On the Scriptures

books2.pngRead the series on the 1833 New Hampshire Confession of Faith so far.

The 1833 New Hampshire Confession of Faith has always been my personal favorite. It is relatively short, Baptist, Reformed, extraordinarily well-written and powerful. It will encourage any Christian’s heart. Here is the first article:

Of the Scriptures

We believe that the Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired, and is a perfect treasure of heavenly instruction;[1] that it has God for its author, salvation for its end,[2] and truth without any mixture of error for its matter;[3] that it reveals the principles by which God will judge us;[4] and therefore is, and shall remain to the end of the world, the true centre of Christian union,[5] and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and opinions should be tried.[6]

Here are some brief thoughts on this article:

We believe that the Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired,

The Bible was not written by ordinary men. It was written by “men moved by the Holy Spirit [who] spoke from God,” (2 Peter 1:21). The Apostle Peter said that “God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets,” (Acts 3:21). This is why the early church considered the Scriptures “the word of God,” (Acts 6:2). The writer of Hebrews quoted Psalm 95:7-11 (Heb 3:7-11), and specifically identified the Holy Spirit as the author of that psalm, even though it was written by a man!

The point is that the Bible is a special book, a unique book. That special book was written by God, through men “divinely inspired,” who were moved to pen precisely what God wanted through the filter of their own personality and character.

and is a perfect treasure of heavenly instruction; that it has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth without any mixture of error for its matter;

The Holy Scriptures are God’s special revelation to men, containing all that is necessary for us to know Him, understand our just condemnation for sin and wickedness, the provision of salvation through Christ’s life, death, burial and resurrection, and for Christian life and godliness (cf. 2 Peter 1:3).

The Bible’s “end” is to teach men about salvation; why they need it, how it is possible, what Christ has done to secure it for His children, and the means God uses to bring men, women, boys and girls to saving faith in His Son.

The Bible is completely truthful, and does not contain any error.[7]

that it reveals the principles by which God will judge us;

The Bible is the sole, infallible rule of faith for God’s people. This means it tells us all about ourselves; how we ought to act, and how we actually act. How we should love God, and how we actually love Him. The way men and women were originally made to serve God, and the way we actually rebel against Him, like the criminals, spiritual terrorists and children of wrath we actually are.

The Bible tells us why we’re sinful and unacceptable to God, explains His holiness and righteousness, and therefore explains the basis for our eternal condemnation and just punishment – if we reject the only way of salvation in Jesus Christ, who said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me,” (Jn 14:6).

and therefore is, and shall remain to the end of the world, the true centre of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and opinions should be tried.

The Bible is at the center of the Christian life, and therefore it is the universal point of contact which makes fellowship and cooperative ministry possible between all brothers and sisters in Christ – regardless of where they hail from.

Some Christians have a bizarre understanding of what the Reformation-era motto “Scripture Alone” means. Some think it implies a Christians needs literally nothing except the Bible. I’ve heard of people who shun exegetical commentaries and other reference books; “I don’t need them! I have the Holy Spirit and my Bible! I don’t want man’s opinion.” What silliness.

The principle of “Scripture Alone” has never meant this. It simply means that, although books, Pastors, creeds and confessions may be very helpful, the Bible is the only infallible rule of faith and practice for God’s people. It is the yardstick. It is the goalpost. As this confession explains, the Bible is “the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and opinions should be tried.”

Ps119:97 Oh, how I love thy law!
    It is my meditation all the day.
98 Thy commandment makes me wiser than my enemies,
    for it is ever with me.
99 I have more understanding than all my teachers,
    for thy testimonies are my meditation.
100 I understand more than the aged,
    for I keep thy precepts.
101 I hold back my feet from every evil way,
    in order to keep thy word.
102 I do not turn aside from thy ordinances,
    for thou hast taught me.
103 How sweet are thy words to my taste,
    sweeter than honey to my mouth!
104 Through thy precepts I get understanding;
    therefore I hate every false way.

Notes

[1] 2 Tim. 3:16, 17; 2 Pet. 1:21; 1 Sam. 23:2; Acts 1:16; 3:21; John 10:35; Luke 16:29–31; Psa. 119:111; Rom. 3:1. 2.

[2] 2 Tim. 3:15; 1 Pet. 1:10–12; Acts 11:14; Rom. 1:16; Mark 16:16; John 5:38, 39.

[3] Prov. 30:5, 6; John 17:17; Rev. 22:18, 19; Rom. 3:4.

[4] Rom. 2:12; John 12:47, 48; 1 Cor. 4:3, 4; Luke 10:10–16; 12:47, 48.

[5] Phil. 3:6; Eph. 4:3–6; Phil. 2:1, 2; 1 Cor. 1:10; 1 Pet. 4:11.

