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Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Word

One of the cornerstones of the Protestant Reformation was the belief that the Bible and it alone, is the final and infallible rule and authority for life and practice in the church. In the Bible, the Reformers taught, we find the answers to all matters pertaining to doctrinal issues dealing with the salvation of our souls as well as the holy living of the people of God. In contrast to the prevailing Catholic idea that tradition passed down, supposedly from the time of the apostles, held as much authority as the Bible, the Reformers categorically denied that anything was on par with the “God-breathed” Word. “Sola Scriptura” restored the Bible to its rightful place in the life of the church and unleashed a movement the reverberations of which are still being felt today.

But is was not long before the concept of the Bible as the final authority for the church began to be assailed by those who considered themselves “evangelical” believers. This movement seemed to gather impetus in the 19th century with the rise of higher criticism schools which questioned, in ways others had not, the literal truth of many of the events described in the Bible. Darwin’s theories on the origin of the human race began to color the understanding of the Bible in some schools to the point where the belief in the miraculous and the literal truthfulness of the Bible, especially the accounts of the creation, were seen as allegorical or fantastical.
Into the fray, then, entered many faithful men of God who understood that, if the Bible is true at all, it must be true completely. To argue that a perfect, sinless and completely holy God would give a corrupt book to His creation strained credulity. To believe that the Bible could contain errors and still be the “Word of God” was tantamount to believing in an imperfect God who could not be sure of anything. This strong repudiation of such ideas finds an echo in what was termed Charles H. Spurgeon’s “fraternal” confession. The confession, drafted at a time of increasing Biblical cynicism, had this to say about the Scriptures:

“We, the undersigned, banded together in Fraternal Union, observing with growing pain and sorrow the loosening hold of many upon the Truths of Revelation, are constrained to avow our firmest belief in the Verbal Inspiration of all Holy Scripture as originally given. To us, the Bible does not merely contain the Word of God, it is the Word of God. From beginning to end, we accept it, believe it, and continue to preach it. To us, the Old Testament is no less inspired than the New. The Book is an organic whole. Reverence for the New Testament accompanied by skepticism of the Old appears to us absurd. The two must stand or fall together. We accept Christ’s own verdict concerning “Moses and all the prophets” in preference to any of the supposed discoveries of so-called higher criticism.”
As you can imagine, many where the ones who, being on the other side of this argument, did not think of Spurgeon’s and his associates’ words in a kind way. The Christian World, for example, had this to say about the confession: The idea of infallibility is “the reward of the resolute refusal to allow the light of science and scholarship to fall upon the divine Word.” In other words, just as in our day, science falsely so-called attempts to denigrate the Word by declaring it antiquated and unscientific, so did the liberals of a bygone era.

John Clifford, a one-time close partner of Spurgeon, said that he lamented that Spurgeon, that eminent winner of souls, insisted on “rousing the energies of thousands of Christians to engage in personal wrangling and strife, instead of inspiring them, as he might, to sustained and heroic effort to carry the good news of God’s Gospel to our fellow countrymen.” In his book “The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible,” Clifford further declared that “we seriously imperil the authority and limit the service of Scripture every time we advocate its absolute inerrancy.” This was in keeping with the idea that toleration of all kinds of theology would enhance evangelism.
There are some today, Brian Zahnd, William Layne Craig and many others, who tell us the same thing. “The God of the Old Testament was not the God of the New.” “We don’t need to believe in perfect inerrancy in order to believe the resurrection.” They will have us believe that we can just take literally one part of the Bible, particularly the resurrection, without having to bother with the rest. The immediate and obvious problem with such thinking, however, is that the same Bible that tells us of creation, of the virgin birth and other “unscientific” doctrines, is the only source for the resurrection accounts. If the Bible cannot be trusted to be true concerning creation and the other events it narrates, then how can we trust it will be true when it tells us that Jesus rose from the dead? The inconsistencies of such a position seem to be plain for all to see.

If the Bible is corrupted in any of its revelation, then it can be discarded in its entirety as nothing more than, as one theologian put it concerning the Old Testament, “the thoughts and ideas of the Hebrews concerning their God.” But as Spurgeon biographer Tom Nettles put it, however, “a corrupt source can never produce a pure stream. A stream that can be identified with its pure source is itself pure.” Thus, if the Old Testament and parts of the New are not pure, then the whole is impure, and yes, that includes its recounting of the resurrection. The Word of God, however, “endures forever” (Psalm 119:152). It has endured the attacks of false saints and of sinners alike and it will continue to stand as a testament to the God who gave it. Indestructible, inerrant and pure!


  1. All true. Let's say that God created by an evolutionary process. Why then the Genesis model? Could God have not given an elementary, non-technical explanation of evolutionary creation in place of the non evolutionary creative process described in Genesis? Creation either happened according to Genesis, or the opening chapters of Genesis are a myth, mistake or hoax. I don't see any middle ground. As you well note - if we start finding errors in God's Word, then it's every pronouncement (including) soteriological - becomes suspect.

    1. Absolutely! I find it hard to believe that anyone who is a Bible believer can hold to such piece meal understanding of its truths. Compartmenting the Word the way some do makes no sense. It's impossible not to begin to pick and chose from the entire Bible once you start down that path. If I tell someone that Genesis 1-11 is not literally true, then how can I turn around and tell them that the resurrection account is literally true? He would be within his rights to throw me out of his house as some sort of nut job!