provided a fresh demonstration of its bankruptcy.
The world may call its compromises ‘progressive’ and ‘enlightened’ (those are its names for all forms of thought that pander to its conceit); those who produce them will doubtless, by a natural piece of wishful thinking, call them ‘bold’ and ‘courageous,’ and perhaps ‘realistic’ and ‘wholesome,’ but the Bible condemns them as sterile aberrations. And the Church cannot hope to recover its power till it resolves to turn its back on them. (Fundamentalism and the Word of God, 168)”
(HT: Kevin DeYoung)
If you ever wondered why we at Desiring God write so much about doctrinal particularities, here’s one answer.
If glory includes beauty, as I wrote last week, it includes lines. They may be curved or straight. But without lines there is no form. You would never see a cloud, if there were no border to it. The whole sky would be one color. You would never see the sun or the moon or a baseball, if there were no circumference. Never see an oak leaf, if there were no fingered outline. Never see a human face, if the cheeks and nose and brow and chin had no edge.
Therefore the glory of Christ has lines. Without them, “glory” is just a word. These lines define forms of beauty. Aspects of glory. Particularities that can be seen and enjoyed. This is who Jesus is. He is not a vague glory. He is a glorious coherence of particular glories that have lines.
Jesus is real. He is not a smudge of wonder. As you turn the lens of Scripture correctly, he comes into amazing focus, yes, even with our present limitations (1 Corinthians 13:12). We do not worship a formless glory.
So look for the lines, the form, the particularities of his person, his specific beauties.
I am praying that my pastor and the church I love would live for
- the glory of the Jesus who was in the beginning with God and was God (John 1:1).
- the glory of the Jesus who shed his blood to seal the new covenant for his people (Luke 22:20).
- the glory of the Jesus who said, “I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:15).
- the glory of the Jesus who said, “No one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27).
- the glory of the Jesus who said, “You do not believe because you are not among my sheep” (John 10:26).
- the glory of the Jesus who said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me” (John 6:37).
- the glory of the Jesus who said, “No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father” (John 6:65).
- The glory of the Jesus who wept over Jerusalem, saying, “Would that you had known the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes” (Luke 19:41–42).
So when you pray, and when you worship, remember there is no beauty without lines. And there are ways to draw the lines of glory that are not the glory of Christ. Know your Bible well. Trace its lines. And worship this Christ
As you read what Jonathan Edwards said about Scripture, ask yourself if it reflects your own point of view:
“I had then, and at other times, the greatest delight in the holy scriptures, of any book whatsoever. Oftentimes in reading it, every word seemed to touch my heart. I felt a harmony between something in my heart, and those sweet and powerful words. I seemed often to see so much light exhibited by every sentence, and such a refreshing food communicated, that I could not get along in reading; often dwelling long on one sentence, to see the wonders contained in it; and yet almost every sentence seemed to be full of wonders” (Personal Narrative).
How far removed this is from the declarations of boredom that I so often hear from people who describe their reaction to reading Scripture! I think what Edwards here refers to must be what the author of Psalm 119 had in mind when he spoke repeatedly of the impact of Scripture on his soul. Consider the following brief sampling, and ask yourself if such vivid and passionate language accurately portrays your attitude toward the glory and power of God’s Word:
“In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches” (v. 14).
“I will delight in your statutes” (v. 16).
“My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times” (v. 20).
“Your testimonies are my delight” (v. 24).
“Behold, I long for your precepts” (v. 40).
“for I find my delight in your commandments, which I love” (v. 47).
“The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces” (v. 72).
“Oh how I love your law!” (v. 97).
“How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (v. 103).
“Your testimonies are my heritage forever, for they are the joy of my heart” (v. 111).
“Therefore I love your commandments above gold, above fine gold” (v. 127).
“I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil” (v. 162).
“My soul keeps your testimonies; I love them exceedingly” (v. 167).
By Tim Challies:
The moment Martin Luther nailed his “Ninety-Five Theses” to the door of the university chapel at Wittenberg, he set into motion a series of events that brought about a great Reformation. This Reformation would soon spread beyond Germany and as it did so, it would forever transform the Christian faith. One of the jewels of that Reformation is now in the collection of the British Library: William Tyndale’s New Testament. It is the next of the twenty-five objects through which we are telling the history of Christianity.