[6] 1 John 4:1; Isa. 8:20; 1 Thess. 5:21; 2 Cor. 13:5; Acts 17:11; 1 John 4:6; Jude 3:5; Eph. 6:17; Psa. 119:59, 60; Phil. 1:9–11.

[7] See the excellent discussion about inerrancy Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1998), 246-265.

An Embarrassment of Riches – The Reliability of the New Testament

I’ll be starting a series on the preservation of the scriptures soon. In preparation for this, I thought I’d share this neat infographic with you. The bottom line is that we have a huge amount of copies of the New Testament. It is by far the most well-attested book from all of antiquity. This series will focus on God’s providential preservation of His word for His people. In the meantime, this picture illustrates just how many copies of the various New Testament documents we have in comparison to copies of other ancient works.

Find other outstanding infographics at Visual Unit.

nt_reliability1

Why You Can Rely on the Canon

This is a short interview with Dr. Michael Kruger, author of Canon Revisited, a wonderful book I recommend. He also maintains a very helpful website, Canon Fodder. In this video, Dr. Kruger briefly discusses why Christians can trust the books of the New Testament.  It’s only 8:00 long, so watch it if you have a moment or two . . .

Sufficiency of the Scriptures (Part #1)

open-bible

A critical issue in our increasingly post-modern times is the sufficiency of the Scriptures. Both Roman Catholics with their sacred tradition and Charismatics with their emphasis on continuing revelation via the Holy Spirit give lip-service to the Holy Scriptures. However, to these groups, the Scriptures are not the sole authority for Christian faith and life. This is a significant dividing line, one with profound theological ramifications. Consider the results of a 1980 Gallup poll which sought to determine Christian’s opinions on religious authority. The question was, “If you, yourself, were testing your religious beliefs, which ONE of these four religious authorities would you turn to first?” The results are sobering, even more so when one acknowledges the statistics are 33 years old:[1]

table

The sufficiency of the Scriptures has fallen upon hard times. This series will examine what Scripture itself has to say on the matter. First, some brief statements from both orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics on the sufficiency of Scripture will be provided to set the stage, so to speak. Second, a biblical theology of books by several New Testament writers will be presented and their particular views on the sufficiency of Scripture analyzed in context. Third, an exposition will be presented on several critical passages relating to the sufficiency of the Scriptures. Fourth, the distinctly Baptist (and biblical) position of the New Testament being the sole authority for church polity is presented. Fifth, conclusions will be drawn. It will be demonstrated that the Scriptures alone are the only infallible authority for Christian faith and life.

Brief Statements

The objective principle of Protestantism maintains that the Bible, as the inspired record of revelation, is the only infallible rule of faith and practice.[2]

Scripture alone is the inerrant, infallible record of God’s revelation to mankind. But Scripture is more than the record of God’s revelation; it is itself the only infallible, inspired revelation from God that exists today. This is not to say that Scripture is equivalent to the sum total of all revelation that God has been pleased to disclose (Jn 20:30-31; 21:25). But it is to say that Scripture alone constitutes and conveys all that is necessary for God’s glory, man’s salvation, faith and life.[3]

The Reformers did recognize a Christian tradition, but only a Christian tradition based on, and derived from, Scripture, and not one that equaled or even surpassed it in authority.[4]

Roman Catholic theologians recognize two well-springs of divine authority; Scripture and Tradition.

Sacred tradition and sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together, and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing, and move towards the same goal . . . Hence, both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal feelings of devotion and reverence.[5]

James Cardinal Gibbons, a 19th century Catholic theologian, wrote:[6]

Now, the Scripture is the great depository of the Word of God. Therefore, the Church is the divinely appointed Custodian and Interpreter of the Bible. For, her office of infallible Guide were superfluous if each individual could interpret the Bible for himself.

The Catholic Church correctly teaches that our Lord and His Apostles included certain important duties of religion which are not recorded by the inspired writers (Jn 21:25) . . . We must conclude that the Scriptures alone cannot be a sufficient guide and rule of faith because they cannot, at any time, be within the reach of every inquirer; because they are not of themselves clear and intelligible even in matters of the highest importance, and because they do not contain all the truths necessary for salvation.

The next post will be a biblical theology of several books of the New Testament on the matter.


[1] Mike Willis, “The Unread Bible,” Truth Magazine, May 1, 1980, 291-292. http://www.truthmagazine.com/the-unread-bible.

[2] Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 7 vols. (Peabody, MS: Hendrickson, 2011), 7:16.

[3] David T. King, Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith, 3 vols. (Battle Ground, WA: Christian Truth, 2001), 1:43.

[4] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, combined ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996), 169.

[5] Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, Austin Flannery, O.P., general editor (Boston: St. Paul Editions, 1980), 754-755. Quoted in King, Holy Scripture, 50.

