The Bloodless Speculation of Liberal Scholars

Dale Ralph Davis’ commentaries are some of the best expository commentaries out there. They are not technical commentaries, but pastoral, designed to help the Christian grow in his understanding of Scripture and how to apply Scripture. But that does not mean he is unaware of the technical arguments that dominate most commentaries. He often takes on the liberal scholars. It might come as a surprise to my readers but some scholars think Moses did not write the five books of the Bible, but rather they were compiled over many centuries by various authors who contradict each other. It may be equally surprising that liberal scholars believe many of the historical books, such Joshua and Judges, were written late or at least severely edited late (600-400 B.C.) or that Isaiah was written by several different authors at different times with many of his prophecies being written late. In short, liberal scholars have rejected the traditional authorship of many books of the Bible, have removed many elements of prophecy by dating them late, believe the Bible contradicts itself at places, and that many books were edited by later men to change the meaning.  Here is a a wonderful answer to this nonsense from a footnote in Davis’ commentary on Joshua. Right before this footnote, he says that Joshua was written specifically to remind the Judges generation to be faithful to the Lord.

A number of biblical critics would smile at such a naive proposal. To take the book of Joshua as unified entity at such an early date stretches credulity to say nothing of credibility. For them the hypothesis is too simple and too early. But evidence is not lacking for an early date…Simplicity is, in my book, a plus; the more complicated an explanatory critical theory becomes, the less probability it holds of being correct, since every additional element inserts new (frequently uncheckable) variables into the problem. Multiplying the variables in a theory multiplies the uncertainty of their describing the true course of events. Whether for a book or a chapter, the customary critical proposals inspire less confidence than the naive one. For chapter 22 [of Joshua], someone will hold we have Gilgal tradition and a Shiloh tradition-these may have been in conflict originally. Of course, a Deuteronomic editor contributes his material, and a Priestly hand adds his touches-nor must we forget another post-exilic redactor. Someone else will speculate differently. There are no controls; it is sheer guesswork. What’s more, it seldom makes any difference (except to place question marks after the reliability of Scripture).

The real problem with such bloodless speculation is that, after having done it, its practitioners strangely enough do not bother to tell us what their literary monstrosity has to say to the flock of God. The problem with most commentaries of such genres is that they can in no way nourish the church in godliness. Do they provide technical help-linguistic, archaeological? Yes. But to them the Scripture is not warm. It is an artifact from the past, not an oracle from God. Nor should they wonder if the church finds all their furrow-browed, pin-the-tail-on-the-tradition-center activity next to useless.

To sum up: the liberal theories on Scripture are wrong, far-fetched, impractical, and lack that affection that comes when a scholar believes they are dealing with God’s Word and not an “artifact” to be studied.

Vatican II on Scripture

One of the common ideas in the current ecumenical climate is that Vatican II altered or at least has the potential to alter the relationship between Protestants and Roman Catholics. There were major changes made at Vatican II, particularly liturgical changes and softening of the RC Church’s stance towards those outside the church. But many central assertions remained. One of the greatest divides, if not the greatest, between Roman Catholics and Protestants is the authority of the Bible and the authority of tradition. Vatican II did not alter the Roman Catholic Church’s view on tradition and Scripture. Here are some quotes from Vatican II

The task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church.

Sacred tradition, sacred Scripture, and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God’s most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.

It is not from sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything that has been revealed. So, both sacred tradition are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of devotion and reverence.

Sacred tradition and sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, which is committed to the Church.

Matthew Barrett comments on these quotes saying,

While the document goes on to say, “this teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it,” Vatican II cannot meant this in the way that the Reformers did, for it then says this teaching office “draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed.” So while this teaching office may serve the Word of God, it originates from the one holy deposit along with Scripture and must be equally revered as God’s Word.

There is debate in Roman Catholic circles about what all of this means. But that is largely irrelevant. The institution of Roman Catholicism is built on tradition plus Scripture. In the end, unity is impossible if one group accepts two divinely received sources of authority and the other group accepts only one and rejects the other.

Perfect and Complete in All Respects

 

Holy BibleI believe that in the coming years the fundamental battle in the church will be over the authority, sufficiency, necessity, and clarity of the Bible. Is the Bible the final, absolute authority or can we look to tradition, ancient cultures, or other types of revelation as equal to or even superior to God’s Word ? Is the Bible sufficient for man’s salvation and to understand how to live a godly life or do we need tradition, science, psychology, or personal revelation from God? Is the Bible necessary to be saved and live a holy life or can men “who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – achieve eternal salvation?” Finally, is the Bible clear enough on how man is saved and how he may live a godly life or do Christians need another source to clean up the Bible for them?