William Tyndale was born in 1494 in Gloucestershire, England. Born into a wealthy family he had the privilege of studying at Magdalen Hall, Oxford and at Cambridge. He was a brilliant scholar who was soon fluent in eight languages. At Cambridge he studied theology, but remarked later that the study of theology had involved little study of the Bible. Also at Cambridge he encountered the teachings of Desiderius Erasmus and became convinced that the Bible alone should be the Christian’s rule of faith and practice and that, for this reason, every Christian ought to have access to the Bible in his own tongue. The established church regarded these as dangerous ideas associated with Lutheranism and the Reformers. His controversial opinions led him to a disciplinary appearance before the Chancellor of the Diocese of Worcester, but no formal charges were laid against him.
In 1523 Tyndale went to London to seek support for a new English translation of the Scriptures that would be based on Erasmus’ Greek New Testament text. In that day the Latin Vulgate remained the authorized translation of the Bible and only fragments of God’s Word were available in English. He hoped that Cuthbert Tunstall, bishop of London, would sponsor this work, but Tunstall declined, being more concerned with preventing the spread of Lutheran ideas than with the study of the Bible.
Realizing that England would not be a safe place to complete this English translation, Tyndale departed for mainland Europe. He would never return to his native land. He initially sought Luther’s help and settled in Germany, perhaps even in Wittenberg. By 1525 he had completed his translation of the New Testament and had begun having it printed in Cologne. However, before even a single volume could be completed, the Dean of Frankfurt learned of the project and made Cardinal Wolsey aware of Tyndale’s presence and activities. Tyndale was forced to flee for his life and ended up at Worms where Peter Schoeffer, a sympathetic printer, completed the first volumes. These were soon smuggled into England in bales of cloth. Though it was illegal to own or to read a Tyndale Bible, there was unrelenting demand for them and they were snatched up the moment they arrived on England’s shores.
The volume in the British Library is one of 3,000 Schoeffer printed, and one of only two to survive. It is small–pocket-sized–ideal for smuggling and concealing, and far different from the oversized Bibles of the day that were meant to be displayed on lecterns and pulpits. The original binding has been lost and it is now bound in red leather with gold tooling. It is beautifully illuminated with coloring added by one of its owners long after its printing.
Of course the book itself is far less important than the words, for it was in translating the words of Scripture that Tyndale left his enduring mark. Earlier in his life, in the midst of a theological disagreement with an ignorant clergyman, Tyndale had exclaimed, “I defy the Pope, and all his laws; and if God spares my life, ere many years, I will cause a boy that driveth the plow to know more of the Scriptures than thou dost!” The rest of his life was dedicated to this task and it was accomplished in his New Testament.
Tyndale’s New Testament would have an immediate influence on English Christianity. As he translated from Greek he replaced many traditional words with new ones reflecting his Protestant theology: “Congregation” was used in place of “Church;” “repentance” replaced “penance,” and “elder” replaced “priest.” Where the Bible had been available to only the few with knowledge of Latin, it was now in the common tongue and even the lowly plow boy could read it.
Tyndale’s influence would be felt in his day, but also long afterward. His influence is seen in every subsequent English translation. Scholars estimate that between eighty and eighty-five percent of the King James Version of the New Testament is Tyndale’s, along with more than seventy percent of the Pentateuch. Many words in the Christian lexicon that we take for granted today were coined by Tyndale: passover, atonement, Jehovah, scapegoat, and many more. So too with many precious phrases: “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted,” “salt of the earth” and “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” It is not going too far to state that Tyndale must be credited as one of the inventers of modern English.
After Tyndale completed his New Testament translation, he began to translate the Old Testament from Hebrew, completing the first five books along with Jonah. In 1534 Henry VIII led the Church of England in its split with Rome and at this point Tyndale moved to Antwerp and began to exercise less caution. A friend soon betrayed him and he was arrested. After spending more than a year in prison, Tyndale was charged with heresy and treason. On October 6, 1536, he was strangled to death and then burned at the stake. His final words were a prayer: “Lord, open the king of England’s eyes.” This prayer would soon be answered, for just three years later Henry would publish his “Great Bible,” based substantially on Tyndale’s work.
At the cost of his life, William Tyndale set God’s Word free in the English language, and once set free, it would prove itself living, active, and sharper than any two-edged sword. It would make an indelible imprint upon the souls of countless individuals and the lives of entire nations.
