Wednesday, July 05, 2017

The Reformed Doctrine of Scripture: a very short summary

I welcome you telling me where this is wrong / how it could be improved. Ta.

(4th attempt, I think!) (It could probably do with some re-organising. No doubt it could be expanded in lots of places. Maybe it even merits more than one paragraph!)

The Reformed doctrine of Scripture is sometimes summarised with the tag “what the Bible says, God says.” According to the doctrine of plenary verbal inspiration all the words of the Bible are breathed out by God the Holy Spirit. The Bible is both a human and divine book, genuinely the work of human writers in ordinary language, but fully and truly God’s word. The human and divine are not in competition in the Scriptures. The mode of inspiration may have varied, but at times the human writers were fully engaged and creative in a process described as concursive operation as God worked in and through the human authors and all the circumstances of their writing so that the words written are his words. In speaking the Scriptures, God has accommodated himself to human need. God intended his canonical word to be preserved in writing. God’s inscripturated word always comes to us by physical means (such as sound waves) and engagement with the Bible often involves a physical book. The Bible is true, inerrant (without error) and infallible in all that it affirms. Like God, it is entirely trustworthy. It serves as the supreme authority and final court of appeal on all issues it addresses. It is necessary, clear (perspicuous) and sufficient. What the Bible says, the Holy Spirit says to the church today. The claim to inerrancy applies strictly only to the Scriptures as originally given. The autographs are now lost and it is highly unlikely that we possess any entirely inerrant version today, but in the providence of God the Scriptures have been sufficiently and accurately preserved for the church such that we can come to them with confidence that they are the word of God to us. Though the original texts remain authoritative, the Bible can and should be translated. The Bible is self-authenticating and the Holy Spirit witnesses to his own word. The church did not give Scriptures authority but recognised them as God’s authoritative word. The Bible functions as one of the means of grace (not an end in itself) and is to be read prayerfully in the fellowship of the church using ordinary means[1] and seeking the Spirit’s help in understanding, applying and living in the light of it. Scripture helps us to interpret Scripture: each text must be read in its canonical context and according its place in salvation-history.  Through his written word God is present as speaking the Scriptures to his church for her salvation, blessing, sanctification and edification. The Bible is God’s voice for all of God’s people. As God speaking, the Bible is powerful and effective (efficacious) either for salvation or judgement. God’s people are to meditate day and night on the Scriptures, but its primary role is in the Lord’s Day service where it is read and proclaimed. God has gifted his church with Ministers of the Word. When received by faith the Scriptures make their hearers wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. It is through the written word that the incarnate life-giving Word is encountered, known and believed upon.   

[1] Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 1, Section VII commends “a due use of the ordinary means”. For example, one might consult a Hebrew dictionary.

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