Because I see this as a key front in the war on the Christian faith I have been slowly accumulating books and articles on the Scriptures from those who agree with my Protestant, Reformed convictions and from those who do not.  I have also been reading the various confessions and catechisms to see what they say about this. In my reading I found this wonderful explanation of the sufficiency of Scripture in Belgic Confession Article 7. All the bold is mine.

We believe that this Holy Scripture contains the will of God completely and that everything one must believe to be saved is sufficiently taught in it. For since the entire manner of service which God requires of us is described in it at great length, no one– even an apostle or an angel from heaven, as Paul says- ought to teach other than what the Holy Scriptures have already taught us. For since it is forbidden to add to or subtract from the Word of God, this plainly demonstrates that the teaching is perfect and complete in all respects. Therefore we must not consider human writings– no matter how holy their authors may have been– equal to the divine writings; nor may we put custom, nor the majority, nor age, nor the passage of time or persons, nor councils, decrees, or official decisions above the truth of God, for truth is above everything else. For all human beings are liars by nature and more vain than vanity itself. Therefore we reject with all our hearts everything that does not agree with this infallible rule, as we are taught to do by the apostles when they say, “Test the spirits to see if they are of God,” and also, “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house.”

Freedom of Religion & the Clarity of Scripture

Over against Rome, the churches of the Reformation indeed have no more powerful weapon than Scripture. It delivers the deadliest of blows to ecclesiastical tradition and hierarchy. The teaching of the perspicuity [clarity] of Scripture is one of the strongest bulwarks of the Reformation. It also most certainly brings with it its own serious perils. Protestantism has been hopelessly divided by it, and individualism has developed at the expense of the people’s sense of community. The freedom to read and examine Scripture has been and is grossly abused by all sorts of groups and schools of thought. On the balance, however, the disadvantages do not outweigh the advantages. For the denial of the clarity of Scripture carries with it the subjection of the layperson to the priest, of a person’s conscience to the church. The freedom of religion and the human conscience, of the church and theology, stands and falls with the perspicuity of Scripture. It alone is able to maintain the freedom of the Christian; it is the origin and guarantee of religious liberty as well as of our political freedom. Even a freedom that cannot be obtained and enjoyed aside from the danger of licentiousness and caprice is still always to be preferred over a tyranny that suppresses liberty. Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 1, p. 479. Also quoted in K. DeYoung’s Taking God at His Word

Word is Necessary, Sacraments are Not

bible-2

Pierre Marcel in his excellent book Infant Baptism, takes several pages to discuss the similarities and differences between the Word and the sacraments. He clearly explains how the Word and the sacraments are the same and how they are different. Here are some good paragraphs explaining the priority of the Word over the sacraments. All italics are Marcel’s.

The Word is indispensable to salvation, but the sacraments are not. The sacraments, in fact, are subordinated to the Word; they are signs of the content of the Word and are joined to it. The Word, therefore, is definitely something apart from the sacraments, but the sacraments apart from the Word are nothing: apart from it they have neither value nor power. The sacraments are nothing less than, but nothing more than, a visible Word. All the benefits of redemption come to us from the Word and only through faith, but there is not a single benefit which can be received through the sacraments alone, apart from the Word and without faith.

It is for this reason that the preaching of the Word should precede the administration of the sacraments in order to teach us and bring to our knowledge the significance of the visible sign. The words which are call “sacramental” are nothing other than a summary preaching of the promise of the Gospel, which ought to be proclaimed by the minister with force and clarity so that believers may be brought to the end for which the sign was prescribed.

The Word is thus indispensable for salvation, whereas the sacraments are not.

Naturally the next question is: If that is the case then why should we administer the sacraments? Do they become unnecessary if they are not absolutely necessary to our salvation? I will post Marcel’s answer to that question tomorrow.

Love & Obedience in John’s Writings

Gospel of John.jpg

The relationship between love and obedience has a checkered history in the life of God’s people. On one side are those curmudgeons who furrow their brow and yell “Obedience.” On the other side are those soft men who whimper, “All we need is love.” In between are most Christians who spend their days bouncing between love and obedience. They ask questions like, am I really loving God? Am I obeying enough? Am I being a legalist? In this post I want to show how John weaves together love and obedience. This post will not answer all questions, but I hope it will clarify the relationship between love and obedience. At the end I will draw some conclusions from these texts.

This post is focused on passages in John’s gospel and his three letters where he uses the word “command/commandments,” which is ἐντολή in the Greek.