For more on Tyndale’s enduring influence, you may wish to consult this excellent article.
By Ron Man:
The Word of God is of supreme importance in the life of the Christian, containing as it does God’s revelation of his Person, his will and his ways. The Word needs to be pored over, ingested into one’s mind and heart, meditated on, and acted upon. It is a unique and precious repository of spiritual truth and guidance and encouragement. There is no aspect of the life of the church or of the individual believer that should not be tied to a scriptural mooring and infused with biblical substance (2 Tim 3:16-17). The Bible is indeed ”a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Ps 119:105).
When Christians gather for corporate worship, it is logical that the Word of God should play a central and dominant role. For since worship involves focusing our thoughts and hearts and voices on the praise of God, in response to his self-revelation and his gracious saving initiative, we of course need that view of God which the Word gives us if our worship is to be “in truth” (John 4:23-24). Our worship can only duly honor God if it accurately reflects what he reveals about himself in his Word.
The Word Neglected
That said, the astounding observation has been made as to how little use is made of Scripture in the worship services of most evangelical churches. The irony of course is that those who claim most strongly to stand on the Bible have so little of it in their worship. While the sermon of course takes a prominent role in our services, even preaching consists mostly of talking about the Scriptures (often after reading just a very few verses). It must be said that liturgical groups (whether on the more liberal or the more conservative end of the spectrum theologically) have probably ten times as much actual Scripture in their services (because it is built into their liturgies) as most evangelical free churches!
In too many of our churches the entire first part of the service consists just of music, and no Scripture is read at all. This author has experienced this often in both traditional and contemporary services: the problem is pervasive. It would seem crucially important for people in a service, believers and unbelievers, to hear (and/or see printed in a bulletin or flashed on a screen) verses of Scripture chosen to give a clear signal that: “We have come to worship God. The Word is how we know about God, and therefore it is the foundation for all that we do here and for our understanding of why we have come together.” Without hearing such a declaration, worshippers make the faulty assumption (consciously or unconsciously) that we invite ourselves into God’s presence, when in actuality it is only by virtue of his invitation (and his opening the way through the work of Christ) that we may come before him at all.
As James White puts it, “the first step toward making our worship more biblical is in giving the reading of God’s Word a central role in Christian worship on any occasion” (“Making Our Worship More Biblical,” Perkins Journal 34:38). We simply cannot overstate the importance of Scripture for our worship. By all means, let us be as creative as possible in building in Scripture (verses on banners or projected onto a screen as people enter, verses on the bulletin cover, readers’ theatre, children reciting verses, original Scripture songs, etc), but let us make sure that the primacy of the Word in worship is obvious throughout the entire service—not just during the sermon. As White adds: Scripture is read, not just for a sermon text, but to hear what word God addresses to the gathered congregation. Preaching usually builds on that but Scripture is read for its own sake as God’s Word . . . . It needs to be communicated to all that the centrality of Scripture stems from its functions as proclamation of God’s Word to the gathered people (38).
In Scripture we find the prerequisites for worship, the invitation to worship, the authority for worship, the material for worship, the regulation of our worship, the message of worship, and the end to which worship should lead.
The Word and the Prerequisites for Worship.
The Word of God helps to bring us to the point where our approach to God in worship is possible: it teaches us that we are dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1); it reveals that God has provided for redemption, forgiveness, and eternal life through the work of Jesus Christ; and it presents the opportunity to come by faith into a right relationship with the Father. “The washing of water with the Word” (Ephesians 5:26) provides the spiritual cleanliness which God requires for us to be able to enter confidently into his presence (Ps 15:1-2; Heb 10:19-22; 12:18-24).
The Word as the Inviter to Worship.
God has done everything to make our approach in worship possible, and in his Word he extends the invitation (yea, command) to draw near. The Old Testament book of worship, the Psalter, is replete with calls to “praise the Lord!” (Hebrew: hallelujah). As the Danish hymn (text by Thomas Kingo, 1634-1703), puts it: We come, invited by your Word, To kneel before your altar, Lord.
The Word as the Authority for Worship.