[6] James C. Gibbons, The Faith of Our Fathers, ch. 2. http://www.cathcorn.org/foof/8.html

The New Testament Books are the Earliest Christian Writings We Possess

Below is a linked article to a short blog series entitled “10 Basic Facts About the New Testament Every Christian Should Memorize.” The author is Michael Kruger, author of an excellent book on the canon of the New Testament entitled Canon Revisited.

This excerpt is from the first in the series, which emphasizes that Christians should know that the NT writings are the earliest Christian writings we have!

One of the most formidable challenges in any discussion about the New Testament canon is explaining what makes these 27 books unique.  Why these and not others?  There are many answers to that question, but in this blog post we are focusing on just one: the date of these books.  These books stand out as distinctive because they are earliest Christian writings we possess and thus bring us the closest to the historical Jesus and to the earliest church.   If we want to find out what authentic Christianity was really like, then we should rely on the writings that are the nearest to that time period.

The full article is here.

Scripture as Historical Source Documents

I must draw everybody’s attention to the new work by Candida Moss, entitled The Myth of Christian Persecution. I will reserve judgment on her work because I have not read it; however, I encourage everybody to read a short article where she summarizes her views on the matter here.

There is a tendency with liberal Christians and non-believers to deny the authenticity, let alone historicity, of Scripture from the outset. No serious scholar, of any theological persuasion, would deny that the NT is the most widely attested document from the ancient world. We can be more certain about the text of the NT than any other document from antiquity. However, such critics a priori dismiss them as historical source documents out of hand because their worldview will not accept anything else.

“Sure, they’re old documents,” they say. “We can’t actually take them seriously, though. They’re religious, after all . . .”

The irony is that such critics are blind to their own hostile starting point of enmity against God (Rom 1:18), while at the same time they castigate Christians for making inspired, inerrant Scripture their own starting point!

There is a wide divide between liberals and non-believers on one hand, and conservative, Bible believing Christians on the other. There is a tendency to want to toss the Bible aside and dive into the early church fathers to rebut some of Moss’ claims from her article. Surely the church fathers have a good amount of information to offer us, but we must never give up the validity and historical accuracy of the Scriptures themselves. If we do, we’ve already lost the battle before it even began.

This graphic, from Answers in Genesis, captures the opposing worldviews at play in any apologetic encounter. The picture depicts evolution vs creationism, but you get the idea . . .

The ultimate irony here, however, is that Moss contests the most basic fact of Christianity – Christ died for our sins and suffered persecution because He dared to proclaim the His divinity and preach the Gospel of the Kingdom (Mk 1:14-15). Christ promised the disciples that persecution would inevitably follow and prayed for their safety (Jn 17:14-15). The Gospel is inherently offensive to sinful men. How can it be otherwise? Moss’ contention that early persecution was a convenient myth is (1) an explicit contradiction of the testimony of Scripture and (2) an implicit admission of an exalted view of man, in that she would deny the Gospel is inherently offensive to sinful men who have no fear of God (Rom 3:9-18).

The Bizarre Mindset of Post-Modernism

Jay Bakker, son of Jim Bakker and Tammy Faye Messner, has a new ministry of his own in Minneapolis. Bakker recently celebrated  gay marriage by partaking of the Lord’s Supper with rainbow-colored communion bread. Bakker is typical of the post-modern, edgy, un-Biblical and heretical fringe of evangelicalism. In his company would be men like Rob Bell. communion19n-3-web

I have really tried to understand why people take such un-Biblical positions on issues which are so clear-cut. I know the reasons, I just don’t understand them!

1. Typically they have a low view of Scripture

2. Therefore the Bible does not contain final authority for Christian faith and life

3. Their exposition of Scripture is frequently non-existent or pitiful

4. They play to emotions rather than Biblical truth

5. Their worldview tends to be amazingly man-centered

6. Their theology, such as it is, is frequently heretical and un-Biblical

7. This last charge is meaningless to them, because to them, God has not spoken authoritatively and decisively on anything

The reason Bakker is evidently enjoying success in his new “bar/church” venture is because he is not confronting his “congregation” with their sin. The Gospel is clear on this matter – repent and believe (Mk 1:14-15). God is holy, and He commands His people to act holy as well (Lev 19:2; 1 Pet 1:16). There are certain standards expected of Christians. True salvation entails repentance from sin.

It is so sad to see such heresy enjoying such apparent success. I doubt a Bible preaching man could garner a fraction of the attention Bakker is getting, or even a fraction of the congregation.

I will be starting an intermittent series very soon, where I review and comment on a book which speaks to this mindset, specifically a low view of Scripture. The book is older (1991), but Bakker is nothing more than a product of this un-Biblical way of thinking. It breaks my heart that this heresy is considered Christianity.

The “Gospel” of Judas . . . ?

gospel-judas-1

A news story about the so-called “Gospel of Judas” is starting to receive attention from the media.