We begin with the obedience of our Lord. Jesus obeyed the commands of the Father because he loved the Father.  In John 10:17-18 Jesus says that he lays down his life according to the Father’s command (charge in the ESV). Because he lays down his life the Father loves him.  In John 12:44-50 Jesus says he speaks whatever the Father commands him to speak. He also says that the Father’s command is “everlasting life.” Finally in John 15:10, Jesus says that he has kept the commandments of the Father and therefore he abides in the Father’s love. Continue reading

Psalm 119-Longing for that Marvelous Word

Bible 3.jpg

My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times. (Psalm 119:20)

I got engaged in college. For Christmas break my wife-to-be went to her home in Oregon and I went to my home in Mississippi. Our wedding was scheduled for March. I planned on going out to Oregon closer to wedding. One day in late December my father approached me and said something like this, “Son you are useless here. Why don’t you drive out to Oregon and spend the months leading up to the wedding near your bride to be.” That was wise counsel. My body was in Mississippi, but my heart and mind were in Oregon. At different times in life we all long for things. Often the deepest longing comes when we meet the person we are going to marry. I longed to be with Julie. There are other longings, such as a desire for particular job, a deep desire for rest and peace, or even a longing for wealth. But for the psalmist there is something else he longs for. There is something else that fills his vision; God’s Word.

In Psalm 119:20 the writer expresses a longing for God’s Word. The ESV translates it as “consumed,” the NKJV translates it as “breaks.” The word means to be crushed by something. What is the psalmist crushed by? A longing for God’s Word. The psalmist has a deep desire to see the judgments of God come forth. There is no moderation here. This is not a mild desire to occasionally read the Word. It is a desire that consumes all other desires. The psalmist hungers and thirsts for the Scriptures.

But why? Why are the Scriptures what he pursues? In them he finds God. In them he finds salvation. In them he finds answers to the most important of questions. In them a thirsty man finds water. In them a hungry man finds bread. In them the sinner finds forgiveness. In them he finds the path to holiness. In them he finds Christ. Anything of consequence is found in the Word of God. The better question is why anyone would not be consumed with longing for the Word of God?

For the psalmist this is not a passing concern for God’s judgments. His longing for God’s Word is not like the dew which is here at 9 and gone by 10. He longs for God’s judgments “at all times.” We all hunger for God’s Word at certain times in our lives. If we are sick or lose our job or there are difficulties in our marriage or with our children we might long for God’s Word. If we have a secret sin that has been discovered we might run to God’s Word. That is good and we should let circumstances drive us back to God’s Word. But that is not our goal. Our goal is a constant hunger for the living bread of God’s Word. Our aim should be a life of persevering faith that is characterized by a love for God’s Word. Admittedly we all grow slack in this area at times. Our love for the Word God goes up and down. Yet we must strive to be a people who break with longing for God’s Word at all times.

What are some practical ways to learn to long for God’s Word?

  • Ask the Lord to give you a hunger for His Word. A good way to do this is pray through a section of Psalm 119 each day. Why would the Lord not answer this prayer?
  • Listen carefully to the preaching of God’s Word. Often pastors will open up the Word for us in ways we cannot ourselves.
  • Hang around people who love God’s Word, read it regularly, and are showing signs of spiritual growth. Spiritual growth is infectious.
  • Read God’s Word. There are many ways to do this. Some read through the Bible in a year. I have done that. Currently I am reading a couple of Psalms, one Proverb and a portion of an OT book and NT book each day. But I read the same book all month. This month I have read through Micah 3 times and will probably get one more reading in before I am done. The NT book is II Corinthians. I have read that twice. Vary up your Bible reading, especially if it gets stale.
  • Persevere in faith as you read and hear God’s Word. In this life, there will always be times where we are dull to God’s Word, where we don’t want to read it, or hear it preached. We must believe that even in those times the Spirit is working through the Word. Even if it is hard, we must keep ourselves planted in the Word. In the long run, the Lord will reward this often with a renewed joy for Scripture.

I want to end with Westminster Larger Catechism Question 155:

Q 155: How is the word made effectual to salvation?
A 155: The Spirit of God makes the reading, but especially the preaching of the word, an effectual means of enlightening, convincing, and humbling sinners;  of driving them out of themselves, and drawing them unto Christ; of conforming them to his image, and subduing them to his will; of strengthening them against temptations and corruptions; of building them up in grace, and establishing their hearts in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation.

Why would those of us who have been saved by God’s grace, love Jesus, and want to be conformed to His image not long for more of this marvelous book?