The fact of the matter is that every aspect of the service should serve to reflect and honour the Word of God. The sermon (and the preacher) must be subservient to the Word: the Word must guide and control the preacher’s thoughts and words if the sermon is to communicate God’s message and not just the ideas of man. But also the music must be subservient to the Word: the texts must reflect and express biblical truth, and the music itself must be a suitable medium to carry the text; the musician(s) must also be subservient to the Word in terms of motivation and execution of the music. In addition, prayers and readings must be consistent with biblical teaching, if not actually taken from Scripture. As John MacArthur has put it, “If we are to worship in truth and the Word of God is truth, we must worship out of our understanding of the Word of God” (The Ultimate Priority, 122-23).
The Word as the Material for Worship.
Gary Furr and Milburn Price have suggested a number of ways in which the revelation of the Word can be communicated in the service, besides the sermon: Scripture readings of all sorts, music (setting Scripture texts, and also faithfully presenting scriptural truth in paraphrased or freely composed form), symbols (fish, cross, stained glass, etc.), carefully used drama (The Dialogue of Worship, 8- 15). When Scripture and scriptural truth are pervasive in the service, then the acts of response will properly be understood as response to God’s self- revelation through His Word.
The Word as the Regulator of Worship.
Worship must be guided and channelled by truth, i.e. be in accordance with what God has revealed about Himself and His ways (and, as John 4:25-26 shows, must be through the Son, the Messiah, who is the truth [John 15:6]). As Furr and Price state: “This is the perfect blend: emotion regulated by understanding, enthusiasm directed by the Word of God” (125).
The Word and the Message of Worship.
Preaching is part of worship, and leads to worship. Indeed, John Piper calls preaching “expository exultation” and adds: “The all-pervasive, all- important, all-surpassing reality in every text is God. Whether he is commanding or warning or promising or teaching he is there. And where he is, he is always supreme. And where he is supreme he will be worshipped” (“Preaching as Worship”).
The Word and the End of Worship.
The Word should rightly be exalted in our worship (because it is the Word of God), but not as an end in itself. For the ultimate goal of worship (as of the church and of our lives as believers) is to display and pro- claim and magnify the glory of God. The glory of God will be well served in our worship as the Word speaks of the wonders of his person and his ways through reading, preaching, praying, singing, meditating, and practising ordinances which are infused with and reflective of scriptural truth. The Word will enable us to obey its own command to “praise him according to his excellent greatness” (Ps 150:2).
Ron Man is the director of Worship Resources International, author of Proclamation and Praise: Hebrews 2:12 and the Christology of Worship (Wipf & Stock, 2006), and produces Worship Notes, a free monthly online newsletter. Follow Ron on Twitter @ronmanwri.
A soft answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.
What is the wise response to an angry person who says something cruel, false or demanding? Proverbs 15:1 helps us in those awkward moments at home, at work, in our churches.
The key is “a soft answer.”
So, you’re standing there, stunned by those words that have just exploded in your face. In that instant of decision, as your mind is forming a response, “a soft answer” is the category you need. What is that?
Maybe, for Sure
The word “soft” means tender, delicate, gentle, even weak. We don’t like being weak, especially when we find ourselves in the crosshairs of anger. We would rather justify ourselves. It is hard to be wronged. It is doubly hard to be wronged and not fight back but respond softly.
Of course, if the angry person is a heretic, bent on wrecking your church, he or she must be confronted strongly. But if that person is not a danger but only immature, then a tender, delicate, soft, weak answer might help that person see things in a new way. Maybe not. Maybe nothing will help. When God himself answered Jonah’s anger softly, Jonah wasn’t satisfied (Jonah 4:1–11). But with the wisdom of Proverbs 15:1, the tension in the air might not escalate. The awkward moment might even be turned into something positive.
But dishing out anger in response to anger will surely go badly. Here is what we can always expect: “. . .a harsh word stirs up [more] anger.” A harsh – literally, “painful” – response can include words with sharp edges, a tone of sarcasm, implied threats of retaliation. There are many ways for the encounter to escalate quickly.
God Gets the Last Word
The Bible gives us many encouragements to restrain ourselves when people are unkind. For example, “You shall reason frankly with your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:17). “Let your reasonableness be known to all” (Philippians 4:4). “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” (Colossians 3:15).
Most wonderfully, we have in our Savior the perfect example of wisdom: “When Christ was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23).