The Gospel of Judas is a fragmented Coptic (Egyptian)-language text that portrays Judas in a far more sympathetic light than did the gospels that made it into the Bible. In this version of the story, Judas turns Jesus over to the authorities for execution upon Jesus’ request, as part of a plan to release his spirit from his body. In the accepted biblical version of the tale, Judas betrays Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.

First, the document dates to 280 A.D., which is approximately 250 years after Jesus’ ministry, death, burial and resurrection.

Second, the author assumes a great deal about the canonization of the New Testament. There were good reasons why the Gospel of Judas was not accepted as authentic, inspired scripture by the early Christian community.

Third, this is not a tale. The Biblical account of Jesus’ ministry is a historical, objective fact.

Fourth, Jesus did not die on the cross “as part of a plan to release his spirit from his body.” This seems a bit mystical to me, and consistent with other false, Gnostic “gospels” the media and theological liberals like to trumpet from the rooftops.

Criteria

Briefly, these were the criteria for Scripture to be considered authentic in the early years of Christianity:

(1) It had to have been written by an actual Apostle of Christ (Mk 3:13-21) or a disciple

The New Testament was written by these men who walked with Christ and were taught by Him personally. It was written in their own lifetimes. The copy of this spurious “Gospel of Judas” was written 250 years later and conflicts with contemporary accounts. Not too trustworthy!

To place this in a modern context, say I suddenly produced a letter entitled, “The Memoirs of General Fred Hillbilly – Confederate General Extraordinaire.” Suppose in this letter, I claimed that General Robert E. Lee actually didn’t fight at Gettysburg at all – his army was routed while in camp and all his soldiers were asleep. Men were bayoneted in their tents, shot out of hand and all prisoners were hung without trial and tossed into mass, unmarked graves. It was a cold-blooded massacre, and the myth of Picket’s charge on the Union lines was invented to protect the reputation of the Union Army and President Lincoln. This is obviously ridiculous revisioist history, not to be taken seriously by any thinking person. This is precisely what this “Gospel of Judas” is to Christian history.

(2) It had to reflect the common, orthodox body of teaching received by the apostles and disciples

The Gospel of Judas did not reflect this teaching. Documents which did not reflect the accurate, corporate teaching of Christ and the apostles was given little weight. For example, “The Memoirs of General Fred Hillbilly – Confederate General Extraordinaire,” does not reflect accurate history. Likewise, the “Gospel” of Judas does not mesh with contemporary source documents – including Scripture. Never let anybody tell you Scripture cannot be trusted because it is “religious.”

(3) It has to have divine qualities – it testifies of itself

Inspired Scripture will speak to those who are genuinely saved and have the indwelling Holy Spirit (1 Cor 2:6-16). To those who have not been saved by the grace of God, it will be virtually incomprehensible. The whole weight of Scripture testifies to the authenticity of the Biblical account of Jesus’ betrayal at Judas’ hands. Satan was working in Judas’ heart, tempting him to betray Christ (Jn 13:2). Jesus stated one of the disciples would betray Him (Jn 13:21), and identified Judas as the man (Jn 13:26). Judas then fled into the night (Jn 13:27). This account is also given in Mt 26:14-16, Mk 14:10-11 and Lk 22:3-6. A false “gospel” which posits that the purpose of Christ’s death was to “release His spirit from His body” does not gel with the body of faith, or corporate teaching, of the rest of the New Testament.

When people think of “choosing the canon of Scripture,” they inevitably conjure up images of men sitting around a conference table, picking which books belong in the New Testament and which one’s don’t. It did not work this way! Those books which had the marks of authenticity, described above, grew in popularity and prominence and were gradually adopted over time by the great majority of the Christian churches in the first three hundred years or so after Christ’s death, burial, resurrection and ascension. In short, by the time lists of “orthodox” books began to circulate, the church fathers were not arbitrarily picking some to keep and some to toss in the trash –they were merely codifying what had already happened in the larger Christian community.

There is no reason to take this silly “gospel” seriously. Please force unbelievers and theological liberals to use these same standards of reasoning and apply them to undisputed historical figures – they will see the amazing double standard at work. Would anybody be willing to give “The Memoirs of General Fred Hillbilly – Confederate General Extraordinaire” the time of day? Then don’t give the “Gospel of Judas” the time of day either.

How Did Books Get Into the Bible?

Ever wonder why some Christian writings are in the Bible and others aren’t? Have you ever heard about “lost” Gospels that never made it into the canon? Why didn’t they?

We’ll take a look at this in the video, and respond to Dr. Bart Ehrman’s implication that writings the church considered “heretical” might deserve a place in the Bible. Even if you don’t care about Dr. Ehrman’s charge and just want to know the criteria for canonicity, this is a helpful video. Enjoy!