That helps, doesn’t it? It helps to remember that God sees, and God judges justly. Sometimes people judge unjustly. They don’t mean to. They just do. But God always judges justly. So, we don’t have to get in the last word. On that great and final day, God will finish every conversation in this life that didn’t go well. He will do so with perfect justice, fully satisfying to every redeemed heart. Let’s trust him for that now, whenever we are under this kind of pressure.
Venting is the world’s foolish way, intensifying conflict. Restraint is the Lord’s wise way, spreading shalom. And the Lord’s way succeeds. It might satisfy our aggressor, and it will surely safeguard us.
10 things God has done (or will do) that He specifically says He did for His own glory:
1. God created us for His glory.
a. Isaiah 43:6-7: God says, “bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”
b. Isaiah 43:21: God describes His people as: “the people whom I formed for myself, that they might declare my praise.”
2. God forgives sins for His glory .
a. Isaiah 43:25: God says, “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.”
b. Psalm 25:11: “For your name’s sake, O LORD, pardon my guilt, for it is great.”
3. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart for His glory.
a. Exodus 14:4, 14:17-18: God says, “And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD…And I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they shall go in after them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, his chariots, and his horsemen. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.”
b. Romans 9:17: “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’”
4. God will not abandon His people for His glory.
a. 1 Samuel 12:22: “For the LORD will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the LORD to make you a people for himself.”
5. God rescued His people from Egypt for His glory.
a. Psalm 106:7-8: “Our fathers, when they were in Egypt, did not consider your wondrous works; they did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love, but rebelled by the sea, at the Red Sea. Yet he saved them for his name’s sake, that he might make known his mighty power.”
6. Jesus came for the glory of God.
a. John 12:27-28: Jesus said, “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”
b. John 17:1, 4-5: “When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you…I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.”
c. Romans 15:8-9: Paul says, “For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.”
7. God chose us, adopted us, saved us, and sealed us for His glory.
a. Ephesians 1:3-14: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”
8. Jesus answers prayers for His glory.
a. John 14:13: Jesus said, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
9. God gave the Holy Spirit to us for His glory.
a. John 16:13-14: Jesus said, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
10. Jesus is coming again for His glory.
a. 2 Thessalonians 1:9-10: “They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.”
b. Philippians 2:9-11: “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
In the beginning was the Word. Christians rightly cherish the declaration that our Savior, the crucified and resurrected Lord Jesus Christ, is first known as the Word — the one whom the Father has sent to communicate and to accomplish our redemption. We are saved because the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
Believers are then assigned the task of telling others about the salvation that Christ has brought, and this requires the use of words. We tell the story of Jesus by deploying words, and we cannot tell the story without them. Our testimony, our teaching, and our theology all require the use of words. Words are essential to our worship, our preaching, our singing, and our spiritual conversation. In other words, words are essential to the Christian faith and central in the lives of believers.
As Martin Luther rightly observed, the church house is to be a “mouth house” where words, not images or dramatic acts, stand at the center of the church’s attention and concern. We live by words and we die by words.
Truth, life, and health are found in the right words. Lies, disaster, and death are found in the wrong words. The Apostle Paul warned Timothy, “If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.” [1 Timothy 6:3-5]
Later, Paul will instruct Timothy that sound words come to us in a revealed pattern. “Follow the pattern of sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” [2 Timothy 1:13-14]
Theological education is a deadly serious business. The stakes are so high. A theological seminary that serves faithfully will be a source of health and life for the church, but an unfaithful seminary will set loose a torrent of trouble, untruth, and sickness upon Christ’s people. Inevitably, the seminaries are the incubators of the church’s future. The teaching imparted to seminarians will shortly be inflicted upon congregations, where the result will be either fruitfulness or barrenness, vitality or lethargy, advance or decline, spiritual life, or spiritual death.
Sadly, the landscape is littered with theological institutions that have poorly taught and have been poorly led. Theological liberalism has destroyed scores of seminaries, divinity schools, and other institutions for the education of the ministry. Many of these schools are now extinct, even as the churches they served have been evacuated. Others linger on, committed to the mission of revising the Christian faith in order to make peace with the spirit of the age. These schools intentionally and boldly deny the pattern of sound words in order to devise new words for a new age — producing a new faith. As J. Gresham Machen rightly observed almost a century ago, we do not really face two rival versions of Christianity. We face Christianity on the one hand and, on the other hand, some other religion that selectively uses Christian words, but is not Christianity.
How does this happen? Rarely does an institution decide, in one comprehensive moment of decision, to abandon the faith and seek after another. The process is far more dangerous and subtle. A direct institutional evasion would be instantly recognized and corrected, if announced honestly at the onset. Instead, theological disaster usually comes by means of drift and evasion, shading and equivocation. Eventually, the drift accumulates into momentum and the school abandons doctrine after doctrine, truth claim after truth claim, until the pattern of sound words, and often the sound words themselves, are mocked, denied, and cast aside in the spirit of theological embarrassment.
Justin Taylor posts:
Daniel Darling, writing for Leadership, asks Don Carson, “You’ve often said that the Church is three generations from losing the gospel entirely. What advice would you give to pastors and church leaders to ensure that this doesn’t happen?” Here is his answer:
This question is an important one, but very difficult to answer in a few lines.
Read and meditate on the Scriptures constantly, and self-consciously place yourself under Scriptural authority.
Walk with epistemological humility—and that means carefully learning from Christian leaders in the past so we do not tumble into precisely the same mistakes.
Devote yourself to disciplined prayer. A prayerless person is a disaster waiting to happen.
Never stop evangelizing: it is much easier to get sloppy about the gospel if you are not proclaiming it and seeing men and women come to Christ.
Develop close attachments with a handful of trusted people who are experienced and discerning, and make time for edifying fellowship.
If you are a pastor, read widely—commentaries, theology, historical theology, devotional literature, and so forth. A pastor must be a general practitioner. One is far more likely to make mistakes of proportion and judgement where one sees oneself as a kind of specialist.
By Scott Redd:
I am increasingly hesitant to use the phrase “finding Christ in the Old Testament” (or Pentateuch, Psalter, or Wisdom Literature, and so on). It seems to imply that the person of Christ is merely a theme among others to be mined from the Old Testament alongside other themes such as justification, resurrection, or the like.
The second person of the Trinity made incarnate is, of course, more than simply a theme of God’s self-revelation in the Old Testament Scriptures. He is the culmination of God’s self-revelation in all of history, the perfect embodiment of the godhead (Col 2:9). To a certain extent, we could say that the quest to find Christ in the Old Testament is analogous to the quest to find Thomas Jefferson in Declaration of Independence. Christ is everywhere throughout the Old Testament. It speaks of him explicitly and implicitly, in promises, patterns, types, hints, and images. Through these various ways the Old Testament reveals and anticipates the richness of his character: his work, his life, his glory, his hope, his might, his love, his suffering, his wisdom, and so much more, and it does this all before the historical event of his incarnation.
The OT witness to Christ is as rich and varied as are all of the functions he performs. When evangelicals talk about Christ in the Old Testament, they tend to look for images, patterns, or outright anticipations of Christ’s work of substitutionary atonement. Of course, Christ’s work as once-and-for-all sacrifice is central to the Christian hope for salvation, but it only gets at part of the distinct and lordly character and work of the Son of God himself.
In fact, the New Testament claims that Christ fulfills the Old Testament in many ways. Just to name a few, Christ is:
- Old Testament covenant Lord (John 8:58; see also kurios as title for Christ)
- Sovereign eschatological king (Rev. 21:22)
- Key actor in creation (John 1:1-5 [Genesis 1])
- True Israel (Matt. 2:15 [Hos 11:1]; John 15:1-17)
- The temple of God (John 2:19-21)
- Restorer from exile (Matt 3:3 [Isa. 40:3; Mar 1:3; Luke 3:4; John 1:23])
- Final and authoritative prophet (Heb 1:2)
- Heir to the world (Heb 1:2; Ps 2:8)
- Sustainer of his people in wilderness (1 Cor 10:4 [Exod. 17:6])
- Foundation of human salvation (Acts 4:11 [Ps. 118:22])
- Wisdom teacher par excellence (Matt 12:42 [Luke 11:31])
- The very wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:23)
Let’s look more closely at how Christ is revealed in the wisdom literature of the Old Testament, primarily Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes.
If Jesus is, in fact, what he claims to be, the sage “greater than Solomon” (Matt 12:42)—essentially a superlative meaning “the greatest sage ever”—then we expect that he will excel in the field of wisdom in every way. For instance, the first step or principle of wisdom is “the fear of the Lord” (Prov 1:7; 9:10), which Bruce Waltke describes as both a moral and emotional stance toward the Lord (see also Pss 19:7-9; 34:11).
As the only truly righteous son of God, we would not be surprised to learn that Christ exhibits such righteous fear of the Lord in a way no other wisdom teacher possibly can.
This principle can be extended to the whole of wisdom teaching. The wise sayings are more than mere guides for those aspire to godly wisdom; rather, when taken together, they provide a composite profile of the sage greater than Solomon. This is not a meaningless distinction, because for the rest of humanity, wisdom is a thing to be aspired to, something that requires hard work, failure, sacrifice, and commitment. For Christ, wisdom is his character profile. It is a description of his rich, skilled, insightful, and wise character.
Therefore, when we read about Job’s humiliation and suffering, his debates with his friends, his progression in the way of wisdom, and his final stand before the creator God, we are called to grow in the way that he has grown. When we read of Christ’s humiliation and suffering, we see the wise life already achieved and on display. Christ is the truly innocent sufferer whose authentic suffering is answered with perfect holiness and profound understanding of the character of God. As such he is both as a goal to be pursued and a cause for worship.
Wisdom and the King
Wisdom teaching in the Old Testament is almost always connected to kingly reign and the royal court. This is due in part to the central role King Solomon plays as the great sage of the Old Testament. The establishment of his kingdom is highlighted by his military and diplomatic successes as well as his feats of wisdom (1 Kings 4:29-34). It is likely that wisdom is mentioned because it is part of a particularly royal function in the Old Testament, along with naming animals and plant life (1 Kings 4:33). By exhibiting wisdom, the king shows his command over the realm of ideas and the skillful life. By naming plants and animals, he shows his command over taxonomy. Both of these tasks qualify the king for the role of representative human, the image bearer, like Adam working and increasing the garden and naming the specimens brought before him (Gen 2:40).
Wisdom is elsewhere connected to the royal court. The book of Ecclesiastes is associated with a king from the line of David (Ecc 1:1), and his grand observations are derived from his royal experience. Wisdom counselors, including Ahithophel (2 Sam 15:12), Zechariah (1 Chron 26:14), Jonathan (1 Chron 27:32), and the “men of Hezekiah” (Prov 25:1) are depicted as attending to the needs of Israelite kings. Many proverbs assume a royal setting (Prov 11:14; 24:6), particularly those attributed to kings Solomon (Proverbs 1:1; 10:1;25:1) and Lemuel (Prov 31:1,4).
For those thinking of Christ’s roles in terms of three “offices”—prophet, priest, and king—his function as sage would, therefore, emanate from his kingly office. Through his wisdom Christ shows his perfect lordship over the world, including the realm of ideas and the skills needed for the wise life. We should not be surprised to find that Jesus becomes known for speaking in “parables,” one of the Greek words used to translate the Hebrew word for “proverb” in ancient Greek translations of the Old Testament (see 1 Kings 4:32; Prov 1:6; Ecc 12:9; Sir 3:29).
Jesus is both the wise king and the king of wisdom.
Role of the Spirit
The Spirit of Christ testifies to his lordship and draws his followers into his service and worship (John 1:32; 15:26; Acts 15:8; Heb 1:15). As they grow in faith through the work of the Holy Spirit, they will to pursue wisdom as those who have tasted the benefits of the “wisdom of God” in Christ. By faithful gratitude, they will serve the sage-king greater than Solomon with delight. Bearing this “spirit of adoption” (Rom 8:15-16; cf. Prov 1:8; 1:10;1:15 2:1), they now sit at the teacher’s feet, celebrating and learning from his experience and applying the wisdom gained from it.
Paul takes things a step further by teaching that the atoning death of Christ on the cross grandly expresses God’s wisdom in contradiction to the “wisdom of the world” (1 Cor 1:24;2:7). For Paul, it falls to the church to proclaim such varied and wonderful wisdom to the world (Eph 3:10-11). Now that the church is equipped with the knowledge of the glorified Christ and the testimony of the Spirit, it can proclaim the wise teachings of the Old Testament in light of the ultimate wisdom teacher.
Christ’s followers can be consoled by the fact that their sage-king has suffered and died for their foolish sinfulness. He has bore the weight of their folly, and they have been united with him and his wisdom. As a result they are privileged to pursue biblical wisdom in freedom and loving acceptance, bound to succeed, fools no more.